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Evaluating an SEO Agency

The world of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Google always seem to be clouded in mystery. Even though it’s 2016 and Google has been around for 18 years, many business owners or marketing managers have no idea how it works or how to get their companies to show up on Google.

This confusion makes it easy for less-than-reputable individuals to take advantage of those who know they need to be found on the web but don’t know how to get there. These unscrupulous SEO firms throw terms around like Algorithms, Penguin, Penalties, and SERP’s – more to confuse and thus convince clients to trust them.

The end result is a company who pays a lot of money for tactics that, at best, achieve no results and, at worse, cause damages that are difficult to undo.

Evaluating an SEO Agency

Top 5 signs you might be dealing with an “SEO” Agency that doesn’t have your best interests in mind.

#5 No Clear Strategy

If an SEO has no way of articulating their strategy for increasing your visibility then chances are they don’t have one.  A strategy is their chance to explain what and why they will be doing certain things. Always ask what and why.

#4 Lack of Reporting

Reporting is a vital part of business operations. If you can’t report out on it how can you assess the ROI? Any SEO firm that doesn’t provide an account of what they’ve done and how successful or not (which is ok, failure if part of the process) it has been, is not being transparent. Lack of access to analytics (Google Analytics), conversion tracking tools, rank reports etc. are a sure sign things are not being assessed properly.

#3 Magical Results

Everyone wants to see their traffic, sales, conversions etc. grow and grow quickly. But be wary of the ‘magical’ results. Organic traffic can grow fast, but use your gut when you see extreme growth. Often these visitors turn out to be inflated or manipulated and provide no value to your company.

#2 Google Guarantee

Any SEO firm or agency that says they can guarantee an organic ranking is, well, not someone to trust. No one can. Google won’t allow it or Google would be out of business. Certain tactics have proven to be more efficient than others, but there are simply too many factors involved for anyone to declare emphatically they can guarantee rankings.

#1 Laziness

The digital world has changed a lot in the last five years. Google has made over 20 changes to how it interacts with a website in the last two years. If your SEO agency is still using tactics from 2010, they’re being lazy.


A mix of proven and innovative approaches always gives a company the best possible chance to succeed. A quality SEO firm will explain the tactics they are using and explain why they are important. If your agency isn’t doing that, you need to ask questions.

These are just a sampling of the things you should use to evaluate your current or prospective SEO agency. Our hope is that your agency passes the test and is providing you with a valuable service. Quality SEO makes the web a better place for everyone!


At Sanctuary Marketing Group we pride ourselves on having an open relationship with our clients. Our clients look at us as partners, focused on achieving results openly and ethically. If you’ve had a bad experience with an SEO or Digital Marketing agency, contact us. We are happy to listen to your needs and experience, offer advice and help you get back on track growing your business.

How to Evaluate SEO Providers & Avoid the Sketchy Ones

Back in 2012, Chris Auman wrote an article titled “5 SEO Tactics to Avoid at all Costs.” Needless to say, a lot has changed over the past four years when it comes to digital marketing and SEO.

Despite all the information on the web about how search optimization has changed and what not to do when it comes to SEO, we still find many companies dealing with old SEO tactics. Perhaps these are still around because of a less than reputable SEO provider or maybe just because companies haven’t had the time or budget to addressed their approach to search optimization.

With that in mind, we thought it would be a good idea to revisit these tactics for a little refresher on what you should not be doing. What Chris wrote in 2012 is still very much relevant in 2016.


Top 5 SEO tactics to avoid at all cost Black-Hat-SEO

#1: Keyword Stuffing – Keyword stuffing may happen if you are writing about something that requires certain keywords to be repeatedly used but it is still something that needs attention. While overusing certain keywords once worked to get your site or blog bumped to the top of a Google search, it now has the opposite effect. Saturating your piece with the same words over and over is a clear abuse of SEO and can now get you booted from search. Also, it makes the content clunky to read.

#2: Paying for Links – Having links and backlinks is something else that should happen naturally. Paying for this type of connection is considered unethical and will probably not get you the results you want. Creating fake websites just to increase the backlinks to your site is not an ethical practice to follow, which ties into the next point.

