Lee Odden

Should your SEO firm give you a guarantee?

Lee Odden     Online Marketing

Many search engine optimization firms still tout guarantees of top ten rankings. A specific ranking or position guarantee on organic search engine listings is not practical for a couple of reasons:

1. Search Engines are in Control – SEO firms do not have control over how search engines algorithmically rank pages. We can identify the strong influencers and use what has worked in the past to achieve top rankings, but if a Search Engine decides to change the way it ranks pages, goes out of business, gets acquired, or adds/changes their source of search results data, there is really not much a SEO firm can do about that. However, a good SEO will know about these things before they happen and have a plan of attack to minimize traffic and ranking effects, if any, to the client site.

2. It’s about conversion, not ranking – The guarantee of top ten listings is really an attempt at a guarantee of results, or satisfaction with the service. Being listed in the top ten for an unpopular keyword will mean nothing to the bottom line for a web site/business. What is more meaningful from a return on investment standpoint is a satisfaction guarantee. That is, there is more to profitable online marketing than specific rankings. Expert SEO firms implement a variety of tactics to help clients reach the true objectives, like increased inquiries and sales, rather than a particular ranking.

The only way to legitimately guarantee a specific ranking is on a pay per click program where the primary determining factor for ranking is based on something the advertiser is in complete control over – the cost per click bidding price.

3. Practical SEO guarantee – Rankings are best used as a basic metric to document overall visibility trends. But rankings are just the start. It’s also very important to report the increased number of unique visitors brought to the client as well as tracking conversions whenever possible. Effective conversion tracking documents the number of times a search engine ranking or a pay per click listing results in an inquiry.

Here is an example SEO guarantee that is not tied to specific rankings:

Client satisfaction is guaranteed. We work closely with our clients to identify realistic goals and timelines and employ the appropriate mix of tactics to achieve them. If objectives are not met within the agreed upon timeline, we will offer to make it right within 30 days or offer to terminate our agreement and refund any unused portion of the contract.

4. Focus on what’s important – Above and beyond a guarantee, other evaluation items of a search engine marketing company, SEO firm or consultant should emphasize:

  • Full disclosure of tactics. Nothing ambiguous
  • Proposal and project plan outlining deliverables and timelines
  • Ranking examples on phrases similar to yours or at least difficult phrases
  • Clients that you can talk to for reference
  • Experience and industry recognition/involvement

Setting clear expectations early on is critical both for the client and the SEO firm. Claims that appear as “too good to be true” are usually not worth the risk for the client. Demands for high rankings quickly on extremely competitive and non-relevant phrases are not practical either. Site owners should provide clear objectives for the site and understand the metrics most valuable in determining success. SEO firms should consult with the client on a strategy that uses the most appropriate mix of tactics and provide clear expectations on timeframes and results.

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Lee Odden About Lee Odden

@LeeOdden is the CEO of TopRank Marketing and editor of Online Marketing Blog. Cited for his expertise by The Economist, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, he's the author of the book Optimize and presents internationally on B2B marketing topics including content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he's likely running, traveling or cooking up something new.