The Power and the Danger of Overlays On Your Business Map

Overlaying multiple datasets to a business map is a powerful feature. This ability to overlay layers allows a map creator to bring numerous elements into a map project to support its purpose. Elements like:

  • A defined area of interest on the map – this could be just one ZIP code or the entire USA
  • Relevant business location-based datasets
  • Numeric data imported and converted into a heat map layer to display data value by its visual intensity
  • Symbolized and color-coded specific location data points
  • Color-coded map layers like City Limits or ZIP codes based on an imported point layer
  • Color-coded map objects and map layers – color-coded by demographic category
  • Uploaded business listings from any major industries
  • Visual map layers for reference, such as highways or city points

There are eight categories noted above. The map creator could apply a variety of business datasets. All told, this list of overlays constitutes many moving parts for a business map. There must be some road rules to control the application of all these layers to a map.

Indeed there are. Please read on.

Understand Your Map’s Purpose

The first step in building a helpful business mapping project is to understand your map’s purpose. Get clear on it.

Business maps are generally a visualization of a business process, problem, or plan. For instance, a common use of a business map is the depiction of sales results for commission assignment and account responsibility. That is a process-focused map. The map’s purpose is to define boundaries and establish goals. These maps are usually sales territory maps.

Another widespread use of a business map is for strategic planning. For business planning, maps offer a unique view of possible futures. A planning map’s purpose is to provide ‘what if’ scenarios. “If we grow sales in New England for the next two years, how many more electric delivery vehicles with charging stations are required within these four radii?”

A map used to layout a problem area should include one or more possible solution views.  That’s just common business sense. You know that, right?  Never present a problem to your boss without a viable solution.  “Boss, your mother-in-law just entered the building carrying pepper spray. You should climb out the window located here, on the building and grounds map, and hide behind those bushes.”

Overlays of various data sets on one map can provide those varying views quickly. Use the Map and Databox in MapBusinessOnline to turn imported data layers and map layers on and off. A confident map user can present a map project using MapBusinessOnline live. In this way, a map creator can vary the layers, turning them on and off to present offer possible solutions.

A coverage area map explains your organization’s coverage extent. Coverage area maps do not show extraneous information. These maps should be very focused on areas covered and not on non-related map themes.

The point is, connect your relevant map layers to your map’s purpose and your map will be well received.

Import What is Relevant

This brings me to my next point. Import only data layers relevant to the overall map purpose.  A tech company’s coverage area map might include these layers:

  • Color-coded ZIP codes of areas covered by traveling technicians
  • A customer density data layer
  • Headquarters and branch locations

But the same coverage area map should not include:

  • The previous year’s sales by customer or ZIP code
  • All the Home Depots in the coverage area
  • An overlay of all vernal pools within the coverage area

Keep only relevant data layers in your business map project. Wandering too far from the central purpose of your map risks watering down its effectiveness. If you’ve ever worked for a person with ADHD, you’ll have experienced the frustration of a distracted decision maker. Pass the Adderall, please.

Health Care Insurance Network Map – Many Layers but Purposeful

Minimize Your Data Layers

Some maps deserve extra data layers; make sure your business map requires all the data layers you give it. A good business map is more like Lincoln’s Gettysburg address than Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Too many layers, and your map purpose gets lost in the sauce.

Importing ‘extra’ data layers opens your map up for misinterpretation. Busy, older decision-makers can be overwhelmed by too much detail – too many data layers. Do not subject yourself to ridicule by creating a map visualization that is too busy. Wherever possible – keep it simple.

Steps you can take to keep your data layers under control:

  • Combine similar imported datasets where possible. Combine prospects and customers into one Excel spreadsheet. Use a Customer Type column to differentiate customer types on the map through symbolization and color-coding
  • Consider not using a background map. A blank background with a State outline layer turned on may be all you need for background map reference. Try it both ways and decide
  • Look for redundant map layers and imported data you can turn off. If you don’t need counties or ZIP codes, uncheck them
  • In the Map Legend, uncheck layers that do not require map identification. For instance, no one needs to be told in the Map Legend that the state layer is the state layer

“Make it Stop!” Too many layers…

Review Your Map Text

As your map project takes shape, double-check any text you have added to the map.  Look for misspelling, wrong names, inadvertent map points., and oddball imported data names.

Here’s a list of text areas on a business map that can turn your map project into a laughingstock if you are not careful:

  • Rename imported datasets to something short and descriptive. Our imported data is often named quickly when the dataset is filed on our desktops. You might import a file called – RBDialscustlist11220XCV. Rename it to something such as Client List as of Jan 2020 or even just Client List
  • Review text boxes, map titles, and map legend for misspellings or poor word choices. I find that my focus on map creation may leave the rough text for names or descriptions. Go back to a full map view and carefully review all text on the map
  • Map Titles – MapBusinessOnline map title control is in Map and Data. Name your map title something related to the map purpose. When you near completion of your map project, double-check your title

Consider Your Map Audience

A business map is not something every businessperson has experienced. Mapping and spatial awareness are not natural for all people. Many people comprehend maps quickly. Still, other people may need an  introduction to business mapping. Be aware of your map audience.  Don’t assume the Corner Office is comfortable with maps. Follow the guidelines above and some other best practices listed below and keep your map audience in mind.

Stick to your map purpose, and don’t overwhelm your map viewers. Avoid redundant data layers and double-check your work. Don’t give that skunky VP something to complain about. You know how he can get.

Further reading:


Find out 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 then 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 or Jason Henderson

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