Traditionally, the easiest way to get a Google Map on your web page is to embed one using an inline frame HTML element (my tutorial). While this works great and even results in an interactive map, it’s slow to load and iframes are clumsy. Thankfully Google is well aware of these issues and created the Maps Image API to offer a simple alternative.
Maps Image API overview
The Google Maps Image API is used like a regular static image. Upon requesting a map with a Maps Image API URL, a Google server will process your request, generating an image of the desired map, and return the map as either a JPEG, GIF or PNG file. All of this occurs completely transparently and near instantaneously. You actually put the Image API URL into a normal <img> HTML tag and your users just see a simple static image file.
Needless to say, this is much faster to load than using a fully interactive Google Map embedded into an iframe. To further sweeten the deal, the map image will be cached by the user’s browser and if your site uses a Content Delivery Network (CDN), the map will be accelerated because for all intents and purposes it is static content. The Image Map API can return all types of maps (roadmap, satellite, hybrid, terrain) and it even works with Street View images.
The only time you wouldn’t use an image map is if your map absolutely must be interactive.