Google Maps Route Planner For Deliveries
Most home delivery businesses start off with small budgets, so it makes sense to use a free tool like Google Maps to plan your delivery routes.
The problem is that Google Maps was designed as a navigation app, not a route planner, so it’s not really the best tool for the job. In this post, we’ll cover:
- When to use Google Maps as a delivery route planner.
- Exactly how to plan a free delivery route with Google Maps, step by step.
- The limitations of Google Maps as a route planner.
- The difference between route planning and route optimization.
- When to use route planning software.
Note: If you’re not making any deliveries but you still need to plan a route for another reason, like biking or a road trip, check out our article on how to use Google Maps as a multi-stop route planner. It’s much simpler!
When to use Google Maps as a delivery route planner
Google Maps can be useful for delivery scheduling and planning delivery routes if:
- You only have a few stops to make (10 or fewer is best, 20 stops is pushing it).
- Finding the most efficient route is not important to you.
- You have time to make a lot of manual adjustments.
- You can only afford a free tool.
You will need to put in a lot of effort, though, and you won’t get the most efficient routes. If you need something more powerful than Google Maps to manage your routes, you can probably save time and money by using route planning software. Even if you're a solo driver, there are mobile apps for delivery routes that do a lot more than Google Maps.
But if you’re not ready for that yet, Google Maps can still be a good-enough way to get the job done. Let’s see how to do actual route planning!
Tutorial: How to plan a delivery route with Google Maps
1. Collect all your delivery information
Use a spreadsheet to collect all the information you need for each delivery stop. You will need at least an address and some contact details, but you may also want to include information like special notes, a time window, how long you expect the delivery to take and possibly a load size.
Notice that in the example above we have created separate columns for city/suburb and zip code/postal code. This makes it a lot easier to sort your stops.
If you don’t already have a spreadsheet going, you’re welcome to use our free Google Sheets delivery route planning template to get started!
2. Group your delivery addresses
Google Maps can plan multi-stop routes up to a limit of 10 stops, so you’ll need to work in batches of 10 deliveries at a time.
First, sort your spreadsheet by zip code/postal code, city or suburb — whichever makes sense for your needs. Now you can add a column to create delivery zones. In the video above, we’ve created four different delivery zones. We cheated a bit and made sure each zone had exactly 10 stops – the chances are you won’t be so lucky and will still have to do some refining, but this is a good start.
Remember to check your notes for delivery time windows and any special instructions. If one delivery has to be made before 9am and another after 2pm, they may need to go in separate routes even if they are close together.
Creating zones like this is especially helpful if you use the same regular drivers. If each driver is assigned to one area, instead of all the drivers criss-crossing the city, they’ll drive shorter distances and use less fuel. They’ll also have the chance to build up their knowledge of the area so they can navigate it more efficiently.
Even if you only have one delivery driver (or you’re the driver!), creating territories or zones can help you deliver more efficiently. For example, you could visit different areas on different days of the week.
Now let’s take it to Google Maps!
4. Create your routes in Google Maps route planner
Now that you’ve done all the prep work, actually creating routes is relatively easy, if time-consuming. Just open up Google Maps and your spreadsheet, and deal with the stops one by one!
Watch the video below to see how it works in real time, or skip to the text if you prefer to read.
- Add your first stop. Copy and paste your first address from your spreadsheet into Google Maps. Then click on “Directions”.
- Add a second stop. You’ll notice that the address you just entered is the second stop, and the first is blank. Enter your starting destination, like an office or depot, into the search bar, and Google will create a route for you. Now click “Add destination” to continue.
- Add all remaining stops. Keep copying and pasting stops from your spreadsheet into your route plan, then clicking “Add destination”, until you reach the limit of 10 stops.
- Adjust your route plan. If the first version of your route doesn’t seem to make sense, you can drag and drop stops into a different order until you feel you have the best route. Keep an eye on Google’s estimate of the total route travel time—by changing the order of your stops you can create a shorter, faster route.
e. Save and share your route
To share your route, ignore the “Send directions to your phone” link at the bottom of your route (unless you’re the driver, your current location is the start location and you’re ready to drive immediately). Instead, click on the ≡ “hamburger” menu at the top left of your screen and then on “Share or embed map”. This will pop up a window with a direct, shareable link to your whole route. Copy this link, and then you can send the whole route by text or email to anyone. A driver can then open the link on their mobile device whenever they’re ready to start the route, and use their Google Maps mobile app to get turn-by-turn directions.
