Why SEO ‘Guarantees’ Aren’t Worth **it

In the famous 'Monorail' episode of The Simpsons, monorail salesman and evangelist Lyle Lanley convinces a Springfield town meeting to invest some rare Monty Burns largesse in the building of a single-station monorail system, promising, among other things, that it will bring riches, fame and celebrity to the town.

'But he's just peddling a bunch of easy answers,' objects Lisa Simpson.

And how!

Extended warranty? How can I lose?

If you've been approached by an SEO 'guru' with a pitch that runs something like, "I can get your business on the first page of Google within X days for 10X dollars", you're being shilled.

Even if the SEO 'guru' has a hipster-dufus beard and Converse and a really slick laptop and uses big words like "latent semantic indexing" and little contractions like LSI, SEM and SERP, and, like, really — really! — seems to know his stuff, you're being conned.

Even if he offers a 'No Pay Until ... Guarantee' (Extended warranty? How can I lose?!?), and claim they can track your site's climb to the top of the Google woodheap using their (and only their) 'system', you're being bilked, bamboozled, hoodwinked, duped, hoaxed, misled, cheated and bent over.

Don't fall for it. Here's why.

Google says it can't be done

The algorithm that determines page rank changes more-or-less constantly. While the actual algorithm is a trade secret, enough has been made public to know that there's more than 100 variables involved, and new variables are introduced and old ones discarded and weightings re-calibrated regularly, and the whole thing is subject to minor updates several times a year and major updates every two years.

So fluid is the algorithm's mechanics that even the guys who invented it, who work on it daily, admit that they cannot predict the outcome of any given data set (i.e. your website).

So if the people who invented it and who work on it and who monitor and tweak it can't promise anything that adds up to guaranteed page rank, what chance has the guy with yesterday's Cornflakes in his beard?

It's a shell game

'Look,' they say, 'We got Reggie's Salt Lake Bark Canoes to the top of Google in just six weeks.' And, while you watch in awe, they google up 'salt lake bark canoe' and, well, whatdyaknow, there's Reggie's at numero uno.

They must be on the level, right — you just saw it with your own eyes.

This is just a variation on any con trick from the last 5000 years that uses misdirection to prey on your lack of knowledge.

There are a couple of ways to work this trick:

Pick a keyword, any keyword ...

What are the chances of a search for 'salt lake bark canoe' returning sites for hamburgers, or used cars, or fibreglass kayaks in Arrawarra? More-or-less zero. Using precise, niche, rarely-googled keywords you can return whatever you want. It's a great effect for a live demo; in the real world, it ain't worth **it.

The John Edward effect

Ever wondered how your browser seems to know what you want to find? How, of all the pizza delivery shops out there in the big wide world, it seems to know you want Wedgetail Pizzas from down the road; what's more, Wedgetails's website always seems to present towards the top of the page whenever you google it on your laptop at home, but when googled from your PC at work it's nowhere? Far out: how does it know your at home?

The broad term for this phenomenon is 'heuristics', and it's a combination of cache (browser 'memory', if you like), cumulative profiling and, increasingly, geo location services. If you google the same search terms enough, and click on the same link enough, Google starts to 'understand' or 'learn' that when you google 'X' you want to find 'Y'; as a result, that link will gradually climb to the top of the page rankings, regardless of its 'real' page rank position. This is Google's way of giving you a better user experience; as an SEO demo, it's easy enough to stack in the SEO huckster's favour. Put your browser in 'Private' mode and see if you get the same results.

Keep your eye on the keyword ...

'Well, Mr Smith, we've done an in-depth study of your business and your competitors, and we've run the data through our iSemantics 3000® Keyword Generation and Link Exhange Hoopsoodoozle™ and we think you'll get most benefit from the keywords "honest budget plumber toorak". Further, using those keywords, we can guarantee that your site will be on the first page of Google's search results page within eight weeks. Further still, we are so confident that we can get you to Page 1 of Google using those keywords, you don't have to pay us till that's achieved*. Here, have a Hoopsoodoozle™-branded USB stick.'

*[Fine print]'At which point we'll require a $6000 downpayment on a $1000/month plan to keep your site ranking for those words or we'll yank it quicker than you can say "No Pay Guarantee? How can I lose?"'

Wow, you think. Sure: 'honest', 'budget', 'plumber', 'toorak': these are all correct, informative, accurate keywords that describe my business. Heck, let's do it!

Does the pitch, 'You don't pay until ...' sound too good to be true? Trust your instincts: it is too good to be true.

This is a variation on the Pick A Keyword... trick. It's much easier to achieve a first page Google rank if the terms searched are 'honest budget plumber toorak' than simply 'plumber'. The trick of it is selling you those keywords: to most people, the 'honest budget plumber toorak' keyword collection looks perfectly reasonable and legitimate; what the SEO shyster knows, though, is that it's an uncommon search combination, so ranking those specific keywords is, well, guaranteed.

