Agencies that offer guaranteed SEO services promise results like first-page rankings or an increase in traffic within a short period of time. They often say you’ll get your money back (or an alternative) if they don’t meet predetermined goals.
Here is an example of an agency offering a “ranking guarantee:”
It might seem like a risk-free choice, because you only pay if you see results. But is it really that simple?
Can SEO Results Be Guaranteed?
No SEO agency or individual can credibly promise specific SEO guaranteed results, like ranking at the top of page 1 for a specific keyword. They can offer to refund payment if they don’t achieve what they say they will. But they can’t directly manipulate the search results.
Search engine rankings depend on various algorithms. These algorithms use a huge number of ranking signals to determine which pages should rank for a given keyword.
While many skilled SEO professionals can improve your organic traffic and keyword rankings over time, they can’t change search results at will. They also can’t predict with complete accuracy if and when search engines will actually rank your page for a specific search term.
Complex search engine algorithms like Google’s are also updated constantly.
In 2021 alone, the Google algorithm was updated more than 5,000 times.
So, even Google employees can’t accurately predict how a given page will rank or what the search results will look like. Let alone an SEO agency.
Why You Should Avoid Guaranteed SEO Services
Engaging with a vendor promising guaranteed SEO results could end up hurting your website’s performance and your brand’s reputation. It could also lead to superficial results that do not drive meaningful growth for your business.
Achieving agreed-upon SEO results (like page 1 rankings for set keywords) usually requires the service provider to compromise on the quality of work provided, ethics, or both.
So what typically happens?
Something like this:
- Search engine rankings you gain are temporary and disappear after a few months
- The provider chooses keywords that are easy to rank for (but not necessarily valuable to your business) to ensure they deliver on their promises
- They use bots or other spammy tactics to inflate metrics and create the appearance of success
- Nothing happens at all; the service was a scam
These are strong grounds to think twice about using these kinds of services. But there are other important reasons to consider as well.
Search Engines Are Not Fans of Guaranteed SEO Services
Google advises businesses to be wary of SEO specialists who claim to offer services that deliver guaranteed SEO results. It also warns of severe repercussions if your website violates their policies—possibly even permanently removing your site from search results.
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.
Bing also plainly states that rankings cannot be guaranteed.
Here’s an excerpt from the Abuse and Things to Avoid section of the Bing Webmaster Guidelines:
Most SEO practices render a website more appealing to Bing; however, performing SEO-related work does not guarantee rankings will improve, or sites will receive an increase in traffic from Bing. Further, taken to extremes, some SEO practices can be abused, resulting in penalties by search engines.
Spammy SEO Strategies Can Cause Permanent Damage
Google considers techniques such as keyword stuffing, cloaking, link farms, and doorway pages spammy. While it’s not always the case that guaranteed SEO service providers use these tactics, it’s a common practice for less-reputable vendors.
Hiring an SEO company that relies on strategies that violate search engine spam policies could have long-term negative effects on your website’s visibility in search results.
It can be time-consuming and expensive to recover website traffic if an SEO service provider damages your website’s authority in the eyes of search engines.
Or worse yet: You risk getting a manual action. These are essentially penalties from the search engine.
They can cause some pages—or your entire website—to be omitted from search results. You can remedy manual actions, but this takes time and effort.
In other words, reversing the damage from poorly executed SEO services can be an expensive exercise.
Guaranteed SEO Results May Not Be What They Seem
Guaranteed SEO service providers may misrepresent your SEO growth to meet their unrealistic promises. The results may look good on paper but lack real value for your business.
Since you only pay them if they fulfill their promises, guaranteed SEO providers usually pick “guarantees” that are convenient for them. As long as they achieve what they say they will, they don’t risk losing their income. And you have to pay them, even if the SEO results do not have a desirable (or measurable) impact on your business.
Common scams include buying bot traffic for your website to give the (false) impression of an increase in organic visitors. Or using sneaky redirects to send temporary traffic to your website.
Or, they may offer guaranteed rankings for easy keywords that bring very few visitors to your site. Or ones that bring a lot of traffic, but not valuable traffic (such as visitors unlikely to buy from your website).
Not Every Company Has the Same SEO Needs
Guaranteed SEO solutions tend to offer productized packages rather than customizing the SEO tasks according to the needs of each business. So, the results are often hit-and-miss.
As keyword difficulty varies across locations and industries, a single SEO strategy simply won’t be equally effective for every website.
Not customizing the SEO strategy to the business also means that there might be a mismatch between SEO goals and desirable business outcomes. Every business sets unique goals. So naturally what counts as an “SEO success” will vary from business to business as well.
For example, imagine one business wants to improve footfall to its physical store and the other wants to sell more products through its online store.
For the first business, the ideal strategy would focus on Local SEO. This would involve tactics that guide customers to the physical location.
