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Alexander Kesler

Too Good to Be True: 10 Reasons Pay-for-Performance SEO Can’t Satisfy

Alexander Kesler
Too Good to Be True: 10 Reasons Pay-for-Performance SEO Can’t Satisfy

Google Hummingbird and the age of semantic search are changing the SEO industry in ways no one could have predicted a decade – or even five years – ago. Google has worked hard to understand the intentions of users, and not simply just their desires. Now, why someone is searching for something is perhaps even more important than what they’re searching for.

In today’s SEO climate, many digital marketing firms promise pay-for-performance results, as if there’s some magic formula that can predict how much a company will get back in return if it uses that firm’s services. But in reality, there’s no way to predict the long-term value generated from SEO. When a company promises to do just that, red flags should immediately go up in your mind.

So when you’re deciding whether to use a digital marketing agency to give your business a boost, keep the following facts in mind:

1) There are few secrets in SEO.

If you’re promised a miracle by a digital marketing agency, it’s natural to wonder how it will be achieved. Pay-for-performance SEO firms are often shy about sharing their "secrets" for good reason: there are no secrets. In fact, Google is quite open about how to optimize a site for the search engine.

2) Fierce competition equals big promises.

With the profusion of companies offering SEO services, the pressure to stand out from the competition is mounting. By offering to predict the ROI (return on investment) of their services, these firms want to lull clients into believing their every whim can be taken care of. The bigger the promise, the more desperate the agency likely is for business.

3) Google punishes sites for shady SEO practices.

The SEO strategies used by many pay-for-performance firms involve the following questionable tactics:

  • Article syndication
  • Thin content
  • Keyword stuffing
  • Anchor text over-optimization
  • Comment spamming
  • Excessive internal linking
  • Content spinning
  • Directory submission
  • Low-quality backlinks
  • Fake social signals
  • Cloaking

Google often punishes sites that employ such tactics, and while pay-for-performance SEOs won’t tell customers this, their strategies can actually harm a site’s ranking.

4) SEO is about more than rankings.

A site’s ranking changes so rapidly that paying too much attention to that singular element can detract from the overall goal of the optimization project. The goal is to provide users with the highest quality content in hopes that it drives return visits to your site. Using rankings as the be-all, end-all to gauge a site's performance misses the entire point of SEO.

5) The devil is in the details.

It’s a natural instinct to only want to pay for a service that provides value. However, many SEO firms use deceptive pricing practices that can leave a client paying much more than expected. Reading the fine print often highlights the fact that many SEO firms have a broad definition of “performance.”

6) Content is more important than keywords.

Pay-for-performance SEO often relies on tactics that sacrifice content quality, as they load down pages with useless information aimed at appeasing clients who are used to keyword stuffing. Simply put, if a site has no value, it can’t generate value. And this is true now more than ever as Google moves toward semantic search.

7) The focus should be on long-term goals.

Though they probably won’t admit it, pay-for-performance SEO companies are focused on the short-term. Providing short-term results allows these companies to get what they need quickly without putting in the time (or effort) to generate long-term ROI. As a client, your attention should be on long-term performance; any marketing firm you hire should have a similar focus.

8) Rankings are easily manipulated.

Pay-for-performance firms typically measure performance solely based on rankings. But these rankings are so easily manipulated that they might deliver no more than one month of rankings increases. By then, the SEO firm will be long-gone, and the client will be stuck with the bill for worthless rankings jumps.

9) SEO is a slow process.

Sustainable results are never achieved over night – remember this when a firm promises instant success. A smarter SEO strategy takes hard work, builds slowly, and improves over time. As the process is refined, the results tend to improve along with it.

10) Google now considers queries as a whole.

The main concept underpinning semantic search is user intent, which can be seen clearly in exploring Hummingbird, Google's newest search algorithm. To truly optimize a site, a business must first understand the language a prospect would use to search for their product. Pay-for-performance SEO is dangerous because it can often focus simply on keywords without performing the work necessary to understand the needs and desires of the client’s potential customers.

How to Choose the Right SEO Firm

Selecting a digital marketing firm for your business can be a challenge. Many companies will make grand offers and show impressive track records to entice clients. But by taking the time to dig deeper into the ins and outs of a marketing firm’s methodology, potential clients are able to make smarter, more informed choices.

Taking a holistic, transparent approach to every client makes the digital marketing experience more valuable for everyone involved. SEO may be a complicated process, but it’s just one facet of what should be a broader marketing strategy that aims to deliver long-term results.

Do you have any questions about this process? Let us know in the comments.


Alexander Kesler is the Founder and President of inSegment, Inc., a Boston-based digital marketing agency specializing in website design and development, B2B lead generation, branding, SEO, and PPC.

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