Written by Erica Williams
Expertise in creating functional, aesthetically pleasing maps online is indispensable. A well put together map is informative, interactive, and accurate, perhaps using a suite of mapping libraries to provide extra functionality and cartographic features. However, the most technically competent and user-friendly map will never be able to have an impact if no one ever sees it. Creating maps in an online environment often means you are responsible for promoting those maps. What is a cartographer to do?
FIRST: WHAT IS YOUR MAP?
For the purposes of this article, I will be using as an example an ESRI ArcGIS Online Story Map, created for a lab earlier this term. As always, ESRI technology has its own quirks and peculiarities, and I will try to point them out when possible to make this example as general as I can.
The map in question can be found here http://arcg.is/20toUpF
STRAIGHT FROM THE HORSE’S MOUTH
The first place someone seeking to promote their web map should look is the site of the tools they used to make the map in the first place. ArcGIS Online has some advice in that regard. As the creator of a story map I have the opportunity to change the tags and description of both my map series, and the individual maps.
By clicking on the story map you wish to promote, you should encounter a page like this
Here you can find a summary field, a tab to insert tags, a share button and links to edit each individual map. No matter what application you are using to construct your maps, these elements, or versions of them are very important, as we will see below.
In addition the ESRI help files recommend making use of a feature called “groups” in the promotion of your content: http://doc.arcgis.com/en/arcgis-online/share-maps/groups.htm
There are also myriad websites with advice for how to promote any kind of content on the web. For the purposes of this article, I will be following along with the advice presented in this article, because it tickles me to promote free services for homeless kids using resources from a capital-oriented website intended to hoard more and more money privately.
SHARE AND SHARE ALIKE
By clicking on the share button (the little picture of chains) for my story map, I am presented with a pop-up like so (assuming your map has already been made public):
Here you will find not only a link to the story map which can be given to others directly to access your work, but also the html code necessary to embed your map into an existing webpage, a very good idea! Ensuring that whatever API you are building your map in has its sharing settings put on “public” or the equivalent will save you much confusion.
Again, sharing links and html codes exist for all my individual maps as well. This is important, because drawing people into a website is one of the most effective ways to get eyes on your work.
SEARCH HIGH AND LOW
I first want to focus on that summary field and tags tab. These are intensely useful for what is called Search Engine Optimization, or the process for being a search result when someone enters a query in Google.
Tags and descriptions, minor items which might get the short shrift in metadata for a non-interactive map, become of utmost importance when you realize that most search engines looks only for text to match with people’s queries. My summary and map descriptions should thus take into account which searches I hope to come up in the results for. I want the information I have organized to be available to people asking, “Where can I go to get (shelter, food, showers, etc) as a homeless (youth, child, kid, young adult)?” Houseless, in trouble, somewhere to stay, help, are all words I expect that people will use to describe their situations. My summary then can be something like, “Are you in trouble and a child in Portland? If you are in need of a shelter, of food, of a shower, of clothes, of medical care or just a place to rest, and you are a kid, a youth, a teenager, or a young adult, then these maps can help.” The repetition of words is something that you should aim for.
Not just the series, but each individual map can take a similar description in its metadata. Click on the edit map buttons of the screen shown above. Go to the details tab highlighted below, and add descriptions which are likely to answer questions your maps might be useful in response to:
Next we should talk about tags. Essentially “pull words” which can link your content with search engine queries, tags are familiar to many people these days as hashtags on Twitter or Facebook. Using similar principles as before when writing up summaries should get us a tag list that is helpful.
Now that the map is well-configured, it is time to worry about how to make the site it appears on more accessible to search engines. Ensuring that the site you post it on is properly indexed, or readable is paramount. If your site is hosted by a service such as Mango, or any popular blogging site, they should submit your sitemap automatically to be indexed.
GET BY WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM YOUR FRIENDS
One of the surest ways to promote your web map is to give access to it directly to those with whom you have professional or social ties already. We live in a culture of social media, and this can be a powerful tool for anyone producing content online.
The ArcGIS Online Groups are essentially ready made professional and social networks for other cartographers to view your maps. Your map can be shared to public groups, or you can create your own.
However, if you are producing content intended for those who are not united by an interest in web maps, or which does not use ArcGIS Online as a base, your own social networks can help. Facebook groups exist for nearly any community, and there is ample help for promoting a group you yourself have made. Targeting your content to people who have an interest in sharing it has the potential to promote your web map to hundreds of new users with each successive link they share out.
As cartographers, we are story-tellers. Getting an audience is the only way that our stories get told. We can help ourselves and the readers of our maps by making sure that our maps are accessible, by ensuring that those asking for them can get to them, and by directly telling people about our work.
SOURCES AND RESOURCES
How to Get Your Web Maps to the Top of Google Search
4 Ways to Increase the Visibility of Your Web Map
10 Proven Ways to Market Your Website
ArcGIS Online Help: What Is A Group?
Essentials For Intelligent Web Maps