If we had to single out the most common misconception and recurring obstacle that search engine optimization professionals need to deal with, hands down it would be the misconception from potential SEO clients that firms should give guarantees. The search engine industry is absolutely plagued with potential clients wanting a guarantee for placement, for ranking, and more. Throughout this article we will discuss what is causing this, why this misconception still exists, what they actually mean, and what we can do as an industry to change it for good.
I think it is safe to assume that everyone who is reading this article has at one point in time received an email, without opting in to receive this email, that conveyed a message of this sort: "Click here to have your web site submitted to 30,000 search engines for $9.99." The other email that you may have received is worded something like this: "Guaranteed top 10 search engine ranking for $xx.xx." It is these types of emails and companies that are giving the search engine optimization industry a bad name and confusing customers as to the nature of the industry and service. The companies that are using these tactics to lure in customers are doing a disservice to the customer and to the industry. But, these tactics are working. Time after time, I hear a story of someone who has been burned by one of these companies who "guarantees" everything under the sun and fails to deliver.
Why do these tricks and lies continue to work? One reason is that people are still not educated as to the in’s, out’s, and workings of search engine optimization and of search engines in general. I highly doubt that these business practices would be effective or last in the traditional marketing or advertising industry. The Internet is still young and full of people and users that do not know what to believe. While the search engine and search engine optimization industry are beginning to gain exposure, it will take some more time for the light to be completely shed and for Internet users to become wise to these scams.
It isn’t just the spam emails and bogus sites that are throwing around guarantees like a baseball, so we shouldn’t single them out. There are a number of search engine optimization companies that offer guarantees to their clients for search engine ranking and placement when they sign with the optimization firm. I wonder how many of these clients read the fine print or the actual guarantee that is being offered. Some of the guarantees that I have seen have offered something along the lines of 20 top 30 positions out of the 40 keywords the SEO firm will be optimizing for. What is this, a guarantee for mediocrity? Other search engine optimization companies take it a step further, offering top 10 placements for all keywords, or top 5 placements in the search engines. How is this done you say? One feasible way for an SEO firm to "guarantee" your top 10 or top 5 placements is to utilize Yahoo! Search Marketing and their reach throughout the search engines and directories. Another way that these companies guarantee search engine ranking is targeting obscure keyword phrases that no one searches for, has little to no competition, and in the end produces no traffic. Who wins in this situation? Not the customer.
First things first, there aren’t 30,000 search engines that use their own database and index for results. There aren’t even 100. There are in fact roughly 10-12 search engines and directories that comprise roughly 95% of the traffic. If you would like to take a look at who the major search engine players are within the industry you can review the Media Metrix statistics here.
Secondly, the guarantees from search engine optimization companies are blind and in some cases arrogant. How can one guarantee something that they do not have total and entire control over? The search engine industry is ever changing and the SEO industry and practices need to change and conform to new standards and algorithms.
Thirdly, how can you guarantee a customer that you will get them search engine rankings when you have not yet evaluated their web site and their market. There are a number of different variables and web site components that make some web sites completely undetectable by the search engines and throw them off the radar.
What is the solution to this problem that we face as an industry? These companies will continue to exist in the SEO industry and in other industries, there is nothing that we can do about it, but we can establish standards and service guarantees that SEO firms can adhere to. A legitimate search engine optimization firm should guarantee their search engine optimization service and their efforts. It is feasible to say that a comprehensive web site analysis and optimization will increase visibility and prominence within the search engines.
The best solution is for SEO firms to stop offering blind guarantees, and start guaranteeing their best efforts and stand behind their service and track record. Showing potential clients a list of references and rankings for past clients is a lot more reassuring than a guarantee.
Andy Beal is Vice President of Marketing for Keyword Ranking, specialists in search engine marketing. Highly respected as a source of search engine optimization advice, Andy has had articles published around the world. Under his guidance, Keyword Ranking has grown to become one of the larger and more successful search engine marketing companies. They were one of the first companies to offer guaranteed levels of success using spam-free methods.
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