A Unique, Customized Google Map is a Useful Tool Your Clients Will Love
In my last post - Creating Google Listing Maps: Part One - we barely scratched the surface with the new Google Maps feature called "My Maps". It's easy to get started (with a Google Account), and in this post I'll go through some of the steps for 'populating' your map with Placemarks, and content within those Placemarks. Content which can include photos, text, hyperlinks, even video.
Where Will You Map Today?
After you've come up with an accurate and descriptive search-engine-friendly "Title" and "Description", and tagged your map as "Public" or "Private", it's time to decide where your map will actually be. Most likely this will be your home town or service area, but it could also be very specific like a neighbourhood or sub-division.
After opening up Google Maps, position the map to the area you want to cover. Use the "Zoom In" and "Zoom Out" controls to position the map you see on the screen to the general perimeter. This isn't a defined setting, but the map will open at the largest view possible including all the Placemarks. This is something to keep in mind because if you have one Placemark far away from all the others, it will create a larger map. The image below illustrates this point.
Both screens below are shown as they opened up when the map loaded. The first map is at a much lower "elevation" but shows more detail of the actual area. In the second map, the fourth Placemark has greatly increased the "territory" shown.
Once you've found exactly where you want add a Placemark, click on the blue Placemark icon, and "drop" it on your map at the desired location. A "Google window" will open and this is where you can edit your Placemark. There are three editable options: title, icon and description.
Title: This what will show up at the top of you Placemark, and also on the left side as the hyperlink to the location. This will identify the location and your viewers will use it for reference, so choose your words wisely. You may want to identify the specific location like "123 Smith Street", or use a descriptive term like "Four Bedroom on a Large Lot".
For this map I created for a client, I referenced the number of bedrooms for each listing and the local area/community. For some, I included additional info if it was relevant, like "investment property".
Title Bonus Tip: Google is now indexing "user-created" content. Like your map. At the bottom of search results, you may noticed a link that invites you to "search for user-created content". This is where your map will show up if you let Google know how to find it with descriptive language, relevant content etc. All the stuff Google likes anyway for its search results.
So what what's the Bonus Tip? Google will index your individual Placemarks, so choose your titles carefully. This is the same for the main title of your map.
Here's a link to a Google Map search for "Halifax Real Estate" in the "user-created" results.
There are 13 results - 11 are from my map, and the top two results were already there (before I created this map on April 6th). So... in less than two weeks Google has found my map, and it's returning results. These are for pretty exact search terms, but those are the words you want to show with around here.
The default Placemark Icon is a blue balloonish shape. This can easily be changed by clicking on the icon and selecting an alternative from this provided. These can help to identify what's at the Placemark - a property, landmark, school, airport... it's a great way to make your map stand out.
Description: This where you can really make your map stand out and provide useful information. The window is defaulted to "plain text", and I guess plain is better than nothing. But why be plain when you can be rich-text?
Setting the panel to "rich-text" will provide options to dress up your text. They're very basic options - but less is more when it comes to text formatting anyway. You can also add in a hyperlinks and images. When adding an image, a pop-up window will ask for web address. Google Maps isn't hosting any images, so the photos you show must already be hosted somewhere online.
For example, if you're linking to a listing photo on your web site, put your cursor over the photo and right click on the image. Click on properties, and you'll see the URL of the image. Paste this into your map, and it will show up in the description.
In addition to plain text and rich text, you can also edit your Placemark with HTML. This option will be discussed in the next post, and would definitely be taking the customization up a notch. You don't necessarily have to know HTML either - I don't. With tools like Google Page Creator, or any WSIWYG HTML editor, you can really make your map a destination in itself.
A final tip - alway remember to SAVE your map - the button is top right in the My Map panel.
Next Post - HTML, Adding Video, Other Good Stuff
For Additional Background Reading... check out these blog posts for additional info on Google's My Maps:
> Google Blog Announcement: http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2007/04/map-making-so-easy-caveman-could-do-it.html
> Joel Burslem - future of real estate marketing - on Inman Blog: http://blog.inman.com/inmanblog/2007/04/social_mapping_.html
> Google Maps Mania Blog: http://googlemapsmania.blogspot.com/2007/04/new-google-maps-feature-my-maps-build.html