Ah … “guaranteed” results.
In the SEO world, we see them as the enemy to beat.
And yet, they seem really appealing to newcomers: after all, why should you go with someone who does not guarantee anything over someone who does?
Well, when it comes to SEO, there are a number of very valid reasons to stay away from guaranteed results.
We’re going to dive deep into what guaranteed SEO results are, why some companies offer them and how they make them work (which is exactly why you shouldn’t go after them), and also what to do instead.
What Are Guaranteed SEO Services?
Guaranteed SEO services are SEO services offered by companies who promise something specific, like first page rankings, a particular number of clicks, impressions or organic sessions, or sometimes even conversions, like sales or form subscriptions.
They will usually offer a money-back guarantee, such as a refund if they do not hit the target that was agreed upon.
This does not seem like such a bad move from the client’s perspective: they either get what they want, or don’t spend anything.
Only positive outcomes, right?
Well, no – it’s much more complicated than that. And as usual with SEO, most of it can seem counter-intuitive at first.
Why You Should Avoid Any Guarantee When It Comes to SEO
It all boils down to one thing: risk.
Let’s think for a second about why people offer these guaranteed services: because they see it as a UPS (Unique Selling Proposition) – something to nudge you into buying from them.
They then have to deliver on that promise.
And how do they do that?
Usually, by going for shady, black-hat tactics.
That (and much more) can compromise your online business.
What Is Black Hat SEO and Why Is It Bad?
The “black-hat” term comes from the cybersecurity world, where it designates malicious hackers. Black-hat hackers are opposed to white-hat hackers, fighting for good.
Black-hat SEO is constantly evolving, but can be defined as the collection of tactics designed to manipulate search engines.
These tactics can include:
- Shady linkbuilding
- Obfuscated links
- Abusing Public Blog Networks (PBNs)
The issue is: Google (and other search engines) try to minimize the manipulation they can be subjected to. Google’s best interest is to provide you with the best possible results, not manipulated ones.
By using these black hat tactics, you are going up against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines – a set of rules for webmasters to follow – the law of SEO, if you will.
That leaves your business open to huge risk – like disappearing from search altogether.
Search Engines themselves warn against guarantees
In its “Do you need an SEO” article, Google actually warns against guaranteed SEO results:
And they make a very valid point: what actually are these people guaranteeing?
Let’s imagine you own a store selling coffee and coffee-related products.
Can someone realistically get your money by guaranteeing top 3 rankings for “organic ground coffee”?
What they will actually do is guarantee results for things that you do not care about in the slightest, like “organic ground coffee from South Africa”.
South African coffee may be good, but with only 200 ha cultivated right now, it’s probably not the hottest keyword for your business.
And sometimes it’s even worse, with people purposely trying to rank for keywords with a spelling mistake.
Search Engines are by nature volatile – no one can guarantee anything
Another reason why you should stay away from these so-called SEOs is a very hard truth that every decent SEO acknowledges: we do not exactly know how the algorithm works.
And this is fine – it doesn’t mean that we don’t know at all – it means we don’t know enough to actually guarantee anything.
On top of that, search engines are volatile beasts by design: the algorithms change all the time, search results change all the time and rankings change … you guessed it, all the time.
Google admittedly updates its algorithm thousands of times per year, and big core updates shake up the SEO landscape a few times per year.
No one can predict how this or that website will behave.
SEO isn’t a science. It’s not magic either, but it’s more of an experimental endeavor: we succeed through trial and error.
This is very, very far from guaranteed.
Guaranteed search engines rankings distract you from your real SEO goals
Because of all of this (and more that we didn’t touch on, like people tricking you into believing that Google Ads results are search results), guaranteed SEO results lead you to adopt a very narrow-minded approach of SEO.
You’re not thinking about the big picture: you’re thinking about ranking for this keyword, very short-term. Or you’re thinking about the number of clicks or organic sessions, without wondering whether these are actually worth anything to your business.
As we’ll see in the second part of this article, SEO is about adopting a long-term, customer-centric approach – building your business with value, brand awareness, and trustworthiness.
Guaranteed results usually take you very far away from all of this.
So what you should do instead?
I’m glad you asked.
How to Choose a Reliable SEO Partner (Agency, Freelancer, Employee)
Let’s look at what you can do and what to look for in a reliable SEO.
As I mentioned, Google has its own article about that – go read it.
I want to emphasize several things that good SEOs do:
- They want you to own the process – they educate you
- They ask a lot of questions about your business
- They want to know your audience
- They want to measure success really granularly
- They’re established and have references, testimonials, etc.
Finding an SEO willing to educate you & your team
SEO is a complex process, and the hardest part of it is actually getting everyone on board and on the same page.
From the CEO and CMO to the Sales and Marketing teams, everyone needs to have a basic understanding of what is going on and why we’re adopting a certain approach.
Any good SEO will thrive to educate you:
- They will answer all your questions positively
- They won’t get annoyed by any of them
- They will explain their reasoning as simply as possible.
They won’t try to belittle you, hide their skills from you or tell you something is too complicated to be explained easily.
You can also check if the agency has a blog with resources, eBooks, webinars, etc. that they use to educate clients and prospects alike – this is a good sign!
A good SEO is going to want to know everything about your business
SEO is a tool.
It’s not the end-all-be-all of digital marketing.
Like any tool, it’s used to do a job, and usually a very specific one. So any good SEO will try to know as much about the job to be done as possible.
This means understanding your business, your structure, your team, your business model, how successful you have been so far, your objectives, etc.
A good SEO will ask lots of questions and challenge you on your beliefs along the way.
As an example, when I have a prospect or client on the phone I tend to ask questions like “Why do you want more organic sales?”
This may seem very dumb, as everyone wants more sales right? But it allows me to uncover the business outcomes my prospect or client wants.
They may respond “because we’re spending too much on PPC”. And all of a sudden I understand their overarching goals. They went from “I want to do SEO” to “I want to optimize my cost per lead”.
Very, very different objectives.
Good SEO agencies want to focus on your audience
At the core, SEO is about bringing more people to your website.
So the first question is always: who should these people be?
Focusing on knowing more about your audience is key, because it allows any SEO team to understand who you are trying to reach, and what these people may search for online.
You can have the best SEO in the business, if your website visitors are not interested in your product or service, all of it is worthless.
Focus. On. Your. Audience.
We won’t ever say it enough.
Reporting & measuring SEO results
Like any business endeavor, SEO results should be reported.
A good SEO professional will be able to very easily highlight how they will choose to report on your campaign, and very good ones may even ask you the dreaded question:
“What does success look like?”
That will allow them to make sure your expectations are correct based on your situation, website, business, budget, etc.
Ideally, you should choose someone who talks about ROI (Return on Investment) as the final KPI – not only about clicks, sessions, and leads.
Choosing an established SEO agency
This will (hopefully) be my last point: choose an agency with established references.
Any good team will have references to share, case studies, testimonials, or something of the like.
Of course, not every client agrees to be cited on an agency’s website – and that’s fine – but be very wary of people who have nothing to share.
Also, be wary of people who can only share screenshots – they could be trying to pass up someone else’s work as their own.
Ideally, the person you talk to should want to share their screen, show you examples of past work, past reports, current campaigns, etc.
Finally, you can check whether people have gotten any awards for their work. This is far from mandatory (most awards are contests that you have to pay to enter), but can be a nice plus.
Guaranteed SEO Results Will Harm Your Business
I hope you understand why I’m saying that guaranteed results could, and very likely will, harm your business.
If you are willing to take the risk – please do.
But if you want to grow your online business steadily, cost-effectively, and successfully, it might be a better idea to set up a call with me 🙂