I recently sent this question out on Help A Reporter Out:
Both Matt Cutts and Rand Fishkin have said that reputable SEO’s don’t guarantee results. Do you? If not, why not? Do you think it’s ethical to keep your client’s money if you can’t get them ranked on Google page 1? Do you know if your SEO works a certain percentage of the time? If you offered a guarantee and could not get them ranked would you try harder or would you just quit? If you can please include your moral and ethical arguments for either
offering guarantees or not.
While a few offered constructive and ingenious ideas for ways to guarantee SEO, most respondents answered in the negative saying it should not be done. Some were quite forthright in their opinions, like Cat Ledevic:
THAT is absurd. How on earth can we offer guarantees when nobody knows from one day to the next what SEs are going to spring on us all from an algorithm point of view? Something that boosted a client to SERP p1 yesterday can (and has) dropped their traffic to 0. Any SEO who doesn’t admit that is either short-sighted or, erm, prone to exaggeration. (Nice way of saying they lie through through their teeth!)
Or perhaps just not talking about the same thing.
Interpreting Google Is Like Interpreting the Bible – It’s About Context
Tim Schmitt at Explore Consulting, an IT consultancy, replied with what I think gets at the heart of why so many in the profession are against guaranteed SEO:
Guaranteeing a result is actually against Google’s web master guidelines. I ask my customers, “Do you really want to hire an SEO firm stupid enough to go against Google?”
That would make sense if it were actually true. What Google was getting at in their oft quoted webmaster guidelines was not SEO’s who offer a performance guarantee but those who claim to be able to do something when in reality they have no way of doing it since they have no control over the process. In Google’s words:
Beware of SEOs that claim to guarantee rankings, allege a “special relationship” with Google, or advertise a “priority submit” to Google.
Notice the context of Google’s statement. Are they talking about offering a guarantee such as money back if what an SEO does doesn’t work or are they talking about guaranteeing something will happen as if one has control of the outcome?
Anybody who has studied theology, i.e., ever picked up a bible and tried to figure out what the authors were getting at, knows how important it is to understand the context of a statement. The context of Google’s statement is not SEO’s who don’t want to take money from website owners if what they do for them is ineffective. Why would it be?
Google’s statement is about those who claim a special relationship with Google as if they can do something other SEO’s can’t do. There have been a number of companies that take advantage of the ignorance of business owners and either say or imply that Google has reserved a spot for them and their clients on the Search Engine Results Page. “Guarantee rankings” is written about in the same sentence as “special relationship” and “priority submit.” Do you see the context?
SEO’s In Their Confusion Have Not Addressed Clients’ Concerns
It is this lack of discerning the context of Google’s statement, i.e., not really understanding what it was that Google was getting at, that has caused a lot of confusion in the SEO industry about guaranteed SEO. Comments like this one from Chris Madden at Matchnode are typical:
SEO is absolutely measurable and trackable, but it is misleading to promise clients any ranking guarantees. The top of the Google/Bing rankings is the holy grail for many marketers and businesses, and many companies promise the moon, but fail to deliver results. I believe in taking a more pragmatic approach. We ensure our clients that we will cover every base, and develop a long-term strategy for lasting SEO success.
This approach doesn’t really address the goal a client has which is to find the best marketing method for his or her business. He really isn’t all that concerned about how we do our job, and really doesn’t know if what we are doing is the right thing to do. All he really cares about is results, and more importantly, his bottom line. Spending a lot of money on something that isn’t going to work is not what your average business can afford to do. They need more than just a lame “assurance” from us that we are doing our job or that we have developed a “long-term strategy for lasting SEO success,” especially when they have gotten burned by other SEO’s who have said the same thing: “Yeah, we understanding SEO and are doing the right thing,” and they might have done good SEO work, or not. If the results aren’t good, who really knows? The customer doesn’t, and the industry is flooded with SEO’s who take advantage of that ignorance or use the unpredictability of SEO as an excuse to do poor work or mask their inability to do good work.
A True Expert Should Be Able to Guarantee At Least SOMETHING
I know we shouldn’t promise the moon, but we should be able to promise at least something, if we are indeed experts at what we do. If we don’t deliver, we should not expect full payment for our services. This is standard practice in most any industry, except the stock market and horse racing where you really are gambling on forces completely out of your control.
Vin Ferrer at Graphic D-Signs offered analogies for our profession:
A captain, a pilot, and a true blue SEO professional all have the same underlying job functionality: to operate and respond to situations with the greatest working knowledge their industry can provide. A pilot is an aviation expert. A captain of a ship is a nautical expert. And an SEO specialist should be a digital expert. Getting there involves continuous learning, application, trial and error, and more learning.
This is true but I don’t think a pilot who crashes the plane you are on can get away with, “I don’t have control of the wind. I didn’t know it was going to be over 15 miles per hour.” Any survivors or families of those who don’t survive should expect some kind of compensation, and usually a lot more than just a refund on their ticket. It’s just what we expect from professionals.
SEO is a profession with goals in mind: to get rankings that bring in more business. Enough extra business to make a profit after the SEO has been paid, at minimum. Ideally, enough business to make a lot more profit than that.
Yes I know we don’t expect that with all forms of advertising, such as radio. But I’d be willing to bet if there was a good way for them to track the success of a radio advertising campaign we might be inclined to expect at least X number of phone calls. They will throw out all kinds of statistics about how many listeners a station has and the best time of the day or hour to run an ad but there is no way for me as a client to prove to them that I never got any phone calls and should get my money back and there’s no way for them to prove that I did get phone calls from the ad. At least that’s how it worked the last time I ran a radio ad for two months and didn’t get any phone calls.
With SEO, it’s a bit different. We know that if our website isn’t on page 1 we aren’t going to get any phone calls or emails. And it’s real easy to prove our case when we tell an SEO after working for us for 6 months that our site isn’t ranked. Shouldn’t I then as a client expect at least some kind of guarantee and not just excuses?
Posted in Guaranteed SEO