I know, I know, you’ve heard it a million times but since you’re here, you need to hear it once more. “If something sounds too good to be true, it generally is.”
Regularly I receive emails & phone calls from business owners needing my digital marketing services. Many of those requests come with the caveat of needing an “SEO guarantee”.
Just yesterday 3 people asked me: “Will you guarantee your SEO services?”, “Do you offer guaranteed search engine rankings?” and “Can you guarantee that I will outrank my #1 competitor?” (ranking #1 on Google).
In SEO, you have two choices:
Low-risk, long-term benefits
High-risk, short-term benefits
How much time & money went into creating your website? Chances are, you wouldn’t want that to be all for nothing. If you’re a reputable business and rely on your website (in any way), you should avoid relying on low-quality, spammy and dangerous techniques to promote it. Sounds logical, right?
Thoughts from Reputable SEO Pros
A true guarantee can only exist when you have complete control over the outcome. Your plumber can make a guarantee, because the plumber alone has control over the work being done. As long as the pipes are sealed off, the water will flow smoothly. No unpredictable force acts upon the closed system of the pipes.
A true guarantee cannot exist in an industry where so much lies beyond your control. With constant algorithm updates and unknown ranking variables, SEO is an open system where individuals have limited control over the outcome.
Like home inspectors, we can guarantee that the work will be done and that it will be done to the best of our abilities. However, we cannot predict the outcome of these efforts with 100% accuracy. As with a home inspection, there may be mold. Google may make a change to its algorithm. Your competitor may be putting more resources toward SEO. That is our mold.
If an SEO offers you a rankings guarantee, be wary – they’re lying to you in order to get the sale. – Brandon McBride from McBride SEO
SEOs cant provide guarantees because search engine rankings change hourly and there are so many external factors involved. Anyone guaranteeing a business a #1 spot in a short amount of time is a huge warning sign. What SEOs can provide is a long term plan that with proper execution, will benefit the client and ensure long-term rankings and traffic.
A lot of business owners know that they “need SEO” but fail to realize how many factors go into actually getting ranked for their business keywords. A business needs to tactically plan and execute their SEO strategy in order to obtain the best benefits. – Edmond Major III from Envoc
Does a coach of a professional sports team provide the owners with a guarantee of their performance? Of course not! There are far to many variables from the individual performance of particular players and the efforts of competitors for it to be realistic for the owners to demand any specific “guarantee“. Of course, they can and should replace a coach who, even with outside factors, fails to deliver results over time.
This is even more true in SEO, because in addition to the website itself having many variables such as hosting, CMS, malware it’s a coordinated effort to generate content and build links that’s quite rarely done by JUST one person. You then add a set of competitors, who can come from any geographic location and not just your nemesis up town. Then you have Google, Yahoo & Bing who are black boxes, taking input and giving rankings who intentionally make it a complicated process to understand exactly why results are what they are today.
With today’s localization and personalization of results it’s not only impossible to provide a “guarantee” it would be a bald faced lie on the part of the SEO to even suggest it was possible.
This isn’t to say that you can’t establish reasonable, attainable benchmarks based on the available data to quantify potential difficulty & potential reward from a particular digital campaign. Looking at your current performance and those data sets you can start to build a loose framework for realizing the short and long-term benefits of a well executed campaign. Keeping in mind that there is no “magic bullet” and that we’re in this for the long-term and not just a flash in the pan. – Jeremy Rivera SEO
Claiming to guarantee rankings is like claiming to know where the branches of a tree will be while it’s still just a seed. It’s called organic for a reason. – Vladimir F from Zoro.com
Why No Professional Can Guarantee SEO Rankings
SEO Guarantees Are Against Google Guidelines
Well, there you have it. Straight from the horse’s mouth:
It can’t get any clearer than that, but the companies that offer these services are hoping you don’t know this information.
If the King of the Search Kingdom explicitly states that “no one can guarantee a #1 ranking on Google” and to warn against “any SEOs that claim to guarantee rankings“, guess what? It simply shouldn’t be done.
Anyone who does offer a guarantee should not be taken seriously. Don’t walk away though — RUN!
For an inside look at what Matt Cutts (Google) has to say about an SEO guarantee, watch the short video below.
SEO “Guarantees” Have a Horrible History
The Google ToS clearly state if you use deceptive, low-quality and spammy SEO techniques which Google disapproves of, they will penalize your website. Historically, this has been either a sudden & drastic drop in rankings (down multiple pages) OR Google will remove you entirely from their search engine. Ouch!
You may see a competitors website who has used spammy, unethical techniques and proudly displayed on top of Google. Because there are countless websites in existence and being created daily, Google’s hardworking bots have a lot to crawl. As a result, it may take weeks or several months until they spot that website. They will catch them though and penalize them, eventually.
