Karen Skeens

Karen is a creative director / writer / designer / strategist with 20 years of passionate dedication in digital agency and broadcast media work helping companies of all sizes grow.

Phinney Ridge Neighborhood is Seattle’s Hottest

Our office neighborhood is hot! How cool is that? #1 in Seattle and #7 nationwide! See for yourself – we’re at 302 N. 72nd Street, in the heart of Phinney Ridge.

“Phinney Ridge neighborhood is Seattle’s hottest neighborhood and the seventh-hottest …in the country, according to Redfin.com. The Seattle online real estate company said it determined the nation’s hottest neighborhoods by “tallying hundreds of millions of pages (that online viewers) visited and homes they added as Favorites to monitor for price changes or sales.”


Bing’s new logo

While at the “Bing Ads Connect” agency seminar in Seattle on Tuesday, I heard that some of Bing’s employees don’t like Bing’s new logo.  Well, if it weren’t for the logo, Bing’s new power point presentation and other marketing collateral wouldn’t be so killer.  Wow! Hundreds of pages of unique templates with infographics that delighted the visual senses…

Nice brand integration, Bing.  It made your all-day agency seminar that we attended all the more interesting.   Atta-Bing!

What to look for in an SEO firm

One of the best, most cost-efficient ways to pull prospects your way is via search engine organic search results (SEO). How Google determines a site worth ranking high has seen a big shift in recent years. 

The best way to execute good SEO is to build it into the framework of your website from the ground up. Your SEO planning should start during the design and content development phase, before you even begin developing your site. Most importantly, you want to set up your keywords so they don’t compete with each other.

The ideal SEO company is very knowledgeable in these areas:

  1. Quality content creation and copywriting for humans by copywriters with substantial experience writing for websites and working in target keyword phrases.
  2. Keyword distribution: do you sprinkle keywords throughout the site or in more targeted areas? This is one of the most important areas of SEO specialization to master and we’ve done just that.
  3. Website technical and speed optimization ‐ Google rewards fast sites because website readers spend more time with them, which in turn, rewards Google with continued usage of its service. Optimizing for speed goes far beyond sizing down images for web usage. It means leveraging your site’s browser cache, enabling gzip compression, minimizing Javascript and CSS, deferring parsing of Javascript, fixing server (hosting related) configuration errors to reduce first byte response time, etc. So, even if you think your site is fast, it may only be because your site is cached and appears to be fast. Google robots regularly scan sites and test various components that determine actual speed and quality of speed optimization.
  4. Website Accessibility ‐ A good SEO company will be able to determine if navigation is intuitive and linking structure is easy to follow for both human readers and search engine robots. SEO companies that are not skilled in HTML development often error in creating keywords as graphics, which are not readable by search engine robots.
  5. Search Engine penalties ‐ A good SEO company must not only know good SEO but bad SEO as well to know how to spot existing bad SEO and remove it. If your SEO company doesn’t find it, we guarantee that Google and other search engines will if they already haven’t, penalize your site, and bump you down the list.

Common errors made by “SEO” and web development companies that don’t have a deep knowledge of SEO:

  1. Fail to set up Google Search Console or Bing webmaster tools to oversee 404 / page-not-found errors, duplicate content errors, and even robot txt block errors ‐ (It’s surprising, but it’s more common than you think that web developers forget to remove robot text blocks from their website test sites before launching a site live. No matter how much SEO you put into your site, a robot text block literally blocks a search engine from scanning the site and including it in its search results.)
  2. Not optimizing for speed utilizing Google Page Insights tips and tools.
  3. Not putting important keywords in HTML, instead of producing them as graphics ‐ Search engines can’t read graphics and your keywords go to waste when designed as a graphic. Sure, you can place assign “alt tags” to images, but they don’t carry near the level of impact that HTML keywords do.
  4. Not planning landing pages.

What to look out for:

  1. Don’t hire a company to handle your SEO simply because their own site is on page 1 Google results. This doesn’t necessarily mean they know SEO.

    Some of the biggest SEO offenders are web design companies that, inadvertently, currently rank on Google page 1 as a result of nothing they did. Testing their website code and SEO, it is clear to us that they know very little about correct search engine optimization. How can this be? We have a nickname for it. We call it Google’s “the rich get richer” scheme which affects websites in many industries. There are companies out there that have poor websites, poorly optimized, yet manage to rank high in Google search results. They rank high because they got on page 1 early on, many years ago. They get a lot of clicks, simply by default being on page 1, and that tells Google that they must be “popular” and, therefore, Google keep these sites on page 1. That’s a very fragile position to be in, and it’s only a matter of time before Google gets around to removing these sites from page 1 organic search results.

