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.

santa claus victorian toy figure

Santa is my Business Hero

Santa is my business hero. You may be snickering, but there’s a lot of business acumen to be learned from jolly ‘ole St. Nick.

While there are many reasons to love Kris Kringle, no one ever seems to mention how well this guy runs his operation, beyond the obvious logistical planning (we’ll get to that in a minute). This lack of recognition is a shame because business wonks everywhere should be green with envy, or perhaps ivy in this case.


Strategic Planning

The simple act of making a list and checking it twice is enough to start anyone on the path to success.

“There’s only nine more planning days left until 2017,” said no one ever! If we treated our goals—personal, business, financial—the way Santa focuses on his Christmas list, we would all be well on our way to achievement.

Santa knows that he can’t possibly remember all the children and which ones are naughty and which ones are nice. That’s why he writes and down and checks it twice.

In fact, checklists save lives. I’m not kidding. Ever known someone who went to the ICU? Chances are a checklist helped saved him/her from a deadly infection. Read this article in the New Yorker, by Atul Gawande, for more enlightenment.


Market Research

When was the last time you asked your customers what they wanted? What they would like if the sky was the limit?

No business I know does more market research than Santa. He sees you when you’re sleeping; he knows when you’re awake. Slightly creepy, yes, but it’s nothing that Facebook and the NSA don’t do too. He always welcomes letters. And, during his busiest season, he’s not at the North Pole but rather, taking time to meet with his customers in just about every mall in America and beyond.


Supply Chain Management

The way Santa procures all the raw materials for toys, manages the Elves to assemble them, and then delivers them all in one night is pure magic. This is usually the only business savvy Papa Noel gets credit for. After all, who else could possibly compete with this logistical mastery…except a mom with children on multiple sports teams.



Santa knows his brand and sticks to it. He’s a chubby, jolly ‘ole elf, dressed in a big, red suit. Santa says “ho ho ho.” These characteristics do not vary. There is no Santa Lite, or Santa The Next Generation. There’s no need to re-boot his brand because his boots (although covered in soot) are, just like the rest of him, on fleek.



Though not usually part of a strategic business plan, it seems that folks who enjoy what they do and aim to bring joy to others find success. No one brings more joy and delights customers more than Santa. Companies like Zappos, JetBlue, Amazon, Nordstrom, and Ritz Carlton seem to have a page from his book.

Some people want to emulate Steve Jobs, others Mark Cuban, but not me. I’ll take Santa Claus any day. While you’re mapping out your business plan for the next year, learn from a different old, white guy. After all, it’s been hundreds of years and he is still in business.

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?



Five Ways to Keep Your Company On Brand–Even if You Know Nothing About Design


You run a small business and you are excellent at what you do. You also know branding is important, but may have no idea how to go about it. How do you create a cohesive brand for your business when the terms kerning, rasterize, bleed, widow, opacity, leave you scratching your head? When left to design and write copy for marketing materials (print or digital), many folks unfamiliar with branding, marketing, or design outsource the whole thing to a local designer or a hodgepodge of freelancers without much restriction or guidance. They conclude, “They’re the experts, let them figure it out.”

That’s a mistake. Not only is the lack of direction unhelpful for the designer and copywriter, but you run the risk of mixed results and a diluted brand.

What kind of direction can you give, especially when this isn’t your wheelhouse? You may have heard the phrase “on-brand.” On-brand also means keeping your materials similar enough that folks instinctively know who they are from, using elements from a graphic identity system and style guide. All marketing pieces are members of the same family; each one is unique, but they all have similar characteristics. You may not be the not the designer experimenting with lines, shape, and texture, or the writer crafting the exact words, but there’s a lot you can control—and you should. These are what we call brand guidelines.

Here’s a list of elements that everyone can pay attention to, even if you know nothing about design. If you don’t already have brand guidelines, this will help you get started.

1. Color – Tints, PMS colors, what have you. It’s all essentially the same way of saying color. Many businesses already have an established set of colors which makes for an easy start. From there, create a formal color palette with specific CMYK (print) and RGB (web) shades. A local designer can help you choose specific Pantones, if it all seems too much. Once you’ve decided, make sure that your publications utilize these colors every. single. time.

2. Copy – You’ve probably heard the phrase, “It’s not as much about what you say, but how you say it.” Figure out your copy style. Are you formal or folksy? What narrative style? Also consider adopting a formal style guide like AP Stylebook or the Chicago Manual of Style to help with consistency in your publications.

And, if you have a tagline or key message points, by all means use them…a lot. You might be tired of seeing or hearing those phrases, but remember the advertising “rule of sevens”–your audience needs to see or hear something at least seven times before they’ll remember it!

3. Logo – Your logo needs to be on everything–it’s essentially a signature. If it’s not on everything, now’s a good time to ask why. Do an assessment of your logo. Are all departments using your logo(s)? Do they have the logo(s) in their various formats (jpeg, eps, tiff, etc.) and colors? Do they know when to use each type? The answers to these questions will likely help you decide if you need to make it more accessible, or if you need to better communicate how and when to use it.

4. Typography – Every font has its own connotation and some of them can cause a visceral reaction (ahem, Comic Sans). I recommend starting by picking two fonts that embody your brand personality (or what you want it to be) and using them consistently.­ One can be a little more lavish and used for headlines; the other should compose your body copy. ­About four years ago I would have droned on about the importance of at least one of them being part of the standard web-friendly, albeit boring, set, but with the rise of open-source web fonts (thank you Google Fonts and others) your choices are near limitless.

5. Photography – Nothing looks worse than seeing a hodgepodge of photographic styles in the same publication. Similar to copy, decide on a photographic style (photojournalistic, lifestyle) and stick with it. When working with a photographer, show them the photography you already have so they can replicate the style. You can also extend the life of your repository by making sure that when you do a shoot, subjects are not wearing anything too trendy.

If you’re purchasing photography from a source like, you may also be also to purchase several photos from the same photographer to ensure the style is similar.

Once you establish guidelines work diligently to adhere to them in all communications. Give them to all your people. Yes, even Doug in Accounting. You’ll find your publications will gain cohesiveness, consistency, and voice. That voice is an invaluable way to set you apart in the marketplace, which is exactly what you wanted from the beginning, right?