Can SEO be guaranteed?

Our industry is rife with people making all kinds of offers to this effect – most of them range from worthless, to useless, to downright scams. We’ll examine some of them later then look at what can be guaranteed and how we have packaged this into a commercial service.

The traditional response when people ask most SEO companies for guarantees is to recite the Google Webmaster Guidelines to them which encourages people to be wary of guarantee promises. We say the obvious things like because we have no control over what competitors do we can’t really guarantee results – if we do a load of SEO work on the site and the competitors replicate the same work we all end in the same positions. We also say we have no control over the algorithm changes Google makes so can’t guarantee what we do today will still have merit next month.

This is not a satisfactory response. In all areas of businesses where a customer spends money surely he has the right to know what return he is likely to get – and also has the right to demand money back if what he’s paid for doesn’t work. The customer has the right to demand us to put our money where our mouth is. So how do we reconcile this need with the difficulty of providing ‘guarantees’ with SEO?

We can do it, and its what we refer to as Performance Based SEO where we tie the success of the SEO project to what we get paid. This is based on in depth knowledge of SEO over many years practical experience and success, knowing what results can be expected, and importantly building into the plan what the likely competitive response might be. There’s more detail on this below but before moving on to it here are a few of the most common forms of ineffective guarantees…

  1. Using Pay per Click to provide the position.
    I know dear reader – you know the difference between a PPC result and a natural listing but 35%-40% of Google users dont. So using PPC to ‘guarantee’ positions (which may only be in place for a short period of time – just enough to show the customer he’s in the top 3) is quite common.
  2. Guaranteeing first page results.
    Relatively easy to guarantee as at the bottom of the first page, for most keyphrases, its pretty uncompetitive and adding a few anchor text based links will get you to that position. The problem is though that its almost worthless. Click through rates below the scroll are single digit % points so not likely to give any enquiry or sales improvements which, after all, is the objective of rankings. It’s in the top half of the results page where you want to be for commercial benefit.
  3. Using low competition/low search volume keyphrases – long tail phrases for example. I could guarantee you number one position on ‘mikes pizza restaurant bolton’ no problem.


Performance based SEO (PBSEO) is our response to this. It starts with a thorough keyphrase analysis. We then decide with our customer the prioritised list of keyphrases we will focus the SEO work on.

We then look at competitive positions for these phrases – ie which sites are currently dominating the top ranking positions. We look at the SEO these sites have carried out and in particular their inbound link infrastructure.

From this analysis we can then work out a detailed SEO plan of action; what SEO work (and in particular the off-page SEO or link building work) needs to be done in order to take the target positions.

For each target phrase we’ll provide a costing and a timescale for a specific ranking position to be achieved. If the customer wants a position quicker we’ll give an additional cost of the link building required to achieve this – then when we have this plan in place we’ll tie our payment to the achievment of that plan.

For some sites we can even tie our compensation directly to increased sales via the site – certainly ecommerce sites but other sites also which have teletracking in place.

Of course competitors may react and make this more difficult to achieve, but in reality if we choose a range of phrases its unlikely that all of these will come under competitive pressure – so we’re be happy to pro rata the payment based on what percentage of the phrases occupy the target positions. Most people are more than happy with this approach – it gives our customers the assurance that overall their investment will yield positive returns and it makes sure we do everything necessary to achieve success.

The detail of this service is available and it will be posted on my blog within the next couple of weeks.