Arsham,

We are in the midst of rebidding our SEO/PPC contract. The incumbent… have come up with a guarantee that they will get us to 1st page ranking on Google for 40% of our 20 keywords. They claim that the industry standard for SEO companies is 30%.

What is your opinion on SEO guarantees? Does WebMechanix offer something like that? The original WebMechanix quote did not include any SEO work, so I don’t even know if you guys do that, but I imagine you probably run into lots of claims.

Sincerely,
[removed for privacy]

Guaranteed SEO services are not a good thing. They’re not a vote of confidence from the agency. The guarantee is quite simply a lie. It’s a blind assurance that creates more trouble (for both parties) than it’s worth.

This post tackles the problem with guaranteed SEO from two angles:

  1. Businesses relying on guaranteed SEO services
  2. Agencies selling guaranteed SEO services.

Why businesses should avoid guaranteed SEO services.

Guaranteed SEO services are naturally appealing to business owners; after all, who doesn’t like a guarantee? But don’t fall into that trap.

An SEO guaranteeing rankings is akin to a meteorologist guaranteeing next week’s weather forecast. It may appear as a show of confidence but is much closer to a hollow boast. Week-old forecasts are not something you want to rely on and never something a weatherman would guarantee.

So why does SEO lend itself so poorly to guarantees? The following sections take care of this question.

It is impossible to guarantee rankings.

Rankings are determined by the cold, calculated touch of a search engine algorithm. That algorithm is constantly updated and personalized based on hundreds of factors — e.g. your location, your previous searches, etc.

Guaranteeing something in control of a third party, like Google or Bing, is simply not something an agency can do. That’s why Google expressly warns against guaranteeing rankings in its SEO guidelines — “Beware of SEOs that claim to guarantee rankings, allege a “special relationship” with Google, or advertise a “priority submit” to Google.”

I’d like to note that SEO services done right can improve your visibility on the web. But guaranteeing a certain ranking is not part of SEO done right.

You shouldn’t worry about rankings.

As a business, you shouldn’t care if your website ranks #1 or #100 for a relevant, non-branded search term. All you should be concerned with is whether or not your website is getting enough leads.

After all, if you’re getting enough qualified leads from organic sources, does it matter where you’re ranking? The reverse is true as well — if you’re ranking #1 and you’re not getting any qualified leads, how does that #1 ranking help you?

Caring too much about rankings and making them too much of a priority will blind you to other areas of opportunity.

SEO guarantees are used to cover up a lack of proven expertise.

Chris Farley in Tommy Boy showing off his unlimited energy supply.
To quote the late Chris Farley from the movie Tommy Boy…

They know all they sold ya was a guaranteed piece of shit. That’s all it is, isn’t it? Hey, if you want me to take a dump in a box and mark it guaranteed, I will. I got spare time. But for now, for your customer’s sake, for your daughter’s sake, ya might wanna think about buying a quality product from me.

It’s comforting to know that an agency assures the quality of their work. But even more comforting are actual examples of the quality of the agency’s work.

Case studies, references, business reputation, and other credibility items are far more important than a guarantee. A guarantee on SEO is more a promise of legal battles than anything else.

How businesses should appraise SEO agencies.

What do you want to look for in your SEO agency? Well, here’s a two-part answer for that:

  1. SEO services that speak in terms of ROI (return on investment), and
  2. a promise for transparent reporting.
ROI is the bottom line with SEO.

Connecting your SEO agency’s efforts to your business’s financial outcomes is critical for a successful agency relationship. Not only does it help determine the ROI of the service, but sharing this information with your SEO vendor also helps improve the quality of service.

Quality SEO services should do two things: it optimizes your content for the right traffic and optimizes your site for conversions. Simply put, it gets the right people to the site and helps them subscribe, purchase, schedule or otherwise “convert” which is what makes you money.

Letting your vendor know that you’re getting low quality traffic will help them adjust their strategy. Otherwise, they will see increasing visits and conversions and believe things are going well.

Transparent reporting communicates value added.

Screen shot of the monthly SEO report sent to clients.

The best way to find out if your SEO agency knows what they’re doing is by having them to show you what they’re doing. That doesn’t mean you should let the agency drown you with data.

Your SEO agency should provide you with a periodic report that is digestible by your standards. They should walk you through it, giving you an opportunity to provide feedback and ask questions.

If your SEO agency is unable to clearly explain what they’re doing and how it’s affecting your website, that’s not a good sign. They may be overstating their impact, ignoring high value opportunities, not telling you about spammy techniques, or not really telling you anything at all. It’s always better to work with a transparent SEO agency that is willing and able to take responsibility for their activities.

Why agencies should avoid selling guaranteed SEO services.

A man tempting fate by kicking a Spetsnaz officer. He ends up getting a sweet roundhouse kick to the face.

Selling guaranteed SEO will get you in trouble. Why will you end up in trouble? Because guaranteeing something controlled by a third party with no obligations to you is risky and offers little benefit.

And what happens when you fail on your guarantee? You’re either going to need to cough up some money or end up in court. And courts haven’t treated claims of bogus SEO kindly.

You’re promising something outside of your control.

It largely comes down to the fact that it is impossible to guarantee rankings. You’re making promises based on a third party’s service. That third party has no direct interest in you whatsoever! And none of the third parties you’re relying on are perfect.

You’re adding extra risk to your risk management.

Risk management is much more difficult when you’re depending on a known unknown. Algorithm updates, manual penalties, and other known but unpredictable factors make a business proposition centered on ranking guarantees exceptionally risky.

You have better things to do than rank tracking.

A truly good SEO knows that being dependent on any one source of traffic is a poor strategy. Having a diversity of traffic is the ideal goal, so zeroing in on rankings for Google or another search engine is not a good use of time.

Our own experience with SEO guarantees.

WebMechanix used to offer guaranteed SEO services. It didn’t end well. No matter how you slice that situation, we made a mistake offering it.

We were a young, confident company. We knew we delivered value to our clients. But a few strokes of bad luck and one rotten apple made it all a costly mistake. We honored the guarantee and paid back 125% of the money that client spent on us.

We learned from that experience. We were promising something that we couldn’t guarantee. In the short term, it helped us gain new customers and grow. In the long run the repercussions wiped out most of those gains.

We consider ourselves blessed to be able to learn that lesson early and grow stronger from it. Now we let our work do the talking. We showcase results and let the client decide whether or not they want to trust us — no guarantee needed.

SEO / Web News

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