  2. Don’t hire a company that exclusively specializes in SEO. Hire a company for all of their design, development and SEO expertise because design and development hugely affects SEO. A true SEO expert understands that doing SEO right means implementing it at the start of design and development and not as an afterthought. There are too many developers or unemployed individuals out there who have poor skillsets and turn to SEO without sufficient expertise because it’s a way to make a quick buck and they know it’s difficult for others to verify their true skillset. (We know this based on our regular interviewing and testing of web developers’ sites.) These people can do great damage to your SEO efforts.

    There are likely many companies that exclusively specialize in SEO and that do a good job, but we believe there is such an overwhelming number of SEO companies who do more harm than good, that the odds aren’t good that you’ll achieve success hiring a person or company that exclusively specializes in SEO. The safer bet is to hire an established web design/development company that offers SEO as one of several specialties.

 Just a few SEO services to consider

  • Search engine optimization
  • SEO copywriting for the web
  • Technical optimization
  • Site speed optimization
  • Site link structure planning
  • Content marketing
  • Inbound marketing
  • Local search updating and optimization
  • Image search optimization
  • Google Search Console set-up
  • Google Analytics installation
  • Google Places set-up
  • Bing Places set-up
  • Social media set-up and installation on your website
  • Landing page design & development

“PORTFOLIO’S: ARE THEY FOR REAL?” How to stay clear of the big portfolio rip-off

So you like their portfolio? 
Here are some questions you should ask when interviewing a design firm or freelancer to avoid contracting a skillset that isn’t exactly what it appears to be.

  1. What part of the work did you do?
    2. How many people worked on it and what were their roles?
    3. Do you still work with them?
    4. Tell me something about this portfolio piece that you are especially proud of.
    5. When and where did you do this work? (i.e., at school, at a company, or in your home office?)

That’s about all the questioning it should take to rule out portfolio forgers.

Here are some fun portfolio interpretations based on TRUE STORIES.
These “comments” and/or “actions” come from people we’ve known or have interviewed in the past.

  • “I fixed one typo in this 50 page website, but now I’m putting it into my portfolio as “my work” since I really did work on it, just not the concept, design, or development…”
  • “I interned for a design firm 8 years ago, and still feature their self-promotion material as my work even though none of it was my work. Hey, I live two states away now!”
  • “I like to feature my award in my online portfolio. Of course, I’m not going to mention that it was a shared award with 10 other talented people who worked on the same award-winning project, in varying roles at an ad agency.”
  • “I did the whole thing. Yes, I created it, but I have no details about the concept, the strategy, the target audience or the branding to back it up.”
  • “I quoted 14 hours to get the finishing flash work done, but only made it halfway through. That’s OK, while the client didn’t get what was promised, I sure got a cool (unfinished) piece for my online portfolio.”

If you happen across any similar comments like this, step away and run as fast as you can!

Next: Positives to look for when interviewing a graphic design / web development firm.

Bing. Gotta love you.

Bing, Bing, Bing. Gotta love you because you are my laptop’s default browser.

And I loved you even more when I saw that our company website recently arose to position #1 in the Bing local listings for a very competitive industry keyword phrase.

But delight turned to “horrors!” when I clicked on the listing’s website and discovered that it linked to an old domain – one that Ad Ventures had retired at least 8 years ago!

Coincidentally – and this is a HUGE coincidence: Our Bing pin number to confirm our Bing updates just happened to arrive in the mail that same day. It is a big coincidence, because we submitted our requests for a local listing update several months ago….

After entering the pin, the long-awaited updates took only 3 days to appear. And there’s our correct website URL, still in that premium #1 position.

I’m rallying for you Bing to keep doing good things, not just for searchers but for businesses too.

Halloween Tails

Ad Ventures’ “welcome waggins,” Sammie and Taco, howl with goulash stare-downs. (We howled too trying to wrangle up doggies for photo shoots.)

Thanks to Bonnie, Executive Director of NW Yacht Association and self-described “more of a cat person,” for her tip to buy the “really cute” bat wings for Sammie from ‘All the Best Pet Care.’ “We howled even more when we saw that they sold taco dog costumes, perfect for our Taco,” laughed Alex Howard, owner of Ad Ventures and Sammie too.

Something to Wag About

Welcome Samantha (aka Sammie), Ad Ventures’ new company “welcome waggin’” and self-appointed Top Dog! Sammie shares her co-welcome waggin’ position with the veteran Taco (aka “Underdog”).

Sammie holds a special place in Ad Ventures’ employee hearts and occasionally in laps of clients. “If you come visit Ad Ventures, expect a lot of tail wagging and puppy love,” says Alex Howard, Ad Ventures’ president and Sammie’s owner.

What exactly is search engine optimization?

In the past it’s been presented by some almost like it’s a “magical” inside, proprietary knowledge that SEO “experts” have that they can’t share. Well, it is inside knowledge that comes from years of studying and most of all, keeping up to date with Google guidelines, which are non-proprietary. At Ad Ventures, we research SEO and Google updates to it on an ongoing basis, sometimes daily, at the minimum on a weekly basis.

