Google is taking the next step in street view mapping, allowing customers to take virtual tours of businesses worldwide, including Arlington.
“I would say that a big reason people are coming to me is for search engine optimization. Some people also like the photography,” said Will Marlow, who has been certified as a “Google trusted photographer.”
Marlow, who lives in Northern Virginia, was contacted by Google earlier this year about the program. He worked as a digital marketing consultant and said that he was active on Google Plus and other social media.
Trusted photographers are not Google employees, but photographers who have been certified “because they meet Google’s standards of quality for taking the feature pictures and panoramic pictures,” according to a Google spokesperson.
The virtual tours are part of Google’s Business Photos Pilot Program, which launched in 2010 and began using trusted photographers in January of this year, according to a Google blog post. Photographers around the country take photos inside businesses to publish on Google maps.
Marlow had to undergo training and set up a separate company, called Will Marlow Photography, which he recently renamed Circle View Photos. Google does not charge business owners directly for a virtual tour. Businesses pay the trusted photographers directly to film and post the tour.
Photographers charge between $500 and $1,000.
“The businesses will benefit by having a greater presence in search engines and they can add the tour as an embed in their website,” Marlow said.
Marlow uses equipment provided to him by Google for the tours. He uses a digital single-lens reflex, or DSLR, camera to take photos and special software to compile panoramic views.
“There is minimal distortion in the tour and it’s highly realistic and very detailed,” Marlow said.
Marlow has assembled about 50 virtual tours in Arlington and greater Northern Virginia since April. There are four Google trusted photographers in the Washington metro region.
One business was Joe’s Pizza and Pasta at 5555 Lee Highway in Arlington, which got the tour set up about six months ago. Co-owner Rosario Farruggio said that he heard about the project when Marlow came to introduce himself.
“I thought it was going to be very useful to us because we have a lot of calls from customers asking if we can accommodate a certain amount of people or if we can it accommodate a wheelchair,” Farruggio said. “But if it’s online already they can see it.”
Farruggio said he hasn’t gotten a lot of specific comments about the tour, though he wasn't necessarily expecting any.
“I figure it’s just an extra way to show what our place looks like,” Farruggio said. “It was a no-brainer for anyone who has a restaurant.”