December 22, 2013 - 16:06 — GretchenNovakXu

Using pushpins to mark locations on a map can be a great way to represent information visually. You can probably imagine plenty of situations in which a map with location markers could be useful: an organization that's spread across a wide geographic area could put a map on its website showing where all of its members come from, a business could print flyers with a map displaying all of its locations, and a student working on a project could make a map with the locations of historical events.

These days, it's easy to create and share some pretty sophisticated maps (for free!) using a computer. I recently discovered a great online tool for this purpose, and in this post I'd like to introduce you to it.

BatchGeo (http://www.batchgeo.com) is a website which allows you to generate custom maps from an Excel spreadsheet. You just make a spreadsheet containing the locations and data you want to mark on the map, copy and paste it into BatchGeo, and within minutes you'll have your custom map. I will walk you through the steps for making your own map using BatchGeo so that you can get an idea of how the site works and what kinds of things you can do with it.

Making a Spreadsheet

The first thing you'll want to do is use Excel to make a spreadsheet with the locations and any other information you want on the map. It's important to make sure that the first row of your spreadsheet contains column headers like Address, City, State, and Zip Code, so that BatchGeo will be able to make sense of your data and know which column is which. If you don't want to include street addresses, that's fine--BatchGeo can still generate a map with your data as long as you include at least the zip code or the city and state. Any information that you include in your spreadsheet besides the address, (such as names or phone numbers) will be displayed whenever you click on each location marker in your map.

Below, you can see part of an example spreadsheet that I will use to make a map of the birthplaces of all the presidents of the United States. Since I want the title on each location marker to be the name of the president who was born there, I have made Name the first column. My next two columns are City and State--I don't know the street addresses or zip codes where the presidents were born, so I didn't make columns for them in my spreadsheet. Finally, I made columns for Party and Years. This information will show up whenever I click on a location marker in my final map.

Turning Your Spreadsheet Into A Map

Once you have your spreadsheet, turning it into a map couldn't be easier. Just highlight all of your data in Excel, copy it to the clipboard, then go to http://www.batchgeo.com and paste it in the box at the top of the page, replacing the default information that's already in the box.

If you set up your spreadsheet with headers at the top of every column, BatchGeo should usually be able to automatically detect which column is which, but click on "Validate and Set Options" to make sure it didn't make any mistakes. Verify that the header you put on your address column shows next to "Location/Address", etc.

As you can see, BatchGeo was able to detect, based on column headers, that my spreadsheet contains columns for City and State. Since my spreadsheet doesn't have fields for street address or ZIP code, "none" is selected next to "Location / Address" and "Zip / Postcode / Country". If BatchGeo selects the wrong column name (or selects "none" for something that is listed in your spreadsheet), just pick the correct column name from the dropdown box.

Below the ZIP code field, you will get a preview of the information box that will pop up when you click on a marker on your map.

Beneath that is a field called "Group By/Thematic Value". By default, "Single Color" will be selected, and your markers will all be the same color. But if you select a column name from the dropdown box, you can have your markers sorted into groups of different colors. Since I decided to group by "Party", the markers will be assigned different colors based on each president's party.

 

You can click on Show Advanced Options to see some more settings that you can change. For instance, you can choose the type of map your markers will be displayed on, such as a street map, satellite map, or terrain map. You can also enable clustering for high density markers, which allows you to display just one big marker instead of a large number of regular markers if there are many of them in the same small area. If you have a particular column that you want to use as the title for each marker and BatchGeo doesn't detect it automatically, select that column name next to "Title". There are a few more settings you can experiment with if you like.

Click on "Make Map" when you're ready. BatchGeo will start processing your data to turn it into a map. This can take several minutes if you have a lot of data.

Your Finished Map

Once your map is created, BatchGeo will give you a link to view it, another link to follow in case you need to edit the map later, and some code to embed the map in a webpage. 

Below is a preview of what your finished map might look like (an actual link to my map is here). Notice that since I chose to group by "Party", the markers are different colors based on what was listed in the Party field. There is a convenient legend at the bottom of the map telling you what each color means.

This is what it looks like when you zoom in on a particular section of the map and click on a marker to see information about it:

Limitations

The free version of BatchGeo limits you to 250 location markers and 6 different-colored groups. If that is not enough for you, BatchGeo's sister company Maptive allows users of its free version to have up to 2500 markers per map, though you can only add 250 markers to your map in a 24-hour period. Both sites also have paid versions which allow more groups and more markers.

I hope that this information is useful to you!