I export a lot of maps for customers who request them from our office. Recently I have seen more and more requests for us to export our GIS into the .KML or .KMZ file type so they can be viewed on Google Earth. I have no trouble exporting my maps into this format using ArcMap's 'Map to KML' conversion tool in the Conversion Tools toolbox.

The issue I'm having is that I get a lot of feedback from customers that they can't properly query the main layer of a map in Google Earth. Instead, Google Earth seems to choose the layer with the least amount of data as the query layer.

I've tried this myself and I can see what they are encountering. I know that turning off the conflicting layers will eventually force Google Earth to query the only active layer, but is there anything that I can do on my end to save them the trouble? This would also in turn save me time from having to troubleshoot this with them when they call. I've attached some screenshots...

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I recently created this map using ArcMap and exported it into a .KMZ using the 'Map to KML' tool. The public that we serve loves this as they are able to utilize the strength of GIS in a free program like Google Earth, however when they go to query the features, they get this...

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If they don't know much about GIS they can't tell that it's because Google Earth has queried an almost empty layer instead of our main parcels layer. If I turn off the layer Google has chosen to query, it sometimes toggles to some other layer and sometimes goes to the right one.

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So far this seems random, but I need to know if anyone knows how to set a priority to the layers when I create the KML on my end so that the finished product is more user friendly for the end users.

1 Answer 1


One workaround would be the following procedure:

  1. Turn off the visibility of the layer that you want to be queried in Google Earth (e.g. parcel)
  2. Use "Map to Kml" and make sure to check "Convert Vector to Raster". This will convert all of the visible layers to raster. When using this option, enter the "Map Scale Output" parameter carefully, so your scale dependent layers will be visible in the output kml.
  3. Optionally increase the output raster resolution by enhancing the pixel size and DPI parameters.
  4. Finally, use "Layer to KML" to convert the only layer that you want to be queried (e.g. parcel).
  5. Open both kml files in Google earth and make sure to bring the vector kml on top, in order to be graphically visible.
  6. If you want one consolidated kml instead of two separate kmls, once your kmls are opened in Google Earth: Right click on "Temporary Places" and click "Save Place As..." which leads to a single merged kml.

This solution has the benefit of no dependency on any other software other that ArcGIS and Google earth. If you were using a web api (such as arcgis javascript api), there would be other easier alternatives like the one mentioned in this SO post.

  • 1
    Thank you Farid, I think this is what I was seeking. Since the other layers are essentially background and merely for showing boundaries, converting them to raster has no negative effect to the final product, and Google Earth is then defaulted to the only layer that can be queried. I will have to tinker with the raster pixel size like you said so it doesn't look cartoony, but overall this is a great fix. I'll award the bounty as soon as it lets me. Thank you, you are a wizard or a jedi whichever you prefer, Godspeed Cybernaut, Wookiee out.
    – Joshua A
    Commented Jan 22, 2016 at 16:54
  • @Joshua Ashbum, I am happy to hear that. Commented Jan 22, 2016 at 17:05

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