Creating Virtual Tours in Google Earth

Tom Taylor

I.        Organization

        A.        Folders and Hierarchy

        B.        Linear vs Non-Linear

II        Content

        A.        Linking vs Embedding

        B.        Creating Original Content

        C.        Copying from Google Earth Resources

        D.        Embeddable Content

III.        Sharing

        A.        KMZ and KML Files

        B.        Sharing Limitations

IV.        Resources

The phrase “virtual tour” can be used to describe an number of Google Earth applications.  Most often it’s used in reference to a set of placemarks with information about one geographical area.  A tour can contain text, images, video, and audio, as well as external links to more information on the Internet.

I.        Organization

Folders and Hierarchy

Begin by creating folders to contain your placemarks and other tour elements.  This is done in the “Places” box in Google Earth.  Right-click on My Places and select Add, then Folder.

A dialog box will appear.  You can give the folder an appropriate name, and type a brief description of the folder.

It is possible to have folders within folders in Google Earth.  You will need to decide what hierarchy you will use for your folders.  In the example below I created three sub-folders - one for historic locations, one for schools, and one for recreation.

Once you have your folders in place, you can begin to add elements to your tour.

Linear vs Non-Linear

You will need to decide how users will interact with your tour.  Do you want them to be able to select random locations from a list, or do you want them to follow a prescribed path?





Sequential, Timed



Long Videos, PowerPoint Presentations, Slide Shows

Multiple Video Clips, Hyperlinks

Google Earth Elements

Tour, Path

Placemarks, Folders

A good virtual tour will most likely be non-linear, but have linear elements from which your users can select.  In Google Earth it is actually easier to create non-linear elements, such as a simple collection of placemarks with information within a folder.   Linear elements can be effective, but require more planning and thought.

Google Earth Linear Tour Elements


Folder Tour

Path Tour



A folder tour visits all of the items in a particular folder, including placemarks, overlays, paths, shapes, and subfolders.

Follows any path that is drawn on the map.

Real-time recording of places visited while the recording is made.  Follows mouse navigation rather than specific placemarks, but can include placemarks and other elements.  Can also include audio narration.


Height, angle, and view direction are determined by the individual elements in the folders.

Follows a “road view” at a specific angle.  View direction follows the direction of travel.

Viewpoint is recorded exactly as seen.  This can include overhead views, angles, and even rotating views.


Very quick and easy to produce.  Automatically available for any folder you create.

Easy to draw and produce.

High degree of control is available.  Tours can be constructed to include specific views.  Audio narration is available.


Locations are visited in the order in which they appear in the folder.  No ability to control timing.

Travels at a set speed with no pauses.  Constant change of view direction can be distracting.

Takes more time and thought to produce.

II.        Content

Once you have a basic plan for your tour you are ready to start adding content to your folders.  The “Description” box for any Google Earth element, which includes folders, placemarks, shapes, paths, and overlays, is actually a miniature web page.  It can contain text, images, hyperlinks, and even audio and video.

Unfortunately, Google Earth doesn’t provide a WYSIWYG (What you see is what you get) editor for the description boxes.  The only way to format text and add images is to add it as HTML code.  However, it is possible to format your information using other programs and copy the codes from those systems.

Linking vs Embedding

As mentioned earlier, text, images, and even audio and video can be displayed in the description box.  The boxes can also contain links to information that opens in an external browser.  As you create content for your tour, you can decide what information should be embedded into the box itself, and what should be linked to an external website.







Creating Original Content

The simplest placemark consists of plain text typed into a description box.  The only formatting allowed is simple paragraphs.  Images can be linked in-line using HTML codes.


Online - <img src=“”>

Local -  <img src=“c:\some folder\image.jpg”>

You can share local images only if you save your file as a KMZ file.


If you put the entire link in the placemark, it will work, but won’t look as clean.  For example, you could copy the following URL in your placemark to link to an article about Shoeless Joe Jackson…

However, it would be much cleaner to do the following:

<a href=””>Shoeless Joe Jackson</a>

What appears in the placemark is Shoeless Joe Jackson.  Users can click on the underlined word and be taken to the article.

