5 Reasons an Interactive Map Is Better Than a Virtual Tour

We talk to a lot of schools. We talk to schools of all shapes and sizes all across the world about their interactive map and virtual tour needs. For all practical purposes, it is impossible to fit them all into one bucket, but if I were to generalize I would say the majority are looking for a virtual tour to complement their recruitment efforts. We generally agree with them on how valuable and important this is, but we also try to bring in extra information to provide an additional perspective for big picture, planning, and forward thinking. Sometimes we start by explaining how an interactive map is always a virtual tour, but a virtual tour is not always an interactive map. Other times we educate them on what can make an interactive map superior to a virtual tour. For instance, consider some of these principles:

1. Some people like to tour on their own

Some people like a guided tour, sure, but others like the ability to flow freely and visit locations that they care about or are interested in. For example, a student athlete may only or mostly care about the athletic facilities by virtue of the fact that they will be spending much of their time outside of class at those locations. They probably don’t care about other locations, such as an art gallery, and it could potentially alter their opinion of your school if their time is wasted on things they don’t care about. Remember it’s not about what you care about – it is what the prospect cares about.

2. Don’t forget your other audiences

It is absolutely true that without students paying tuition a college or university will fail. We talk all the time on this very blog about the value of virtual tours and interactive maps to the recruitment process. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t other audiences you support as well. An interactive map of campus is one of the rare web features and content pieces that can serve all of your audiences fairly well while also being very central in the recruitment effort. New and current students can find buildings where they have classes, alumni can discover new buildings that might not have existed when they were a student, and external audiences like sports fans can get acquainted with your entire campus. Also, with its unique ability to service multiple audiences you might be able to fund it from multiple department budgets.

An Interactive map is important for many audiences

3. A map is a central point of reference

One of the biggest problems with many virtual tours is they have no central point of reference binding the whole experience together. Think about tours you might have experienced in the past. Maybe a duck boat tour, battlefield tour, museum tour or even the famous Tour de France. Having a map of the locations you see during the tour is your central point of reference and helps you relate various locations to one another. A map is the glue that binds the whole experience together. As humans, we relate to information very well in visual terms, and a map addresses this. Using just a virtual tour can put far more of your faith in the idea that people will be able to understand your campus in a very abstract way, lacking a point of reference.

4. Talking heads and green screen technology

We have all seen the virtual tour that is a talking person who magically appears on our screen and begins narrating our tour. We feel that this technology is very similar to 360 degree panoramas. It is legacy technology. Yes customers ask us for it from time to time and we have implemented it before, but why? Why do I want a person talking in front of a green screen when I could have a video of someone walking through a building telling us about the location? The same concept holds true for 360 panoramas. Why do I want a spinning picture when I could walk down a hall in a video? There was a time and place where the internet wasn’t quite ready for streaming video, but that is past. Video is also a much better and engaging experience.

5. Repurposing of content

Content creation is hard. Creating lots of unique and compelling content is hard and expensive. Being able to reuse your best content, like videos, a map illustration, photography, or other types of content, simply makes a lot of sense. Not only does it save you time and money, but it keeps your brand and messaging consistent. Also, for repurposing of content, we have already figured out how to repurpose an interactive map’s experience into mobile, Facebook, section 508 compliance versions and specific categories of locations. This saves you time, effort, and money, all while allowing you to address several problems at once. A pure virtual tour will often require an enormous amount of purpose specific content, which fast becomes a maintenance nightmare and enormous cost center as you attempt to maintain it and keep it up to date.

Bonus: YouTube is the 2nd largest search engine

A secondary benefit of having video tied to your map is being able to upload it to YouTube. YouTube is the 2nd largest search engine in the world behind Google, and over 90% of higher education institutions have a YouTube channel already. Why would you not want to repurpose/reuse your content across multiple channels like YouTube, just discussed in the last point? This is doubly true when it’s good, broad spectrum content that can exist outside the vacuum of a virtual tour. Your talking head is going to lose a lot of its punch if you abstract it away from the rest of the tour.


We have over two decades of experience in high education online marketing. We have faced all of your challenges and completely understand them. As a vendor, we believe our mission is to advise you on what is the best technology instead of simply selling you something and taking your money.

We aren’t saying that virtual tours aren’t important. What we are saying is a virtual tour is a narrow and specific type of interactive map that sometime loses its point of reference. It’s very important in this modern world to focus on efficiency and doing more with less, all goals that are very easy to meet with the advanced web technology we have at our fingertips. An interactive map is a perfect example of this in action as all of the above reasons point out.

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