What to Expect from Agencies Offering SEO Guarantees
Clients on the hunt for an SEO Agency can experience anxiety about their decision, driving them to seek some sort of guarantee. In this article, we’ll talk about how guarantees are actually a bad thing for agencies to offer, explore why they’re used, and some viable alternatives to reducing anxiety.
For many, this may be a dead horse that’s been beaten to death, or a futile exercise in futility, but I’m sure plenty of agencies and clients have been asked (or done the asking):
“Can you offer any sort of guarantee that I’ll (rank better / drive 100 more leads / improve visibility)?”
To some agencies, this is almost offensive, as it groups your reputable, results-driven organization in with those fly-by-night $299 per month “SEOs” that do our industry such disservice.
To others, mostly the aforementioned type, it’s par for the course, and that’s too bad. It’s probably time to work on your positioning a bit.
Regardless how futile or how many horses are left dead, let’s actually put this one to bed and discover if anyone can deliver on one of the most common types of guarantees - #1 rankings.
Go to the Source - Google
Not many folks out there seem to know that Google has documentation on what to look for when hiring an SEO, aptly titled “Do you need an SEO”? I am of the personal belief that this should be REQUIRED reading for all clients looking to go down this path.
Scroll down a bit, and take a look at that second bullet – “No one can guarantee a #1 ranking on Google”.
No reputable agency should be offering any sort of ranking guarantees. If they are, run, and go find a more trustworthy provider.
Unfortunately, many agencies have a “churn and burn” type business model, and they make their money by selling lofty promises and assume you’ll cancel after you’re ultimately dissatisfied. Read more about what to look for when selecting an SEO agency in this great Forbes article by Eric Enge.
Simply put, no agency can guarantee rankings because there are SO many variables, signals, and volatility in what makes up a search result.
So, if agencies are falsely guaranteeing #1 rankings that they can’t back up, then why are clients seeking guarantees in the first place?
Guarantees Reduce Anxiety
It’s no secret that SEO can be pricey, and when we’re talking about tens of thousands of dollars (or more) being spent on something clients don’t always fully understand, it’s no wonder the question comes up.
People are simply looking to hedge against the possibility of risk.
Let’s say you’re a new marketing manager who wants to bring in a firm to help your company close the organic gap between you and your closest competitors. You might seek out an agency who quotes you 50% of your annual marketing budget to get there. You need to be confident in your decision – your future could depend on it.
What do you do?
My colleague, Angie, put it this way –
“A guarantee helps clients reduce anxiety, and allows them some sanctuary in their decision.”
At Three Deep, we want our clients to be happy in their decision to choose us. We understand that it’s a complex market out there, and we do whatever we can to reduce anxiety in the decision making process.
In fact, our mission statement says exactly that:
“We help our customer’s customer make the best decision possible.”
We demonstrate that we are an agency of accountable, passionate, team-first problem solvers (seriously, those are our core values) who just want to help our clients grow their business through measurable digital marketing programs (that’s our core purpose).
So, how do we apply this line of thinking to our clients and show them that they don’t need to worry about a “rankings guarantee”?
Alignment on Business Objectives
We begin our projects with a measurement model (leaning heavily off of Avinash Kaushik’s work) where we pull & pry your business objectives out and make sure we are in full alignment on what success looks like.
We don’t report on keyword rankings – we report on key landing page visibility and conversion rate. We’re not reporting on how many links we built – we’re reporting on share of voice.
Ultimately, those outcomes should directly tie to your business objectives, which we align on from the start.
A Clear, Intuitive Process
Our SEO work follows a clear, intuitive process, where we:
Discover our client’s business and their objectives
Audit the existing environment
Implement improvements & future roadmaps to close gaps
Measure the impact of our efforts
This clear set of activities allows us a methodical approach to improvement. We communicate this clearly to our clients so that they know exactly what to expect from us, which brings me to my next point…
Setting Clear Expectations
We set clear expectations with our clients on how we plan to impact their business objectives. This is usually done in the form of targets aligned against a key performance indicator (KPI).
For example, if your company sees massive growth potential in the European market and wants to establish a strong organic presence there, we could say a key objective of your program is to improve international search performance and use a basic KPI such as organic visits from European countries.
Our target could be a 20% lift in six months if everything goes according to plan – and boom, we’ve agreed on what success looks like, and set clear expectations that it won’t be achieved by next week.
