New research shows strong link between Google My Business photo quantity and search performance

August 1, 2019

In the age of Instagram, TripAdvisor and Yelp, I don’t think I can overstate the importance of photos to local businesses. Even before platforms like these rose up and put the power of visually representing the customer experience firmly in the hands of the consumer, people wanted to see with their own eyes what they’d be getting for their money.

Factor in the prevalence of photos from the now-ubiquitous Google My Business, and it’s clear that it’s more important than ever to look your absolute best when consumers are searching for businesses like yours.

Don’t believe me? Read on for some compelling evidence to convince you to take GMB photos seriously. Let’s take a look at what analyzing 580,853 images across 15,191 Google My Business listings taught us about GMB images, and how they could be impacting search and user behavior.

How important are Google My Business photos to local search performance?

As part of BrightLocal (my company)’s recent Google My Business Insights Study, we analyzed the GMB Insights of 45,000 businesses in 36 industries across four countries, in order to learn how this data has changed over time and, crucially, to see if there are any correlations.

Here’s a look at the correlations between the quantities of images visible on a GMB profile and other GMB performance metrics such as website clicks, calls, views on search and more.

In the following charts, averages are calculated using the median business in the data set, and all data is worked out per month. For this data, we only looked at businesses with one or more image uploaded, and these images were uploaded by the business or consumers.

I’d also note that while there are strong correlations, I cannot argue causation – but even without that, I feel the figures are quite compelling.

With that out of the way, let’s paint a picture…

Businesses with more GMB photos get more clicks, calls and direction requests

I’ve decided to start backward with the last stage of the consumer’s discovery journey because clicks, calls and direction requests from GMB profiles have the strongest connection to image visibility.

What I mean by that is that, unlike other Insights metrics (like views on search/maps and discovery/direct searches), we know that GMB images can directly influence customer actions as they’re more likely to be visible in the same place as the call-to-action buttons.

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As you can see, there is a consistent correlation between the number of images on a GMB profile and the numbers of website visits, phone calls and direction requestions that came through Google My Business. The more photos you have on your Google My Business listing, the better your chances of leading customers from discovery to conversion.

We also looked at deviation from the median to get an understanding of exactly how much getting more images on your profile can affect customer actions. Here’s what we found:

  • Businesses with more than 100 images get 520% more calls than the average business, while those with just one image get 71% fewer.
  • Businesses with more than 100 images get 2,717% more direction requests than the average business, while those with just one get 75% fewer.
  • Businesses with more than 100 images get 1,065% more website clicks than the average business, while those with just one get 65% fewer.

Businesses with more GMB photos get more views on search and views on maps

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In case you’re fairly new to GMB Insights, here are Google’s own definitions of these metrics:

Views on Search: A customer found the business via Google Search, including local pack results from search.

Views on Maps: A customer found the business via Google Maps.

Interestingly, the far right bar shows the only time in these results that one metric superseded another when the image count got above 100.

I would put this down to the types of businesses more likely to be looked for in Google Maps, such as restaurants, cafes and bars. Google Maps is more frequently opened when the user is mobile and looking for directions or places around them than when researching places to go while still at home.

As much as Google is taking efforts to make Google Maps more social, more functional and more ultimately more than a way of finding directions, we have to remember that the key functionality is still in the title. It’s more of a map than a business directory.

This all means that Maps users are mostly looking for a place they can visit right now. These types of high-footfall local businesses, like bars, restaurants and so forth, naturally lend themselves to being photographed and reviewed regularly, so it’s not really a surprise to see businesses with very high photo numbers also receiving more searches in Maps than in traditional SERPs.

Looking at deviations from the median, we see that:

  • Businesses with more than 100 images get 960% more search views than the average business, while those with just one get 62% fewer.
  • Businesses with more than 100 images get 3459% more maps views than the average business, while those with just one get 71% fewer.