Can you get this information on your own?
Yes, if you have the developer resources, and time to research and test, test, test and then test some more like we have.

Good SEO techniques have evolved over the years and are comprised of many components. The most important thing to remember is to follow Google guidelines to the T. Google provides the overview; SEO experts such as Ad Ventures provide the “big picture” of what is needed, the testing resources, the web development for the framework of your site, and the senior copywriters for writing good metatag title, description and image alt tags.

  1. What does the phrase “search engine optimization” mean?

It means making your site visible to the search engines in a search-engine friendly way so that your site is included in search engine indexes, at the highest ranking possible. Almost every category of websites relies on website traffic, so if your site has good ranking for your most important keyword phrases, then people searching those keyword phrases will more easily find your site.

  1. What should good SEO include?

Website SEO – an overview

  • The keyword phrases you want to target (there are online sources where you can test the keyword phrases that are most commonly searched for your product or service in your area.)
  • Tableless CSS development (not HTML tables, which are not SEO friendly)
  • Keyword-rich H1 headlines (HTML headlines are best, but there are work-arounds for graphic, more aesthetic headlines)
  • Title metatagas – clearly written to be both “search engine friendly” and “human friendly”. The Title should reflect 90 – 100% of what the content of the page reflects.
  • Description metatags – clearly written to be both “search engine friendly” and “human friendly.” The description should reflect 85 – 100% of what the content of the page reflects.
  • Image alt tags which clearly describe the image and keywords that further describe the image
  • Error-free HTML code
  • W3C standards compliant
  • Keywords added into your site in the correct way (towards the top, no one keyword too heavy in keyword density, etc.)
  • Keywords specific to specific interior pages that are written for the benefit of the human reader, not so much the Google robots. Aim for getting high ranking for not only your home page, but also your interior pages.
  • Quality content: Google and other search engines favor a site that provides fresh, new quality content, content that is updated frequently. (This is one reason why we recommend a blog or news/tips section on websites that you can easily update internally.)

Local Listings

  • Make sure your site information is listed at multiple quality sites, i.e., http://www.superpages.com; http://www.local.com
  • Make sure your site information is listed the same way everywhere you list it (For example, our official corporate name is “Ad Ventures Marketing, Inc.” but our formal DBA company name that we list everywhere is “Ad Ventures Design & Marketing” for continuity.
  • Update the “old-fashioned” listings such as the Better Business Bureau. In your business you’re likely dealing with younger “Facebook” users as well as older “newspaper readers and BBB users.” So don’t forget the Better Business Bureau. It may take just a couple of updates to change your B+ rating to an A like it did for us.
  • Create local accounts with Yahoo, Bing and Google.

Competition Checks

  • Check out the “competition” to make sure there isn’t any cloaking of your site going on. Check them out in the BBB and Linked In , for example as well, to make sure another company hasn’t “borrowed’ your company name, or a similar version of it.
  • And another good way to check for competitors or “spammers” of your site, is to review the incoming link report that you can view via your Google and Yahoo webmasters accounts.

Webmaster Tools Account for monitoring and correcting

  • Yes, Webmaster tool accounts on Yahoo, Bing and Google are an important part of maintaining optimal SEO. A simple link name change can affect all your incoming links from outside websites, and instead of linking back to your site, the user gets linked to a 404 (page not found) blank bage.
  • Google now reports that they provide feedback on sites that receive penalties. (There are approximately 50 different penalties that Google issues for everything from duplicate content to hidden text.)
  • See how Google views your website and your keywords. For example, if you are linking a style-guide PDF to your site that contains the word “hex” 100 times, get a robots.txt block on that ASAP. Otherwise, Google will include that “hex” word as one of your top keywords, thus diminishing your more valuable keywords.
  • New features: Google provides load test tools and suggestions how to reduce your file size and load time. They have also included a tool that, with a click of your mouse, checks your site for any malware in less than 1 second.

Inbound linking

  • Search engines value high quantity of high quality links from other websites to your website. So don’t sign up for link farms, sign up for Better Business Bureau, and other organizations that provide free listing services.
  1. What SEO should NOT include

Believe it or not, there are SEO “experts’ who have been around for years who are still following gimmicky techniques that have potential to get your site penalized. Your short-term results may be good, but your long-term results as far as Google is concerned, not so good. Google, Bing and Yahoo continuously change their algorithms, so one day your site may appear on page 1, the next day it could drop to page 10.

