What is Google Maps and How Does it Work?

By Corbin HartwickUpdated on November 20, 2017

We all need a little direction sometimes, especially when we're far from home or looking to go to a specific place for the first time. But traditional maps can be vague and confusing: are you in the right area? Is the map for the area that you'll be travelling in or to? Which direction are you facing? Is the map the right way up? What do the landmarks near where you need to go look like?

Recently, paper maps have become outdated, and digital navigation has taken their place. However, modern G.P.S. systems can be expensive, and usually require an ongoing paid subscription to update the maps. Google, however, offers a map service for free called Google Maps.

Google Maps is a free online map service. With Google Maps, you can view photos, topography, or even detailed satellite images of almost any area on Earth. You can also get detailed directions between almost any two points on Earth, whether you're walking, biking, flying, or using public transportation.

How Google Maps works: 6 useful features to try out!

1. Change your view to get a different look at the map

You can move the map around, so you're not stuck looking at one area all the time. You can also zoom in to get a better look at a specific area, or zoom out to see the surrounding area or move the map someplace else more easily.

2. Learn about points of interest in an area

You can click on points of interest to see more information about them, such as if they have a website, their hours of business, and if any events are scheduled to happen there. You can also browse photos of them, or of related photos from the general area.

3. View areas from overhead with "Satellite View"

By default, Google Maps displays a standard animated map that focuses on urban planning. However, if you click the button in the bottom-left corner, you can switch to "Satellite View", which displays the map with a combination of satellite and aerial photography. This lets you get an overhead view of what a place really looks like! You can also click this button again to go back to "Urban Planning View". See our Google Maps Satellite View tutorial for more information.

4. View places from the ground with "Street View"

You can use the "Street View" function to view an area through a series of panoramic photos that make it look like you're standing right there! You can even move around while in "Street View" to explore the surrounding area! Check out our Google Maps Street View tutorial to find out how it works!

5. Measure the distance between points on the map

Google Maps includes a distance measuring tool that can be used to find the distance between any two points on the map. Plus, you can add extra markers and move them around, so you can find out how far it is between two points if you stop at other points along the way!

6. Get directions between places for various transportation modes

One of the most powerful features of Google Maps is its ability to help you plan out a trip by giving you multiple sets of directions based on your departure point and destination. Type in where you're coming from, where you want to go, and how you want to travel (e.g., car, train, bus, airplane, and so on), and Google Maps will show you the best ways to get from point A to point B. Which one you pick is up to your needs and wants!

Now that you know what Google Maps is and how it works, check out the rest of our Google Maps course. We’ll teach you how to use the website and app, how to search for places to visit, and even how to get your business to appear on Google Maps! When you master Google Maps, you'll always know where you are and where you're going! …Well, at least geographically speaking.