We’ve all heard it before, SEO companies (and I use the term loosely) who guarantee “top-10 rankings on 6 major search engines” for $500 per keyword. What’s up with that? Are these legitimate offers? After all, they are providing a guarantee so is there really anything to lose?
A guarantee in SEO is one of those double-edged swords. On the one hand a guarantee seems like it should be the norm. After all, if your SEO company is confident in their abilities, why can’t they provide some guarantee that says they’ll do what they say they can do? On the other hand, rankings in the search engines are not static. You might have a ranking for a specific keyword phrase one minute (or when checking via one computer) and the next minute it’s gone. Does that count towards your guarantee or not?
The problem with SEO guarantees is that you have to extensively evaluate the specific terms of any agreement.
Are All SEO Guarantees Worthless?
You'll often hear people who call themselves "ethical SEOs" say that any company that offers guaranteed rankings is simply out to scam you. They say that since nobody has control over the search engines, nobody can guarantee rankings. This is partially true, but I don't totally agree.
When talking about the "natural" search listings, not paid ads, it's true that no SEO company can simply place a URL into a particular position in the search engines for any given keyword phrase. All they can do is optimize your site and hope for the best. So in that sense, they can't guarantee a particular placement. However, that doesn't preclude any SEO company from guaranteeing that they'll give you your money back if they don't achieve a particular ranking in a particular engine. If they want to offer you that sort of money-back guarantee, then that's their prerogative. Offering this doesn't automatically mean that the company is scamming you.
Read Your Contracts!
That said, before you run right out and hire a company like this, make sure that you take a very close look at how they word their guarantee. You may not be getting the safety net you thought you were, and this is where they may truly be out to trick you.
Guarantees have been a part of the SEO business since I first began in it in the ‘90’s, but I've always found them to be a joke. Once you actually see what it is these companies guarantee, you will find that they are rarely worth much, and chances are you won't see any money back from them, due to the fine print.
Make sure you look closely at what they say they will do for you. Sure, first-page placement on at least six of the major search engines sounds great on the surface. But today there’s really only 3 engines (soon to be 2 when Yahoo starts using Bing results). And only 1 of those engines (Google) brings a substantial amount of traffic to most sites.
This means that they may guarantee you a #1 ranking in a major search engine, and if it happens to be one of the less frequently used ones, you may not see much traffic for it, making that #1 not worth the virtual paper it was written on. If your SEO company isn’t bringing you highly targeted traffic from Google, then they’re not doing their job. And yet, if their “guarantee” didn’t specify this, then you have no recourse.
In addition, don't be surprised to find that what the SEO company considers to be a "major" search engine is one you never heard of before. That's a common trick some use to "fulfill" their guarantee. While AltaVisa, Lycos and Excite used to be great search engines back in the last century, nobody uses them now. Yet you still see them listed on many SEO company websites as search engines in which they’ll guarantee you a listing!
You’ll also want to make sure that they're not just ranking your site in a pay-per-click search engine by simply buying their way in on your behalf. (There's nothing wrong with that, as long as you understand where that ranking actually came from.)
Beware of Guaranteed Rankings For Keywords Nobody Uses
Another trick these companies often use is that they simply optimize your site for keyword phrases that nobody is searching for. I've said it before, and I'll say it again...anyone can optimize pages for phrases like that. Who cares? Who cares if you're number one in all the search engines for a stupid keyword phrase that sounds really good on the surface, but which according to any reliable keyword research tools, has zero searches in the past 350 million search queries?
Be sure to find out if you have sign off on any keyword phrases that the company will be optimizing for, and be sure to do your own research to make sure those keywords are ones actual people use at search engines to seek out your product or service. If they’ll let you, see if you can look at some web analytics reports from the company’s other clients to see if any targeted traffic is coming into their sites. I'm not saying that the SEO company should be shooting for the most competitive keyword phrases there are, but they shouldn't be shooting for the least competitive either.
The moral of the story is that if you sign up with an SEO company because you figure you have nothing to lose, don't be so sure. Go through your SEO contract with a fine-toothed comb and make sure you understand *exactly* what you're getting or what you're not getting. Once you sign on the dotted line, it will be too late.
Most professional SEO consultants don't offer a guarantee, because they don't need to. As professionals, they will do the best they can do for your site and keep doing it until they've satisfied the requirements of their contract with you.
As with hiring any service, be sure you do the appropriate research into the company you hire. Check references, learn about their methods, and don't let them sway you with techno-babble. Good SEO companies are not cheap. The idea is to make more money from their efforts over time than you pay out so that you receive a great return on your investment.