Guaranteed Rankings — A Bogus Promise?

Written: 12-Aug-2007 | Last modified: 01-March-2008 | Filed under: Search Optimization

There are companies out there who promise “guaranteed” front-page rankings. It sounds attractive! I mean, who wants to pay all that money for search engine optimization without a guarantee that it will work? At least these firms say they’ll refund your money if they don’t get you those rankings.

But in my opinion, “guaranteed rankings” is a bogus promise. Here’s why.

Which rankings?

Google now features “personalized” search results by default. What this means is — as long as you’re logged in to your Google account — they keep track of your search history and over time will adjust your search results to better match the kinds of pages you seem to want. You and a friend may well see different search results as a result of personalization.

So let’s think about this for a minute. Many people stay logged in to their Google account. Most have not opted-out of personalized search. Heck, many people probably don’t even realize it exists!

On top of that, Google and other search engines utilize multiple datacenters to store multiple copies of their databases. This makes it possible for them to return search results quickly. However, the versions of the databases are constantly being updated and constantly out of synch with each other. You and a friend could search simultaneously at computers right next to each other and, because you hit different datacenters, you could see different results.

This means it’s possible other people will see different search results than what you see… or what your SEO provider reports to you.

So, what source does the SEO firm use to verify rankings? And if nobody on the planet — including you — sees the results your SEO firm reports, do the results “count”? Will they refund your money if you don’t see the same results they report? How can you verify they’re telling you the truth?

Which search engines?

The SEO firm may brag about how many “top” search engines in which they can get you front page rankings. But stop and think: which search engines do you use? How about your friends?

The truth is, there are only a handful of search engines that matter at all. If you’re like most people in the USA, you use Google, or Yahoo, or MSN/Live Search or maybe Ask.com. So why would you care about getting rankings in other search engines? What good do you think they’re going to do for you?

Why should front page rankings in these low-traffic and no-traffic search engines count toward the guarantee?

Which search terms?

Keyword selection is an art, and it’s arguably one of the most important aspects of planning a site optimization campaign. There are actually companies who specialize in helping you select keywords that have a high chance of bringing in targeted traffic — that is, people who are looking to buy whatever it is you offer.

The problem is, these really useful search terms are often competitive. Which means it’s harder to get to the front page on true top search engines such as Google for these terms.

So what sort of keyword research does the SEO firm provide? Do they “allow” you to pick your own search terms? What sort of guidance will they give you to help you pick useful search terms?

Once again, let’s engage our common sense. These “guaranteed ranking” companies have to refund your money if they don’t get you first page rankings. It’s hard to get front page rankings for competitive terms. Which of these do you think is more likely:

  1. The SEO firm gets rankings for useful terms, but only in second- or third-tier search engines that bring you no traffic.
  2. The SEO firm steers you toward selecting target phrases that are less competitive, not because they think these phrases are more useful for your business, but because they’re easier for the SEO firm to work with.
  3. The SEO firm invests all the considerable time and resources necessary to get you useful rankings in top tier search engines for valuable search terms.

(Hint: it’s not option number three.)

What do they accomplish?

Okay, so you’ve got front page rankings. What do those rankings do for your business?

Frankly, in and of themselves, nothing. Rankings for low-value search terms won’t bring you any additional website traffic. Rankings in a search engine nobody actually uses for search won’t bring you any additional traffic. And unless you’ve managed to convince your creditors to accept Google screenshots in lieu of cash, rankings won’t pay your bills, either.

Rankings that don’t bring targeted traffic are worthless.

Let’s be optimistic and assume your spiffy new rankings are on a valuable search engine for terms that get a reasonable amount of traffic. What does that traffic do for your business?

Again, sorry to say, unless the traffic converts to sales, nothing. You can’t pay bills with traffic any more than you can pay bills with rankings. Even worse, too much traffic can actually cost you money due to bandwidth overage charges.

Traffic that doesn’t convert to sales is a waste of bandwidth.

Do these “guaranteed rankings” firms promise your money back if the rankings they get you don’t bring any additional traffic? No! In fact, their incentive is to steer you toward terms that are unlikely to get much additional traffic at all, or to get your rankings in search engines nobody uses, or both.

Do these “guaranteed rankings” firms promise your money back if the traffic you get doesn’t result in additional sales? No! In most cases, the SEO firms won’t do anything substantive to help you optimize your site for better usability or to encourage additional sales. Their focus is simply on not having to refund your money. Any changes they make to your site will most likely be only for the purpose of increasing rankings… for some kind of search terms… in some search engine… somewhere.

Guaranteed rankings sound good — until you really think about what is being promised. Don’t let these people distract you with rankings… focus on conversions and sales, and you can’t go wrong.

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