4 Reasons to Avoid SEO Keyword Ranking Guarantees
I’ve had more than a few potential clients of our Chinese SEO services ask me if we will guarantee rankings for a set of keywords. The arrangement they’re looking for is one in which the SEO vendor guarantees that the client’s website will rank within the top 3 or top 5 positions for several predetermined keywords. If some terms do not remain within the top few rankings, the SEO company either doesn’t get paid, or they have to work to regain the rankings. I think that’s a very poor idea, and here are 4 reasons why.
#1) Sometimes It’s Best to Focus on Fewer Keywords
Let’s say that you have a company that sells troll meat. (Strange topic you say? Well, I was watching Lord of the Rings around the time I came up with the idea for this blog post, OK?) Anyways, let’s say you have identified several hot keywords related to troll meat:
- Troll meat
- Smoked troll meat
- BBQ troll meat
- Troll meat reviews
- Orc meat
Let’s also assume that this is a competitive market, with multiple competitors also hoping to rank for these terms.
If you enter into a contract with an SEO vendor to get these 5 terms in the top 5 search results, and it goes quite well, perhaps you’ll end up with rankings in the top 5 for all of these terms. Imagine the rankings are:
- Troll meat - #3
- Smoked troll meat - #2
- BBQ troll meat - #5
- Troll meat reviews -#4
- Orc meat -#4
For the SEO vendor paid based on keyword guarantees, their only course of action is to continue trying to increase the rankings all 5 terms. (That is, unless they’re happy leaving the rankings where they are of course.) But for an SEO company without the binding keyword guarantee contract, there’s an additional option available: focus more on some terms, while sacrificing the great rankings of other terms.
The thing is, ranking #1 for a given keyword could bring you 3 or 4 times as much traffic as ranking #2 for that keyword. And the father your site goes down in the rankings, the less traffic you get. In other words, you gain traffic exponentially as you crawl up the rankings, so having 1 keyword with excellent performance can sometimes be better than ranking somewhat-well for 3 keywords of equal search volumes.
Here’s an example:
Spread efforts across all 5 keywords.
Focus efforts on the keywords “troll meat” and “smoked troll meat”.
Keyword Rankings & Visitors/Month
(For simplicity, I’ve assumed all keywords have equal search volumes.)
In SEO keyword strategy, sometimes strategic sacrifices can bring you greater results.
Plus, you can’t know what is going to happen with your SEO campaign ahead of time. You need to maintain flexibility so that you can react to the situation as it unfolds.
Nobody would eat this cute little guy... Would they?
#2) There’s Gold in Long-tail Keywords
Traffic from long-tail keywords can make up a large proportion of a website’s total traffic. I asked Rob Walling, of long-tail keyword research tool Hittail.com, if he could lends us some wisdom in this arena. He says:
"Long-tail keywords are critical to owning a market niche. If you target a handful of head terms, anyone with a bucket of money can outrank you, and Google can unseat you overnight with an algorithm change. But if you own the top spot for 5000 long-tail keywords you have a massive defensive barrier that's hard for anyone, even Google, to topple.
In addition, long tail keywords don't show up in most keyword tools so competitors are less likely to target them, and since long tail keywords are more specific, they tend to have higher conversion rates.
I own more than one website where over 90% of my traffic comes from long tail keywords, and that traffic is unlikely to go away anytime soon, even as Google shifts their algorithm. You're doing well if you can get over 90%."
For this matter, we advise clients not to get obsessed about keyword rankings for core keywords as the defining factor of SEO success. A much better metric is the number of visitors that arrive via search traffic. For our troll meat example, they might want to create additional pages on the website to target long-tail keywords. I’m no troll meat expert, but perhaps they’ll see visitors arriving for search terms like “troll meat recipes”, or “troll meat loaf” or "troll meat tornado".
#3) It Doesn’t Matter How the Customer Finds You
Think about it: Do you really need your website to rank highly? Or do your potential customers just need to be able to find you.
Without a binding keyword performance agreement, an SEO vendor may choose to try to gain business from search traffic for a certain keyword by getting publicity on a website other than the client’s own website.
Here are two examples:
- For local SEO, I’ve seen businesses get to the top of the SERPS by posting their business on other websites, such as business listing website MerchantCircle.com.
- Guest blog posts on authoritative blogs can rank very highly in search results. Imagine if the troll meat company got an article of theirs posted on a well-known blog about alternative food. A searcher is not only more likely to see that article, they’re also more likely to trust the author.
#4) Writing for People Works
If you did a search for “troll meat”, which of the following companies would you believe to be more reputable?
Troll Meat, Troll Meats, BBQ Troll Meat, Smoked Meat of Troll…
Supplier of troll meat, troll meats, BBQ troll meat, smoked meat of trolls, orc meat, troll meat
on a stick, flavored troll meat, troll meat air freshener…
Bonko’s Troll Meat | Voted #1 Smoked Troll Meat Provider
Bonko’s Troll Meat has been producing the world’s finest troll meat since 1902 and ships free worldwide. Choose between a variety of delicious troll meat flavors including spicy, sweet and smoky.
Now, I know that in English-language Google SERPs, you don’t usually see copy as bad as the first one anymore, but it is still common on Baidu. I used the search results copy in this example, but the rule “write for people” is just as applicable to website copy as well.
The downside of writing for people is that it may result in slightly lower search rankings. But the benefits outweigh the costs. The benefits include:
- Higher clickthrough rates from the search engine results pages to your website.
- Improved branding for you company.
- Higher converstion rates. More of the people that arrive on your website will make a purchase.
- Easier link-building. It’s a lot easier to get links for a business that looks more reputable.
To sum it up, I think that keyword ranking guarantees result in a rigid, narrow-minded SEO strategy. I’d never commit to such a bullheaded strategy for one of my own projects, so I won’t recommend it for clients either.