Jun 25 2009

Five Steps to an SEO Guarantee

Category: organic seoTom Shivers


One of the biggest obstacles that search marketing professionals face today is guarantees about end results with SEO, according to a poll we conducted a few months ago (Top 3 Reasons that Stop Businesses from Going Forward with SEO, Capture Commerce, 2009). To date, the one-question poll shows these as the top 3 of 16 choices:

  • It’s difficult to make guarantees about end results – 11%
  • They are uninformed and/or misinformed about the process – 11%
  • They don’t realize how much money it costs – 11%

Most businesses don’t want an SEO guarantee about end results; they aren’t that naïve. What they are really asking for is credibility, experience and ethical business practices – the ingredients of a trust relationship.

Most SEO professionals do not provide guarantees about rankings or end results for good reason: no one controls Google’s algo but Google. What search marketing pros can guarantee is a plan and implementation that has proven to bring good rankings in the past. In addition, SEO professionals should be able to guarantee:

  • Indexing of a site’s pages
  • Targeting appropriate search terms
  • Producing a content development plan
  • Programming web analytics to track results
  • Developing a link-building strategy
  • Setting realistic rank expectations and timeframe based on experience

But how can SEO providers better handle those businesses who ask for a guarantee? Businesses want reasonable ROI from their investment; if they cannot picture a successful end result while conversing with a provider, there’s going to be a lack of confidence in your ability to produce results.

Two Scenarios:
Many businesses know SEO, but they don’t have the time to execute an SEO plan. What they are most concerned about boils down to:
1.    Confidence in your ability to deliver results
2.    Fear of choosing the wrong provider, which could mean loss of investment, lost time, lost opportunity, or even loss of their position or job.

Some businesses don’t know SEO and may have been burned before by someone who did guarantee results. They may need lots of basic education about SEO. These businesses are most concerned about:
1.    Confidence in your ability to deliver results
2.    Fear of choosing the wrong provider, which could mean loss of investment, lost time, lost opportunity, or loss of their position or job.

Beginning to get the picture?

So how can SEO providers increase a prospect’s confidence in their ability and calm fears of negative consequences (which has far more value than an “SEO guarantee”)?
1.    Join an organization known for keeping members who are above-board, like SEMPO.
2.    Provide clear case studies outlining before and after results, and what you did to overcome the ranking barriers. The more detailed the ROI data, the better your prospect can see their own business fitting in with yours.
3.    Effective listening is the bottom line of trust. Ask good questions about expectations rather than offering unsolicited answers. One of my favorite questions is “What makes SEO a priority for you now?”
4.    Investigate the concerns and fears of the prospect. Empathy is the currency of trust, giving insight into what others may be thinking or feeling. Empathy helps us understand why others are reacting to situations and it allows us to create bonds of trust. Learn who else is involved in the decision and arrange to talk with each of them.
5.    Understand the risk control mechanism that’s in place. Most organizations have procurement or vetting processes. These buyers are motivated by financial risk, my position risk and personal credibility, among other factors. According to Enquiro’s Mapping The BuyerSphere study, some of the ways organizations control risk include:

  • Tapping past experience and approved vendors
  • Word of mouth and the experience of others
  • Asking existing (trusted) vendors
  • Credibility of vendors (bigger is better, the vendor who does business with lots of big companies)
  • Check out what they find online to make sure the right messaging is out there to deal with these risks
  • Price

Trust has been defined as “the willingness of a party (trustor) to be vulnerable to the actions of another party (trustee) based on the expectation that the trustee will perform an action important to the trustor, regardless of the trustor’s ability to monitor or control the trustee.” Trust is the expectation that people can rely on your word. It is built through integrity and consistency in relationships.

Building trust is the key to an “SEO guarantee” that fosters confidence in your ability and calms fears of negative consequences.

Some related articles:
10 Reasons Why Clients Don’t Pick the Right SEM Agencies
Selling Services to Reluctant Buyers
Preparing the Ultimate SEO Proposal

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13 Responses to “Five Steps to an SEO Guarantee”

  1. webmaster-iphone4spiel says:

    That was a very interesting post. Thank you very much.

