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The Flaws of Pay-for-Performance SEO

The Flaws of Pay-for-Performance SEO

Before you run your pay-for-performance SEO campaign, here are a few things to consider.

SEO has changed and still is changing. More advanced and time-consuming SEO techniques are now required to see long-term sustainable success and, as a result, the price for these services must increase, and it is realistic to expect this rise. After all, in any service-based business, what you are really buying is time; the more time needed, the more expensive the monthly fee.

Beyond the hours needed, there are other factors involved when it comes to SEO service costs – such as agency day rates – but the bottom line is, the more time you need spending on your SEO, the more it is going to cost you.

With the rising costs of SEO, it can be tempting to look for cheaper alternatives to cut corners. This is exactly what makes pay-for-performance SEO seem like an attractive deal: after all, if you don’t get the results, you don’t pay, right?

Pay-for-performance SEO

Simply put, pay-for-performance SEO is SEO that’s paid for once results are seen, rather than paying every month for the time taken to implement the work.

A typical agreement involves an agency or individual sitting with you, outlining specific measurements based on a model the agency or individual uses that, if met, require payment. Typical models seen in pay-for-performance SEO include:

  • Pay based on rankings
  • Pay based on traffic
  • Pay based on revenue

If you don’t get the results agreed, you don’t pay. It sounds a no-lose situation but, alas, it’s not nearly as risk-free as it sounds.

There are risks with pay-for-performance SEO that go a lot deeper than simply not seeing any results. You might think that, as you haven’t paid anything, even if you don’t see any uplift in rankings, traffic or conversions, you’re still where you were in the first place, right? Wrong.

It’s important to remember that the agency you are using won’t get paid until they get you the results. This can encourage ‘spammy’ SEO tactics that you simply would not employ on your own website if you knew the long-term effects.

When it comes to SEO, it’s important to remember that there is a lot of red tape and, in some cases, rightfully so. Given the nature of pay-for-performance SEO, shortcuts are often taken to get quick results as results mean money. Most of these ‘shortcuts’ are considered shady SEO practice and can be punishable.

These practices include keyword stuffing, directory submission, excessive exact-match anchor text, article spinning and reciprocal linking.

While they may help you achieve the desired results, these will be short-term: Google and similar search engines are savvy about this sort of SEO practice and keen to discourage it.

The results achieved are pointless if they’re for a very small amount of time. But regardless of their value, your SEO supplier has met their target and so you’re required to pay up.

Long-term effect

Depending on the techniques employed to achieve the results, you could end up being penalised by Google.

What you do with your website from an SEO standpoint can have unforeseen effects. Using questionable tactics can create problems, the most severe being waking up one day and not finding your website in the search engine results — at all. It’s one thing to waste the money you just spent trying to achieve the results that have reversed, but it’s much more of an issue if you also lose the results you previously had too.

Not many businesses can afford to lose the majority or even all their visitors from natural search. That’s why most businesses now employ a more ethical, long-term approach while balancing any risk out by using other disciplines such as paid search.

Think very carefully before jumping into pay-for-performance SEO under the illusion that the worst thing that can happen is not achieving the desired results. If something appears too good to be true, it normally is.

If you’re handed a forecast that promises you overnight success, walk away. If you’re handed a forecast that shows growth over a long period of time, take a step back and question how this forecast is going to be met — know where your money is going.

If you are looking to do SEO properly, you need to ensure you are working with a reputable agency or specialist on a natural, long-term strategy that can not only achieve the desired results but can also keep them. SEO is a slow process and you should be patient with it. If you’re willing to invest the time and money, the long-term benefits can be extremely worthwhile.

The right choice

Agencies that offer pay-for-performance SEO tend to have a vetting process to ensure work coming in provides the big potential for monetary output. If they do take you on, you can be sure that the results you want can be achieved, otherwise, they would not waste their time. While that might be the case, the main question remains: what lengths will they go to in order to get you what you want and how long will you get it for?

Having been in the industry for such a length of time, as well as witnessing countless pay-for-performance SEO horror stories, I’ve also had the awful job of picking up the pieces for companies that have been burnt afterwards by this model. It is not an easy or cheap process to undo. Long-term gradual success far outweighs short-term results.

Consider your options and make the right decision for your business. Think carefully.

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Ben Norman

Ben Norman

Ben Norman has been involved in the UK SME market for over 12 years, working mainly with challenger brands looking to increase their market share.

Ben is the CEO and founder of Koozai, a leading digital marketing agency based in the UK. He is also the author of three marketing books, which have sold more than 50,000 copies worldwide, and has been featured in various media publications, including the BBC and Sky News.

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