Anybody who is curious about the idea of guaranteed SEO can do a Google search and find a few companies that offer guaranteed results. You will also no doubt run into Rand Fishkin’s mug shot on the first or second page and his Moz blog post with the same title I’ve quoted in this article title. It’s enough to scare many a potential client away from the idea of buying from the others who are offering guaranteed ranking. No, I don’t mean Rand’s mug shot is scary. He has a fine mug shot. Better than mine some would say. What I’m referring to are his title and the post description that goes along with it: “From 1996 through to today, SEO scams have used “guaranteed rankings and traffic” as a slimy catchphrase to lure in gullible buyers with …” Now THAT’S scary. Scary enough to get you to read his article to which I hope to counter for the sake of those of us who do offer guaranteed rankings and really for the sake of the integrity of the SEO industry as a whole.
Rand may think he’s doing his part to improve the industry but he’s unwittingly helping to keep our industry on the margins of respectability. I know that’s not what he’s trying to do, but that’s what he’s doing.
For the sake of brevity I’m not going to quote the whole post but if you’d like to read it click here.
So let’s put on our thinking caps and dive into Rand’s scary blog post and go through it point by point. These points don’t correspond to Rand’s numbered reasons because he makes more than one point for each of his numbered reasons.
Point #1: Top Companies Virtually Never Use Guarantees as a Marketing Tactic.
Notice the date of the post; it was written in 2008. 6 years ago in the SEO industry was back in the Bronze Age. A lot has happened since then. More marketing firms today are actually doing what any business should be doing to gain customers: speaking to their pain points. It’s what we learn to do in our marketing classes. Now that many businesses have tried SEO services and have gotten burned because the company promised them the moon but couldn’t deliver and yet kept charging them more money saying, “It takes time. Just keep paying,” only to find out after shelling out hundreds or even thousands of dollars the SEO company wasn’t doing anything for them at all and they were never going to get ranked. Ironically they were probably told in the beginning, “If anyone guarantees SEO services they are lying.” I get this from telemarketers all the time.
So who’s being slimy, the SEO who hides behind the industry mantra of “nobody can guarantee rankings” so he can keep charging for his services even though he really sucks at it or is just a scammer or the one who says he won’t charge if he can’t deliver? If you say the former then you would be correct. The latter actually has integrity yet is the one who is branded by the prevailing thinking in the industry, including top figures like Rand Fishkin.
The vast majority of SEO firms who contact me as a building contractor, especially the ones from India, have nothing of value to offer me yet when I press them about what type of guarantee they can offer me they say, “Nobody can do that.” So Mr. Fishkin, what has the industry gained by encouraging them to say this and offering the formidable authority of your name behind such sentiments? The scammers are actually using your line of thinking to lure in the gullible. See how that’s working?
Point #2: SEO and Guarantees Have an Abominable History
Well sure they do. So did the Japanese with American POW’s during World War 2. If I were to use that as justification for hatred of all Japanese people today I’d be considered quite the bigot. I’d be somewhat like the Serbians who still hate the Croatians for siding with Hitler two generations ago. Rand’s logic makes about as much sense as the Balkans.
Sure, there have been abuses of “guaranteed SEO” but by those who had no intention of actually guaranteeing anything. We can’t use a broad brush to color all SEO’s who want to do the right thing. Some actually do honor their guarantees.
Rand is saying in essence don’t do the right thing because of all the people who don’t do the right thing. He is saying the industry is hopeless and don’t try to fix it. The problem is he is part of the reason it seems hopeless because his blog post has caused many who are trying to fix the industry get smeared as “slimy.”
Rand, please take note.
Point #3 (Rand’s Reason #2): The Search Engines Expressly Warn Against It
This is where I want to pull my hair out. No, the search engines DO NOT expressly warn against offering guarantees, yet almost everybody says they do. What Google warns against is implying a company has a special relationship with them and actually has some control over rankings. Google warns against advertising against guaranteeing rankings, as in, controlling those rankings. That’s the context of Google’s oft quoted Webmaster Guidelines article about guaranteeing rankings. Google wasn’t warning against companies that either won’t charge you or will give your money back if they can’t get you ranked. Why would they?
The context of the article is as evident as the nose on my face. Please, everybody, stop taking Google’s statement out of context and applying it to reputable firms that do offer guarantees. Google wasn’t talking about offering a guarantee, per se.
