Google My Maps

Google has long been known for online mapping, especially for its Google Earth product, but also for Google Maps.  Google MyMaps is their next step for online mapping. It’s gone through a number of iterations in beta, starting out as Google Maps Engine Lite.  You might’ve heard of My Maps as this product.  Google Maps Engine had an enterprise service, now defunct.  But they also had a prosumer level called Google Maps Engine Pro, which is also defunct, but Google folded Pro’s functionality into Lite when they re-launched the service as My Maps.

Whatever they’re calling it now, we really like this product in IT, since it’s both simple and already integrated with the Google Apps you already are using.  Plus you can get point data into your maps easily– upload points from a spreadsheet, from a comma-delimited text file, or with a bit of effort, from a .kml file– the same file format Google Earth uses.  Let’s take a tour of what My Maps can do, and see how you can very quickly create a map, share it with others, and even embed your map in WordPress or Moodle.

It’s important to mention that there isn’t really anything to break that you can’t undo, and My Maps is so easy to use that the consequences of irretrievably messing up a map are pretty low– you can just redo it.  Go ahead and experiment!  It will forgive you!  Don’t know what that button does?  Press it anyway!  The consequences of failure are pretty low.

Getting Started

Please use Google Chrome or Firefox when working with Google My Maps.  St Olaf IT provides support for both browsers.  Chrome will likely give you the best experience.  Initial tests with Internet Explorer were… suboptimal.

Go to Google MyMaps.  If you’re not already logged in somewhere else in your browser, you’ll need to login with your Google username and password.  Once logged in, you should see the My Maps splash:

Click on Create a new map to open a new map.  Since this is a Google App, Google Maps Engine saves all your work continuously.  You can click on Open a Map to open an existing map; Maps Engine keeps track of all your maps and will let you choose which map you’d like to open.


Once you’ve got a map open, all the tools are available.   Google Maps engine is simple, so there aren’t really that many.  First, note that there’s a Google search toolbar at the top of the page.  If you enter a search term, it’s going to map the location(s) of your term and let you select what going on the map.   Second, look to the upper-left corner of the map, to the left of the Google search bar.  The map will be called Untitled map.  Click on the title and give the map a new name— otherwise you may soon be presented with an unbroken string of Untitled maps when you try to open a map later.  Adding a title right away really helps.

When you mouse over the map, the Pan (hand) tool is the default.  This works like any other Google Map, or Google Earth, for that matter.  Pan the map to where you want, and then either use the mouse or the zoom tools in the lower-right corner of the screen to bring the map to your area of interest.

Adding Data to your Map

There are four main ways to get your map data into My Maps:

  1. Just add a placemark (point) by hand, or draw a line or polygon.
  2. Do a Google search for a location and then add it to the map.
  3. Add points using a .csv (comma-delimited text) or .xlsx (Excel 2007+) file.  You can also import points from a Google Drive spreadsheet, or an older Google My Map (this is the previous incarnation).
  4. Importing a KML file.  Google Maps Engine doesn’t currently support this, but there is a workaround.

Adding a placemark by hand

Use the Add Marker tool:   GME_Toolbar_Placemark  When you start Google My Maps, the default tool is the Pan tool.  Click the Add  Marker tool, then click on the map where you’d like to add a point.  The point will be added, then Google Maps Engine will ask you to add some more data:


From here you can rename the point, add a hyperlink to a photo (you can add multiple photos!), and add up to 1,000 characters of additional text.  Pretty sweet.

 Adding placemarks with Google search

This is another quick way to add a placemark: just type a search term into the search bar at the top of the screen.  This offers a few extra features.  If the name of your search object is common, however, you may have to parse through a number of potential places to find the one you really want to use.  Of course, once you find the one you really like, you can always edit it and move its location on the map to suit your needs.


So this time, we added the location of the College by search for “St Olaf College” in the search bar.  Not only did Google locate the College, add a placemark, but it also titled the placemark and added Google’s data to it as well: our address, our website and main phone number, plus our Google+ page.  These data are added independently of any other data about the point that you might add.  If you’re satisfied with the point Google has given you (or that you have chosen), click on Add to map in the lower-left corner of the placemark’s callout.

