The Unfortunate Truth about Pay-for-Performance SEO Companies

With the number of SEO companies that seem to be saying the same thing and offering the same old SEO services, the pressure to stand out from the competition is mounting, and pay-for-performance (PFP) SEO services or pay-per-rank SEO is one way to do that.

Many business owners consider the PFP model a reasonable Google marketing method. Why pay if you don’t get the results you want, right? Not entirely.

With Google constantly changing and expanding to understand the intentions of millions of users worldwide who utilize search engines daily, the SEO landscape is rapidly evolving. Marketing experts are forced to become perpetual SEO students to have any chance of keeping up with it all. As they study this ever-complicated practice, they realize some hard truths are emerging about SEO that challenges not only what they thought they understood about it but how it can be used to provide services for money.

Regarding pay-per-performance Google SEO, many companies out there, reputable and otherwise, promise to optimize and highly rank a submitted site. On top of that, they tell the client that they only have to pay them once for their services (once their goals are met).

Sounds too good to be true, right?

That’s because it is.

The Unfortunate Truth Behind Pay-for-Performance SEO

Let’s start by saying that we love the idea of digital marketing services on a pay-for-performance basis, but some things that sound good in theory have disastrous execution consequences; pay-for-performance SEO is one of them.

Here are why acquiring pay-for-performance SEO companies’ services is a bad idea.

They Use Traffic as a Success Metric

Many pay-for-performance SEO companies structure their success based on traffic increases to your website. There are a couple of issues with this:

  • First, traffic numbers can be easily manipulated using fake sources and users.
  • Second, traffic is only part of the equation for SEO success; conversions and experiences are the other two parts.

They Use Rankings as a Success Metric

While rankings are one part of the data set that should be analyzed monthly to determine the success of an SEO campaign, only tracking rankings can limit your understanding of SEO return on investment (ROI). Not to mention, PFP SEO firms often define rankings as “results” because they are easiest to manipulate for a while before the negative business impact starts to set in.

Poor Keyword Targeting

They claim they target your top four to five keywords that have the most value for driving traffic to your website. Unfortunately, the reality is that they usually choose mid- to long-tail keywords that are easy to rank for but provide little value toward your bottom line numbers.

Pay-for-performance SEO companies often rely on tactics that sacrifice content quality for quick SEO rankings. BSo put, if a site has no value for your users, it can’t generate value for your business. This is more true now than ever as Google moves toward utilizing user metrics to inform rankings.

Lack of Investment in Your Business

Though they probably won’t admit it, pay-for-performance SEO companies focus on the short term. Providing short-term results allows these companies to get what they need quickly without putting in the time (or effort) to generate long-term ROI or invest in your business’s success. As a client, your attention should be on long-term performance; any marketing firm you hire should have a similar focus.

Sustainable results are never achieved overnight; remember this when a firm promises instant success. A more innovative SEO strategy takes hard work, builds slowly, and improves over time. As the process is refined, the results tend to improve.

Narrow Focus

A site’s ranking changes so rapidly that paying too much attention to that particular element can detract from the overall goal of the optimization project. The goal is to provide users with the highest quality content in hopes that it drives return visits to your site. Using rankings as the be-all and end-all to gauge a site’s performance misses the entire point of SEO.

The pricing Structure Is Confusing.

It’s an instinct only to want to pay for a service that provides value. Unfortunately, many SEO firms use deceptive pricing practices that can leave clients paying much more than expected. In addition, reading the fine print often highlights that many SEO firms have a broad definition of “performance.”

Secrets in SEO

Many PFP SEO companies will tell you they are reluctant to share their secrets for success. Well, that’s no surprise. When it comes to SEO, there are no legitimate secrets or shortcuts. Also, most search engines, Google, in particular, are transparent on methods that can be used to optimize websites for their machines.

Google Penalizes for Unscrupulous SEO Practices

There are several SEO tricks that, if used, will harm your site’s search engine standing with Google. And since Google sites make up two-thirds of all internet search traffic, that’s not a risk worth taking. These tactics aren’t new. They are tricks used years ago to bump a site to a higher position on a search engine. While they may have worked then, the same isn’t true now.

