Working with an agency that offers guaranteed SEO services might seem like the right move, but it typically does more harm than good. Learn why you should avoid SEO guarantees and discover better ways to choose an SEO agency below.
Choosing a search engine optimization (SEO) agency can be difficult. There are so many options, and they all offer different reasons you should choose them.
Some of the SEO companies you come across may offer SEO guarantees. They may promise you a certain number of first-page rankings or your money back, for example.
At first, an SEO guarantee might seem like a great reason to choose an SEO company. In reality, though, a guarantee is a sign you should look elsewhere for SEO services.
Keep reading to learn why you should avoid guaranteed SEO services and what kinds of things you should look for instead.
What are guaranteed SEO services?
Guaranteed SEO services are SEO services that promise a specific result — typically first-page rankings for a certain number of keywords.
A company that offers an SEO guarantee will promise you your money back, free SEO work for a certain amount of time, or another offer if they don’t achieve the targeted results.
In addition to first-page rankings for a given number of keywords, SEO guarantees also often define a specific timeframe in which the SEO agency will achieve the results.
When we refer to guaranteed SEO services or SEO guarantees in this article, we’re not talking about promises to only use ethical SEO tactics, report regularly on results, or other similar assurances. We’re referring to guarantees of specific outcomes, such as specific positions on search engine results pages (SERPs).
Why should you avoid companies that offer guaranteed SEO?
An SEO guarantee may seem like a good thing, and it’s understandably tempting for companies to work with SEO agencies that offer guarantees.
However, choosing an SEO company that offers guaranteed SEO services comes with significant risks and often leads to lackluster results or even substantial damage to your rankings and business. In this section, we’ll discuss why.
Search engines warn against guaranteed SEO
One of the most compelling reasons to avoid SEO guarantees is that search engines such as Google explicitly warn companies not to work with SEOs that offer them.
In Google’s Beginner SEO documentation in Google Search Central, Google says:
“Your prospective SEO should be able to give you realistic estimates of improvement, and an estimate of the work involved. If they guarantee you that their changes will give you first place in search results, find someone else.”
Google also notes that “No one can guarantee a #1 ranking on Google” and warns companies to “beware of SEOs that claim to guarantee rankings.”
You can’t make a guarantee about something you can’t control
SEO agencies can not directly control search engine rankings. Making guarantees about something you can’t control raises moral questions and often leads to lackluster results.
Many different factors go into search engine rankings. Google offers hints about what its ranking algorithms look for, and SEOs have uncovered valuable insights through experience and research. However, no one outside of Google knows exactly what goes into Google’s ranking algorithms.
The algorithms also change constantly, so even employees of Google don’t know for sure how sites will rank in the future.
Many other factors outside of SEO agencies’ control also influence rankings, such as the SEO activity of other websites targeting your keywords and your company’s overall reputation. If a company’s reputation takes a hit due to a defect in its product, for instance, its rankings could suffer as well.
That’s not to say that SEO agencies can’t influence rankings. Some SEO professionals are better than others at determining what’s needed to rank and making the necessary changes. However, not even the best SEOs can manipulate SERPs at will, especially within the short timeframe many SEO guarantees promise.
Guaranteed SEO services may involve black-hat tactics
Historically, many companies that offered guaranteed search engine rankings used tactics not allowed by Google. These techniques are called black-hat tactics and aim to trick Google’s algorithms rather than rank legitimately.
Examples of black-hat tactics include buying links and hiding keywords within your content using invisible text.
In the past, these tactics often worked, at least in the short term. You could achieve high rankings quickly by “fooling” Google’s algorithms.
Nowadays, the algorithms are much smarter. If you try to use these tactics, you’ll likely get caught, resulting in penalties from Google that can hurt your rankings or prevent you from showing up in search results at all.
If a company offers a guaranteed SEO service, especially if they promise fast results, they may use black-hat tactics. SEO is a long-term strategy, and you typically can’t achieve major changes in rankings immediately. Companies that offer an SEO guarantee have a strong incentive to use black-hat tactics to fulfill their promises.
Even if a black-hat SEO company does succeed in quickly winning you rankings, you’ll likely lose them just as fast when Google discovers how the company achieved those rankings.
Guaranteed SEO search engine rankings may provide little benefit
Some companies that offer guaranteed search engine rankings include tricky terms in their agreements that enable them to deliver on their guarantees, even though their SEO services don’t actually help you achieve your business goals.