Importing points from .csv, .tsv, or spreadsheets

My Maps supports the import of points (but not lines or polygons) using a variety or formats: comma-delimited and tab-delimited files, plus .xlsx files from Excel and Google Spreadsheet files from Drive.  MyMaps also supports 2,000 features per layer, and 10,000 per map, with up to 10 map layers.  Additionally there are limits on the the number of rows you can import (2,000), and some file size restrictions.  Check here for the details.  My Maps also supports .kml/.kmz imports from Google Earth and Google Earth Pro.

Keep in mind that you can only import once per layer.  Say you have a map you just created, or a new, empty layer in an existing map.  If you add placemarks or polygons by hand, you won’t be able to import points later, and you’ll have to create a new layer (or just start the layer over).  A best practice would be to import points first if necessary, then add additional features by Google search or by hand.

Via text-delimited files & Excel spreadsheets

  1. Google MyMaps will accept comma- and tab-delimited files, plus Excel spreadsheets.  This includes Excel 2007 and later .xlsx files, as well as Excel 97-2003 .xls files.
  2. Click on the Import button:
  3. This will bring up a brand-new window.  You’ll either have the option of just dragging your file onto the window (exactly how Google Drive works, or how you’ll drag and drop pictures and attachments into Gmail), or by choosing Select a file from your computer, and navigating to the location of your file.  MyMaps  supports comma (.csv) and tab-delimited (.tsv) text files, as well as Microsoft Excel 97-2003 .xls files, and Excel 2007 and later .xlsx files.  In the case of the delimited text files, the suffix really matters– it tells Google Maps engine how to parse the file.  Often ArcGIS and other GIS packages will output .csv and .tsv files as .txt files, since that’s really what they are.  Ensure that you have the appropriate suffix, since this detail matters. Lastly, the names of each column should be the first line of the file.  This is called the header row.
  4. On import, MyMaps will scrape your headers looking for coordinate data.  It will automatically find latitude and longitude columns.  If you don’t have any, that’s okay– it will do Google Maps search on the text in each row of a column you define, and it will place those locations on the map for you (also see below on Google spreadsheets— the assumption of these instructions is that the GIS folks will likely use the delimited files and Excel, and where GIS isn’t involved, Google spreadsheets, because they’re really easy).  This works almost exactly as it would if you did a Google maps search in the toolbar— it just does it in a batch, and you don’t have to touch it.
  5. Next, MyMaps will ask you for a column to title each placemark it imports.  There’s two final technical caveats for those importing points using lat/long coordinates.  First, stick with decimal degrees, and second– don’t worry if this doesn’t mean much to you– understand that, regardless of what datum your coordinates are actually in, Google Maps Engine is going to assume they’re in WGS84 and project them to Web Mercator.  For 98% of most applications you’d use MyMaps for, this won’t matter significantly.  But for the 2% where it does, a datum mismatch might result in points lying a few feet off from where they should be in both northing and easting.  If you are a GIS user and think this might be a concern, simply reproject your points into WGS84 (or Web Mercator, EPSG 3857) and ensure you’ve got the decimal degree coordinates in your attribute table before importing into MyMaps (and kick them in with .kmz instead of .csv!).
  6. Once you’ve got data imported, you can either add more data by clicking the Add layer button, and repeating this process (or add data from a Google Drive Spreadsheet, below), or you can move on and start customizing your map.  You can have up to 10 layers.

We’ve thrown the word “layer” around a lot.  In GIS, layer has a very specific meaning.    You can treat layers in My Maps the same way you would in a GIS.  Think of layers as groups of objects that are geographically or conceptually similar.  In My Maps, you’re not able to move features between layers, so be aware of that when you import data.

Via Google Spreadsheets

One of the nicer aspects of My Maps is how integrated it is with Google Apps.  It’s just another part of the system we’re already using every day anyway.  You can also push point data into MyMaps from Google Drive.  NB: You MUST enable popups from in order for this to work properly.  Please call (x3830) or email the IT Helpdesk <> if you need assistance with disabling popups for My Maps.  Enabling popups is a one-time operation, assuming you’re not using a public machine.