Now, shady practices like the following will cost you:

  • Anchor text over-optimization
  • Article syndication
  • Cloaking
  • Comment spam
  • Content duplication or spinning
  • Directory submission
  • Excessive internal linking
  • Fake social signals
  • Keyword stuffing
  • Low-quality backlinks
  • Thin content

How do you know if you’ve been penalized? First, monitor your site’s progress. If you notice that the traffic you typically enjoy evaporates overnight, that is one symptom. That is another telling sign if your site no longer ranks for its keywords or brand name. If your page rank drops sharply or is completely removed from Google’s results cache, there’s a strong chance you’ve been penalized, and you’ll want to look into what steps to take to get back in good standing, including writing a reconsideration request.

Competition Is Fierce

Logically, there are only a limited number of top ten website slots in any search. That makes competition fierce and big promises suspicious. Pay-for-performance agencies who say they can predict ROI for their services do so to offer a smokescreen to hide the truth from their clients. They can’t make such predictions to prove whether their services are working. Companies making such fantastic promises may do so because they need the business.

SEO is a Lot More Than Just Rank

The search engine rank of any website changes constantly, and focusing solely on that keeps one from seeing that it’s just one component of results-based SEO. SEO done correctly does much more than help your site attain a higher ranking. Good SEO also promotes your website’s brand and visibility. Most searches only yield the top results, and if the prospective client keeps seeing your site in their results, curiosity will have them taking the next step. In addition, when you keep appearing in a visitor’s search results, your credibility is bolstered in a good way.

Read the Fine Print

If you’re still considering pay-for-results services, read over any agreements carefully. Vague and broad language about “performance” can lead to a larger bill than expected for results allegedly defined in the initial deal you signed. Instead, ask particular questions about the effects promised for set prices. It should be, in most cases, an engaging and educational conversation.

SEO is a Marathon, Not a Sprint

Many pay-for-performance agencies advertise their SEO services from a short-term perspective, something for the correct dollar amount that can be achieved quickly and easily. Nothing could be further from the truth. SEO is a long-term objective. The algorithms used for search engines are constantly changing, and the wise site owner keeps up with those changes. With mobile technologies ever expanding in today’s market, SEO further changes to accommodate that. Add your competition and the constant need for fresh, relevant content to all this, and you can easily see why SEO is anything but a short-term marketing effort.

Content is More Important Than Keywords

Regarding results-based SEO, particularly for Google, remember that content is one of the most critical factors in your efforts. While this isn’t new, there’s a noticeable shift from a keyword-focused range to natural, fresh, relevant content. Studies have proven that, on average, just over half of the top twenty queries on most searches use keywords in their titles, and less than half use them in their H1 tags. This is a significant change in SEO practice from just a few years ago. With so many PFP SEO agencies heavily touting keywords, be aware that times are changing.

Rankings Are Easy to Achieve

Any pay-for-performance agencies that claim they can easily attain a high search engine ranking for your website need a closer look. It takes a lot of time and great effort to rank a website on a given search engine, but keep in mind there are only a limited number of spaces on the front page, so they can’t all be on there.

Queries as a Whole

These days, Google focuses on semantic search, which seeks to improve search accuracy by understanding the intent of individual searches and the contextual meaning of search phrases. Their recent algorithm, Hummingbird, was developed around semantic search. The concept is that when optimizing a site, the business needs to understand the perspective language clients might use to search for their products or services. Here, PFP SEO is risky because there is often no focus on intent or client desire but only on the keywords they think will do the job. But this is SEO from the past and doesn’t consider the sophistication of today’s algorithms which look at an entire search query and try to answer, “What is the intent here?”

SEO Takes Time

Beware when you pay for SEO results and are told you’ll see results practically overnight. Successful SEO experts know that time is needed for their initial website and competitive audits, setup efforts, and baselines; recommendations and adjustments are made, and it takes time to see if the changes were beneficial. It’s a process that takes time and builds over time.


When you pay for SEO results, mostly you’re paying for an outcome that can’t be guaranteed. If you acquire the services of a digital marketer or marketing agency, vet them thoroughly. Also, if they are reputable with a good track record,  they can only advise you on what you need to do to maintain or increase your traffic flow and search engine ranking. They can’t make this happen for you because they don’t know your business as well as you do.