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One of my favorite design challenges is the billboard ad. With all that real estate, you’d think it’d be an easy enough design. The truth is, billboards are tricky. You’ve got to think small instead of large to be successful. Billboards may offer a lot of real estate, but unless you’re selling just to those business and homeowners who happen to live or work right under your billboard, you’ve got very little time with your audience. Drivers and passers by generally get a second or two to read and digest your ad, so you’ve got to really distill your message.
Distilling your message can be easy, so long as you’ve got clear and simple expectations. Simple is the key here. I saw a billboard ad for an upcoming car show recently that had fewer than 10 words total, including the sponsoring company’s name. The background was nondescript, a classic car held center stage with the name of the sponsoring company to the left and the name of the car show to the right. It was elegant in its simplicity. It worked because the graphic of that classic car coupled with the name of the show and that recognizable logo offered a clear and simple message: “Come to our car show. Google us to get more information.” The company’s expectation was simple; they wanted to entice their audience to seek more information and attend.
When you’re preparing to have your designer create a billboard ad for you, take the time to get to the core of your message. How much initiative do you want to entrust to your audience? Like the car show sponsors, will you assume they’ll just remember you and search online for more information? If so, then be clear that your goal is to hook into their emotions strongly enough to help them remember and want to find you.
Tips to Remember
1. Keep your message simple; drivers don’t have much time to read your ad.
2. Simple, powerful imagery communicates a lot of emotion and information quickly.
3. Distill your message and use simple contact information or a short, clear, simple slogan.
4. Graphic requirements are much higher: Photo and logo files are much bigger in file size.
If you need to include your contact information, be sure it’s easy to remember and you keep the other pieces of information you want them to remember to a minimum. The average person can hold up to 7 pieces of information in memory at a time, and your drivers are busy keeping an eye on the road. Avoid long telephone numbers, unless they’re easily recognizable or encoded as words to make remembering them easier. Use a website url that’s easy to remember, like your company name or a slogan that summarizes what you do. If you choose to include contact information, use as few other words or pieces of information as possible.
In billboard ads, the images you use will carry most of your message most of the time. They’ll hook into the emotions of your audience, helping them to remember you and your message. Keep your images simple and clear, preferably with as much emotional punch as possible. The classic car on the car show billboard I saw coupled with the word “show” at the end of the show’s name instantly connected their message with the ideas and emotions I already hold about car shows. They made it easy for me to remember despite the traffic I had yet to navigate, the hunt for parking, and the time it took for me to get to and through my appointment before I had a chance to take the few moments I needed to jot down the name of the show and the sponsoring company’s name so I could look them up later that evening.
On a technical level, you’ll want to be sure to provide your designer with the correct logo files or photos. The graphic requirements are much higher for billboards than they are for smaller projects, like brochures and business cards or websites. Your designer is likely to already have the necessary files, unless he’s not the same guy who did your logo. If that’s the case, you’ll need to provide contact information or do the footwork yourself to ensure your billboard ad designer has your logo in the right size. If you’re providing photos for your designer’s use, ask about the size before you send the file. Your designer may need the original file.