  1. Click on the Import button.  This will open up the Choose a file to import window (this might look familiar already!).  As always, you can drag-and-drop .csv. .tsv, and .xlsx files into the main window, just like you do using Google Drive, to upload them.
  2. In the above screenshot, note that there’s three links for Google Drive: My Drive, Shared with me, and Recent.  You can use these to navigate to files in your St Olaf Google Drive space.
  3. The nice thing about Google Maps Engine and spreadsheets is that you don’t need spatial data or coordinates to locate points.  It helps, but it’s not necessary.  If you do have latitude and longitude data, My Maps will scrape your column headers and automatically find your coordinates if you label them appropriately.   At minimum, a spreadsheet used to import placemarks needs to have:
  • A header row that names the columns, i.e., name, city, description, etc.
  • A column with keywords in each row to use as a Google Maps search.  This is the column used to locate the placemarks on the map.  Without coordinate data, this won’t be perfect, but with general city-level searches, it’s pretty good.
  • Another column used to name the placemarks you’ve located on the map with the first column. Strictly speaking, this is optional– but your placemarks won’t have names other than Point 1, Point 2, and so on when you click on them.

Here’s a sample spreadsheet format to show how easy this actually is (lifted straight from the original Google Maps Engine documentation):

Place City Importance
Golden Gate Bridge San Francisco, CA, United States A symbol of strength, durability, and beauty
Mount Rushmore National Memorial Keystone, SD, United States A commemoration of some of America’s brilliant leaders
The Liberty Bell Philadelphia, PA, United States A symbol of freedom
Freedom Trail Boston, MA, United States The setting of where the American Revolution unfolded
Fort Sumter National Monument Sullivan’s Island, SC, United States The location of the first shots fired for the Civil War
National Mall and Memorial Parks Washington, DC, United States The site of many famous national monuments
Gateway Arch St. Louis, MO, United States A symbol of the gateway to the West
The Alamo San Antonio, TX, United States The site of Texas’ fight for independence in 1836
Statue of Liberty New York, NY, United States Statue of Liberty


So, once you’ve found your spreadsheet (and this works even if you’re importing a file from your computer), click on it for import:

Once you do this, Google Drive will send a pop-up asking for access permission.  If you don’t have pop-ups for enabled, it will hang here until it gets permission.

In Google Chrome, a blocked popup icon will appear in the upper-right of the screen, inside the the address bar: popup_blocked  Click on it, then click the option Always allow popups from  For Firefox, the process is very similar.  A yellow bar will pop up at the top of the page when the GME popup is blocked:

Popup_blocked_FirefoxGo to the upper-right of the screen, and in the same yellow bar there will be an Options button.  Click that, and then click allow popups from  Internet Explorer works in basically the same way.  Generally when you do this, it’s best to just cancel what you were doing, and start your import over– it will work!  Once you start the import process again with popups enabled, you may need to give GME permission to access your Google Drive:

Even though it’s one part of Google talking to another, you still need to give My Maps permission.  Click Accept.  My Maps will fetch your file, and you’ll never have to give My Maps permission again.   Next, a window will appear, asking you choose a column in your spreadsheet to position your placemarks.  Here, we’re using the sample Google spreadsheet example, above, and that’s where the column names are coming from.  Your column names will appear here.  The column you choose to position you placemark will be the subject of a batched Google Maps search– it will search on the words you provided in every row of that column and make a placemark on the results.  If you choose your search terms carefully, you should get a placemark where (or close) to where you want one.  You can always move them later, but if you decide you don’t like their placement, you can always just delete your imported points, alter your search terms in your spreadsheet, and simply re-import them.


Once you’ve chosen the column used to position placemarks, choose a column to title each placemark automatically.   Then, My Maps will meditate on this for a second and create your imported points.

Editing and Adding Images to your Points

Whether created lovingly by hand, or imported from a spreadsheet or text file like a boss, once you’ve got you data into My Maps, you can edit anything you just added, including moving placemarks around.  You can add new placemarks, draw features, even add pictures and video already on the Internet to your features.


