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How to Create a Heat Map: Heat Mapping Software and Ideas

How to Create a Heat Map: Heat Mapping Software and Ideas

November 20, 2014
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One of the biggest reasons you why you might want to create a heat map is that you have a huge database of customer information, client listings, sales data, or any other data set and you want to get the big picture of some of the major trends in that data. The good news is that a heat map is a great way to visualize large amounts of data (and heat maps are one of the top types of maps we get questions about). And the even better news is that this a heat map will help you make sense of that data.

A little more information about heat maps:Heat maps are visualizations that take large data sets, usually data points, and visualize them based on their intensity on a map. The map basically takes a large number of points and shows their frequency in certain areas. So a higher number of points will show up as a brighter color and fewer points will show up as a lighter color. This allows you to see the big picture in your data rather than just a ton of points on a map.

Heat mapping is a major trend in business analytics and business intelligence mapping. This article will tell you some of the key steps to creating a heat map and the information you need to make one.

Have the right data

Before you create a heat map you want to make sure you have the right data and the right amount of data.

Let’s say you have data for every state in the United States: 1,212 customers in Minnesota, 4,589 customers in New York, 6,788 customers in California, etc. This data is better presented using a choropleth map (the cartographic term for using different colors for showing different proportions of a variable in different areas) or a proportional symbol map. Check out the examples below:


A choropleth map of pollution in Los Angeles. Darker red = more pollution, lighter yellow = less pollution.

A choropleth map of pollution in Los Angeles. Darker red = more pollution, lighter yellow = less pollution.


A proportional symbol map. The larger circles = more votes.

A proportional symbol map. The larger circles = more votes.


Now let’s say you have a lot of individual data points, such as customers or clients at one address, for the data that you want to map. This is the best data to use for a heat map. We suggest making sure you have a lot of data (probably thousands of data points) and that the data points are in a specific area – usually in one state, county, or city. This will help you pull some great insight from your map compared to a few points across a large region or country.

Make sure to geocode your data

So you have your data and you have an address for all your data points. You are almost ready to get mapping, you just have to make sure to geocode your data points. This is a process of using a geocoding system to import your data, read the address data from your spreadsheet, and use the system to assign a latitude and longitude to that data point.

You will need that to make sure your data shows up on the map in the correct location. There are a few different ways to accomplish this. You can use Google to geocode your data which requires some coding knowledge. Texas A&M offers a great geocoding service as well. You can also use CartoDB which we will cover in detail below.

Choose a mapping platform

There are several different ways to build your actual heat map. If you are looking to create a basic print map you can use a GIS (Geographic Information Systems) program such as QGIS to build your map. You will need some knowledge about how to use GIS to do this so we recommend checking out some online options.

CartoDB is a great option to build a heat map. You can import your geocoded data to their online mapping platform and use some predefined styles to build your heat map. The final product is an interactive map that will allow you to zoom in to see specific areas, click on specific listings, and update your data as needed. Make sure to check out CartoDB and learn more here.

Visualizing your data and color schemes

Your next step will be to pick the style of your map. The most common heat maps use red for more listings in one area and green for less listings. While this is a common approach we recommend trying some different colors since red and green tend to clash a bit. Try using red and blue or orange and white for more data points and less data points respectively.

We also recommend using a dark base map to help your data stand out. A light base map will make some of the areas with less listings blend in, and these areas can provide a lot of insight within your map. Also try using different colors for different attributes in your data (i.e. blue for current clients and green for prospects).

Heat Map

Data filters and time lapse

Now to take your heat map to the next level you should think about adding filters to your map. This will require some coding knowledge to create these filters but it is definitely worth the work. You can create filters to see data points from specific years, specific sectors, different locations, etc. This will help you create real time visualizations and pull impactful insights from your data. Say you have a list of prospects for your business and you want to find prospects in a certain county, industry, and with a specific number of employees. With these filters you can immediately see these data points on the map and any other combination from the data you have.

If you have a large data set over a specific time frame you can also create a time lapse or time filter in your map. You can select data points from a specific time frame or see the data points in a time lapse. (Check out our recent project with the DC Police Union here to see time filters in action). Below is an example of a time lapse map as well:

Don’t forget info-windows

The last thing you want to include in your map is your info-windows. When you click a specific point you can see details about that data point and learn more. If you are using a CRM tool such as Salesforce you can also include a link to go right to that listing from the map. It allows you to dive into your data and take action right from the map.

When all is said and done your final map will allow you to create real time searches within the map and find specific information and ultimately take action and learn from your data. Heat maps are a great asset for any organization and can help create insight from large amounts of data.

If you have any questions about heat maps or the tools we discussed here you can email us at or send us a message here!

Have any other tools or heat map examples that you have built? Share them in the comments below. We love to check out all kinds of maps so make sure to share your maps!

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