How to Create a ZIP Code Heat Map

Up here in New England, it’s getting hot outside. What better time than during a heatwave to discuss heat mapping. After all, heat maps are cool.

Heat maps describe business or human activity by color shading data values over specific locations or areas. A business map is manipulated to depict the concentration of sales transactions by address, or the intensity of thunderstorm activity across an area.

MapBusinessOnline includes a heat map button on the Master Toolbar. This button enables the creation of color intensified areas across a set of location data points based on the numeric values assigned to those points on the map. This is great for showing the intensity of sales by account or by salesperson. A great addition to a sales territory map or sales planning map.

What the MapBusinessOnline Heat Map button does not do is display the intensity of data by ZIP code.

There are two different types of heat maps:

  1.  Heat maps that reflect data intensity by location points – like the heat map button in MapBusinessOnline, and
  2. Heat maps that reflect data intensity by area such as ZIP codes or Counties

Your boss or associate may expect their requested heat map to show point-based or ZIP code-based heat mapping. Make sure you are clear on their requirement.

ZIP Code Heat Maps

A ZIP code heat map links a set of location data points to a group of ZIP codes. The ZIP codes would then be color-coded based on the numeric value of the data the map creator is required to highlight. The map below reflects imported location data showing COVID-19 cases by ZIP code, which in Massachusetts corresponds closely to cities and towns. In the case displayed I color-coded the ZIP codes based on the column of COVID-19 case numeric data.

COVID-19 Heat Map by ZIP Code

In general, the term heat map is used because maps that display data intensity tend to use colors toward the red or hotter side of the color spectrum. These maps use redder colors to reflect more intensive concentrations of the imported numeric data.

ZIP 5 codes are a popular area unit of measure for heat mapping because they are relatively small and relatively familiar to all US citizens. ZIP codes can be color-shaded to reflect local or national data values. A heat map could be applied to town areas, counties, states, or Census tracts. MapBusinessOnline also includes ZIP 3 codes, Metropolitan Statistical Areas, and even Congressional Districts, which could all be heat mapped. How cool is that?

ZIP 5 Heat Mapping in MapBusinessOnline

I know, stop yapping and tell me how to do it, you’re thinking.

  1. Import the location data you’d like to turn into a Heat Map. A ZIP code map will reflect heat map intensity for address-based imported data points.

The imported data should include location columns, like these:

      1. Addresses, or Lat/Lon coordinates
      2. ZIP codes or
      3. Counties, ST or
      4. City, ST
  1. Import your location data using the Plot Data button. Read more on data importing.
  1. Click the Color Code Map button on the Master Toolbar – 3 Puzzle Piece Icon
    1. Select the map layer you want to Heat Map – in this case, ZIP codes
    2. Select your target imported dataset
    3. Select your numeric value column
  2. Within the Color Code Map dialogue move down to select a range ( 2 to 100) and color scheme
    1. In general, keep the range at 2 to 5 ranges. This maintains a less chaotic map. Too many color options make the map difficult for the user to understand. At some point, with too many range levels your heat map becomes a hot mess
    2. Apply colors in a gradation scheme – cold to hot, low to high
    3. At the bottom of the Range/Color tools are some preselected graduated color schemes. These make color arrangements that are easy to read and easy to apply
  3. Click done
  4. Review the map and your ZIP code color scheme. Make sure your map intent is clearly displayed. It’s easy to run the Color-Code Map process again and make adjustments.

That’s how the ZIP code heat map is done in MapBusinessOnline. Compare it to our traditional heat mapping approach outlined below, which you might like better.

  1. Click the Heat Map Button, just to the left of the Color-Code Map button
  2. Select your target imported data layer. Click next.
  3. Choose a color scheme and a heat radius, which controls intensity
  4. Select which column in your data contains the numeric data to be heat mapped
  5. Finally, choose Preview or Done.

Once the heat map is established it is wicked easy to go back to the beginning and readjust the settings or try a few tweaks. Click done and see how it looks.

A Point-based Heat Map

Alternatives to heat mapping include color-coding a point layer.  To do this use the Three Colored Balls icon.  Read more about color-coding options here.

So, go forth and heat map. But keep your maps uncomplicated and easy on the eyes or your heat mapping experience may turn out not so hot.


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