When you click on a point, you can edit it (the pencil icon), get Google maps directions (the arrow) or delete the point (trashcan).  If you edit your point you can:

  • Move the point.  When in edit mode, you can click and drag the point to anywhere you like on the map.
  • Change the title of the point
  • Add one or more images
  • Add up to 1,000 characters of descriptive text


Changing the title of your point and adding a description are pretty easy.  You can also add images and now video to a MyMaps feature.  To do so, click the camera icon in the lower-right of the editing window for the feature.  In the (recent) past, MyMaps only supported images with URLs–  and you couldn’t add video.  Now the case is altered.  Clicking on the camera icon brings up a new chooser window:

You still can’t  upload your own images… but!  now you can link to streaming video!  Your best bet is to use images and video already on a St OIaf-owned website where we have rights to use images, or using Google Image Search to find images that are free to use or share under Creative Commons or other rights management system.  You can do Google Image searches and You Tube searches directly in this window. Please note you are currently shackled to YouTube– no Vimeo or other streaming services at this time, unfortunately.

When adding a picture or video to an object:

  1. The URL must be valid, meaning you can open the image in a web browser using it.
  2. You must click the Add button to the right of the input field.  If you wish to add more than one image, click on the + sign in the lower right corner of your new image when it is added.
  3. You must click the Save button when you’re finished.
  4. Caveat: sometimes direct You Tube URLs result s in an error: “The video you selected no longer exists.  The owner may have removed it:”  A workaround is to just do a video search for the same video and add it in.

Adding polygon features to your map

My Maps does more than just points.  You can now easily import .kml or kmz files from Google Earth  using the same facility you would for .csv or Excel files, (or even use .kmz as your export path to ArcGIS for Desktop or from My Maps).

To create a line or shape, use the draw tool in the toolbar: DrawTool.

You can draw lines, or draw enclosed shapes that My Maps will automatically close and create polygons from.  You can edit lines and polygons in the same way as placemarks.


So here’s dear old Rølvaag Library, with a My Maps polygon drawn on top of it.  You can see that it has the same features as a placemark. You can move, edit (by grabbing the white dots with the mouse) and manipulate the data associated with the object, including adding pictures to it.

Attribute Data attached to My Maps Features

My Maps basically has no analytical functions, other than the find directions tool and a measure distance tool.  But it does have one very GIS-like feature: its data tables.  There are data associated with every single feature in each My Maps layer.  You can add this by hand, of course, but you can also just create a spreadsheet with your data and import everything at once.  This is a particularly good practice because your editing functions within the spreadsheet are limited

Within a layer, access the data table by clicking on the Data icon:

This will then bring up  the full data table.  You have limited options for what you can do with the data; you can sort your data from A to Z and Z to A, insert and delete columns, but you can’t filter or query your data.  However, you can edit the data in the individual cells, and sometimes that may alter the location of placemarks if the editing is done in the column used to position of placemarks.  You will not be able to change the order placemarks appear in.  To really do any significant reordering, editing, or query of your data, it’s best to do that before you import it in the first place.  It is not possible to export your data tables back into Google Spreadsheets, Excel, or a delimited text file.  Yes, this is frustrating.

Styling your Data and Basemaps

In Google My Maps, placemarks and polygons can be styled differently.  You can change all the placemarks in a layer to look the same, or you can alter them individually.  You can also change the placemark icon to one that better suits your needs.  It is a common technique in the GIS world to create a column in the data table and use that to style icons– that trick will work nicely in My Maps too.  You’re able to style features uniformly (all the same), sequentially by colors and letters, individually (one by one), or by data column.  Regardless of the method you use, you can change the color of the object by holding your mouse pointer over the object in the layer list– a paint bucket will appear when you do this.  Click on it and your colors and icon options will pop up.

You can also define labels for your mapped features.  Labels will appear next to your features on the map.  While you will not have control over how the application will place the map, you can define the data column that is used to create the labels.

