A Comprehensive Guide to Creating Smart Interactive Google Maps

Planetizen recently debuted their Google Maps for Planners course for $15/mo. We don’t think you need to pay to learn how to use a free tool.

If you didn’t already know, Google Maps Engine Lite is a free custom map making tool. You can get to the interface one of two ways: a direct link or by simply clicking “My Places” next time you’re perusing Google Maps. If you’ve never used the tool before, we suggest starting with basic tutorials like this thoroughly illustrated text tutorial by a blogger in the UK. If you prefer learning through lectures and watching someone perform the tasks, try YouTube tutorials like this one from MyUntangled Media or this video tutorial if the first one didn’t make sense.

But what if you want a deeper understanding of the program? How do you quickly create a map with dozens, hundreds or thousands of data points? How do you do all of this without knowing Javascript or any other programming lingo? How can you do all of this for free? Here’s how:

If You Need to Plot/Highlight a Few Key Points/Areas

Google Maps Engine Lite

If you only need to plot a few points or highlight a few areas like a small number of parks in a small town, police stations, etc. you can simply use the standard Maps Engine Lite interface. It is truly user-friendly and quickly becomes intuitive, especially if you haven’t skipped our suggested tutorials above.

If You Need to Plot a TON of Points

Import from Excel or Google Spreadsheet to Google Maps Engine Lite

When plotting enough data points to give yourself carpel tunnel if you entered them the standard way, you can easily import your excel data directly into Map Engine Lite using the “import” button. No bells or whistles here- just simplicity and ease. This is a great video tutorial on how to do this, though it is a bit long-winded. If you need to update the map after you edit the excel sheet, you must go through the entire process again. It’s a quick process, but nobody wants to have to do something twice when they could have just done it once.

Use ZeeMaps

ZeeMaps is a free, third-party tool for creating maps through Google Maps. You may input your data from a search, Google Spreadsheets, Microsoft Excel, CSV, KML, GeoRSS feed, or good old copy-and-paste. There’s no need to sign up  and you can edit your map even after importing your data- unlike Google’s interface. You can export your map as a PDF for a presentation, add video, photos, or audio with each data point, and customize your point markers. Plus, you can learn how to use it in about ten minutes through these video tutorials. It’s a genuinely impressive tool and we can’t wait to use it more.

Use BatchGeo

BatchGeo is another free, third-party tool for creating maps. However, BatchGeo can be used for more than just simple mapping- its acts more like GIS than Google Maps. Simply paste data into their text field and off you go with your new map, ready for basic in-browser analysis much like GIS. You may also edit the map data after creating the map, unlike Google’s interface. BatchGeo even ensures that every map is mobile-optimized and can automatically route mobile users to the nearest data point using their onboard GPS. Standard. For free. Why is this tool not a bigger deal already!?

If You Need to Highlight Multiple Areas

Use ZeeMaps

Highlighting a dozen (or 34) areas in Google Map Engine Lite can be literally painful. Not only does ZeeMaps dominate Google’s interface when plotting a large number of data points, but it can also highlight areas in bulk! Seriously, you need to learn how to use this tool.excel,

Now Get Mapping!

We want to see some amazing work in the comments and on our Facebook and Twitter feeds because next week we’ll be sharing how to combine your new skills with Google Map Engine Lite with your crowdsourcing and public involvement efforts!

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