#3: Hiring someone to leave fake comments or to write false reviews and testimonials – The idea is that you should be attracting authentic versions of these for other users to see. If you want to encourage visitors to your blog or users of your product to leave real comments, reviews or testimonials that is one thing. If you go out of your way creating false reviews, you are operating with black hat marketing techniques.

#4: Hidden or Invisible Text – This is the practice of using text that cannot be seen by visitors to a site or blog but is detected by search engines. Again, it is considered a less than ethical tactic to use to rank higher on search engines. Using hidden text is seen as a form of spam,  frowned upon by most and if used, the site runs the risk of incurring a penalty from the search engines.

#5: Using Misspellings – This happens when you create content using keywords that are commonly misspelled as part of your content marketing plan. Using the misspelled version of the word but directing it to the correctly spelled version is frowned upon and not a good practice to get in the habit of for SEO.

While it may be tempting to use some tricks that are “in the gray area” you will more than likely be sorry you did. In the long run, it is never worth using these types of black hat approaches to SEO. Yes, it may take more time to build up the desired effect from white hat techniques, but the results will be better and longer lasting.


Avoid making these mistakes, whether intentional or not. If you are not sure whether your site falls into these traps or not or need direction on how to update your marketing approach, contact us. Sanctuary Marketing group has Digital Marketing strategists who are experts at this, and we’re here to help.

5 Sketchy SEO Tactics

Perhaps the biggest challenges in launching an inbound marketing campaign as part of your Web Marketing Strategy, is coming to grips with  the sheer volume of content you’ve committed your company to.

It isn’t an insurmountable task. It just seems that way. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. The key to ensuring success in achieving the lofty goals you’ve set…. breaking down the process into easily digestible tasks.

Ideally, you’d focus on only those tasks to which you provide the greatest value within short bursts of focused time. Everything else? Delegate. We addressed this topic in a recent post: How To Create Great Blog Content in 9 Simple Steps.

Another key is getting visibility on the work at hand so you can manage the content creation process effectively. This will allow you to delegate, monitor the quality and sleep well at night knowing with confidence your blog content will go out on schedule…and be something you’re PROUD of.

Enter the Editorial Calendar.

The Editorial Calendar (or Content Calendar) has been employed by publishing houses and news agencies for years. Think about it.  The Wall Street Journal isn’t starting from scratch every day hoping they can fill 50+ pages of content.  Yes, they are a daily news organization feeding the latest business news to you within hours of it happening.  BUT how many of their content have been in development for weeks or even months in advance?  I wouldn’t be surprised if Walt Mossberg and All Thing Digital have their editorial calendars blocked out for the next 3-6 months.  Guaranteed, they’ve got something on the books for the next generation of iPad and are gathering relevant information they’ll need when it comes time to sit down write the article.

It’s how every publisher ensures quality… by giving themselves just enough lead time to do the hard thinking, research, editing, and refinement to deliver timely and engaging content. (more…)

Marketing Planning: How To Create An Editorial Calendar

Part 4:
Sanctuary Marketing Group Founder, Chris Auman and Online Marketing Strategist, Jason Jividen field common questions received from our customers seeking to improve their Online Marketing Strategy.

Question: What could make Search Engine Optimization Better?

Answer: People look at SEO in many cases sort of magic trick, or as a sort of universal key or somehow its gonna solve the problem – not the case

Most important thing to remember about Search Engine Optimization is that we are massing an audience. Now when have that audience and bring them to the door, the next most important thing you can do is figure out what to do with them?

Often time when SEO falls apart its because the site itself is NOT optimized to convert that traffic that they are building into customers

As we get better at directing traffic towards a specific purpose and action, SEO becomes infinitely more important because as you connect a targeted audience to exactly what you are trying to do for them…and THEN you can bring them to your front door.

Now you’ve got something that can raise the bottom line on and dramatically change your business.

VIDEO: Using SEO to Improve Conversion

Application-MarketingBy Tom Murphy – Online Marketing Strategist, Sanctuary Marketing Group

Now in the year 2011, it’s a pretty safe bet that nearly every company has some sort of website.  The question is, how much are they taking advantage of that website?  It has become glaringly apparent that a common weakness in many websites that I’ve come across is a roadblock between their company and the consumer.  That is, they don’t speak the language of the consumer.


Think of the last time that you visited a website and thought to yourself, “what the heck does this company do!?” or “What would I use that for?”  My guess is that it probably wasn’t very long ago.  You see product photos and all these product numbers but don’t have a clue what they’re used for or how they’ll solve a problem.