Here are just a few of the “don’t do’s”:

(there are a variety of larger lists available on the web of what not to do with SEO)

  • Signing up to any link farms (this will achieve seach engine penalties, which will result in lost ranking.)
  • Hidden text
  • Resubmission of your site each month (simply not necessary)
  • Purchasing multiple domains that your host sets up as “alias” sites (this is considered duplicate content)
  1. After your site has launched, complete with good SEO, will you need SEO maintenance plan?

Yes, for approximately the first six months so your agency/development company can test and experiment with keywords on your interior pages (and home page if necessary.)
It is important that there is a watchful experienced eye overseeing the search engines to assure that they have properly indexed your new pages. A good development company will also make sure that the proper 301 permanent redirects are put in place on old URLs that have been renamed with new URLs and new keywords.

  1. Will you need an ongoing maintenance plan?

No, if you do not plan to do many updates, or your updates are confined to your content management section that you handle.
If you plan to make a lot of updates, it is recommended that you have a monthly or quarterly maintenance plan in place. For some sites that are large in size and do daily updates, a regularly daily maintenance plan is recommended.

What web developers don’t always know are must-knows for you.

The Internet incorporates hundreds of combinations of website skill sets and technologies. Just because one’s skill set may be that of a “web developer or designer,” do not assume they have all the necessary web skills or know everything they need to know about websites.

Here are must-knows that I’ve come across over the years, that are so important that they are worth noting. It is staggering how many times I’ve encountered the three below must-knows during a web redesign, that weren’t known or implemented by a client’s previous web developer/company.


1. When setting up your hosting: Resist the temptation to accept the hosting company’s suggestion that he set your business up with multiple ‘alias” websites (your website hosted for no extra charge at 5 or more different domain names.) It doesn’t matter what the host says in regards to SEO, what matters is what Google says. And Google penalizes for “alias” websites, AKA “duplicate content.” (Hosting companies are often confused as being SEO-knowledgeable. Remember, they typically specialize in hosting, not SEO.) If you find yourself with more than one domain serving up identical websites, a robots.txt file will block your alias sites from search engine view, and this issue will be resolved.

2.  When beginning development: Don’t leave your site’s interior page URL naming to your web developer or web development company, unless they provide SEO as a specialized service and have included an SEO “foundation” in your scope of work. Not all web developers are skilled in SEO, and often they don’t know to include keywords in URLs. (Google weighs heavily on well-named URLs.) So be proactive and ask about the process naming URLs. Or ask to submit your own keywords and suggested URL names. Or hire a company (such as Ad Ventures) that does include SEO in the foundation of a website.

3. When launching your website: If you are one of the lucky few who got on board the internet in the early days and secured a ranking of #1 on Google or Yahoo just for being there, be careful not to lose it just because you launch an updated website. Far too often when a new site gets launched, the old URL gets left behind, only to lead the search engines down the path that you simply don’t exist anymore. So they report your missing site as “404” (page not found.) And within days, your site gets dropped from the search engine indexes.

How does something like this happen? The web developer didn’t know or didn’t take the proper steps to “connect” the old to the new. For example, let’s say you added a database to your new website, so your new URL has a .php file extension, instead of the old HTML file extension. Google doesn’t necessarily assume that they are one in the same. Unless a web developer takes steps by adding the proper redirects from the old URL to the new URL, as well as notifying the search engines of the URL change, your website will be treated as new and starting from the ground up in the search engine rankings.


All “Web Geeks“ can talk the talk. But can they walk the talk?

You know who I am talking about: the web designer who, in an extremely convincing way, says “I can do that,” or “sure, won’t take long ….”
By the time you hire him, you’re so wowed that you’ve found the hidden gem, that you believe he can perform web miracles. Unfortunately, it sometimes takes a while for the average business owner or marketing director to see that the “can do” is nothing more than a definitely cannot do! But by then, months of valuable planning time and money may have been wasted going in the wrong direction.

What do you do?

We’ll tell you what some people did when this happened to them….they came to Ad Ventures, a full-service web development company, and started over. We’ve heard this type of story many times from businesses whose first website experience was a total misfire, so we empathize. (Perhaps some of these other talkative “web developers” should direct their talents to a good sales position, say at a car lot.)

Interviewing web designers and developers for the past 9 years, in my creative director / website project manager position at Ad Ventures, has made me truly respect the superior talent when it comes our way. I can recognize it a mile away. There is substance behind the knowledgeable developer’s words, proactive solutions, and, most importantly, ethics. A good web developer utilizes dozens and dozens of technologies and skill sets to produce quality sites, and he/she continually studies the Internet and new technologies because they find it rewarding. These are the kind of web developers Ad Ventures’ hires, tests and trains.

We work closely with our web developers, collaborating with them, providing them back-up, education, support, coaching and research so that the attitude is not only always “can do,” but “will do.” And our clients can be assured that there’s a team of highly skilled people “walking the talk” on every website we design on behalf of our clients.

Coming next: What web developers don’t always know….are must-knows for you.

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