  2. Abdul Sosso says:

    I love this blog. I will undoubtedly be peeping into it frequently.

  3. Chris says:

    Good points all. What with the overwhelming number of dodgy SEO providers out there, potential clients are rightly wary of going with a provider that’ll stiff them. So providers have to work twice as hard to land clients.

  4. AV-Lution says:

    Yes, all good points. I think the biggest problem we have at the moment is actually choosing the right SEO company to work with. Like Chris says, plenty of dodgy providers out there, so how do we weed out the no-hopers and find the ones that will actually give us a return. Thanks for blog, really useful for someone delving into the world of SEO for business website.

  5. John Barremore says:

    Sorry, but this couldn’t be more incorrect. You are describing the mechanics behind SEO and how to procure a project (job), not the bottom line, not the goals of the client.

    Businesses and website owners want and need performance, not an investigation of their fears, not half-baked promises which may or may not be fulfilled.

    Expectations for an SEO campaign should be direct with clear goals, understood by all parties and backed with a solid guarantee. By only saying “trust us” because we have the integrity to take your money, shows that you have doubts about your own ability, that you don’t have the client’s best interests in mind. An SEO service that looks for a weasel clause, or an excuse for failure should be avoided.

  6. Tom Shivers says:

    Sorry John, apparently you missed my point entirely.

    Trust does not form over night, at least it hasn’t for me, which is why I take on a certain amount of risk with new clients, just as they take on a certain amount of risk when they hire my team. This then opens the door for significant cooperation between the SEO provider and the client so that the client sees progress and the provider keeps the job.

    Performance guarantees are a crutch to quickly close a sale before either party knows enough to make an informed decision (by both the prospect and the provider) and it can prevent a real relationship from forming which in my opinion is absolutely critical to the success of any SEO campaign in today’s world.

  7. AV-Lution says:

    Trust would always be preferred to performance guarantees, but with something like SEO where you can see via Google searches and analytics whether things are working, it lends itself to performance-related reward. Trust will come later.

  8. Tom Shivers says:

    That’s right AV, mutual risk leads to mutual trust after progress is realized which is how ongoing business relationships are formed.

  9. AVLution says:

    Yep, that’s a better way of putting it! I think it also has to come down to a bit of trial and error as well – especially with the SEO game.

  10. The Visible Dentist says:


    Please know that my comment wasn’t intended to discredit you as a person, or a businessman. I was merely expressing my disagreement with your perspective e.g. your contention that professional SEO’s do not provide clients with guarantees for rankings and/or end results. And again, I could not disagree more.

    Regardless of the initial contact and cultivated trust, by shouldering more of the risk and offering a keyword placement guarantee, your clients will tend to trust you and respect you even more. A guarantee shows that you have confidence in your abilities, that you are accountable for your actions and that your clients do not have to deal with an unscrupulous vender, or suffer incompetency. And not to say that either negative trait describes you in any way.

    As an SEO pro working since 1999, I would have to say that forming a working “relationship” with the client is a good thing, however, it is not crucial to positioning their website. The latter is dependent upon your abilities as an SEO and your understanding of the client’s industry. A casual analysis of their site’s offer should be sufficient to conduct further keyword research and guide the SEO campaign.


    John Barremore
    Houston, TX

  11. The Visible Dentist says:

    Oops sorry, I meant Tom! 🙂


  12. Tom Shivers says:

    John, I’ve found that successful organizations have complex methods for handling risk as it relates to hiring service providers. You have your point of view which seems one-sided and I have mine. I’d encourage you to check out Enquiro’s Mapping The BuyerSphere study which I referenced.

  13. John Barremore says:

    Tom, you’re right – confound it all, I am one-sided – I’m on the side of the client, who many times, has already been burned by other SEO’s that didn’t offer them guaranteed ranking.

    Thanks for the convo – don’t be a stranger!

    John Barremore
    Houston, TX