Guaranteed SEO Ranking
Tonight, I received an email with a familiar question, asking why the top companies providing SEO consulting and development services rarely ever provide guarantees (and virtually never use it as a marketing tactic). Since the subject has been popping up of late, and since we're just emerging from the summer lull, I thought it was as worthy a time as any to address persistent concerns. Here are five solid reasons that compel SEOmoz as well as the many companies we work with/recommend to stay far away from any "guarantee" of search engine rankings.
Reason #1: SEO & Guarantees Have an Abominable History
From 1996 through to today, SEO scams have used "guaranteed rankings and traffic" as a slimy catchphrase to lure in gullible buyers with too-good-to-be-true promises. That association has stained the entire industry and repulsed even businesses that might consider using the "guarantee" label. Just look at some of the questionable messaging used by so-called SEO companies that employ this moniker:
(source) Our search engine optimization software comes with the latest link popularity and web site optimization tools for helping you achieve guaranteed ranking. Here is what the Internet's best search engine optimization software has to offer:
- Link Popularity & Link Exchange Tools
- Website Submission Software
Automated software for link exchanges and website submissions? If you've done ten minutes of due diligence into how SEO is practiced, you're well aware that these claims venture deep into the sort of tactics that haven't been effective in the last half-decade.
(source) $399 annual - Guaranteed fast listing on DMOZ, Netscape, Google, MSN, AltaVista, LYCOS, FAST, ASK/Temoa and 100+ other engines and portals! Trace your traffic and guarantee a higher position!
Not only is the listing and traffic guaranteed, it's guaranteed fast. I'm reminded of Homer Simpson's infamous utterance after a crayon is re-inserted into his brain: "Extended warranty? How can I lose?"
- We guarantee to keep you on 1st-page results each month, or you don't pay for that month.
- We guarantee to optimize your website for up to 100 different keyword phrases.
- We guarantee to provide monthly reports that document all of your 1st-page positions.
Many of the SEO companies that do still guarantee rankings have taken the clever tack of guaranteeing a certain number of keywords that they themselves choose. In this fashion, they can select primarily non-competitive terms and have a fairly high rate of success. Whether those keyword rankings provide any serious traffic is another matter altogether.
The point doesn't need belaboring. Just as time shares have their "free" weekend getaways and used cars have high pressure salespeople, SEO has its own insidious, stereotyped marketing claims that legitimate providers avoid like the plague.
Reason #2: The Search Engines Expressly Warn Against It
I don't often reference Google's guidelines on search marketing, but since the page ranks so well for a variety of queries related to SEO and guarantees, it's virtually unavoidable if a client is performing research about your offerings. This line in particular stands alone:
No one can guarantee a #1 ranking on Google.
Even though the context is meant to put it in a slightly different context ("Beware of SEOs that claim to guarantee rankings, allege a "special relationship" with Google, or..."), the messaging comes through very clearly. If your potential clients have read on Google's website that guarantees are bogus, they're likely to carry that bias with them as they peruse what the market has to offer.
Reason #3: Rankings are Inherently Unstable
If I perform a search for "SEO Company" here in Seattle, then drive 3 hours south to Portland (or 3 hours north to Vancouver) and execute the same query, I'm likely to end up with a very different ordering of results; the same goes for if I were to log into my Google account and get personalized results or hit a different datacenter during the course of my querying. Many searchers have even had the odd experience of hitting refresh on a query and finding the results change or re-order.
Given the incongruous nature of ranking fluctuations and the fact that ranking in a particular position on a given machine at a single point in time says very little about the future or even the present, it's no wonder that savvy SEO firms stay away from the guarantee.
Reason #4: Rankings are a Poor Metric for Overall Performance
Rankings do not equal traffic. A great SEO campaign should be measured by the increase in search engine traffic and (if the contract also includes site optimization for conversions) the rate at which that traffic performs the desired actions on your site. Achieving rankings is (almost) always a means to an end and not the end itself (the one exception being reputation management campaigns).