Ask yourself: how many people are going to specifically search for 'honest budget plumber toorak'? I've just checked: none. In 12 months, not a single Google search contained those keywords. Besides which, a plumber in Toorak? C'mon. How budget can he be? Or  honest ... 😉

'Research your keywords: A Case Study'

Recently we had a client call to ask what he could to improve the SEO-ness of his content-creation campaign. We passed some tips along to his content creator and shortly received back a list of keywords he'd nominated that he'd like to be ranked for.

Fair cop. All good so far.

However, something made me suspicious of some of the keywords he had chosen. Sure, at first glance they looked fine ... but a little research turned up that some of his nominated keywords simply weren't being searched for.

At all.

There's no point ranking for keywords that no-one is using in searches. Were I less ethical, I would have guaranteed that I could have those keywords ranking #1 for him in a jiffy and taken a large wad a cash off him to boot. And the thing is, I could have pointed to the results for the search terms that he nominated and he would have been happy.

See how easy it is to be hoodwinked in this SEO game? In this instance, I wouldn't have even had to pitch him dodgy, little-googled keywords: purely through happenstance, he chose the dodgy keywords himself.

Do your research.

Beware the Black Hat

In the simplest terms, Google could be termed a Comparison Engine: how relevant is your site to a certain search criteria compared to another site — or, more accurately, several thousand other sites.

Ever since Google's inception, less-ethical website owners and, by association, the SEO 'consultants' they employed, have tried to game the system by using dishonest or misleading tactics to push their site further up the page rankings than would otherwise be the case.

There are a number of tactics used to gain such a dishonest advantage, and collectively they're known as Black Hat tactics. The most common are keyword-stuffing and link-baiting.

There are a staggering number of SEO 'consultants' who still use these tactics. Thing is, Google has taken an active (and sometimes painful) dislike to such tactics and, since its Penguin and Panda updates of a few years ago, has systematically demoted sites that use such tactics.

If an SEO 'consultant' is not willing to explain how they achieve the results they claim (coz, it's, like, a trade secret), close your wallet and walk away.

Short term gain, long term pain

There are honest, legitimate ways to go about maximising your Google exposure and page rank, and the line between honest and dishonest is often a fine one. But rest assured that good SEO, honest, upfront, dinkum SEO is hard work that takes time, expertise, and knowledge. If someone says they can do it in three months — heck, twelve months — be very suspicious about the tactics they're using.

Yes, it can be done, but it's more-than-likely that it'll be a brief, blinding dazzle of about a week's duration (if that) and then your site will be irremediably and unceremoniously shit-canned by Google.

Besides which, page rank has no correlation with performance

Sure, a first page rank on Google might give you 'the motions' (a wonderful phrase I've purloined from John Boyne that I think I might keep), but the fact is that page rank, in and of itself, has almost no effect on profitability, ROI, turnover, and other hallmarks of business 'success' at all.

Your measure should be traffic, and commitment, and sales, not purely ranking. Regardless of your position on Google's search results page, what you want is for a given prospect to click through to your site (or to a specific offer), and to perform certain actions on your site — like Buy, Subscribe, Enquire, Call. Response should be your metric, not simply page rank. Without this commitment and follow-through, page rank is, well, a bit of a *ank.

Moreover, obsessing over page rank very often derails more important considerations. Like your Offer. Or sales support. Or other marketing activities.

We've had a client obsess over page rank, ignoring the fact that 90% of their web referrals are from customers directly googling their business name. Further, it distracted him from other core marketing activities that would have yielded a much better dividend: what's the point of being ranked first worldwide for the keyword 'plumber' if, in reality, your service area is only Toorak? Better off with a letterbox flyer campaign. You'd get a much better follow-through and commitment.

And that's what it's all about. Right? Better business.

If you must ...

I know, I know: no matter what I say, nor thousands of other web marketing consultants say, you're just dying to give it a go. After all, How can you lose? Okay, but please, put this to your SEO 'consultant' first:

  • You (not them) state the keywords or key phrases you want to be ranked for.
  • Do some research to check that the keywords or key phrases you want to be ranked for are actually those that people are searching for.
  • Ask them to show you solid, long-term (i.e. more than 12 months) results from previous SEO jobs they've 'consulted' on, and ask to see the keywords or key phrases involved.
  • Ask how their SEO improvements will improve your business, not just page rank.
  • If they don't mention content building, really, please, walk away.
  • Ask them to explain, in non-gibberish, how they get the results they claim to get.
  • Ask to see their specific link-building and link-exchange profiles. If they say it's a trade secret, walk away. Their link-building and link-exchange programs should be relevant to your business and customers, not just thousands of dodgey link-bait sites.

In brief

We believe in content, not just a quick — aherm — rank

We don’t claim to provide explicit SEO services, simply because we don’t believe they’re necessary.

We believe in content creation and that, if you give your customers and prospects the right content, content they value, content they’ll share, content that correctly pitches your integrity and expertise, then page rank and, more importantly, better business will follow.

Talk to us today about a content creation campaign that will be long and satisfying rather than just a quick, short *ank.

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  1. Hafiz on August 5, 2015 at 6:36 am

    Great read. Thank you.

    Best Regards,

  2. Alastair Dodwell on December 17, 2015 at 10:24 am

    Great little article. Like it.