Can We Be Honest About Virtual Tours?

Well, they certainly are pretty, aren’t they? And they’ve become very easy to do, too.  You just take a bunch of pictures, load them into whatever tool you’re using, set them to pan and zoom and add a little light music and wha-lah!  You have an impressive goo-gah for your website.  Your seller will be proud!

And I think we’re all missing the boat.

First, if your pan and zoom virtual tour is on your website and you also uploaded all of the individual photos used to make the tour (and you should), why would anyone watch the tour?  A visitor has far more control just clicking through the photos.  Second, the kind of tour I’m describing here adds little in the way of search engine optimization.  Yes you can load up the description with keywords, but that’s only going to take you so far.

There is another way to do a virtual tour that is not only more interesting to website visitors but also far more interesting to search engines.  Begin by shooting video.  Yes, video – moving pictures, not pictures that move.  If you video tape yourself walking through the house describing easily overlooked features as you go, you’ll be creating something new and of value for your website visitor, not just a re-packaging of what ‘s already there.  Plus (and this is the most important part), when indexing your site, Google will actually transcribe your audio track, turning it into searchable text.  If your walk-talk is loaded with neighborhood references and key words, you will up your chances of potential buyers finding your listing online.

Shoot your video, pull it into your computer and do a little editing, add titles and even a soft music track if you want and then upload it to YouTube.  YouTube will give you a little code to embed the video into your listing so that it can be played right there.

Here’s another idea for using video on your listing:  why not let the Sellers lead you through talking about what they like most about the house?  I know that’s pretty radical.  But we Help-U-Sell folk have always championed the idea that things usually go well if buyer and seller are allowed to talk to one another. Why not start that process early by humanizing your seller on video?  Once again, Google is going to transcribe whatever you upload  which will be very beneficial from a search engine standpoint.

So far we’ve talked about using video to market your listings and make you more visible on the web.  But why not broaden the focus?  Why not take the half dozen or so key neighborhoods in your area and do a video profile of each.  Create a script, describe the demographics and amenities, shoot video of typical housing and area infrastructure.  When Google transcribes that kind of video, it’s going to find reference after reference to the local market and your ability to have people find you on the web will go up significantly.

Is there a learning curve?  Yes, of course.  The first such tour you do will be the hardest.  It will get much easier after that.  Here are your steps:

  • Get a video recording device.  You probably need something more than your cell phone.  Most decent still cameras today shoot video as well and mine (a Panasonic Lumix) shoots better video than my actual video camera!
  • Learn how to record, how to take video off your camera and onto your computer
  • Choose and learn some editing software.  Windows has Movie Maker and if you search you’ll find many more, some free.  I like Pinnacle Studio.  At $80 +/- it is feature rich and easy to use.
  • Go to and open an account.  Its free.
  • Shoot and edit your first video, save it to your hard drive (probably as an .AVI file) and then upload it to YouTube.
Mike Klein at Help-U-Sell Prescott has done a good job of using video.  He has several informative pieces about the local market and home buying realities.  He’s also using the pan and zoom tours I’m kind of bashing here.  And truth is:  they’d be fine if instead of just music they had a voice track loaded with carefully chosen key words.  Here is Mike’s YouTube channel:  Help-U-Sell Prescott
Although this is not a Help-U-Sell agent, here is an example of an off-the-cuff video tour.  I think scripting might have helped here, particularly in weaving in key words and neighborhood specific references – something that is very important for Search Engine Optimizaiton.

8 thoughts on “Can We Be Honest About Virtual Tours?”

    1. A lot of people are buzzing about the little ‘Flip’ video cameras some of which upload to YouTube directly from the camera. I don’t know that that’s realistic: I think I’d always want to do some editing. Removing the line I flubbed or cutting out a section that doesn’t show as well as I expected. Really: I think the best bet is to get a decent digital camera that takes video. They are out there in the $125 – $300 range and are generally very easy to use. They can be as automatic as you want them to be or as manual. Shameless Plug: my 14 megapixel Panasonic Lumix is an outstanding camera. It has a Leica lens – and that seems to make a difference. Mine was about $280 at Costco (do you have them in Jersey? If not check out Prices are usually pretty good and the return policy is great). There are less delux Lumix’s too for significantly less money. Like many digital cameras, this one stores your photos and videos on an SD card that’s easy to pull out and plug into your computer.

  1. James, can these digital cameras be outfitted with a wide angle lens? Still photo’s are certainly better with one and the video embedded in your post would likley have been better with one. Your thoughts?

    1. The Panasonic I mentioned does not have interchangeable lenses and that’s probably what it would take. And I believe you’re right – a wide angle is probably a good thing when shooting inside a house where you want to take in a full room. You have a wide angle on your still camera: does it also take video? I will do a little digging to see if I can come up with an easy to use video camera (or still camera capable of doing video) with a wide-angle option.

  2. James is right. I suggest you check out Kodak cameras if you are looking for inexpensive. The ZI8 looks like a cell phone but can shoot high quality 1080 video and it also has a method for adding a mike. You can get wide angle lenses for this little camera, too. Canon Vixia is a nice camera. It all depends on your budget. The ZI8 can be found for as little as $69 on sale at Office Depot, or OfficeMax or up to about $179. If you are interested I would be happy to have a webinar and talk about how to use video for your business. There is a lot of extremely powerful ways to use video to promote yourself and your listings. You can use video for search engine optimization, improving your web site ranking and for branding as well as capturing leads that help you get more clients.

    1. Thank you Tami! Everything I know about using voice over video tours with YouTube to boost search engine effectiveness, I learned from you! Tu eres mi profesora!

      1. Thanks, James. I am willing to do some FREE webinars for HUS folks about updates in Google Places and what is happening with videos online. Just say YES, and I will put together a special Help U Sell program to share. I have some great FREE tools they can use. And they can ask me questions.

        1. Great!! How ’bout next Wednesday at 11am Pacific? We probably need 15 minutes to followup last week’s call and 15 minutes at the end for questions . . . can you do it in 30 minutes? (Help-U-Sell folks: this will be next Wednesday’s Broker Roundtable call if she says yes. It’ll be very good).

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