Short Answer: Just as you would hire any other type of professional photographer!

1. Screen the photographer’s portfolio for prior works. Specifically look through the Google Virtual Tours they’ve created. Walk through the tours and check that they make sense. Some tours have the users walk through walls, tables, and objects. This looks bad, and yes there is a visible difference in tours between photographers.
2. Scan their portfolio for solid business photography work. Keep an eye out for images that strengthen the brand and enhance the visibility of the particular business.
3. Look up the photographer’s reviews on Google+ Local or another professional site they may be listed on.
4. Pick up the phone and contact one of the photographer’s past clients to ask for a reference.
5. Keep in mind that the Virtual Tour will be published on Google indefinitely – so have it done right the first time.
6. Hire a photographer that you can and would call upon again for other work. If they shoot video, that’s big bonus.

Your first question may be – What is a Google Trusted Photographer? We’ll get right to that, but I’d like to tell you a little about how I came to know this myself.

I work as an automotive marketing manager, specializing in digital and social media marketing strategy for a large number of North American automobile dealerships. I oversee a fully staffed department and try to keep current on new ways for my clients to reach their customers through the internet with a focus on social media. I place a strong emphasis on mobile ready content.

Over the past year or so a new medium for reaching clients has fallen into my marketing hands – Google Business Photos. If you aren’t familiar, I assure you that it deserves a look for any type of business that has an interior worth showing off. Google Business Photos is basically Google Street View for business interiors. In addition to the Street View style virtual tour, a set of high resolution photographs highlighting the business are also included with the service. Visually it is much sharper than Street View, as the images are much higher quality and the virtual tours created for business locations show greater detail. It also connects the interior Virtual Tour to the nearest Street View point on the map and everything is viewable on smart phones and tablets as wall as desktop computers, of course.

Another difference between Google Business Photos and Google Street View is that the service is not free. It is, however, on-demand. A business owner must request the service and pay a one time fee to what Google calls a “Trusted Photographer”. A Google Trusted Photographer is not employed or paid by Google in any way. They are freelancers who run their own photography business and have been through a training program with Google to be certified as “Trusted Independent Photographers”. The fee covers the service they provide – photographing the business, processing the images, and publishing them on Google. You can view the entire list of the U.S. based photographers here.

As a marketer, I love the on demand nature of the service. Right now if I need a Virtual Tour — I can pick up the phone, call my NY Google Trusted Photographer and ask him to shoot an automobile dealership for me. We schedule, he shoots, and within 2-7 days — PRESTO! — I have one of my clients live on Google like magic. I’ve found that as a marketing/advertising expenditure, it is worth every penny. The virtual tour and photos get published directly on Google’s Servers, they are permanent, and the still photographs I’ve received have been incredible. Additionally, I can embed the tour on multiple pages of my client’s website. I also have contracted with excellent Google Trusted Photographers in Colorado, Texas, and several other areas. All were seasoned pros, and many have been called back to do additional work for us.

Did I say it was worth every penny? It is — but only if you hire the right Google Trusted Photographer.

Here’s the kicker, something I learned early in my experience with the service – who you hire really makes a big difference. At first I figured – hey they’re all certified by Google, they must all provide the same service. Then I called for quotes and received bids ranging from $250 to $1200 for the same job. On the assumption that the service would be the same across the board we went with one of the lower bids, which I later fount was a big mistake. Our virtual tour was crooked, the still images were plain and looked like I took them with my hobby DSLR camera.

The point is that all Google Trusted Photographers are not created equal! They apparently aren’t even held to the same standards. It’s actually no different than hiring a wedding photographer – there are cheap ones and expensive ones, and there’s a reason for the price difference. Considering that the Virtual Tour and still photos will remain live on Google Indefinitely, it is very important to have the job done right the first time.

This realization caused me to do some research. I started looking through some of the photographers websites and portfolios in detail and found an incredible variance in skill level and professionalism. Some seemed to be college kids living at home with their parents, and others were experienced and accomplished photographers that truly know the trade. Some of the websites I saw made me sure that the photographer was brand new to photography and also did a very poor job of setting up his/her own website.

Most of the photographers I mentioned in the story above have no idea that I was the person involved in hiring them, but all of them show solid work not only as Google Trusted Photographers – but also as professional photographers. The upside to hiring a pro photographer is that after the Google Virtual Tour and photos are up and published, I can still call on that photographer when I need images for print advertising, a local billboard, or a sales brochure. I have benefited greatly by having several reliable photographers I can call upon to service my busiest areas.

Google Business Photos is a powerful multimedia advertising and marketing product for the right type of business. When selecting a Google Trusted Photographer to create your virtual tour, it is important to remember that you have only one chance to make things look good – so it pays to hire an accomplished professional. Do not go for the lowest bidder, because you’ll get what you pay for. I have since had our first virtual tour re-photographed by a pro, so in effect I paid twice and wasted time because I was trying to save a few dollars and cut corners.

Check out the virtual tour of this Porsche Dealer in Texas below. Be sure to open the tour in full screen by clicking the icon on the upper right.

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