Want to see a typical (and unfortunate) path someone may take?
Look for an SEO professional
Go with the cheapest one and/or one who offers a guarantee
They rank #1 for some obscure term which no one is even searching for. (or they could actually rank you for your target term)
You do the happy dance and rejoice
…until Google catches you & drops your site.
Look for a more expensive SEO professional who helps clients recover from penalties. (no “guarantee” though)
Pay a professional to re-do your website & SEO campaign all over again.
Yes, this happens, often. I’ve had many business owners come to me asking for help in repairing their website & SEO. In the end, they’ve spent a lot more money then if they just went with a reputable professional, even though they don’t offer “guarantees”.
Making SEO Guarantees Is Straight Up Unethical
Here are two cringe-worthy professions: Politicians and Lawyers. They’re well known to frequently make promises & guarantees they don’t deliver on.
Take the postal industry as an example. FedEx, DHL or UPS can make their “next day guarantee” because they control the delivery from start to finish. Plumbers and other trades can also offer specific guarantees, as long as they control everything themselves.
If you go to a camera store and the sales rep makes a guarantee that every photo you take on that camera will turn out perfect, what will you think? C’mon, just think of the multitude of factors in play which determine if your photo will be one of thousands you delete or not.
SEO professionals could guarantee certain things such as:
will respond to emails within 24hrs
will do their best to ensure your site is as optimized as possible for a certain term
will provide monthly search ranking reports by a certain date each month
SEO professionals cannot guarantee:
certain rankings (ie. page 1, #1, etc)
outrank your competitor
specific increase in traffic, conversions, sales or bookings
Professionals who do offer a rankings guarantee most of time use black hat SEO techniques that will damage your site (and they don’t care). By the time your website gets penalized, the black hat SEO has collected their fee & long gone. Even if you do call them out on it, they will show you the fine print. This will usually cover them in event of any penalties.
New Google Algorithms & Updates (All the Time!)
You may have heard of the Google algorithm. Yeah, it’s certainly a mythical beast. By design, it’s always 2 steps ahead from those who try to stay current.
This algorithm contains hundreds of ranking factors. It never settles down or takes naps. It’s always evolving, always changing and tweaking those factors. Be wary of anyone who claims to have an inside scoop of the algorithms. They change even hourly at times.
Google shoots the ground and loves to see us dance for them. Seriously, have you ever played soccer with goal posts which are constantly shifting places on the field?
The most popular guy at Google, Matt Cutts said:
Someone walked up to me and offered $500,000 for a 1st place ranking. I turned him down, because no one can guarantee a #1 ranking, not even me.
Personalized Search Results
Search results often will appear different depending on:
Where you’re searching from. Your office, your home, neighboring city.
Which device you’re searching from.
If you’re logged into your Google account, social media accounts or even using a browser without the history cleared.
Google assumes you’re most interested in businesses which are closest to your current location. As such, most of the time they will rank those businesses accordingly.
Google will take your social media and search history into account when ranking websites for you.
All of these factors make the ranking fluctuations unpredictable at best.
Cannot See Inside a Competitors Mind
At any given time, your competitor could suddenly dump a ton of cash into their online marketing efforts. They could hire the best videographers, photographers, writers, actors, PPC and SEO professionals, website designers, etc.
If it’s their new army of $50,000/mo experienced professionals vs your new $500/mo “SEO guy” who says he can guarantee results, how are you feeling about now?
How could someone guarantee that would never happen?
Where To Go From Here
If you’re a business owner, chances are you’re not an idiot. An SEO professional cannot ever guarantee rankings, similar to an advertising agency can’t guarantee you will get sales on your next advert in the local newspaper. Okay, enough analogies for one post. You get it. 😉
There is no magic SEO button that we press to instantly receive high rankings. However, what can be done is to pay attention to the ranking factors, algorithm updates, and work on creating & implementing strategies to improve a websites ranking. This in turn will help you gain long-term and long-lasting results.
Lastly, remember to not be swayed by those offering cheap rates & guarantees. Those two almost always go together in the spammy black hat SEO world.
Daniel has an interesting background to say the least. He has lived abroad in several countries, traveled through over 50 countries on 6 continents & still has that pesky travel bug. He has worked in haunted castles in Scotland, taught English while he practiced martial arts in Taiwan, acted through Mexico etc. He has found a home with SEO though and is very passionate in helping businesses thrive online. It doesn’t hurt that he can use his online marketing skills anywhere there’s an internet connection ;-)
About us and this blog
We are a digital marketing company with a focus on helping our customers achieve great results across several key areas.