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 excellent.

Heat maps describe business or human activity by color-shading data values over specific locations or areas. A business map depicts the concentration of sales transactions by address or just like the intensity of thunderstorm activity across a weather map.

MapBusinessOnline includes a heat map button on the Master Toolbar. This button creates color-intensified areas across a set of location data points based on the numeric values assigned to those points on the map. Heat maps are great for showing sales intensity by account or by salesperson—a great addition to a sales territory map or sales planning map.

The MapBusinessOnline Heat Map function does not display the intensity of data by ZIP code. Use the Color Coding toolbar section Boundary button to accomplish heat mapping intensity 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 areas 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. Please 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 corresponds closely to cities and towns in Massachusetts. I color-coded the ZIP codes based on the COVID-19 case numeric data column in the case displayed.

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.

A heat map is generally created for towns, counties, states, or Census tracts. 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. 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 Coding  Boundaries 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. Fewer ranges maintain 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. Some preselected graduated color schemes are at the bottom of the Range/Color tools. 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 displayed. It’s easy to rerun the Color-Code Map process 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 that controls the 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 complete, 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 not be so hot.


Discover why over 25,000 business users log into for their business mapping software and advanced sales territory mapping solution. The best replacement for Microsoft MapPoint happens to be the most affordable.

To access MapBusinessOnline, please register and download the Map App from the website –

After installing the Map App, the MapBusinessOnline launch button will be in the Windows Start Menu or Mac Application folder. Find the MapBusinessOnline folder in the Start Menu scrollbar. Click the folder’s dropdown arrow and choose the MapBusinessOnline option.

The Map App includes the Map Viewer app for free non-subscriber map sharing.

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Contact: Geoffrey Ives at or Jason Henderson at



About Geoffrey Ives

Geoffrey Ives lives and works in southwestern Maine. He grew up in Rockport, MA and graduated from Colby College. Located in Maine since 1986, Geoff joined DeLorme Publishing in the late 1990's and has since logged twenty-five years in the geospatial software industry. In addition to business mapping, he enjoys playing classical & jazz piano, gardening, and taking walks in the Maine mountains with his Yorkshire Terrier named Skye.
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