The Common Mistake

Lets be honest, companies love their products and love all the industry jargon that goes along with those products, but it’s not practical information for the consumers looking for a solution. Consumer’s go to the web because they are looking for something in particular – they’re looking for solutions.

For example, let’s say I need to start packaging golf tees.  Your company might have the perfect product for me to package golf tees, but I will never know it unless you tell me that product can do it.

If I’m on your website, more than likely I see “the G9000” and “the r4500” and all the specs that go along with those machines.  Nowhere do I see it boldly stated “this is what the G9000 is used for and what problem it solves.”

How does this relate to conversion and sales?

With the proliferation of web searching and the shrinking of corporate and government structures, many web searches are no longer performed by engineers and experienced product managers.

Often times, especially in the manufacturing and building industries these searches are initiated by staffers whose expertise may be in accounts payable, or administration – not engineering or manufacturing. We can’t discount the everyday Joe Shmoe that hops on the web to go surfing for something that caught his attention while sitting on the couch at night. (more…)

Speak the Language of the Consumer: Application vs. Product Marketing

Part 3:
Sanctuary Marketing Group Founder, Chris Auman and Online Marketing Strategist, Jason Jividen field common questions received from our customers seeking to improve their Online Marketing Strategy.

Question: When you have discovered a link that someone is pointing to you, is it advantageous to link back to that Website?

Chris: The value there would be if that is content that is related to what you do. Not all links are created equal. If you get a link from some random site and you make widgets and they make a completely different type of widgets, that link may not have as much value as another Web site in your same industry.

Jay: If it is related content and you feel it’s of good quality, it could add value (indirectly) in that you’re providing more information for your readers even though it doesn’t add direct SEO value or weight.

Chris: Yeah, what I would say it has to be related and what you can do is incorporate that link with a keyword on your page and if they are a highly regarded, reputable site that linking is going to build some sort of weight on your page too.

Additional notes:

  • There may be some indirect value in linking back to a site that links to you, even if there is no direct SEO value.
  • The link presents and opportunity to establish and build a relationship among related businesses in your industry that may share the same customers.
  • Search Engine Optimization is just on component of a successful online marketing campaign.
  • Linking to high quality, related sites can increase the chances that customers will find you organically — whether through a Google search or through the network of connections formed by one valuable site, leading to another valuable site, leading YOUR valuable site.
VIDEO: Does it Make Sense To Link Back To Other Web Sites?

Sanctuary Marketing Group Founder, Chris Auman and Online Marketing Strategist, Jason Jividen field common questions received from our customers seeking to improve their Online Marketing Strategy.

Question: You guys have been talking about content, can you actually describe what you mean by ‘great’ or ‘highly useful’ content?

Jason: When you are looking great or highly useful content you are really looking at it from two aspects. One, how much information does it provide about what you do to your visitor. And, two, from an SEO standpoint, what words are we using to define that content.  By that I mean,  it needs its to be appropriately informative and it needs to have the key words there that are most used or most commonly used by your potentials or your target audience.

Chris: And in regards to linking to sites and what makes content ‘highly valuable’  — there is difference between content and really good useful content where people actually get value out of it. That’s why having the key words in there and targeting it towards a specific SEO goal is good, but just creating well written useful content around the key phrases you are going after… people finding your your content from a search  and and say, ‘Yes, this exactly what I needed.’ Then word will spread as they are going to share that content with people, they are going to link it to from their site, and their social networks…so that’s the goal.

How Do You Create Content That Will Perform Well for SEO?

A recent poll by MarketingSherpa reveals where many online B2B (Business-to-Business) Marketers are finding the most success.

The poll reveals the the top 3 tactics to be:

  1. Implementing unique landing pages for various marketing campaigns
  2. Optimizing design and content for conversions
  3. Regularly optimizing Web sites for SEO purposes

I found this most interesting in how closely tied the top 3 tactics were to one another and to traditional Direct Marketing tactics.

The key to each of these tactics centers around designing relevant content for the end-user. Unique landing pages for a specific marketing campaign should be designed to draw on the key elements that drew a visitor to the site in the first place.  Continuing the conversation from an external marketing campaign allows you to convert the visitor to buyer. And a good SEO campaign is centered on presenting content that is both focused and consistent with the needs of the person searching for information in the first place.