In some advanced cases, we’ll even set clear failure modes to show specific examples of areas that will keep us from reaching our target.
And guess what? When a client is expecting immediate visibility, meaning a six-month timeline is not an option, we’ll let our clients know that our excellent PPC team can offer quicker, more nimble turnaround time.
A Track Record of Success
How do we get to clear expectation setting? By having a knowledgeable, expertly certified team, and doing, doing, and doing some more. Our wall of certification fame keeps growing, and we have many employees certified in Google Analytics, Google Adwords, Bing Ads, Silverpop, and more. Additionally, Three Deep is one of the few Google Analytics Certified Partner agencies.
Our team members sit on various organizational boards, speak at some of the world’s largest internet marketing conferences, and have strong industry recognition.
For our clients, this means that they can rest easy knowing that have some of the best minds in the business working on growing theirs. We have an established track record of success in the work we do – just see our ever-growing portfolio page for some highlights of the work we’ve done.
Simply put, there’s no replacement for experience in this space, and we leverage our team’s collective experience in all the work that we do.
Three Deep’s SEO Guarantees
Now, for a bit of fun, we’d like to cover some of the SEO guarantees that Three Deep CAN make:
We guarantee the rules will change.
SEO is a rapidly evolving field, and it will continue to evolve indefinitely. As behaviors change and technology advances, search will always be a constant force in how we access information.
There will ALWAYS be a focus on delivering value to the user, but we guarantee that getting there will always be a moving target.
We guarantee that the competition will always be complicated and difficult.
Think about the vast differences of websites you come across in your daily searching activities. As you progress down the marketing funnel, you enter in all types of search terms, starting with informational terms like “kitchen color trends” and ending with transactional ones like “saint paul paint stores”.
Your competition at the informational level will be completely different than that at the transactional level.
As long as search engines seek to provide users with relevant results, we guarantee that the competitive marketplace will get increasingly complicated.
We guarantee that implementation mistakes will occur.
Let’s cut to the chase – there’s a severe language barrier that exists between marketing and development staff that usually results in mistakes being made.
Many development groups are also siloed in layers of project managers and other stakeholders to the point where sometimes, you’re just playing a complex game of telephone.
Another issue here is the fact that marketers and engineers rarely see eye-to-eye. I heard a great quote on this once, regarding the rift between marketing and engineering:
“When engineers make mistakes, bridges fall and people die. When marketers make mistakes, we get Crystal Pepsi.”
Many engineers believe that if they develop the highest quality product with the best technical specifications, it will sell like hotcakes.
Marketers believe that you could build the best product out there, but if it doesn’t fit a specific need or no one knows about it, it’ll never sell.
This risk can be mitigated by providing clear direction, ensuring development teams understand the WHY behind the WHAT and the HOW, and regular education and governance.
Due to this breakdown, we can guarantee that tasks like technical implementations won’t fully go according to plan.
We guarantee that you’ll always need a search specialist.
This is such a dynamic field that you NEED someone to advocate for search at your company, be it an internal or external resource. You can’t depend on your IT staff for this, as they won’t master the nuance and more mistakes than necessary will be made. It’s kind of like relying on your mechanic to teach you how to drive - conceptually the two are related, but good luck with that.
As rapid advances or changes in technology present a steep learning curve, it can be incredibly challenging for those unfamiliar with the landscape to keep up with.
We guarantee that search engines will always reward those who focus on the user.
96% of Google’s revenue comes from advertising activities like Adwords. Businesses will continue to find Google’s advertising platforms beneficial as long as there are users using it.
Therefore, Google needs to have a class-leading search product in order to remain on top. They will accomplish this by always staying focused on providing value for the user, and will continue to reward websites who do the same.
We guarantee that this will never change.
We Guarantee there are no Guarantees – Just Great Partners
At the end of the day, no one who is serious about helping your business grow will offer #1 rankings.
Clients shouldn’t be focusing their efforts on finding an agency who can guarantee their work – they should be trying to find an agency who doesn’t NEED to guarantee their work as their results speak for themselves.
Look for those who help you reduce your anxiety, and focus on educating you rather than selling you. Make sure they ask the right questions and help manage your expectations. Ask them about their process, and how it ultimately adds value to their clients. Look for certifications from industry-leading sources.
And ultimately, choose the right partner for your needs, because nothing is more impactful than a great agency and client relationship.
Want to see what a great partner looks like? Contact us to learn how we can help your business grow through measurable digital marketing programs.