Avoiding Problems in Building Virtual Tours

Virtual tours have been around for years, but they still pose a lot of pitfalls for both web designers and users.

Coachella is a perfect opportunity for multiple virtual tours.

What does your audience expect? Music festivals like Coachella provide perfect opportunities for virtual tours. What tents are those? How much to ride the ferris wheel?

In truth, the concept of “virtual tours” is becoming outdated and redundant. Why? More and more, a tour delivered online is becoming the expected standard. People of course still travel with a real live tour guide in a tour group, but that is becoming rare. Visitors are more likely now to use a mobile device on site to guide their tour – be it in a museum or on a walking tour. And, people like the convenience of self-guided touring.

Then of course, there is still the paper map, but let’s not go there.

Audience Expectations

Regardless what you call it, potential customers and visitors have come to expect some sort of curated, image-based representation of the place or thing you’re talking about. Real estate agents were likely the first to realize that not having such a tool meant fewer buyers and listings. Businesses across other industries are quickly learning a similar lesson.

As always, ask yourself who your audience is and what content they’re looking for.

The Pitfalls of Virtual Tours

For our purposes in identifying pitfalls to avoid, we’ll refer here to the concept of curated, image-based walkthroughs as virtual tours.

Flash Plugin Required

Flash technology’s days are probably numbered, and they have been for a while. Virtual tours that rely on the user having a Flash plugin are problematic largely because you avoid the segment of users that for one reason or another don’t have the plugin. Estimates of those numbers are all over the map. Security issues with Flash further complicate plugin use and adoption.

And, the question that has been around since the beginning of Flash applies – what content do you do for those that don’t have the plugin?

Not Enough Useful Detail

Many virtual tours are glorified slideshows. There isn’t anything wrong with slideshows – they serve a purpose. But, as technology has evolved, the expectation of a tour is that it will provide richer content and detail about the subject matter. And, that’s different than a slideshow.

What are ways that detail about certain aspects of virtual tours can be shared with users beyond simple captions?

360 Tours Can Be Cool, But . . .

Ask yourself if the 360 tour is really desired by your user or if it is just something cool the boss wanted. A view of the Sistene Chapel in a 360 panorama is one thing. A 360 panorama of the real estate listing at 201 Main Street is another.

360 panoramas can cause big problems for users on mobile devices – processing, bandwidth, and delay. On large monitors, they can arguably cause dizziness and upset stomach. The question to ask is what does your audience really want? And, do you have to start with a 360 panoramic tour?

Virtual Tours and Mobile Device Compatibility

The importance of compatibility with mobile devices can not be overstated. As a recent article by Rebecca Borison in Mobile Marketer stated, mobile devices are replacing the PC in countries like the US.

Marketers, business owners, and museums that focus purely on desktop-based virtual tours are potentially making a huge mistake. It would likely be better for most to sacrifice some bells and whistles in virtual tours to maximize compatibility across mobile and desktop.

. . . And Of Course, Cost

Effective virtual tours don’t have to cost an arm and a leg. In fact, they don’t have to cost anything. Like the Whitepoint framework, free tools for different approaches to virtual tours exist.

It’s also important to realize that professional photographers and specialized hardware are not usually required. Remember: You’re going to want to keep your tour up-to-date with fresh content. Uploading a new photo or tweaking some text in-house will keep things fresh. Calling in – and paying for – an outside party to do so may not be in your budget.

Keep those virtual tours compelling and fresh.

Matthew White

Matthew White blogs on all things related to virtual tours, mobile touring, and tour apps as well as how they relate to web design, SEO, and content marketing. There is also of course helpful information on using Whitepoint - the framework for smarter virtual touring and mobile-friendly tours.

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