Businesses with more GMB photos appear in more direct and discovery searches

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Again, here are Google’s own definitions of these metrics:

Direct search: A customer directly searched for your business name or address.

Discovery search: A customer searched for a category, product, or service that you offer, and your listing appeared.

(Note that we couldn’t include branded searches in this data, as this feature was launched part-way during the data collection period.)

Again, we see a strong trend of high numbers of images correlating with high numbers of both types of searches, particularly in the case of local businesses with 101-plus images.

Here are the key findings from analyzing deviations from the median:

  • Businesses with more than 100 images get 713% more discovery searches than the average business, while those with just one get 65% fewer.
  • Businesses with more than 100 images get 1038% more direct searches than the average business, while those with just one get 71% fewer.

A question of correlation

I’d just like to reiterate again that the above charts don’t show causation, merely correlation. The number of GMB photos present could genuinely be affecting these figures, but it’s also possible that a large amount of images on a profile represents a committed effort to boost local search performance, and these other efforts could be great contributors to the improvements in actions, searches, and views.

In the same vein, it’s possible that the trend shown is affected by industry type. Businesses that get the most pictures are likely to be the most visually appealing and therefore more photographed by customers (e.g. hotels, restaurants, venues, bars). To get this many photos requires plenty of customers, which in turn requires high footfall and therefore a successful business and marketing strategy.

Even with these considerations in mind, I think the above results present a powerful argument for investing time and effort into getting more images on your Google My Business profile, and this applies to people working with everything from a naturally photogenic beach bar to a law office.

With that said, let’s take a quick look at some of the ways your business could be boosting its GMB photos.

How to get more photos on your Google My Business profile

Post them yourself

Seems obvious, right? But as the original GMB Insights Study shows, 6% of businesses with photos have just one photo on their GMB profile, and a shocking 24% have just 2 to 5 photos!

This is very easily remedied with some creative thinking, but you need to remember that to qualify as a legitimate business photo on GMB, it needs to reflect the customer experience, so I’m afraid photos of your staff every day isn’t going to cut it.

If you can, hold events and invite your customers along. This is a great opportunity to take some snaps (ideally with customer consent, of course). Take photos of interesting parts of your office interior, too, and you can definitely get away with multiple photos of the outside of your location building, provided you have one.

Get customers to post them

It’s very possible that upon leaving your business, any Google-using customers will receive a request for a review from Google. And if you’re doing reputation management right, you’ll have requested a review yourself (unless it’s for Yelp – don’t @ me).

To make the most of this, try to encourage your customers to take photos of their customer experience during it, rather than after the fact. Car dealers are performing exceptionally well in GMB, so look to see what their photo-generation strategies are.

For example, if they’ve bought a luxury item, get your salespeople to ask if the customer would like a photo taken of them with it. To the customer, you’ve just done them a favor but for your business, you’ve just put a brand-building bullet in the chamber of their smartphone.

If you’re a service-area business without a physical location like a plumber, decorator or builder, ask to take photos of your handiwork once it’s complete. Get the happy customer in the shot and you’ve done even better!

The secret trick for more Google My Business photos is

Finally, and this isn’t going to work for every business, but I’d recommend creating what seasoned influencers call an “Instagram wall;” namely a wall or area in your office or building that customers and clients just can’t stop themselves from taking a selfie with.

This could be a standout piece of art or sculpture, a large model, a funny mural or an exquisitely designed seated in a garden area.

I guarantee that your customers and clients will be uploading photos to your GMB and their social media, and potentially (as the above results show) improving your GMB performance before you know it.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.


About The Author

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Jamie Pitman is Head of Content at local SEO tool provider BrightLocal. He’s been working in Digital Marketing for over a decade and has specialized in SEO, content marketing and social media, managing successful marketing projects for clients and employers alike. He specializes in local marketing and the many factors that affect local search performance, from Google My Business and consumer reviews to branding, content marketing and beyond.

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