At any time, you can alter the basemap your map is using.  The standard Google Maps basemap is the default; and you can also change to any of nine basemaps on the fly, including the satellite view.  Sometimes you’ll want to do this so the colors of your features stand out (or at least don’t clash).  Other times a different basemap better suits your needs.  Maybe you just want to be different.  You can alter the basemap at the bottom of the main panel.  There is a pulldown button that is at first difficult to notice, a square with a downward-pointing arrow. Click on it, and the basemaps will expand:


Embedding your maps

The best thing about My Maps is how easy it is to embed your maps.  You can create a simple map and have it on the web in less than five minutes.  Embedding your map in WordPress or Moodle is easy.  First, click on the green Share button in the upper-right corner of the map.  The map should currently be private, with you as the owner.  Next, click on the word Change…


A new window will open, click Public on the web for Visibility Options, and that anyone (no sign in required) Can view (not Can edit):


Click Save, then click Done on the previous window to complete the sharing settings.  Now the the map is public, all that’s left is to embed it in a web page.  My Maps will provide an embed code, all you do is copy and paste it into your web page (with an easy modification for WordPress).  To get an embed code, click on the three dots in the table of contents window in the upper left of the screen, next to Add Layer and Share:

Then, click Embed on my site.  You’ll get a new window with the embed code in it, which will look like this:

The text should already be selected for you, but if not, click on the text and select all of it (Control-A on PC, Command-A on Mac), then copy it (Control-C on PC, Command-C on Mac).  Keep it in your clipboard until you need it for the final step.

Embedding in WordPress

Embedding a map in WordPress is simple.  Say you’re editing a page.  And you have an embed code.  All you do paste your embed code in the page, and you’re almost good to go.  The caveat is that WordPress on its own doesn’t like iframes and won’t display them.  However, we have a plugin that will permit the use of iframes on both the official site and  To embed My Maps maps in St Olaf WordPress sites, do this:

  1. Paste your embed code in your page, in the visual mode, in the text mode, doesn’t matter.
  2. Change the < > brackets to [ ] brackets and remove the </iframe> closing tag.
  3. That is really all you need to do.

So this:

<iframe src=”” width=”640″ height=”480″></iframe>

becomes this:

{iframe src=”” width=”640″ height=”480″]

Protip: you can adjust the size of your map by changing the iframe width and height.  640 by 480 pixels works for most screens, but what if you wanted more? Or less?  Change the values in the quotes, reload the page, and see what happens!  Experiment!

NB: spaces have been inserted before and after the [ ] brackets to get the code to display.  Without spaces, this code would show the example map and not the example code!

Embedding in Moodle

  1. Go to your course and turn editing on.
  2. Go to the place in the course where you’d like to embed the map, and click + Add an Activity or Resource.
  3. Scroll down to RESOURCES, choose Label and then click the Add button.
  4. The Editing Label screen will appear.  You may wish to add text here, but to embed the map, click on the Edit HTML source button, which is somewhat obscure :

moodleUpdatingLabelThen simply paste your embed code from GME into the HTML Source Editor without modification (Moodle likes iframes just fine and doesn’t require a separate plugin).

moodleHTMLSourceThen click on the Update button.  Your map will appear in the label text window if you did this correctly (and of course you did!).  Adjust whatever other settings you might need to for the label, and then click Save and return to course.

Your map will appear on your course!

You are done!

Congrats!  If you’ve suffered through this entire thing, you now know how to:

  • Make a map using Google MyMaps
  • Create placemarks by hand, and add pictures and data to them
  • Import point data from Google Drive spreadsheets and a variety of other formats
  • Use layers
  • Draw polygons on your map
  • Modify and edit your data tables
  • Style your points, change icons, and add labels to your points
  • Change the default basemap for your map
  • Share and embed your maps in WordPress and Moodle.

Where to go for help

Got more questions?  Need to do something MyMaps can’t do? Hungry to describe the relationships between place and space? To show how near things are more related to each other than distant things? Email the Geospatial Instructional Technologist, Jason Menard (, or call x3731. St Olaf IT regrets that we’re not able to extend support for Google MyMaps to users outside the St Olaf College community.