SEO is a focus point of the modern business world. Regardless of the industry, target audience or location, potential customers are always searching for products and services online. By investing in SEO services, you can make your website easier to navigate for the consumer: while making your brand discoverable in search results. 

This means that SEO has a clear goal, and its performance can be measured against this objective, right? In reality, it’s not so simple.

SEO is an enigma that lives in the background of your digital presence – it’s hard to see its structure and impossible to quantify its overall effect. A number of external factors that make results impossible to guarantee. While performance based SEO sounds like a great deal, it’s usually too good to be true. 

In this article, we explain the main things to know about performance based SEO: all to help you make the most informed decision in your search for an SEO agency.

What is Pay For Performance SEO?

As we define performance based SEO, remember that certain goals don’t directly relate to increased revenue. Pay for performance SEO is built around the idea that specific targets within the world of SERP rankings are enough for a successful campaign.

Clients only pay for the service when the work achieves a result, such as the ranking position for a certain keyword. So the model essentially works similarly to guaranteed SEO results or cheap SEO packages, where clients’ money is protected until the goal is met.

SEO agencies that offer this service will typically outline the desirable goals themselves: whether that’s specific KPIs, SERP rankings, web traffic or another objective. While these service providers likely have enough knowledge to reach the goals they assign, the actual value of reaching this level of performance is questionable.

Does Pay For Performance SEO Work?

To understand why pay for performance SEO doesn’t work, let’s look at the structure of SEO itself. Google and other search engines crawl pages on the internet, identifying if these pages offer their users value—based on an ever-changing algorithm. SERPs are always changing, to ensure that the most relevant content appears on the first page for any given term.

When performance-based models focus on a specific measure of success, like a ranking position for a keyword, these results are unlikely to last for a meaningful amount of time—let alone generate profits. Additionally, an increase in traffic doesn’t always equal sales: especially if the wrong audience is funnelled to a site, or the on-page user experience isn’t up-to-scratch.

Arbitrary goals are more than a waste of money: they could have the potential to cause lasting damage to your website. When clients engage performance based SEO agencies, they often expect that the agency is the expert—and that any changes are better than none. While this is a reasonable assumption, it could lead you to pay for digital marketing services that cause more harm than good. Read on to find out why.

Why Avoid Pay For Performance SEO?

Black Hat SEO Services

One of the notorious ways to manipulate search engine algorithms is with black hat SEO. Black hat techniques aim to meet technical requirements to rank high on SERPs, while breaching Google’s terms of service. 

Properly implemented SEO is about applying certain optimisations to your website, with the goal of qualified web traffic. When black hat tactics are used, the content is not made with the user intent in mind—therefore, these visitors are less likely to stay on the site or convert.

While black hat SEO technically meets goals, it’s obvious to even the least tech-savvy visitors that something is fishy. It can include practices like “keyword stuffing”, where keywords are repeated in content so many times, it becomes very difficult for the user to read. 

These SEO companies could turn your website into one massive red flag for Google, often using the following tactics:

  • Sneaky link redirecting
  • Cloaking
  • Keyword stuffing
  • Hiding links and text
  • Content automation
  • Duplicating or plagiarising content

Punishment from Google

The consequences for breaching Google’s terms of service are certainly not worth the attempt. Google and other search engines are determined to provide their customers with the best experience possible, which means showing them the highest quality and most relevant search results every time. 

Google invests a lot of effort, in order to detect websites operating outside of their terms of service. Because SEO agencies have to work with the algorithm, Google always has the final say over what’s ranking where. One of the major disadvantages of pay for performance SEO is that when Google inevitably catches on to a website using black hat techniques, they can apply heavy penalties.

Black hat tactics can result in your website being pushed down the rankings or removed from search results altogether. Once found out, you can expect a dramatic drop in your organic traffic and any prior SEO work will become redundant.

Short-Term Results

The goal of many pay for performance digital marketing providers is to obtain very specific results like a decent SERP position. Even when they can achieve this result, it’s very unlikely your site can maintain this organic performance. Google’s ranking is never final: its algorithm is ever-evolving, and its crawlers will prioritise different features as a result. While black hat tactics may have landed you in that top spot for a moment, you likely won’t sustain this result long enough for it to benefit your bottom line. 

Unfortunately if you end up in this position, it will become even more difficult to rank for target keywords as you will gradually need to regain Google’s trust. For a business, this is far from ideal.

How to Find the Best SEO Agencies

Custom SEO Plan

A one-size-fits-all approach is incompatible with Google’s algorithm. Your SEO plan needs to consider your current industry, audience needs and business goals. KPIs should be based on this foundation, providing direction in a strategy rather than blindly aiming at a target.

A good SEO agency will analyse your current position, the desirable keywords to rank for, your market, industry and business goals, and from there, build a custom SEO plan. This plan should clearly outline the tasks to be performed, a schedule to satisfy search engines and a list of keywords and KPIs—rather than generic tactics.

Achievable Goals

While pay for performance SEO sets arbitrary goals the providers know they can reach through unethical tactics, setting achievable and desirable goals is a critical aspect of improving SEO work. As SEO results often come with a delay, it’s not always easy to tell if the work is achieving what it’s supposed to.

These will become the goalposts for your SEO journey to higher rankings, providing your agency with the chance to make important course corrections early on. These goals don’t necessarily have to be performance-based; sometimes setting up your SEO landscape, like creating a backlink profile, is more important for long-term success than initial increases in web traffic.

Achievable goals should be time-specific and measurable, so you clearly know if you’ve hit the mark or not. This could include a percentage increase in qualified web traffic, or a specific drop in bounce rate.

Long-Term Partnership

SEO agencies that encourage a long term partnership are a good sign of a quality service provider. While a long-term strategy can feel like an extra commitment, the benefits far outweigh the negatives. In the beginning, SEO cost is generally at its highest—with minimal immediate return.

Initially, your agency has to conduct the appropriate background work, such as making your site technically compliant, performing keyword and market research, and establishing a backlink profile. Once a strong foundation has been developed, it’s much easier to begin increasing your rankings in SERPs, and once you begin hitting your established goals and become a trusted site on Google, it becomes exponentially easier to rank for more competitive keywords.

On the other hand, SEO agencies that discourage long-term partnerships but place emphasis on hitting initial targets and performance-based results should be avoided. A performance based SEO agency will draw clients in with captivating deals and once paid, disappear before the consequences of their improper tactics backfire.

Case Studies

Before you settle on any one SEO agency, it’s important to ensure that they have enough experience. Case studies are one of the best ways to do this, as they give you real-world evidence of the benefits their SEO services can generate.

You can learn about how they work with clients, if they’re willing to share how they work, and how they go about overcoming challenges and dips in results. The best SEO agencies will often also have customer reviews and testimonials: many business owners benefit from such information, and you can understand first-hand what it’s like to be a client.

Partnership Approach With Vine Digital

Where pay for performance SEO leads to short-term upticks, Vine Digital is all about sustainable SEO strategy. Performance based SEO fundamentally ignores the mechanics of search engines, and can lead you down a concerning path.

For every SEO campaign, we identify measurable and achievable goals—with regular check-ins to communicate updates and data insights. This allows us to pivot quickly, adapting to digital marketing changes and your changing business objectives. Contact us to discuss your needs today.