Text Formatting:

Paragraphs  - <p> and </p> as follows:

<p>Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit. Sed lacinia. Etiam pretium viverra urna. Nam vulputate tellus in lorem. Aenean a ligula. Nunc arcu. Quisque fermentum est ut felis. </p>

Bold - <b> and </b> - example: <b>Bold Text</b>

Italics - <i> and </i> - example:  <i>Italics Text</i>

Underline - <u> and </u> - example:  <u>Underlined Text</u>

You can combine HTML tags, but be careful with placement.  For example the following would be acceptable:

<b><i>Bold Italics</i></b>


<i><b>Bold Italics</b></i>

However, this is NOT acceptable - <b><i>Bold Italics</b></i>

Copying from Google Earth Resources

There is already a wealth of information available in the Layers section of Google Earth.  Zoom into areas of interest and turn on selected layers in the gallery.  Right-click on the points of interest and select “Copy” from the menu.  The placemark can be pasted into one of your folders.

Not only will this provide some excellent content for your project, but it will reduce distractions on the map.

Embeddable Content

Some websites offer free membership and the ability to upload content.  Some of the sites are blocked by districts because of objectionable content or bandwidth usage.  Some of the sites are supported by advertising content.  Embedding the content into other contexts such as Google Earth may eliminate advertising.  All of these have been tested and are known to work with Google Earth placemarks.

Websites with embeddable content – sample list:




Video Content


Video content of all types, often blocked by districts.  YouTube has its own layer in Google Earth.


Very much like like YouTube, except moderated for educational settings.


Video sharing site that features HD video content.

Audio Content


Very simple audio recording and sharing site.  Users can record their messages online, then embed those messages into other contexts.


Audio sharing site that supports MP3 uploads and other file types.



While individual images from Flickr can be put in placemarks, slideshows can be created based on tags and searches, then embedded into placemarks.


Another method for embedding Flickr slide shows into other contexts.  This site allows users to add MP3s as background music.


HTML code for embedding individual photos can be found on the photo pages.


HTML code is provided for embedding both individual images and slideshows.


Google Docs

Presentations and documents published in Google Docs are provided embed codes.


Allows users to upload PowerPoint presentations and embed and share them online.


Allows users to upload a variety of documents, including MS-Office files and PDF files.  All of these types can be embedded into Google Earth.



Allows users to create multimedia stories incorporating video, audio, images, and documents.  Creations can be embedded into placemarks.

Aviary is a suite of multimedia tools, including image editing and sound editing.  Embed codes are provided for completed projects.


Users can create posters that incorporate video, sound, images and text.  These posters can be embedded into Google Earth.

Wayback Machine

More commonly known as the Internet Archive, this site is also a vast repository of searchable multimedia content.  Users can also upload their own content to the site.  HTML embed codes are provided for all of this content.

Discovery MediaShare

Discovery Education now makes it possible to upload audio, video, and other resources.  Many of these have embed codes available.

Note about StreamlineSC, Discovery Education, and downloaded content…

Videos from Discovery Education are provided as part of a subscription service.  The ability to embed this content would violate licensing agreements, so those HTML codes are not available.  You can, however, link to StreamlineSC videos so that they play in an external browser or application such as Media Player.  You just can’t embed them so that they play in the placemark itself.  Discovery’s MediaShare does have some embed capabilities.


Just about ANY website can be embedded into Google Earth using the <iframe> tag.  Simply use the following code:

        <iframe src=”” height=500 width=500>

Replace with the website you want to use.  The height and width settings can be changed, but these are the ones recommended.

Some websites work better than others.  Sites that already have embedded media such as audio and video will probably not work.

III.        Sharing

Google Earth creations can be saved by following these steps…

  1. Right click on the folder you want to save.  You can save individual placemarks, but it’s best to save them in groups or as collections.
  2. Select “Save Place As” from the menu.
  3. Type in a file name and decide if you want to save it as a KMZ file (default) or KML file.

KML and KMZ Files

KML Files:

•          Keyhole Markup Language

•          KML is text only, and cannot contain actual image files.  However, it can contain links to images online.

•          KML files are XML files and can be directly edited with a text editor.

•          KML files can be renamed as XML files and opened with programs such as Excel.

For example, a file named myplaces.kml could be renamed as myplaces.xml and opened in Excel.  Either file could be opened in a text editor.

KMZ Files:

•          Keyhole Markup Zip file

•          KMZ files are KML files that have been compressed into ZIP files.

•          KMZ files can contained image files.

•          KMZ files cannot be directly edited with a text editor.

•          KMZ files can be renamed as ZIP files and decompressed.

Probably the best policy is to save everything as a KMZ file.  That will make sure that all of your resources are included with the file.

IV.        Resources

Finding other tours online

You can do specific searches for Google Earth files.  Try doing a Google search using the following phrase:

        filetype:kmz virtual tour

This will find any KMZ file with the phrase “virtual tour” in it.  You can substitute “kml” for “kmz” to expand your search.