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Google Maps Basics

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Google Maps Basics

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Google Maps is Google's search engine for locations and directions. Previously it was a tool available only to desktop users, but now it is available on phones and tablets. 

Search Google Maps

Google Maps works well as an exploration tool. You can enter keywords, just like the web search engine, and relevant results will be revealed as markers on a map. You can search for the names of cities, states, landmarks, or even just types of businesses from broad categories, such as 'pizza' or 'horse riding.

The Maps Interface

There are four main types of maps offered within Google Maps. Maps is a standard graphic representation of streets, city names, and landmarks. Satellite is a satellite view woven together from commercial satellite photos. Satellite view doesn't provide any geographic labels, just the raw image. Hybrid is a combination of satellite imagery with an overlay of streets, city names, and landmarks. This is similar to turning on the roads, borders, and populated places labels in Google Earth. Street view offers a panoramic view of the area from street level. Google periodically updates street view using a car with a special camera attached to the top. 

Not every area has enough detailed information to zoom closely in Satellite or Hybrid view. When this happens, Google displays a message that asks you to zoom out. It would be nice if it either did this automatically or switched to Maps view.


Google Maps also provides an overlay of traffic information in select US cities. The roads will be green, yellow, or red, depending on the level of congestion reported. There is no detailed information telling you why an area is congested. 

Street View

If you want to see even more detail than a satellite image, you can zoom to Street View on select cities. This function allows you to see 360 degree pictures of the actual street level view. You can zoom along a road or move the camera to either side to see the road as it would actually appear on a road trip

Although there are limited cities and streets where this is available, it's extremely helpful for someone trying to drive somewhere for the first time. It's also very cool for the "Internet tourist," who likes to view famous locations on the Web.

Map Manipulation

Manipulating maps within Google Maps is similar to the way you'd manipulate maps within Google Earth. Click and drag the map to move it, double click on a point to center that point and zoom in closer. Double right-click on the map to zoom out.

More Navigation

If you prefer, you can also navigate with the zoom and arrow buttons on the upper left corner of the map. There's also a small overview window on the bottom right corner of the map, and you can use your keyboard arrow buttons to navigate as well.

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