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In March of this year, Google announced a ‘photo update’ feature that gives Google Maps users on Android devices a new way to upload photos to your Google My Business profile.

I’ve only just spotted it being used ‘in the wild’, and haven’t seen much in the way of coverage, so I thought it worth sharing some details on how it works, what you need to know, and what it could mean for the future of GMB (specifically Google Posts).

After all, the features you know about but your competitors don’t are the ones that make you stand out when searchers compare businesses. Read on to find out more!

What are Google My Business ‘Photo Updates’?

We’re all familiar with the contents of the ‘By owner’ tab in the updates section. This is where we see our Google My Business Posts, new photos and updated hours:

The Google Maps update introduced the ‘By Visitors’ tab:

Google My Business Photos Update Screenshot 2

I hadn’t read anything about this, and Stefan Somborac pointed me in the direction of this post on Google’s blog, which explains that this feature was launched in March 2021:

Share your photos

Digging around in Google’s guidance on GMB posts, I found this section:

Google My Business Photo Updates Screenshot 3

What’s interesting here is that the guidance wording suggests that it’s only possible to add a photo update when you’re leaving a review. However, it is possible to add a photo update without leaving a review if you click here, on ‘Add a photo update’:

Google My Business Photo Updates Screenshot 3

When a user adds a ‘photo update’, Google prompts them to ‘say something about your photos’:

Google My Business Photo Updates Screenshot 4

When a user adds an image using the ‘Add a photo update’ button, the image (and optional caption) shows on the ‘By visitors’ tab, as in this example below, where no review was left:

Google My Business Photo Updates Screenshot 4

When an image is added by a user using another method of image upload (for example via ‘Add a photo’ on the ‘Photos’ tab), it does not currently show on the ‘By visitors’ tab.

Replying to a ‘photo update’

This feature is only active in the Google Maps app on an Android device, and businesses are only able to comment on these user ‘photo updates’ via the Google Maps app when they’re logged in with a user account that has management level access to the business listing in question.

Businesses can ‘reply’ to the photo update by clicking here…

Google My Business Photo Updates Screenshot 6

…and leaving their reply, which then shows under the customer image in the tab:

Google My Business Photo Updates Screenshot 7

Just like best practice with Google My Business reviews, it’s a good idea to monitor this section, and to respond appropriately and in good time.

If the photo is great, then a quick thanks might suffice. If the photo is less than flattering in terms of its reflection upon your business then you’ll need to think carefully about how you’ll respond, exactly as you would do with a negative review.

What can I do if I, as a business, don’t like the photo?

Not much, sadly. You don’t own this content and as long as it’s a ‘valid’ photo from a user, taken at the location, and it doesn’t contravene Google’s format specific criteria for user uploaded photos (see below) it’s pretty much a case of ‘hard cheese’.

For this reason, it’s a good idea to encourage your customers to upload photos via this method, so that you can keep a fresh stream of images coming that will push any of your ‘not-so-favorite’ photos lower down on the scroll.

Like all user contributed content user, uploaded photos do need to be in line with Google’s format specific criteria:

Google My Business Photo Updates Screenshot 9

An issue with the current setup on the photo updates tab is that if a business flags an image to report a violation of format specific criteria for images, the reporting criteria that Google shows in the popout applies to reviews, not to images. When you click on the three dots on the ‘By visitors’ update, like so…

Google My Business Photo Updates Screenshot 10

…you see these options:

Google My Business Photo Updates Screenshot 11

Instead, to report an image (or indeed a caption) according to the guidelines for user uploaded photos, you have to click on the image itself, then click the three dots:

Google My Business Photo Updates Screenshot 13

A click here triggers the image and caption specific popout:

Google My Business Photo Updates Screenshot 14

What does this mean for local businesses?

This functionality suggests that businesses would benefit from continuing to encourage customers to upload photos using the ‘photo update’ prompt.

However, Google now has so many options to upload user-generated photos, it’s going to be hard to get your customers to understand the nuance between an image upload via the ‘add a photo update’ prompt rather than any of the alternative methods to update images.

It’s worth noting that, within the Google Maps app, Google is prompting business owners to get their users to populate this tab by sharing their Business Profile:

Google My Business Photos Update Screenshot 14

Top Tip: Want to share your Business Profile to encourage more photo uploads from customers but don’t know where to find the link? BrightLocal’s Google Review Link & Place ID Generator allows you to easily search for your profile and find the link.

However, as already noted, the standard routes to customer image upload don’t currently populate this tab. Though, of course, like all functionality that’s GMB related, this is always subject to a quick-fire change!

Ideally, your customers would annotate those ‘photo updates’ in a way that is in line with the way that you’d want someone in a review to describe your attributes, products, and services.

The ‘photo update’ tab presents another layer of opportunity for current customers and potential customers to view user-uploaded photos, so it is in your interest as a business to keep these fresh and new, compelling and attractive, for you to carefully monitor the content, and to respond appropriately to image uploads and image captions.

What might happen next?

The introduction of this feature earlier this year could suggest that Google’s looking to add additional user-generated content in GMB. Think of it as a little like being able to write a comment on a business’s Facebook page. If users are consuming content within the ‘updates’ tab as part of their discovery process, then user ‘photo updates’ are going to be one of the things that they’ll see.

Google’s documentation on ‘photo updates’ lives in the Google Posts documents folder, so for the moment be aware that maybe GMB posts won’t remain a feature that can be so carefully curated by a business.

So if you, as a watcher of GMB functionality, were playing at predicting a future where users could comment on GMB posts… perhaps this is a step towards that future.

As always, I’m surprised that Google Maps users pick up on the small changes in the user interface and try them out, especially considering Google never really keeps consumers in the loop about how these features can be used to their benefit.

If uptake on this feature is low, then perhaps it’ll just disappear. But GMB watchers did say that about the ‘follow’ button… so just keep your eyes peeled and have a think about how this feature could present an opportunity for your business, and how you’ll manage this feature moving forwards.