Alternatives to Google Maps for Webmasters and App Developers


A street view in Google Maps (click to zoom).
When Google announced last year that its popular Google Maps service would no longer be provided free of charge to websites that consistently served more than 25,000 requests per day, website and service developers began looking for alternatives. We've put together a list of services that can help your business save money and improve your online map whether you exceed the Google Maps API limit or not.

If you want to develop a mobile application or a website that incorporates maps or directions in a big way, you'll probably want to start fresh with an alternative to Google Maps, especially if you aim to produce an ambitious application or expect lots of visitors to your website. If you're running a small business and your use of the Google Maps API extends just to showcasing directions to retail locations, you shouldn't need to worry about switching, as you are unlikely to reach the 25,000-visits-per-day limit, unless you want to implement your own features in your maps or make them look a certain way.

Google is allowing for occasional increased use by charging only businesses that hit the 25,000 daily requests limit for 90 days consecutively. So Google won’t penalize you if a newspaper runs a story about your business and you see a corresponding spike in map requests for a week.

If you do consistently send Google Maps more than 25,000 requests daily, Google will charge you between $4 and $10 (depending on which Google Maps API your site uses) for every 1000 map loads beyond that limit. Sebastian Delmont, CTO of the real-estate portal StreetEasy, stated in a recent Google+ post that his firm would have had to pay Google hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to continue using Google Maps. As Delmont explains it, the company considered using another service, but management decided that StreetEasy should build its own maps instead—and the company couldn’t be happier.

OpenStreetMap

OpenStreetMap is the hands-down favorite dataset of Foursquare and other companies that have migrated from Google Maps. OpenStreetMap is a collaborative effort to create a free, user-editable map of the world--think of it as a Wikipedia for maps. Anyone with a WordPress website can use OpenStreetMap on their website right away simply by installing its WordPress plugin. OpenStreetMap isn’t a drop-in replacement for Google Maps, however; you’ll need a third-party tool to enable your visitors to obtain directions to your location and to draw out other data. Here are two of the best examples:

MapQuest

MapQuest’s Map Builder Beta is a great, free solution for retail businesses that are already accustomed to using Google Maps. You can use it to embed static or interactive maps that provide your customers with driving directions, highlight particular routes, identify specific locations, and more--all without having to do any HTML coding. Map Builder is also available as a WordPress plugin. You’ll find additional information here.

MapBox Streets

If you’d like to embed more elaborate maps into your site, MapBox Streets replicates the easy-to-use nature of Google Maps while delivering an upscale user experience. It offers a free service for sites that expect to serve fewer than 3000 map views per month, with pay levels serving increasingly higher limits and bringing additional features.

MapBox Streets, an upscale alternative to Google Maps, doesn't show only streets.
The pay levels start at $5 per month (for 7500 map views) and top out at $499 per month (for 1 million map views and dedicated support with 24-hour response time). Most small businesses will be well served by the $50 per month package that provides 50,000 map views, branding-free maps, and analytics tools. MapBox also offers a free open-source tool, called TileMill, that allows you to create static maps you can use on your website, in reports, or in presentations.

Once businesses get a taste of the tools that are available to build better maps, Google Maps may have to step up its game and make its product more attractive to retain its user base. For now, familiarity and ease-of-use are on its side.

Angela West is easily distracted by maps of pretty much anything, so this blog post was very perilous to write. She's written for big insurance companies, small wildlife control businesses, gourmet food chains, and more. Follow her on Twitter at @angelawest and Facebook.

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