Between them, Google Earth and Google Maps have revolutionised mapping by making geographical information more available than ever before. Whether you want to get directions for travel by car, bicycle or on-foot, identify somewhere you’re intending to visit by investigating the locale in Street View, or take a virtual tour of some far flung corner of the globe via satellite imagery or a 3D view, these and lots of other options are at your fingertips.
Useful and fascinating as all this might be, though, online mapping isn’t only about accessing information that others have provided. No doubt you’ll have seen plenty of websites that include a small portion of Google Maps, zoomed in to a particular area and displaying extra information such as the locations of offices marked with push pins.
In just the same way, you too can customise Google Maps and either provide your friends or business colleagues with a link to that map or embed it on a web page. You can also choose to make your map public which means search engines will be able to find it and it will be listed in your Google profile.
The personalised information you show on your maps can include addresses, walking or driving routes, and shapes such as the extent of a park or woodland. Each of these can also be annotated with textual information and photographs that’ll appear as a pop-up when someone clicks on the location marker, route or shape.
Applications are limited only by your imagination. Perhaps you are organising a charity run and want to provide runners with details of the start and finish points and information about the route. A customised Google Map is exactly what you need.
Similarly, personalised Google Maps come in handy for party or wedding invitations, for informing people that you’ve moved house, for helping customers find your office or shop, providing details of a school or college field trip, and so much more.
Here we’ll show you how to create your own Google Maps but first, if you haven’t already done so, you need to sign up for a free Google account. Head to Google Maps, click on ‘Sign in’ in the top right-hand corner and then on ‘Sign up’ which will also appear in the top right-hand corner of the screen.
How to make a custom Google map
1. In Google Maps, click on the ‘My Places’ button on the left and then, when it appears, click on the red ‘Create Map’ button. Enter a meaningful title for your map and a description in the relevant boxes before selecting either the Public or Unlisted option, depending on whom you want to have access to your map.
2. When your personalised map is complete, anyone using it will still be able to zoom and pan as they can with any other map but you’ll almost certainly want to specify how it looks when it’s first displayed. So, navigate to the location you want to show in your map and zoom in or out so that it shows the area of interest.
3. To include a location click on the blue pushpin icon near the top-left of the map and click on the map where you want it to appear. Enter a title and a description in the pop-up and, to change the appearance of the marker, click on the icon in the top-right corner and make your choice. Click on OK when you’re done.
4. To edit any object, click on it to display the pop-up. Do this with your location marker now. To format the descriptive text, select ‘Rich text’ and you’ll see formatting controls similar to those in Word. Note, though, not all the formatting is correctly previewed while you’re editing it. The ‘Insert Image’ icon to the right lets you do just that.
5. To add a route, pull down the menu from the zig-zag line icon, which is next to the pushpin icon, and select ‘Draw a Line’. Click on the map to define the start of the route and at each change of direction, double clicking when you reach the end. The pop-up will appear as it did with the location – add the title and description.
6. When you’re done, click Save in the left pane. To get that all-important URL that you can email to your friends or colleagues or include as a link on a Web page, click on the chain link icon. The URL appears in a pop-up: press Ctrl-C to copy it.
Next page: how to embed Google Maps into your website
Embedding your map in a web page
If you'd like to embed a custom Google map on your website, you can copy the portion of HTML code from step 6 into an existing web page. However, while the default code shown might be Ok for some people, it's worth customising this so you can define exactly how the map portion will appear on the page.
Click on the ‘Customise and preview embedded map’ link which is just below the HTML code in the pop-up. A new window will appear showing how your embedded map will look on a Web page.
Perhaps the most important consideration is how large it should appear and you’ll notice that you have the three options of small, medium and large, or you can specify a custom size. As with everything else on this page, the preview alters, as does the HTML code at the bottom, each time you make a change.
Buttons at the top of the map section also let you choose whether to display your data overlaid on a map (with or without terrain), a satellite image, or a Google Earth type 3D display. You can also redefine the zooming and panning. When you’re happy with the preview, just copy the HTML by selecting it and pressing Ctrl-C, and then paste it into your web page, to Facebook or anywhere else that allows HTML code.