How to Make a Better Google Map

Making a custom Google Map is a simple process. Google has a very good
starter video and a 5 step quick
start guide
for the basics of making a custom
map. But once we started making our Nelson NZ Beer Map we realized the
video didn’t really show the best way to map a collection of places. We
discovered a
number of little tricks along the way to achieve the exact map details
we wanted.

Here are some tips and hints for displaying a collection of places on a
map- such
as restaurants in your town or baseball fields in Nebraska. (We have
yet tried to map points along a route, but in the video that looks like
a simple step once you have your places to connect.)

As you can see on our Beer Map, this type of custom Google Map has
three main elements: the map area, the left panel list and the
placemarkers with pop-up descriptions.

1. The Map Area

You don’t have to do anything to set the map area- once you’ve selected
all of your places, Google Maps will automatically scale your map to
show all of your points.

  • You can, however, change the displayed
    area before you embed your map into your web page.
    We zoomed in on our beer map somewhat in this article
    to focus on the town of Nelson, but you could also zoom out if you want
    to provide a greater context (i.e. show the whole state).

2. The Left Panel

The left panel shows the name of your map, a description and a list of
your place markers. The list is automatically created as you add points
to the map. It
shows an icon, your place name, and the first line of the description
you put in the info box (see below).

  •  Change the order of list items by dragging and
    dropping. For our Beer Map, we created them in a random
    order, but then re-sorted the list into the order many tourists are
    likely to approach the town.
     We also separated the breweries from the pubs.

3. The Place Markers

The real work and art of creating your map is putting the places on the
map. Each place includes a place marker and a pop-up info description.
The Google instructions have you start by dragging the placemarkers
the map. We found this to be a slow and inaccurate way to locate
existing places. Unless you are zoomed all the way into street level,
your marker will land far from the actual address. Also, a manually
placemarker info box is completely blank, so you have to add all the
details into the description box.  Here’s an easier option:

  1. Search for the
    address: “123 Main St, MyCity, CA” using Search Maps at the top of the

    • You’ll get a list in the left panel including
      place at that address and maybe some other related links.  
  2. Select the verified Google place, which already
    separate fields for address, phone, website, etc, and might have a

    • This will display its info box on the map. 
  3. Click the “Save to My
    Maps” link at the bottom of the info box (you might have to scroll down
    within the box to see the link.) 
  4. Choose your map from the dropdown list (again,
    you might have to scroll down.)

    • This will automatically take you to the
      placemarker and info box on your custom map. 

Now, you have added the place and don’t have to
type everything, but you can change anything you want.

Editing the Place Info

Things you can change in the info box:

  • Title – The name that will show on your left panel list.
  • Description – the first 5-10 words will also show on your
    left panel list.
  • Icon – Click on the icon to change it from the standard pin
    to an
    interesting shape.

    • You can also get fancy and “Add an Icon” if you have
      a 32 x 32 pixel or smaller image saved somewhere on the web that you
      want to use (see the Penguin Map we link to in our South
      Island Penguins
      article for a very cute example.) Then choose
      My Icons to see your custom choices.
  • Place Details – Click Edit to change the name, address,
    phone, website or photo. One pub we added
    brought up the name and phone of the previous business at that
    address, so we fixed it.

    • Be aware, though, that the original info will be
      displayed if someone clicks the hyperlinked place name in your
      info box. (To see this hyperlink, click Done on the left panel, then
      click the place to view the info box again.)

More Tricks

Here are a few more good techniques we used:

  • If you don’t know the exact addresses of all the places for
    map,  you can use the “Search Nearby” trick mentioned in the

    1. Click the Done button in the left panel to save your
    2. Click one of
      your places.
    3. Click the Search Nearby link at the bottom. 
    4. Type a business name or category.
      We typed in
      “brewery” and got a list of breweries without having to type each exact
    5. Follow the place marker steps above to add the place to
      your map.
      Frustratingly, if you add one of the list items to your map, you lose
      your search list and have to search again, so
      remember to right-click a name in the list and choose “open in new
      tab/window” before adding it. Then you can go back to the list for the
      next one.
  • Sadly, not all of the local breweries came up using Search
    Nearby. When
    you know a place exists, but there is no verified Google place for it,
    you can still cheat if a
    neighboring place still comes up:

    1. Add that place to your map.
    2. Use the editing steps above  to change all the
      This gives a more complete looking listing
      than just starting from scratch. Again, be aware that the place
      hyperlink will still display the original info.
      Sometimes when there is no verified place, unverified places or
      personal places
      show up which have been created by people like us. You can still add
      them to your map, but you might have to re-enter most of the details
  • If there is no verified Google place, you might want to
    scroll to the bottom of the left panel
    and use the “Add a place to the map” link. This doesn’t do anything
    right away, but it submits the place for review by Google to be added.
    Later you might be able to go back and update your map with the
    “verified place” that you had
    added! (Businesses can also add themselves to Google Maps.)
  • Google doesn’t let you create a Legend or Key explaining
    all the fancy icons you have chosen, but you can add one (words only)
    into the description of your map on the left panel.
  • Finally, if you do want to use the Map Tools such as the
    drag and drop pins or lines, some browsers have trouble with the Java
    Script, so you might see only some of the tools. (Where did that pin
    tool go???) Try reloading the page in your browser until you can see
    the tool you need!


  • You have to sign up for free Google account to
    create maps. Be aware that the name you choose will show on your map
    and any public profile information can be accessed from there as well.


How to Make a Better Google Map — 2 Comments

  1. Maybe I will try this on our upcoming trip to HI to catalog the cool places we go! Great article–you always take something that seems like it’s got a rather annoying learning curve associated with it and break it down into something very approachable.

  2. Quite inspiring,

    I first thought making a custom google map is easy, but I faced some difficulty , I’m greatfull that you had saved this problems before otherwise it would have take me ages to solve the whole thing


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