Introduction to Map Making on the Web
You don’t have to be trained in the art of cartography (map-making) to make maps on the web. That is because there are three software options available that simplify the map-making process, though some are easier to navigate than others. In addition to mapping software, a basic understanding of essential terms will make it easier to get started plotting your points. Terms to know include the geographic coordinate system and the difference between latitude and longitude.
Once you know your software options and key terms, you won’t even need programming knowledge to customize the maps you make on the web. You’ll be able to easily adjust the base map style and marker pins. As you embark on your map-making journey, we’ll cover these important concepts:
- Geographic coordinate system
- Latitude and longitude
- Different mapping software options
- Customization of base map styles and marker pins
Plus, we’ll share how to create a map by copying and pasting a list of addresses. But first, let’s dive right into the map-making terms you need to know.
Geographic Coordinate System Overview
Let’s start with the basics: the Earth isn’t flat. Now that that’s out of the way, you also need to know that cartographers sought to describe the position of a geographic location taking into account the spherical nature of the planet. Hence: the geographic coordinate system (GCS), which is what most mapping software options use to plot your points. The geographic coordinate system is comprised of two measures: latitude and longitude, which define locations. Every point on Earth can be described by these two numbers, so let’s learn the difference between the two.
The Difference Between Latitude and Longitude
The difference between latitude and longitude is their position from the two imaginary lines that divide the Earth: the equator and the prime meridian.
Latitude depicts how north or south a point is from the equator, the imaginary line that runs horizontally through the Earth. A point with a 0-latitude is located right on the equator.
Longitude depicts how east or west a point is from the prime meridian, the imaginary line that runs vertically through the Earth. A point with a 0-longitude is located on the prime meridian.
Every point on the planet can be identified by its relation to the equator (latitude) and its relation to the prime meridian (longitude). Both latitude and longitude — the coordinate pairs — can be positive or negative depending on the hemisphere of the coordinates. A point south or east of the imaginary lines should be depicted as a negative number.
When it comes to writing latitude and longitude, latitude is almost always listed first with longitude following second. You can remember that because, while both begin with “L”, the second letter of latitude (“A”) comes before longitude’s second letter (“O”), just like how latitude comes before longitude in a written coordinate pair.
You can learn more about how to plot latitude and longitude on a map and even how to enter latitude and longitude into Google Maps but for now, let’s look at the three most common map-making software options, only one of which requires a download.
Mapping Software That Plots Your Points
You’ve decided you can’t go any longer without plotting your points on a map; now you need to know the best software options. Keeping in mind that one user’s favorite software may not be the best tool for your mapping needs, here’s an overview of the top three mapping software options you’ll find on the web:
- ArcGIS and other desktop GIS software
- Google Maps API
- Web-based mapping tools
Each of the popular mapping options above has its pros and cons. We’ll outline them below, and then it will be up to you to choose the best fit.
ArcGIS and Other Desktop GIS Software
GIS stands for Geographic Information Systems while ArcGIS is the software for GIS made by Esri and is the industry standard. As such, ArcGIS has an extensive list of features; it can do almost anything you’d want from mapping software. Plus, because it’s so popular, there are plenty of YouTube tutorials on how to get started with the ArcGIS desktop software.
If ArcGIS is the industry standard, has more features than any other mapping software, and is easy to learn, why would someone not want to use it? Unfortunately, ArcGIS is out of many mapping aficionados’ budgets. ArcGIS is expensive; we’re talking thousands of dollars. Now, if your company or university provides its staff or students with licenses, this con doesn’t necessarily apply to you. But, if you’ll be paying for a mapping software out of your own pocket, you may want to turn to a more affordable route. In addition to pricing, it’s harder to get your maps on the web once you make them with ArcGIS. You’d need to publish them through Esri or host your own map tiles, which can be difficult for even the most experienced mapper.
Google Maps API
ArcGIS may be the industry standard, but most maps you see on the web are likely built using the Google Maps API — and for good reason. As a product of Google, the Google Maps API has the largest mapping database when compared to other web-mapping software. Maps made with the Google Maps API are also easily embeddable into mobile and website pages, and Google offers usage flexibility. With Google Maps, you’re able to increase or decrease your usage depending on your mapping needs at the time.
Additionally, as with the GIS (ArcGIS) desktop software, Google Maps costs money. Now, the Google Maps API used to be very cost-efficient (read: free for most users). However, in August of 2018, Google announced its new pricing for mapping services. The new pricing model included increased prices for paid versions of the service and reduced features for free users.
Web-based Mapping Tools
Now, not every great mapping software costs an arm and a leg like Google’s potentially does. Several web-based mapping tools allow users to quickly import and display geographic data for free, though the processing of large amounts of data may occasionally require a relatively small fee.
BatchGeo.com is one example of a web-based mapping tool that uses the Google Maps API, known to have the best mapping data available, for free. Yes, you read that right. By copying and pasting your Excel spreadsheets and other lists of addresses into BatchGeo, you can create accurate maps that don’t require you to download any software, write code, manually geocode addresses one by one, or host map tiles yourself. You’ll be able to share these maps privately or publish them for all to see, and like Google Maps, you can embed them on your website. Now that you know how the three most common software packages, let’s learn about how to customize the maps you’ll make.
Base Map Styles and Customization
There are several stylistic elements to making maps on the web, including base map colors, cities and borders, and marker pin customization. The first customizable element is the base map color, which is essentially the color scheme of your map. Here are some of the base map color styles available when you use BatchGeo.
There are also different styles of cities and borders (country, state, city, etc.) in different base maps. For example, the maps on the left display the same location. However, ArcGIS’s border styles differ from those on a BatchGeo map, which uses Google Maps tiles.
In addition to the base color of your map and the visibility of certain features like cities and borders, you can also customize the marker pins when you make maps on the web. You’re probably familiar with the default marker pin:
But did you know you can change both the color and shape of the marker to better suit the content of your map? Each map-making software has different marker pin styling options, but your best bet is to stick with a marker shape that resembles what we’ve come to know as the default red marker pin. You’ll also want to ensure your customized marker’s color stands out.
Create a Custom Map from Your Data
Now that you’re gotten an introduction to map-making on the web, complete with all the ways you can customize web maps, follow the steps below to create your own map with BatchGeo.
To get started, follow these steps:
- Open your spreadsheet
- Select (Ctrl+A or Cmd+A) and copy (Ctrl+C or Cmd+C) all your data
- Open your web browser and go to batchgeo.com
- Click on the location data box with the example data in it, then paste (Ctrl+V or Cmd+V) your own data
- Check to make sure you have the proper location data columns available by clicking “Validate and Set Options”
- Select the proper location column from each drop down
- Click “Make Map” and watch as the geocoder performs its process
Once all of your rows are geocoded, click “Save & Continue” and enter some details about your map. Provide a title and, optionally, a description. To claim the map as your own, which allows you to edit it later, include your email address.
Now click “Save Map” and you’ll be directed to your map’s unique page. By simply copying and pasting your data into BatchGeo, you can make maps on the web like this:
View Example Sales Data in a full screen map
You then have the option to share your maps with specific people, like your company’s sales team, or you can make them available to the public and then embed your map on your website.