What is Pay For Performance SEO and Can You Trust It?
Pay-for-performance SEO, otherwise known as performance-based SEO, is a payment model that guarantees you only pay for SEO services once you start seeing results. Therefore, A pay-on-performance model places all of its value on improving rankings, traffic, and revenue.
You’re probably thinking to yourself ‘that sounds amazing’.
While the promise of only paying for SEO when it’s working is a mouthwatering offer, the harsh reality is that’s not how SEO works in 2019.
Follow along with us as we review some of the risks that accompany pay on results SEO and what to look for in an SEO agency.
Does Pay-For-Performance SEO Actually Work?
Not all pay-for-performance SEO tactics are ‘bad.’ There’s still plenty of low hanging SEO fruit that will give you a quick boost in traffic and rankings. Unfortunately, this won’t get you far in the long run and is often mixed with ‘black hat’ tactics.
The problem with pay-on-performance SEO comes back to pay-structure. It intrinsically values fast results by any means necessary strategy with no repercussions for the tactics used.
In the end, you can’t fool Google. The visibility of your website is tantamount and a penalty rank drop because of bad SEO is never worth it.
SEO in 2019 is all about playing by the rules. Take it from Jordan Teicher of Contently who had this to say when asked about the current world of SEO:
“SEO isn’t about gaming the system anymore; it’s about learning how to play by the rules.”
How is ‘Good’ or ‘Traditional’ SEO Different?
When done right, a long term SEO campaign is extremely valuable to a company. But it’s not a quick fix. SEO takes time and you often won’t see any pay-off for between 4 to 12 months.
Pay-for-performance often goes hand in hand with ‘black hat SEO’ or spammy techniques like keyword stuffing, duplicate content, link farming, and more. These strategies often provide quick results and rank increases that get agencies paid.
Unfortunately, spammy tactics will often result in a Google penalization. These penalties range from dropping for hundreds of keywords, or even a complete site de-indexation (not being able to find your page on Google’s search engine results page).
This is why ‘good’ SEO takes time and effort from trustworthy professionals.
Five Pay-For-Performance SEO Tactics to Avoid
1) Paid Links and PBNs
Link building is one of the most difficult and abused aspects of SEO. The most common practices are buying links and utilizing PBNs (Private Blog Networks).PBN’s are essentially expired websites that anyone can purchase with the intent of sending links back to your site.
These sites were once live, which means they’ve had time to build up authority and provide a little extra ‘link juice.’ With the popularity of private blog networks came an increase in public blog networks. Now anyone could purchase as many links as they wanted without having to actually buy the domain themselves.
These tactics were abused until Google severely punished thousands of PBNs and deindexed sites towards the end of 2014. Despite the crackdown, less than honest agencies still use the tactic today.
2) Keyword Stuffing
In the early days of Google’s search algorithm, anyone could get away with shoving hundreds of irrelevant keywords into various pages on a site. At the time, the search engines could only understand simple signals like keyword density.
Nowadays, the practice is pointless as Google’s current algorithm easily differentiates between keywords that make sense on a page and those that don’t. The only thing you’re doing by keyword stuffing is putting out awful content.
For example, a sentence stuffed with keywords might sound something like this:
Looking to buy a pair of basketball shoes? Our basketball shoes are the best basketball shoes you can buy. Visit our basketball shoe site to buy your pair of basketball shoes.
In 2019, it’s important to write for humans rather than search engines. With semantic search improvements, Google’s algorithm understands the meaning of text whether or not specific keywords are used.
3) Promising Miracles
No matter what anyone tells you there are no secrets left in SEO. If it sounds too good to be true then it is. Nothing about SEO is concrete, which is why a quality campaign will plan for long term quality rather than short term rankings.
Cloaking is an outdated SEO technique where the content presented to the search engine crawler bot is different from the one presented to the user’s browser for superior indexing. Once again Google frowns upon the practice and will swiftly penalize your site among discovery.
Ex-head of spam at Google Matt Cutts had this to say about cloaking:
“White hat cloaking is a contradiction in terms of Google. We’ve never had to make an exception for “white hat” cloaking. If someone tells you that — that’s dangerous.”
5) Vanity Keywords
When it comes to keywords, volume and ranking difficulty are everything. Ideally, you want to take advantage of keywords that have a decent amount of traffic without powerful domains already ranking for them.
Regarding pay-for-performance SEO, many practitioners will only target easy to rank excessively long-tail keywords. In other words, they will rank your site for keywords with low volume. This increases your keyword count and might look good on paper, but in reality, it won’t bring any traffic to your site.
(Click here for a comprehensive list of search engine violations.)
Look For a Partnership Model
The best SEO campaigns are the ones where the client and agency work together towards a common goal. A lack of communication between the two parties can lead to confusion and is often a quick way to lose a contract.
On the other hand, acting as a partner helps marketers stay passionate about their projects. It also allows time to gain a complete understanding of a client’s industry and business model.
If you sense any sort of “me vs. you” attitude from your SEO agency then it’s probably time to explore different options.
How to Pick an Honest SEO Agency
Here are five traits of the best SEO agencies that typically deliver what they promise:
1) Realistic Goals
Once again if someone promises you first page rankings right off the bat, they are lying. SEO is a lengthy process that needs to be evaluated for success over a period of time. Look for an agency that has a comprehensive long term strategy to bring visibility and traffic to your site.
2) Quality Referrals
Online reviews and directories should be taken with a grain of salt as agencies can pay to look favorable. On the other hand, we suggest asking the agency if it would be ok to contact past clients and inquire about their work. This is the best way to gain first-hand knowledge on the reputability of the service.
Transparency is an extremely important aspect of any client-agency relationship. An agency should be able to communicate the goals, tactics, and results of the campaign in a way that is easy to understand and digest. If an agency gives you generic answers and updates it may be time to go in another direction.
4) Case Studies
A case study is a great way to evaluate how an agency tackles problems and what kind of success their strategies brought them. Look for agencies that publish case studies on their site, or at the very least see if they can provide one for you.
SEO isn’t something you can study in school and unlike PPC, you cannot obtain any reputable certifications. The best way to learn SEO is to actually do SEO. Therefore, look up the agency’s employees on LinkedIn to gain a feel for the team’s overall expertise and experience.