If you need to create a number of short routes, save the link in your spreadsheet or a separate document. Then you can share all your routes at once when you’re ready.
It’s a good idea to make and share a separate spreadsheet copy of each driver’s route. This means drivers can easily see delivery instructions and contact details, whenever they need to.
The limitations of Google Maps as a route planner
As you can see, planning a delivery route with Google Maps has some serious limitations:
- You can only add stops one at a time.
- The number of stops is limited to 10 per route.
- Google Maps doesn’t do route optimization, so you won’t get the fastest route.
- The process is complicated.
- It’s easy to make a mistake and delete your whole route accidentally.
- It takes a long time to plan and make changes.
That’s why route planner apps like Routific exist! You could probably optimize and dispatch a day’s worth of routes using Routific in less time than it takes to read this article. We encourage you to try it out – you get a 7-day free trial, no credit card needed!
If you’d like to try some other apps as well, check out our review of the best route planning software for deliveries.
Google Maps route planning vs route optimization
Google Maps is great for personal use and for planning small delivery routes – especially when you’re just starting out and looking for a free route planner. But as your business grows, route planning with Google Maps can become complex and start taking up too many hours of your week.
The basic problem is that Google Maps is not a route optimization tool. It’s fantastic at finding the shortest route from point A to point B, but it was never designed to find the optimal route for a series of stops. What do we mean by “optimal route”? Basically, an optimal route is one that minimizes the driving distance or driving time needed to visit every stop. Since it’s so hard for humans to do this, we rely on route optimization algorithms. To learn more, check out this comprehensive guide on route optimization.
When to consider route planning and route optimization software
Using Google Maps when your delivery operations are small makes a lot of sense. Some signs that it’s time to upgrade you route planning and make a switch could be:
- You’re spending more than an hour planning and dispatching your routes
- You only find out about late or missed deliveries when a customer contacts you to complain
- Your customers keep contacting you about the status of their delivery
- You’re spending too much on fuel and driver wages
- Your delivery operations feel messy and inefficient
Route planning software, especially if it includes functionality like route optimization, is like Google Maps on steroids. It will allow you to handle complex route optimization scenarios that include:
- Multiple routes with unlimited stops
- Planning for delivery time windows, driver schedules, vehicle capacity, and more
- Easily adjusting routes to use fewer vehicles, take less time, or reduce the distance traveled.
- Re-optimize fast when last minute changes happen.
- Easily dispatch
So if your delivery operations have started to outgrow Google Maps, congratulations on your success so far! Route planning software is the logical next step. It can improve your delivery efficiency, help you train & manage drivers, and improve the delivery experience for your customers.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the pros and cons of Google Maps as a route planner?
The advantages of using Google Maps to plan delivery routes are:
- It’s free and easy to download from an app store, for both Android and iPhone.
- Most people already know how to use it.
- It includes turn-by-turn navigation that takes live traffic into account.
The major disadvantages are:
- You can only plan routes of up to 10 stops.
- It can’t optimize routes.
- You can’t plan around constraints like delivery time windows and driver shift times.
- It's time consuming
What about Google’s My Maps?
We used to suggest Google’s My Maps as an alternative route planner for multiple stops, but we can no longer recommend it.
My Maps has two advantages: You can upload a spreadsheet with up to 2,000 locations, and you can add extra information like notes, custom icons and colors. This makes it great for mapping attractions or pit stops when you’re planning a road trip — but as a route planner, it’s terrible:
- You can still only plan routes in batches of 10 at a time, using layers.
- There’s a limit of 10 routes or layers. So even with 2,000 locations mapped, you can’t plan a driving route for more than 100 of them.
- It’s not easy to use, and is starting to feel more and more old-fashioned.
- Even with routes mapped, there’s no information about drive time or total distance travelled.
There’s no way to turn routes into driving directions, so a driver will still have to create their own routes from place to place.
Can Google Maps do route planning?
You can plan a route of up to 10 stops in Google Maps. It's a good, free choice for short driving, biking or walking routes. You can work in batches to plan longer routes. If you’re a delivery business or delivery driver, our recommended method for longer routes is laid out in our Google Maps Route Planner for Deliveries post.