Are SEO Guarantees Worth Anything?

If you decide to pursue search engine optimization as a marketing technique, you will undoubtedly run into companies offering to guarantee your results. The question is whether these assurances are worth anything? Let’s take a look.

SEO

Before we get into ranking guarantees, let me state something very clearly for the record, so you know where I am coming from in this article. Despite the social media revolution, I still think search engine optimization is the single best marketing method for websites. I have seen only one other long term marketing method [list building] that beats top rankings when it comes to generating revenues online.

I also believe there are many excellent search engine optimization companies. These companies provide dedicated services to their clients in an honest manner while presenting realistic goals. What are “realistic goals”? If you have a travel business, you are not going to rank in the top 10 on Google for travel anytime soon because the big travel companies have such a head start over you. I don’t endorse companies, but you can usually identify them by reading the leading SEO periodicals.

SEO Guarantee Scams?

Let’s cut to the chase. Are SEO guarantee offers scams? The answer depends on the nature of the particular guarantee being offered. Having said this, the guarantee is something that should be looked at very skeptically. Why? Well, let’s start with a statement from the mighty Google itself:

  • No one can guarantee a #1 ranking on Google.

Beware of SEOs that claim to guarantee rankings, allege a “special relationship” with Google, or advertise a “priority submit” to Google.

http://support.google.com/webmasters/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=35291

This rather simple statement would seem to suggest a rather obvious answer – that nobody can guarantee rankings.

Common Sense

Now let’s turn to common sense. Let me ask you a simple question. If you could get top rankings for any site on the web, wouldn’t you launch your own sites and reap the profits? Would you give away the secret for a few hundred or thousand dollars a month? I sincerely doubt it. So why are providers who can guarantee results doing it? Hmm…

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

Perhaps the single most important persuasive argument against guarantees is the number of changes Google makes in the algorithm it uses to rank sites each year. In 2011, Google reported making 500 changes. This rate works out to roughly 1.5 changes a day. How could any SEO company keep up with so many changes? Google doesn’t release the details of each change to the public. Only Google knows what it changed in each instance.

All in all, it is very difficult to see how any SEO company can guarantee top rankings for any website. If you look closer at most of the guarantees, you will soon realize this is because they aren’t guaranteeing what you might expect.

The Nature of a Guarantee

“Guarantee” is a very powerful word in legal circles. A guarantee pretty much means you are promising an absolute result in a particular defined situation. In this case, SEO guarantees often aren’t what they seem because they define the situation differently than you might expect.

Let’s assume I have a site selling GPS products. A hire an optimization firm offering me a ranking guarantee. They develop keywords for me, and I pay them a small pile of money to get my site ranked. A couple of scenarios typically play out at this point.

In the first scenario, the company does indeed get me top rankings for my keywords. These rankings, however, do not generate any significant traffic to my site. This is because the company placed a bigger emphasis on picking keywords they could easily obtain rankings on instead of keywords that had sufficient traffic to generate sales. While I have top rankings, they are useless to me. I might as well rank number one for “slkdfa;sd” for all the benefit I am receiving.

In the second scenario, the company develops a list of 20 keywords for the campaign. The guarantee says the company will rank a certain number of these, say eight, or I get my money back. The company picks ten keywords that are easy to rank and ten that are difficult. They obtain high rankings for eight low competition keywords, but not the other 12. Again, the top rankings produce no real benefit.

There are many variations of the “useless” guarantee scheme. The important thing is to read the language closely, so you know what you are getting and, more importantly, what you are not getting.

SEO Agency Issues

In some cases, the problem is not the guarantee but the company standing behind it. Let me be blunt. Anyone can put up a website and call themselves an SEO expert. There is no licensing and, in some cases, the industry is subject to adverse publicity because of scam artists posing as SEO agencies.

You hire an SEO company that offers you an ironclad guarantee. You read the finer points, and everything looks legitimate. The sales person tells you it will take nine months to a year to rank in the top 10 for even the most difficult keywords in your field. You agree to pay $2,500 a month through PayPal to the company because, hey, you’ll more than recover it when you get that top 10 ranking on Google for “travel.”

You dutifully pay for eight months. The site moves up slowly in the rankings, but it is nowhere near the top 10 for any of your keywords. The company representatives keep preaching patience. Then in month 10, they stop returning your calls. By month 12, their site is down. You’ve just been ripped off for $25,000 by a fly by night company.

To avoid scams of this sort, it is best to look for a few things in an SEO provider:

  • A history. Have they been around for a long period of time? If so, they are unlikely to rip you off.
  • A company in your country. If you live in Japan and hire a company in Nigeria, how are you ever going to pursue them if they rip you off?
  • Social media rankings on sites such as Yelp.com. Look for rankings spread out over time.
  • BBB. If a company claims to be a member of their local Better Business Bureau or some other agency, contact that group to get a report on the business.
  • Name checks. If the agency brands themselves around a person, look the person up on Google to see what people have to say.

Legal Issues

How should SEO guarantees be viewed from a legal perspective? Most website owners retain legal counsel to perform due diligence on the potential SEO providers to identify the quality firms. This is then followed by the creation of a contract binding said company to their guarantee and in a manner that makes it enforceable for the client.

If you need assistance determining if an SEO guarantee has any value or feel you have been ripped off, contact me for a free consultation.

Richard A. Chapo, Esq.