Google Maps Based Virtual Tours Is Free For Users But Who Pays For Using It In Websites?

by Mar 5, 2019Marketing Education

Google Maps Based Virtual Tours Is Free For Users

But Who Pays For Using It In Websites?

When Google Street View first started giving local businesses the opportunity to add Street View virtual tours on Google Maps, a big part of the appeal was that other than a one-time fee for the photography, Google did not charge to host these photospheres (360° photos that make up a virtual tour) and the good news is, they still don’t charge for hosting them. But for any business that wants to really make the most of their virtual tour beyond what Google Street View on its own provides, a custom overlay or custom hosting solution is a far better way to display your virtual tour and make the most of this fabulous online marketing asset. To learn more about the advantages of custom overlays for virtual tours, check out this article. For now, let’s focus on what’s changed, how it affects custom virtual tours on Google Street View and what you need to do so that your virtual tour continues to show up with all of its features.

So What’s changed?

Two things have not changed – and good news, they remain free.

  1. You can host and see Google Street View Virtual Tours and 360° photos on Google Maps, Google Search and Google earth.
  2. You can embed a simple link directly from your Street View virtual tours on your website for free as long as you use Google’s own (very simple – not fancy) iFrame code.
    1. An iFrame Code is very much like a portal from one website to another. So with a simple Street View iFrame, you can show your virtual tour exactly as it was published on Google maps, and although that is the foundation of your virtual tour, it lacks all of the benefits provided with a properly hosted custom overlay.

14,000 Free Views Per Month… and then?

To use the more advanced features in Google maps it has always been necessary to use what is known as an API (Application Programming Interface). APIs provide web developers tools to integrate special functions so that programs can ‘talk’ to each other. This interface is what allows Google Street View virtual tours to work seamlessly with additional features that enhance the overall user experience quite dramatically. Up until now, Google did not charge the vast majority of users to use their API but as the functionality of maps technology grows, so does the cost of maintaining all these proverbial moving parts. The last thing any of us want to have is programs that fail. So Google has now lowered the bar of entry to using their Maps API which directly affects the cost to users who cross that line.

But, will your virtual tour cross that line? For the vast majority of businesses, probably not. The line is still pretty high and has been currently set to 14,000 API calls per month per account.

So what’s a ‘call’ and what’s an ‘account’?

A ‘call’ is the triggering of the API by the first point of entry or usage. This means that you won’t be charged and API call on every click but rather on the first point of entry on a series of clicks through your virtual tour.

An ‘account’ represents a single business entity. For example, here in Australia, if you operate your business with 1 ABN, that’s one account. If you have 5 ABNs and want to separate your Maps API amongst these 5 businesses, you can, which would reduce the likelihood of going over the 14,000 calls tripwire. Currently, Google is allowing businesses to open multiple Billing accounts with one credit card. For example, you could create 7 billing accounts for all your tours (if you have more than one), with only one credit card.

It’s also important to understand that Google did always have a free and paid tier for heavy usage of their tools which essentially fell under their fair use policy. Back then, you just used what you wanted and if you went over the old maximum, you’d have to contact Google to set up a paid account to continue using their API over that line. Now, everyone has to set up and account no matter what amount you use but the account comes with 14,000 free API calls (still generous) credit which is equivalent to $200 USD.

Google is also currently offering an additional credit of $300 USD when you create your billing account.  This credit is valid for 1 year and can be carried forward, unlike the base amount of $200 USD which is valid for 1 month and cannot be carried forward. This offer will be of interest to you if you believe your custom tour is likely to get more than 14,000 API calls per month.  Please see this link for a detailed costs breakdown from Google

What does that mean for you? You will now have to:

  • Have your own Maps API (or use someone else’s)
  • Provide credit card details to Google so that, if you go over the $200 credit limit, pay for any additional usage

So how much does additional usage cost?

  • 0 to 14,000 calls per month = $0
  • 14001 calls per month and up = $14 per thousand API calls

To get your API, Google requires you provide your credit card details. This is no longer an option. No matter how much or how little you use a Maps API, your account must be linked to a credit card to get access.

How does that affect my virtual tour?

The reason why your virtual tour may not yet be affected (still running as it has since launched) is because whoever implemented the virtual tour would have applied their own Google Maps API key within your virtual tour to keep it running. Of course, when a custom tour provider does this for a large number of businesses, the costs will eventually be passed on to the related accounts. But since Maps API keys can be used for a number of things beyond Google Street View custom tours, as opposed to getting additional usage invoicing from your developer/host, it’s best to simply have your own Google Maps API key which can be directly attached to your virtual tour, keeping the cost of usage directly related to your own use and no additional administration fees tacked on top for managing usage on a client by client basis.

How likely is it that this would impact your business?

Simply put, for most business the risk of additional costs is very low. Of a sample set of about 30 random clients, I manage custom virtual tours for, only 1 or 2 are likely to go over the $200 credit cap. Currently, most businesses tend to get about 500 to 2500 API calls per month.

So what do you need to do?

If you already have a Maps API key, please share it with both your web developer and virtual tour hosting supplier so that it can be applied to your account.

If you don’t already have a Maps API key and are comfortable with following online instructions, please click here to read through this tutorial which will guide you through the process.  

Otherwise, you can ask for assistance from either your web developer or virtual tour host to assist you through this process. (Most will have a standard handling fee to cover their time and costs in assisting you).

Google Is Still 94% of Search +

In the end, it’s important to remember that Google is the single most important search engine in the world and here in Australia, with 94% of the search market, there’s no argument to the need to make the most of what Google has to offer in terms of being found. It’s simply just good for your business.  Google’s improvements in their API is actually adding more value with respect to the way your custom virtual tour works. Remember, nothing great comes for free and if it is free, you are probably paying for it in some hidden way anyway.

If you have any further questions or would like personal assistance in getting your own Google Maps API key,  either contact your current provider or feel free to reach out to me. I’d be happy to help.

Marc Charette

Google Trusted Photographer