ExpressMaps - A Google Maps Alternative

Many site owners believe that Google Maps is the only mapping service which can be used to add a map to their website when there are many other better options available. Specifically, other mapping services such as ExpressMaps are more cost effective, faster to load, respect the privacy of your users and are less likely to impact your business when Google make one of their frequent breaking changes to their terms of service and pricing.
We set out below the reasons why we believe you should consider using an alternative mapping service to Google Maps.

Free Quota and Pricing

Without any need for qualification, Google Maps is now the most expensive mapping service on the internet. It's a sad state of affairs because Google once offered the most generous free quota and fairly attractive pricing if you went over the free tier. So, how many map loads does Google allow you in their free quota? Unfortunately, the answer is now extremely complicated to work out and can most accurately be summarised by 'it depends'.

More specifically, it depends on which Google Maps APIs you use as each one has a different price. For example, the Google Maps Javascript API costs $7 per 1,000 map loads but the Places API costs $17 per 1,000 map loads. The Places API is used each time one of your users types into the address autocompletion box if you have one installed on your website.

Let's look at how the prices work out with some worked examples:

Generous free plan & fair prices as you grow

Included in the estimates below are map loads ONLY. If you use the Google Maps Places API (aka the address autocompletion service) expect your costs to be much higher.

ExpressMaps Google Maps
900 views / day Free Free
1,500 views / day Free $120
3,000 views / day Free $440
7,500 views / day $29 $1,401
30,000 views / day $99 $6,205
100,000 views / day $399 $21,150

If you need a more accurate cost estimate, please see our mapping service cost comparison tool.

Changes to Terms of Service

Up until May 2018, Google offered an extremely generous free tier for their mapping service which led to a huge proliferation of websites using their maps. However, this all changed with a classic Google irony free "We're excited to announce..." notification which changed the online mapping landscape for good. Gone was the generous free tier and in it's place a limited quota of $200 with accompanying price increases of up to 1,400% (yes, prices went up by a multiple of 14x for some services such as the Places API.

Google also dictated said that you could no longer use the APIs in the first place unless you create a billing account and hand-over your credit card information to them. That $200 will take care of only around 28,000 free map loads per month. Prior to the announcement, website owners got 25,000 free map loads per day. Let that sink in. Almost a 10-fold reduction in free map loads per day.

And the best part? Google gave site owners a measly 30 days to comply with the new pricing terms or their service would be cut off. Needless to say, this caused a huge amount of panic and disruption amongst business owners worldwide.

How is ExpressMaps different? Well, our pricing model is sustainable, that is we are not offering a free service subsidised by advertising income like Google so we are committed to our pricing either staying the same or getting cheaper as our costs go down. We promise that you won't get any unexpected bills due to overages and you won't have to migrate to a new service in less than 30 days because our terms of service have changed due to a senior management decision at a faceless and unreachable corporation.

Privacy and compliance with regulations such as GDPR, CCPA and PECR

If you or one of the services that you use on your website tracks and collects personal website usage data, you need to ask for and get explicit consent from each visitor according to recent regulations.

Lawmakers around the world have realized the severity of the situation and several different personal data and privacy regulations have been introduced such as the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) in the United States and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe.

Like almost all Google services, Google Maps records personal data about your users and it is consequently a potential liability for your business. Many website owners fail to do this, but you should and must disclose to your visitors your use of the Google Maps and get their explicit permission and acceptance of this tracking.

Conversely, none of the ExpressMaps APIs, maps, or any other services (except this website which is used for marketing and administration purposes) performs any tracking of you or your customers. That means no cookies, no browser fingerprinting, no IP tracking, no geolocation tracking or any other kind of tracking by us or any third parties. The only logging that we perform is of website URL and API key utilisation for the purposes of providing you with analytics and for metering and billing for the use of our mapping services. Consequently you do not need your customer's permission to use our service on your website.

Customer Support

Like all Google services with the notable exception of their paid Adwords advertising program, it is practically impossible to reach a support contact at Google if you have a problem with your Google Maps service. Scarily enough, this is the case even if you are a large corporation or enterprise user as Google Maps is not actually part of either Google Suite (GMail, Sheets, Docs etc) or the Google Cloud Platform.

Here at ExpressMaps we pride ourselves on providing friendly, effective support via our online chat system or email and this is available even if you aren't on one of our paid plans. We are proud to be the only mapping service provider to offer support via online chat to all users.

Analytics

There's a number of important questions that website owners need to answer about their mapping service. Here's some examples of useful things to know:

  • How many map loads did my website receive each day in the last month
  • How has my website map usage trended over the last 12 months
  • How many map loads has each of my websites recorded over the last 30 days
  • What is the usage for each of my API keys

Shockingly, not a single one of these metrics can be found in the Google Console. You can track requests per second over the course of a time range from 1 hour to 30 days for each API. That's it. You can't see how many actual map loads there were, you can't see anything beyond a 30 day time horizon, you can't see anything in less than a 1 hour interval and there is no simply way to see which URLs are accessing your API keys. It's not even possible to break down usage by API key.

Google Maps Analytics

This chart shows the longest time period (30 days) and the number of requests per second over that period. Bizarrely, it's impossible to work out how many actual requests this represents.

Table showing usage counts by API - the only way to work out map load totals for the period in question.

ExpressMaps Analytics

Hourly map loads for the last 24 hour period, updated every 10 minutes.

Daily map loads for the last 30 days. You can choose the display period to cover any length of time from your account registration date.

Credential Management via API

If you're running a commercial website which wraps usage of Google Maps into the overall service that you provide then the ability to automate the management of Google Maps credentials via API would be a major benefit. Typically, you would require a Google Maps credential per customer to allow you to grant and revoke access at the individual customer level.

Unfortunately, there is no API interface to the Google Maps credential management pages which means all changes have to be performed manually. There's also no way to delegate this to other members of your organization so the person who owns your Google account has to either perform all the credential management actions themselves or give the username and password to other team members (highly insecure and not recommended of course)

Finally, Google's credential management page is horribly complicated and difficult to navigate, especially for non-technical users. The website restrictions in particular create a minefield of potential issues which can cause your Google map to fail to load.

ExpressMaps allows you to remotely manage your API keys via a REST based API. This gives you the ability to automate the following:

  • Instantly provision a new map API key when a new customer signs up
  • Revoke access to an API key if a customer terminates their subscription or breaches usage limits
  • Set limits on the API key so that it can only be used on certain websites
  • Disable the API key temporarily and Re-Enable if required

Page Weight and Loading Time

To load a typical Google Map, it takes about 70 requests which represents 2 megabytes extra page weight or around a 2 to 3 second load time. On slower connections and especially mobile devices with lower bandwidth and latency connections it’s usually substantially worse than this. Indeed, if you look closely you'll see that there are many complaints about the impact of Google Maps on page load times and specifically your Page Speed score which, ironically enough, Google uses to rank your website and can and will consequently negatively affect your website's Google ranking.

ExpressMaps takes around 19 requests to load a map at a page weight of around 500kB - less than a quarter of the totals for Google Maps. This means faster load times, a better customer experience and cruically, better ranking in Google's own indexing tools.

As always, a picture tells the story best:

Google Maps Load

This chart shows the waterfall of network requests for a typical Google map load.

ExpressMaps Load

This chart shows the waterfall of network requests for a typical ExpressMaps map load.

That's all for now, we hope this comparison has been helpful to you!

The ExpressMaps team