Here’s Google’s warning in their own words:
Beware of SEOs that claim to guarantee rankings, allege a “special relationship” with Google, or advertise a “priority submit” to Google. There is no priority submit for Google. In fact, the only way to submit a site to Google directly is through our Add URL page or by submitting a Sitemap and you can do this yourself at no cost whatsoever.
Does that sound like Google has a problem if you don’t charge a client if you can’t get them ranked?
They make it even more clear at the end of the article by saying:
Feel free to walk away if the SEO:
• guarantees ranking, but only on obscure, long keyword phrases you would get anyway
This is essentially what SiteSolutions.com does. They don’t let you get to pick your keywords in case you want to rank only for the highest volume keywords. Their strongest selling point (to the uninitiated) is that unlike other agencies that have a tiered pricing schedule and charge more for more keywords they tell you they will rank your site for as many keywords as you want for the same flat rate. That’s a pretty attractive proposition, and they claim to have had two million clients, but of course they are ranking websites for keywords that don’t have any search volume, are super easy to rank for, and the website might already be ranking for them anyway.
This is the type of thing Google is warning against, not just offering a guarantee based on real performance standards that actually make a difference. They are warning against companies like SiteSolutions.com that only guarantee ranking for what we call “long tail” keywords. I don’t think Google’s wording could be any clearer yet the majority of the SEO industry, including top names like Rand Fishkin, takes this statement out of context and applies it to all guarantees of any kind, even a reasonable guarantee of at least minimal performance.
Point #4: 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.”
Yes, agreed. But so what? Most SEO firms have software that queries Google for rankings apart from any location influences. Those rankings will actually be lower than what a client sees on his computer because his results will be artificially skewed higher if he has visited his own website in the recent past. I’ve had more than one client email me with excitement that he’s on page one for his favorite keyword and I’ve had to tell them it doesn’t look that good on anyone else’s computer so don’t get too excited. At least not yet.
Remember, Rand’s post was back in the Bronze Age of SEO. Modern technology has fixed this issue.
Point #5: Ranking at a Particular Point Says Little about the Future
Is this Rand Fishkin saying all SEO is only good for the short term? I know he doesn’t really believe that since he’s a prime proponent of white hat SEO methods geared for the long haul, such as demonstrating that a client is an authority in his field and within his locality.
Point #6: Ranking at a Particular Point Says Little about the Present
Not getting a site ranked says a lot about the present: that client isn’t getting any traffic because nobody can find him. Isn’t that what SEO’s are hired to do, get websites found by people using search engines? Isn’t the SEO industry asking for too much if we indefinitely keep asking to get paid for services for something that doesn’t do a client any good? Yes, we all know it takes time to get a site ranked, and many guarantees simply put a limit to how long they will keep charging a client and keep taking his money without meeting at least a minimal performance level.
Point #7: Rankings are a Poor Metric for Overall Performance
Regarding performance guarantees, rankings are an excellent metric for overall performance because we know that if a site doesn’t rank, it isn’t performing. It’s as simple as that. Invisible sites just don’t perform at all and are only good as an online brochure to give to people who already know about the business. It’s useless for attracting new customers, and that’s one of the main reasons a business owner comes to an SEO. It’s true that rankings aren’t the be-all and end-all for the business owner but it’s a good place to start and without ranking their marketing hasn’t moved them past square one. A business owner attracted by a ranking guarantee just wants to be assured his advertising spend is going to get him somewhere. Why does the SEO industry have such a hard time meeting that need?
Point #8: Making Guarantees about Something You Cannot Control Carries Inherent Ethical Problems
Yes but that’s not the nature of all guarantees. Just because a firm says, “I won’t charge you if you don’t rank” it doesn’t mean he has control of what Google does or is even implying he has control. It just means he has control of whether he’s going to take your money or not.
“A guarantee is a promise – a basic contract that necessarily creates an assumption of certainty by the deliverer to the recipient.”
And therein lies so much confusion in the SEO industry. People are confusing guaranteeing something will happen as if they have control over it with offering a guarantee such as a money-back guarantee or a we-won’t-charge-you guarantee. They are not the same thing yet they get lumped in together in the minds of most everyone in the industry.
Posted in Guaranteed SEO