The main point being — successful marketing is about have a ‘one-to-one’ (vs. a one-to-ALL) conversation with your target market.

For those from the Direct Marketing world it correlates to LIST, OFFER, & CREATIVE being the priorities in a successful marketing campaign.

LIST – being the Search Engine Optimization component (keywords = list selection).

OFFER – what is the unique offer you’re making to the people finding your site targeted on those specific keywords.

CREATIVE – optimizing design through clear ‘calls-to-action’ to increase the chances you will convert Web site visitors to buyers.

Top Web Site Design Tactics Online Marketers Employ

The dynamics of mass market advertising are forever changed. We have to accept that.

According to a 2011 Pew Research Study, the Internet is slowly (but surely) closing in on television as the main source of national and international news for Americans. In 2010, the Internet SURPASSED television as the main source in news for people younger than 30 years old.

But this is just one indicator of a trend that, by now, should be all too obvious.  Where the audience goes, so follows the advertising dollar.

What does this mean for your business and it’s online marketing efforts?  One word: Opportunity.

Sure it was great when a Don Draper-ish character could come up with a catchy slogan, broadcast it on one of the big three networks, and feel confident every consumer that mattered received the message.

But there were cons to that approach as well.  For one, very little room for testing and failure.  You either spent big or you went home.  What’s more…unless your product or service had mass market appeal, you were really left to your own devices in reaching your target demographic.

Response rates for direct mail are continuing to sink; where once a 2% rate was considered standard, now you’re lucky if you see a .5% response rate on a large direct mail effort.

So while we could mourn the loss of the golden age of marketing, the real winners will be those marketers who figure out how to capitalize on the shift in how consumers spend their time and gather their information. (more…)

How will the shift in news consumption affect your marketing efforts?

A website is supposed to do two main things: educate and make a sale. It is simple, beautiful, almost elegant in its way. Some sites may look more complicated than that, but they are all dedicated to those two main goals. And both of those goals are related to one another as well.

In the world of senior living facilities, the competition is fierce. After all, consider this: the senior population is the largest growing age group so products and services that are aimed directly to them or to the family that is responsible for caring for them can be very big business, indeed. But, in a market that is that choked with choices, you have to be able to stand head and shoulders above everyone else to get anyone’s attention at all.

It is the rare business that does not have at least some information on the internet these days and online marketing is quickly replacing other forms of communication to get the initial interest and the chance to hook a customer’s attention. But the old adage still applies – you only get one chance to make a first impression, so your website has to zing and pop. It has to:

  • Spell out its basic premise quickly and succinctly
  • Have visual appeal and ease of use
  • Deliver on its initial promise
  • Give the customer the chance to leave contact information for more details (more…)
In a Crowded Market, You Either Lead or Get Swallowed: Increasing Traffic for the Senior Housing Market

As business leaders, we’re all working to increase sales. Given the confidence and a practical approach, we’ll invest the time and resources on those activites which will provide us with the best return-on-investment for our marketing dollars.

For most of us, the hardest part is getting started and trusting that you have the information and tools you need to make the right decision for your business.

For businesses looking to launch and manage a successful Online Marketing campaign, we’ve put together this overview:

Step One: Planning, Planning, Planning

Before you build a house, you have a plan. There will be the blueprint that describes in great detail the finished house by size, by shape and where it will be placed on the lot. There will be surveys done to make sure that the house will fit on the lot and that the ground on that lot will actually be able to handle a house of this kind. There will be planning that takes into account the laws and regulations of the area where you are building and a million other details to attend to before the first shovel of dirt is lifted.


Six Steps to Transform Your Online Marketing Efforts in 90 Days

It can’t be overstated, keywords are extremely important as you build and execute your Internet marketing strategy.

The right keywords allow you to build content around a consistent theme through all of your online marketing channels, increasing the likelihood that the right people will find you. This is especially important when building an online strategy focused on a local marketplace.  E.g. I say ‘pop’, Easterners say ‘soda’, and Southerners may say ‘coke’.

But how do you select the right keywords?  How do you do know which ones will generate traffic? There are a number of tools out there but my recent favorite is Google Insights for Search.
Keyword Research Using Google Insights for Search