Run of Site, A Cautionary Tale

Not long ago I was browsing the web during lunch for my daily news fix. I saw a headline about a bombing at a Brussels railway station and being concerned, wanted to learn more about the developing story. After reading the article and feeling relief that the bombing was a failed attempt and the situation was more or less over with the suspect in custody, I turned back to the above-the-fold advertisement.

example of failed run of site ad

See the disconnect?


Above the headline, “Suspected suicide bomber shot at Brussels railway station,” was an advertisement for flowy, spring shifts with FREE SHIPPING. The cute dresses juxtaposed against a developing terror incident felt vapid and nauseating.

Advertising fail!!! Who could possibly think it was a good idea to run a fashion ad next to a terrorism story? No one. I assure you that no one thought, “this seems like a super place to feature this ad.” Mistakes happen, but this one at least did not happen intentionally.

So who’s to blame for this face palm? The answer is not who, but what. This mishap was undoubtedly caused by something called run of site advertising.

In run of site advertising, an advertisement can appear anywhere within the targeted website (or print publication). It’s a cheaper ad placement for the advertiser and allows the publisher flexibility with ad placement. On a website, most run of site ads are simply served up in a queue by a computer without any human quality control.

Do I fault the BBC, the publisher? No. In fact, with the dwindling numbers of people willing to pay for quality journalism, news organizations are simply taking whatever advertisers they can get. That puts the onus on the advertiser.

If you are an advertiser considering run of site, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is my product or service for mature audiences only? (lingerie, alcohol, etc.)
  • Is my product or service inappropriate for certain audiences? (For instance; pork products and Jewish or Muslim viewership)
  • Are there situations where the advertising of my product or service would be offensive or inappropriate? (The example at hand is case in point.)
  • Are there pages on the site in question could turn off potential customers? (obituaries, personals)

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then run of site may not be for you. Or, try run of site on a website that won’t run conflicting content. In this case, Martha Stewart or Epicurious would be safe bets. It’s worth it to pay more for a specific placement or specialty audience than risk a blooper.

As Bill Bernback notes, “Nobody counts the number of ads you run; they just remember the impression you make.” So, be sure to make it a good one.

Elizabeth Barry is the owner and CEO of Stem to Stern Marketing. She aspires to make her blog posts informative, helpful, and occasionally humorous.

Alt Tags – The Low Hanging Fruit of SEO

Everybody wants their site to rank first in organic search. They’re also looking to make the process easy and free. It’s certainly not either, but I facepalm every time I go to a client’s site and see missing alt tags–the low hanging fruit of SEO. To be fair, most people do not even know what an alt tag is, let alone know why they are easy pickings for search engine optimization. Don’t want to spend another minute being out of the loop? Read on if you’d like to be more informed and learn a simple and free way to increase your SEO.

What are alt tags?

An alt tag, also sometimes known as alt text, is simply a text alternative that is presented in place of an image, when the image can’t be displayed. You’ve likely seen alt tags before in your emails when your browser blocks images from an unknown sender. It works the same way for web pages. It looks something like this:

example of alt text in an email

Example: Alt tags (the “bmw” in boxes) in an email. Dealership name redacted.

Alt tags serve two main purposes. The first is for accessibility. Providing the description of the image allows users with disabilities to understand what is being displayed. This is often accomplished through screen readers and other assistive technologies.

Second, alt tags let search engines know what image is being displayed. There are a couple of benefits here, including providing images that are more searchable as well as providing search engines a clue about the content surrounding the image.

We can see in the example above that the alt tags are telling us that the email shows a picture of a BMW.

Now, let’s look at the actual picture.

example of bmw email with red sedan sports bmw

Notice any discrepancies? Using the simple alt tag of “BMW” doesn’t really do that magnificent car justice, does it?

Why is this so important?

Let’s take the example above. If an image on your website has no alt tag and someone searches for “BMW,” what are the chances that your photo (and ultimately your site) will come up in an image search? Slim to none, right? You can see that’s a problem if you’re trying to sell BMWs.

But, filling in alt tags is only part of the solution. An even better idea is to accurately describe the photo. I like to tell my clients, “explain it to me like I’m blind.” For instance, we could improve this alt tag by replacing it with: “bmw 6 series two door red sedan.” Now, chances of your photo appearing in a search is much, much better.

I bet you’re thinking, “okay, so that’s great if you’re a retailer, but what about other businesses?”

Remember that part about alt text providing clues for search engines regarding the surrounding page content? Let’s say you’re in the home insurance business. I’m sure image searches for insurance are pretty low–I’ll be honest I haven’t checked. But would posting a picture with the alt tag “insurance agent inspecting a home after hail damage” help search engine crawlers decipher what your site is all about, thus helping increase your page rank? You betcha!

So how do I put in alt tags?

There are many different ways to put in alt tags depending on your content management system (CMS) or if you’re hand coding html. I’ll show you how it’s done on WordPress, a very popular open source software. The process is similar on other content management systems as well.

Dashboard > Media > Library > Select a Picture

example of where to add an alt tag in WordPress

You can enter alt text in WordPress by selecting an image in the Library and filling in the Attachment Details

A Final Word

It’s important to remember that alt tags are just one small part of the algorithms that search engines use in image and page rank. Using them properly won’t radicalize your page rank overnight. That said, alt tags are an easy way for beginners to start their journey into search engine optimization. So, how ’bout them apples?