For example, many SEO companies that offer an SEO guarantee insist on choosing the keywords themselves. This stipulation allows them to select keywords that are easy to rank for. However, these keywords might not genuinely benefit your business because they don’t bring qualified traffic to your site.
Rankings alone are not enough to get a tangible benefit from SEO. You need to target the right keywords and get visitors to your website who fit your target audience and are likely to convert.
Shady SEO agencies may also use techniques that allow them to avoid losing money even if they fail to deliver on their guarantee.
For example, they may say they’ll work for free if they don’t fulfill their guarantee. That way, if they don’t achieve the expected results, they can still keep your initial investment. Since they’re then working for free and are unlikely to keep you as a client, they may put minimal effort or no effort at all into your SEO.
One-size-fits-all SEO strategies don’t work
SEO is not a one-size-fits-all strategy. The tactics needed and how difficult it is to rank depend on your industry’s competitiveness, your location, and the popularity of your target keywords.
If a company offers the same SEO guarantee to all of its clients, it’s not considering each business’s unique needs and is likely using a cookie-cutter strategy. For the best results, you need a custom SEO strategy that matches your business’s needs and goals.
The wrong SEO tactics can hurt your business
It might seem like guaranteed SEO services come with little risk. If the company doesn’t deliver on its promises, can’t you just move on to a different agency?
You can, but it may take a long time to recover from damaged rankings or penalties your site incurred while working with the agency.
If you work with an SEO agency that uses black-hat tactics, Google may penalize your website. Recovering from those penalties can be costly and time-consuming. It can take a while to build back your authority in the eyes of Google.
If you work with an SEO company that simply doesn’t have the right skills and expertise, your rankings may suffer, putting you further from where you want to be. Even if your rankings don’t decline, if they improve little, you’ve wasted time and missed out on potential new customers.
Be especially wary of agencies that offer SEO guarantees and want to lock you into a long-term contract.
How should you choose an SEO agency?
So, if you shouldn’t look for SEO guarantees when selecting an SEO agency, how should you choose one?
Look for the following aspects to find an SEO agency that you can trust to provide results that help you achieve your business’s goals.
Knowledge and education
If an SEO agency can help you learn about SEO and answer questions you have about your SEO strategy, that’s a good sign they know what they’re talking about.
If they’re open about what they know and the tactics they use, that’s a sign they’re trustworthy and will make a good partner for your business.
Check the resources available on the agency’s website and see if they provide helpful information. Make sure their content promotes legitimate SEO techniques, not black-hat ones.
When you talk with an SEO agency, ask questions about SEO in general and their approach to SEO. If they’re not willing to answer your questions, you may want to look elsewhere for a digital marketing partner.
Custom strategies and alignment with your goals
A good SEO agency will also get to know your business and create a custom strategy designed to meet your unique needs and goals. Avoid SEO companies that use basic, cookie-cutter strategies.
Before you start with an SEO agency, they should get to know you, your business, and your industry by talking with you and conducting research. They should ask about your company’s challenges, needs, and goals.
Then, they should use that information to put together a custom strategy for your business.
Data and clear explanations for decisions
In addition to a concrete, custom plan, SEO companies should use data to inform their strategies and be able to explain why they made the choices they did.
If an SEO agency can’t back up their recommendations with clear explanations, this is cause for concern. They’re either not being honest or don’t have the necessary SEO knowledge.
Results tracking and reporting
The best SEO companies provide regular results tracking and reporting. SEO companies should be transparent about the progress of your SEO campaigns.
At WebFX, our clients can track their campaigns and measure their return on investment (ROI) using our digital marketing platform, MarketingCloudFX. Your account representative will also provide you with regular reports on your campaigns.
If an SEO company has been around a long time, they likely know how to produce results and have more knowledge and capabilities than newer firms.
Also, check if SEO agencies have worked with companies in your industry before or completed projects similar to yours.
If a company doesn’t have experience in your industry or with projects similar to yours, that doesn’t necessarily mean you should count them out. However, this kind of experience is a positive sign and a factor that’s helpful to consider.
Testimonials and reviews
Testimonials and reviews are indispensable for determining how trustworthy and capable a given SEO agency is.
Also, check if the agency you’re considering has received any awards for its work.
Case studies and portfolios
An SEO company’s portfolio and case studies give you an idea of what they can accomplish and what kind of experience they have. They provide proof that an agency has achieved results in the past.
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