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Why Pay for Performance SEO Sucks

Writing by Nick Stamoulis in SEO


I recently spent an hour and half on the phone with a prospective SEO client, going through our full service SEO solution (discussing the process, the work involved and the estimated time frame for each step) including onsite SEO, link building, content marketing, social media marketing management and so forth. At the end of the call the only question she had was would we be willing to work on a performance based plan, meaning the client would pay for our services only after they saw the results they wanted. I told her no; I do not believe in pay for performance SEO.

Here are 4 reasons performance based SEO is bad for both SEO clients and the SEO industry:

1. SEO is too long term.

Even if you do everything right, it could take 6 months to a year for your site to feel the full impact of SEO. How competitive is your niche? How new is your site? Have you done any SEO before? There are so many factors at play when it comes to SEO that pay for performance SEO means your SEO provider might not get paid for months—would you be willing to do any kind of job on credit like that? Remember that your SEO provider is a business owner just like you; they have the same bills to pay each month and pay for performance SEO leaves them incredibly vulnerable.

2. Good SEO requires a lot of work.

Depending on how large your site it, it can easily take 40-100 hours to fully optimize your website from keyword research all the way through to content optimization. Never mind the hours spend on the phone learning your business, developing a custom strategy, working with your in-house team, doing a competitive analysis, 12-month link building strategy and so forth—that’s a lot of upfront work! And that’s not even taking the actual execution into account. A large SEO firm might not mind since they have the manpower and internal resources to spare, but for a small or mid-sized SEO firm every minute spent working on a client project has to be accounted for. How much upfront work are you willing to do and not get paid for? Why should you expect your SEO provider to be any different?

3. Pay for performance SEO means there is only one way to measure success.

Let’s say you did get your SEO provider to agree to a pay for performance program and you agreed that a 10% increase in traffic was your benchmark. In 6 months your SEO partner has increased your traffic by 9.4%–does that mean your SEO program is a failure? An increase of 9.4% may not seem like much, but it can mean thousands upon thousands of new visitors to your site. Did they really fail you and your business by not hitting that 10% mark? According pay for performance scale they did!

No SEO firm can guarantee what kind of an impact their work will have on your website. To hold them to a specific number actually limits the kind of work they can/will do for your site, which leads me to my next point.

4. Pay for performance SEO can lead to black hat activities.

If I knew that my getting paid meant I had to increase your website traffic by 10% then I would do everything I could to hit that mark—the good, the bad and the ugly parts of SEO. What do I care about building the right kind of traffic to your site, I’m just looking for the numbers. I’ll do whatever I can to bump your traffic up as fast as I can to ensure I get paid and not worry about the potential fallout. Performance based SEO, in my opinion, leads to black hat and dangerous SEO activities because your SEO provider is more concerned with hitting a quota than actually helping grow your online business is a sustainable way.

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