For the business with the online store, a strategy that drives organic traffic with high buyer intent would be more effective. The two strategies are very different—but highly tailored to the individual business’s needs.
A breakdown of the unique SEO goals for the two businesses might look like this:
How to Choose a Trustworthy SEO Agency
A proven track record and expertise in your industry are fundamental things to look for when selecting an SEO agency you can trust.
Here are some things that convey credibility in an SEO provider:
- General results: They can estimate theresults they’ll achieve in a certain time period. They can’t predict the exact number ofkeywords you’ll rank for or by how much your traffic will increase.
- Transparency: They maintain that their SEO forecasts are estimations. They explain that actual results can be affected by factors outside of their control (like search engine algorithm updates and your competition’s SEO efforts)
- Evidence: They back up every SEO suggestion they make with a statement from the relevant search engine documentation. This is something Maile Ohye advises in a Google Search Central video.
While you should of course do your own research, their SEO proposal and first few calls with you should also give you an indication of their expertise.
Use this diagram as a checklist to review the SEO proposal you have received:
Here’s how you can tell if an agency is a good choice:
The Agency Shows an Interest in Your Business
They spend time uncovering things about your business, such as your target audience, key information about your industry, and your business’s unique selling points.
Why it matters: This shows that their process involves tailoring their SEO strategies to your business, rather than providing a generic approach.
They Align with Your Business’s Goals
Their SEO proposal focuses on your business objectives, such as increasing sales, boosting website traffic, enhancing sign-up rates, or achieving specific conversion rates.
The agency should be able to communicate early on in the process how they will establish SEO key performance indicators (KPIs) for your website.
Why it matters: This indicates that they understand your business’s priorities. And they know how to tailor their strategy to achieve relevant goals.
Here are some SEO KPIs the agency may suggest tracking:
They Have Knowledge and Experience in Your Industry
Asking the following questions to an SEO agency can help you get an accurate picture of their knowledge and expertise:
- Do you have expertise in my industry and experience improving key metrics that matter to my business?
- Does your SEO team speak at industry conferences or get featured in industry-leading publications?
- Do you have case studies that show improved rankings and website performance over time for businesses similar to mine?
- Do you have testimonials (or client references) that detail the experience of working with your agency?
Why it matters: Any SEO agency can claim to be “SEO experts.” What matters is the proof. Their answers to these questions can tell you a lot about their credibility.
They Communicate Clearly
They should be able to explain their strategies and tactics with reasoning and without relying on complex jargon that confuses you.
Your provider’s SEO reports should be, above all else, useful for your business.
Why it matters: Transparency in their communication ensures you understand the methods they’ll employ. This ensures you can match up their SEO efforts with your business’s goals.
They Set Realistic SEO Timelines
SEO is a gradual process, and it takes several months to see significant improvements in rankings and traffic. An agency that sets realistic SEO timelines (and doesn’t guarantee rapid results) demonstrates that it understands the nature of SEO and is committed to providing a sustainable approach.
Why it matters: Realistic timelines help you manage expectations and avoid disappointments as a business owner. For the agency, it reduces the pressure of focusing on just rankings and resorting to spammy SEO practices to achieve those.
Ask these questions to figure out what kind of SEO agency you are working with:
How Long Should You Wait to Rank on Google or See SEO Results?
Every website is different and the time to rank for different target keywords can vary. It depends on many factors, like the industry you’re in and the level of competition for those keywords. But generally speaking, it can take months or even years to rank highly on Google.
Google’s Search Central documentation estimates that a website should “start to see the benefits” from SEO in around 4-12 months if you hire a reliable SEO specialist.
How Should You Track or Measure the Effectiveness of Your SEO?
SEO KPIs, such as organic traffic, keyword rankings, click-through rate (CTR), time on page, and bounce rates, can all be used to measure the effectiveness of your website’s SEO over time.
KPIs you select and monitor must be relevant to each page’s goal and your business objectives.
How Much Should You Pay for SEO?
Your SEO provider’s price will depend on many factors, such as their location, expertise, cost of tools needed, payment policies, and your business goals. And these figures vary widely.
For instance, most small businesses allocate approximately $500 per month for SEO, according to Backlinko. That same survey found that people who spend more than $500 per month on SEO are more likely to be “extremely satisfied” with their SEO provider.
The takeaway here is to focus on finding the right SEO agency that has demonstrated experience in your industry and can further your business goals in the long run, not the cheapest one (or the one that guarantees SEO results).
Can You Do SEO Yourself?
You certainly can do SEO yourself. You’ll need to learn the factors that affect your website’s rankings. Then you can conduct analysis, implement on-page SEO best practices, and invest time in content marketing to grow your site’s authority.
Doing SEO yourself is much easier with the right tools. Here are some to help you get started:
Sign up to Semrush to try out all the tools above (and more) for free!