This help guide outlines the process to create an interactive online map using Google My Maps, which is free to use but requires a free Google/Gmail account. The resulting map will have custom icons to click on for further information, including text, videos, or images. Google My Maps also has help documentation that you may want to consult.
How-to videos and tutorials
There are some helpful videos on YouTube, such as this brief one from Google and this 15-minute one which goes step by step through making a map. If you want more detail, this 44-minute video should have you covered.
There is also a detailed illustrated tutorial from Google.
If you have any further questions, check Google My Maps help documentation or let us know.
As long as your information has a location, it can be mapped. The location could be:
- Latitude and longitude coordinates
- Street address
- City / town / village / neighbourhood
- Province / state / county
- Location of interest (e.g.: monument, building, park, etc.)
Google My Maps uses the same search as Google Maps so if you've ever used Google Maps to find directions somewhere, you're familiar with the kind of locations you can find.
Go to Google My Maps and login using a Google account.
Click the Create a New Map button
On the resulting screen, note the following locations:
- The search bar at the top is how you find locations
- Change the map title and add a description by clicking Untitled map
- The Share button is where you find a link to your map (the privacy settings must be Public or Anyone with the link for others to view it)
- Under Untitled layer is where your selected map locations will be found after you've added them
- Base map is where you can change the base map (underlying map background)
In the search box, search for the first location you'd like to add to your map (e.g.: Parliament of Canada)
The result(s) will show up on the map. Select one to add to your map by clicking on the Add to map link in the information bubble.
The location will then appear under Untitled layer and a new information window will pop up. The new window also includes options to edit the style or content of the location, as well as add images or delete the location.
To change the default symbol, click the Style paintcan in the popup window for that location. You can select your desired colour and the More icons button provides several dozen icons to use. You can even import your own custom icon if you'd like.
This may be a good time to choose your base map by selecting one of the nine options available, as symbol colours that visually stand out on one base map may be difficult to see on another.
Unless you have more than 10-15 locations that will be on your map, sticking with Individual styles makes the most sense for your final map even if you style them all the same. This option impacts how the final map is displayed (you can preview by clicking the Preview button).
To add a line or area instead of a point, click the Draw a line button and select Add line or shape from the drop-down menu. Draw your desired line/area (for an area, click the first dot to close the shape) and then use the Style paintcan in the popup window to change the appearance.
- That's all there is to it! Repeat steps 4-8 to add new locations.
Make sure to Preview your map! It will look a bit different when you're not in the editing screen. To do so, click the Preview button above the Layers section.
To add details to a location or change its title, click on that location and then the Edit pencil in the popup window. Click Save when done.
- Ctrl-Enter to add an empty line between paragraphs
- Hyperlinks work automatically
To add an image or video, click the Add image or video icon in the popup window. There are multiple options to upload, add from a URL, do an image search, or add a YouTube video.
- Seach for your topic in Google Images: images.google.com/. In this example we'll search for coffee.
- Once the results are visible, click the Tools button below the search bar
- Click the Usage rights dropdown and select a usage label (e.g. Creative Commons licenses).
- Select an image. It will appear in a dark rectangle. Click on the File link in the upper right corner of the rectangle to be linked to the image.
- Click on the image to view just the image.
- You want to make sure the URL ends in .jpg, .tif, .png, or another image file format
- Make sure that only the image is visible on the page before copying the URL
- If it's a Wikimedia Commons image, click on Use this file on the web and then copy the File URL
- Copy the URL or the File URL if it's a Wikimedia Commons image
- In your map on Google My Maps, click on the point/line/area that you want to add the image to
- In the info box that pops up, click the camera (Add image or video)
- Click on the Image URL option
- Paste the URL into the appropriate box. You will be informed if the URL is incorrect.
- Click the Select button. The image is now added to the pop-up info box.
Add a title and description by clicking Untitled map. The title should be descriptive of what's on your map and have a statement of geography (e.g.: Ottawa Museums; Giant Roadside Attractions of Alberta; American Civil War Historic Sites; etc.)
Name the untitled layer by clicking on it to describe the locations within it. This can mirror (or not!) the map title.
If you have two or more categories of locations, such as museums and art galleries, you can create a second layer to divide them and keep them organized. Just click the Add layer button, name a new layer Art Galleries and then drag and drop the locations from the previous layer into the new one.
Change the base map by selecting one of the nine options. You may want to hold off customizing your symbols until you've chosen your base map.
Set the default view (zoom level) by zooming to the point you want your final map to start at, click the three dots beside the map title, and select Set default view.
Preview your map by clicking the Preview button. It may not look how you expect so you can make adjustments if necessary.
Share your map by clicking the Share button, then set your privacy to either Enable link sharing or Public - everyone on the internet can find and share. Then copy the link and you're good to go!
Yes, it is possible for a group to edit the same map. A Gmail address is required to edit and the person who first creates the map is the owner forever (as far as we can tell it's not possible to transfer ownership). However, it is possible to export the data from your map as described in the next section, and then anyone with the data can import those layers so there is a work-around.
- Click the Share button, which is below your map title and above all the locations you've added
- Click the Drive Sharing button in the pop-up window
- Click the Settings button to give permissions (like editing permissions or copying the map)
- Add people or Google Groups by typing in their email addresses
- When you're done adding new editors, click Send to notify them of their new permissions
Let's face it: it's hard to beat the Google My Maps search if you want to make a dataset of points from scratch. You can add your locations to the map and then export it as a geospatial file to use or modify in a GIS software (QGIS, ArcGIS, etc.).
- Click on the three dots beside your map title to view the menu
- Select Export to KML/KMZ
- In the window, select which layer to export or the entire map.
- Select the export format if you just want a KML. KMZ retains icon information which may not be necessary, depending on your intended use.
- If you'll be using the data in a GIS software, downloading each layer separately in KML format is recommended.
Both the KML and KMZ files will include all the fields that were added to the layer plus some extra fields that you may not need, as you'll be able to see when you import the file into a GIS software and view the attribute table.
Depending on how you will be using Google My Maps, there are limitations that you may want to know:
- There is a maximum of 10 layers in each map
- There is a maximum of 2000 features (points, lines, or polygons) per layer
- Exporting to KML can work for many desktop GIS software options, but a KML cannot be edited after it's uploaded to ArcGIS Online
- That includes symbology, data fields, adding pop-ups in an online map, etc. More details.
- Work-around: download the KML, open it in a desktop GIS software, export it as a shapefile or another ArcGIS Online-compatible format, then upload it to ArcGIS Online as a hosted feature layer
If you find others, please let us know.