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Guaranteed top search rankings 

The title of this article is a promise some in the search engine marketing game make. When it comes to competitive sectors, at best it's overconfident, at worst, it's plain misleading. 

I've been in the search engine optimization game for nearly a decade now and it saddens me that this dubious guarantee is still so prevalent. 

If a company promises to improve your search rankings - that's not over the top as a good SEO (search engine optimization" consultant can recognize issues in your site and based on experience, accurately assess that the work they will perform will make an improvement; but to claim they'll get you to number 1 on Google is an entirely different matter in a competitive sector.

 

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Search engine ranking algorithms are complex

Google's secret sauce for ranking is a closely guarded secret and works on hundreds of different signals. If I knew it all or if anyone else did for that matter, you wouldn't sell that knowledge as a general service as it's a license to print money basically. The holder of such information would just build sites in lucrative markets, apply that knowledge quietly and retire pretty darned quickly. Google is also constantly tweaking its algorithm to deal with those who seek to game their results or otherwise gain an unfair edge.

However, SEO consultants know about elements of the algorithm - and it's not rocket science, nor do you need to be a member of some secret society in order to know the information. Google tells us quite openly what is required to rank well. While you don't need a double degree to understand all this, there is a learning curve. Search engine optimization also takes time and there is some "gut" vibe, along with a little luck involved.

The "guaranteed" top rankings

An SEO company making these guarantees usually has a lot of fine print and caveats to accompany them.

For example, the ranking may be guaranteed, but it doesn't apply to what's known as "organic" search results. Organic results are the ones appearing in the main body of the search engine results pages (SERPs) below the paid PPC (pay per click) ads.

The no.1 promise may refer to being the top ranked on the *paid* ads; i.e. Adwords. This is entirely doable, but might cost you a fortune as you'll pay for each click to your web site. 

Depending on how competitive the sector you are in is, you could be paying a couple of bucks for each click or even more. So on top of the SEO consultant's fee, you'll have the added cost of the clicks, which can easily amount to thousands of dollars each month, or even each day. This in itself is fine if you're making money from the activity, but if you're not, it could quickly send you to the wall.

Another trick in relation to the guarantee is the kinds of keywords you have been promised a top ranking on.

Let's say you sell shopping cart software - quite a competitive market. To rank no.1 on the term "shopping cart software" is no mean feat. 

However, a SEO consultant may say they can get you to number 1 on the term "fantastic shopping cart software". So you pay out thousands of dollars for the consultant to do the work, you get to no.1; but you don't see high levels of traffic - this is because it's a term rarely used in searches. In a nutshell, it's easy to get to no.1 on uncommon keywords and phrases.

A related approach might be to target high traffic keywords, but the wrong type. Some keywords attract "tire-kicker" visitors, so aren't pursued and are therefore easy to rank on, whereas searches on keywords that tend to result in sales, e.g. "buy shopping cart software"; are much more sought after.

Some SEO companies also like to lock you in for long periods of time. It's true that depending on the state of the site, it can take some months before ranking improvements are evident, however if you're being quoted X thousand dollars a month for SEO services, check the fine print to see how long you're committing to - it may be that the SEO consultant says he/she requires 2 years in order to achieve the no.1 results and for you to terminate the contract before then means you'll have no redress in regards to the guarantee.

Another thing to check for in regards to these claims is additional costs. For example, it's well known that a link from a high ranking site to a related low ranking site can help boost the lower ranked site in the SERPs. While it is frowned upon by Google, there is a big industry in paid links for ranking purposes. 

You may be required to buy links from certain sites in order to achieve the promised no.1 rank - and that can set you back thousands of dollars a month too. If Google catches a site selling links for ranking purposes, they may dampen the ranking power of that site.

An SEO consultant that relies on paid links to get a site ranking well is an SEO consultant treading on very thin ice. 

Finally, it's all well and good to promise a top search ranking, but what happens if it's not achieved? Will all your money be refunded? Some contracts will state that the SEO consultant/company will continue working at no cost until the no.1 rank is achieved, however, they may only spend 5 minutes a month on your site from the time you stop paying the monthly fees, with no real intention of achieving it.

In a nutshell, if you have been promised no.1 rankings, your sector is very competitive and you haven't got millions of dollars to splash around, see it as a signal to look elsewhere for an SEO consultant. It's likely either a con, or someone's ambitions exceeding their capabilities.

Related:

Search engine optimization tips

Michael Bloch
Taming the Beast
http://www.tamingthebeast.net 
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