in Marketing

Guaranteed Rankings!

Tommy Boy Knows Guarantees are Trash

If you pay someone for SEO, you might think that contracting for guaranteed rankings is a great idea. Right? You don’t rank, you don’t pay. Here is why agreements predicated on guaranteed rankings are a terrible idea.

The Guaranteed Rankings Pitch

If you’re not familiar with the guaranteed rankings SEO pitch, it goes something like this:

“We guarantee that your site will rank #1 in Google or you don’t pay a cent.”

Let’s dispatch with the obvious scams.

Some SEO shops will disguise paid search marketing in the guise of SEO. For the uninitiated, their implication is that your site will rank #1 organically but they will actually launch a paid search campaign (i.e. AdWords, PPC). When your ads appear in the #1 paid spot, they’ll extract their fee from you.

It’s worth noting that even in the arena of paid search, no one can guarantee a #1 position for 100% of impression share. But that’s a discussion for a different day.

Other SEO agencies won’t provide specific information about the queries for which they will guarantee rankings. The SEO scammer will get your site ranked for queries for which there is relatively no competition, and likewise, relatively no volume. In other words, no one is searching on these terms so ranking #1 generates little to no meaningful organic search traffic.

Finally, some SEO scammers will find ways to get you to appear to rank #1 in a variety deceptive ways. These techniques may include leveraging personalized results or even browser extensions.

If you’d like to see some of these pitches in the wild, simply search for guaranteed rankings seo.

The Experts on Guaranteed Rankings

While not everyone completely agrees with this line of reasoning, I tend to look to Google for guidance on ranking in their results. Call me naive, but it’s at least worth a look. Here’s what Google has to say about guaranteed rankings:

No one can guarantee a #1 ranking on Google.

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.

Simple. Straightforward. Enough said.

But you are skeptical of “Big G” so let’s see what some other recognizable faces have to say:

From, Why Reputable SEO Firms Don’t Promise Guaranteed Search Engine Rankings:

A guarantee is a promise – a basic contract that necessarily creates an assumption of certainty by the deliverer to the recipient. Anytime you cheat on that logic and make a promise outside your sphere of direct control, you’re walking on shaky ethical and business ground.


– just stay away from guaranteed “search engine rankings.” It’s just asking for trouble.

– Rand Fishkin (Moz)

From comments to same post:

Guaranteeing a client rankings would be like guaranteeing a victory in a pick-up basketball game. Sure, you may have won in past and may be very good at basketball, but you never know who will show up on the court today. It could be the same old folks, or it could be Kobe Bryant.

Russ Jones (Virante)

Further, there really isn’t a reliable way to report on rankings. Search engine results are in a constant state of flux. Results are becoming more and more localized and personalized. Different tools will report on a variety of different rankings based upon how they track search engine results pages.

Rankings in Perspective

Poke around and you’ll undoubtedly find all sorts of reasons why entering into guaranteed rankings agreements are troublesome.

But I’d like to focus on just one: their meaning to your business.

Rankings ≠ Traffic ≠ Inquiries ≠ Clients

No matter how you slice it, getting rankings doesn’t necessitate getting paying clients and a return on your SEO investment.

Hyper-focusing on rankings becomes a distraction from your true marketing/business goals.

Does this mean that rankings are completely meaningless? Of course not. We have all seen the studies that show organic click-through-rates (CTR) by positions. We have all seen the impact of average positions on CTR in Google Webmaster Tools. We know that SEO remains largely a top position winner take all game. But too many of us often fail to recognize the vast variation in how people use search engines.

So, monitor general position trends? Sure.

But if you like the warm fuzziness of a guarantee, switch your focus from guaranteed rankings to performance metrics like: increasing organic search traffic that is converting into new business.

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