Natural Search Blog


Optimize your roof ads for Google Maps

Since SEMs and SEOs are trying to use every way possible to increase their site exposure and ad visibility in the search engines, I thought it would be a good time to provide some tips on how to properly and effectively optimize your rooftop ads to appear in Google Maps.

Now, Danny Sullivan claimed that logos on rooftops are not intended for Google Maps, but this assertion is no longer correct, since I heard a recent segment in the last week on NPR about a rooftop ad company which is specifically gearing their ads to appear on the satellite images.

An article on Wired about that same company, RoofShout.com [7/14/08: link is now defunct], indicates that this may indeed be a viable new ad medium. For tips about how you can optimize for the rooftop media (which I will refer to as “SkySense Ads”), read on…

As a case in point, we’ll refer to the rooftop ad for my church, Fellowship Church, which is already indexed and looks like this:

Fellowship Church Roof Ad Screengrab

Now, admittedly, Fellowship’s SkySense ad was initially optimized for DFW Airport incoming airline paths, so this introduces some interesting problems which are common to these types of ads. On one hand this orientation breaks Google’s editorial guidelines, which dictate that one must “Avoid unconventional image layouts”, and that your image ads “Cannot appear sideways or upside down“. Obviously, this ad (and many other SkySense ads I’ve seen) has not been penalized for this rotated axis condition, so it must be taken as yet another case where Google’s rapidly evolving product lines are not managed consistently. But, it could be argued that this orientation is a bit risky, since it could get the ad pulled at any moment if Google suddenly applies their policy to it, and it might not be easy enough to read by endusers.

However, there’s another school of thought that says that irritating ads or upside-down text may be more attention-getting, and under that theory this ad could be very effective. After all, there’s a long tradition of displaying laundromat signs upside-down or with misspellings, and laundromats have been considered relatively stable businesses.

All the same, I think that in the realm of online satellite images, it’s best to go for better legibility above risky attention-grabbing. With that in mind, here are some of my top tips in optimizing for the SkySense ad world:

1. Orient the text on your roof to be legible by Google Maps users and other satellite image viewers. Insure the tops of the letters are at the north end of the building, and the bottoms are towards the south end for this purpose, because the satellite cams are almost always snapping photos as though the tops of the images are toward the North Pole. Sometime soon, it may even be possible to have an automatically rotating, lightweight roof covering which will rotate to one orientation for airplanes flying over, and rotate back for satellite orientation, but for now we must settle on only one text direction.

2. Make sure your roof supplies large enough canvass area for your ad to be visible from satellites. If your building’s roof is insufficiently large, you could spread your image out onto the sidewalks and parking lot for additional space. (In that latter case, be sure to make all your employees and visitors to park out on the street to leave the parking lot portion of the image pristine when the pix are snapped.)

3. Make your ad design simple and large enough to be easily legible from zoom level 3 or 4. Don’t use thin lines nor fine details or they will not read from altitudes of 20k miles.

4. Be sure to use bird-repellent devices on your roof to insure that your signage doesn’t get visually broken up by small, bird-shaped objects and their leavings.

5. Use paint with maximum contrast, and good longevity so it can be seen and it won’t wear off rapidly. I recommend using alkyd paints for most types of roofs.

6. Do not use highly-reflective metallic or mirror-like paints or you could risk getting fined by the Federal Aviation Administration, which is a real bummer to your ROI. It’s a bad idea, anyway, because it’s hard to predict if this might cause lens flare effects in the satellite camera, which could obscure your SkySense ad message.

7. Remember that these ads are not yet clickable! As such, it’s best to include a simple web address or phone number in your ad copy. Considering that reporting is not yet available for this media, you could use a special tracking URL or specific phone number in order to guage the effectiveness of the ad.

8. Experiment with different copy/images to find out what will convert best for you. Unfortunately, it can sometimes be difficult to get Google to update the satellite images for your area, if you need to change out your creatives. If you are in an area that doesn’t get re-imaged on a frequent basis, you may have to resort to painting faux tornado destruction paths across your roof, or flood your surrounding area to immitate post-hurricane conditions or something. Perhaps just issuing a few bogus disaster zone publicity releases could do the trick and kick off a re-imaging of your area.

9. One of my most-effective secrets is the use of drop-shadows. Paint a “shadow” in the shape of your building’s outline a few dozen feet to one side of your building after you’ve placed your creative on the roof. There are all these crazy people obsessively searching the satellite images to find “floating” objects, so making your building appear to float in the images will absolutely blow their minds! This will key your ad into a viral marketing buzz as these weirdos link to your pic and email the links all over the place to their friends. Just regular, black spraypaint can accomplish this, and you have to reapply every time your lawn is mowed, if the shadow falls on the grass.

10. It’s a fairly rare problem, but if your business is placed too near in proximity to a military base or secret government installation, Google may blot out your rooftop from appearing in the satellite images. It’s some sort of federal law. This is a really dicey problem, and the only way I found to deal with it was to campaign to Congress to decommission the particular installation, after which I was able to successfully petition Google to get the uncensored satellite pic restored. Your client would have to have sufficient dollars to pay the lobbyist, or this will not work. Short of this, you might have to move the business’s location. This is another example where having a professional like me to handle your campaign is a real advantage.

I hope my expert optimization tips will be useful for you. Currently the SkySense space is really a virgin advertising territory, just ripe for the picking. This is downright Blue Sky Thinking, if you’ll pardon the expression!

Once all the existing SkySense ad space is all bought up, I suspect that it’ll quickly become more affordable to begin colonizing the extraterrestrial adspace through Google Mars. After all, the NASA photograph of the Face on the Mars surface is arguably the most-successful virally-distributed aerial image of all time. Because of this, it’s only a matter of time before the adspace on Mars becomes monetized, which is the entire reason that Google has started performing development with that planet. Until that new frontier in advertising opens up, keep your optimizations down to earth by following my tips and you won’t go wrong.

4 comments for Optimize your roof ads for Google Maps »

  1. MyAvatars 0.2

    Hahaha! Good one, Chris. You really should have posted this one on April 1st. ;-)

    I guess Netconcepts better start offering roof ad optimization services or we’re gonna be left in the dust by other more forward-thinking competitors!

    Comment by Stephan Spencer — 4/13/2006 @ 4:57 am


  2. MyAvatars 0.2

    “this may indeed be a viable new ad medium”

    Actually, it’s a good point – where there’s a visibility, there are advertising opportunities.

    It may not take off so well for the time being, though, especially as search engines seem to want us staring at our mobile devices, rather than at rooftops. :)

    Comment by Brian Turner — 4/18/2006 @ 1:25 pm


  3. MyAvatars 0.2

    We are already starting to capitalize this global market , you could be in the business with our group.

    Spread the word thanks Oskar

    website will be online shortly (final version)

    Comment by Oskar — 1/29/2009 @ 6:59 am


  4. MyAvatars 0.2

    Global Market? We’ve had a global market since the says of the Vikings and Nomads trading and traveling all around the world. This is nothing new people.

    Comment by James — 1/13/2010 @ 10:07 pm


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