Yes, Virgin SEO, There is no Guaranteed Search Engine Ranking

Are you the “Cindy Lou Who” of your marketing department? Well, I hate to be the Grinch who stole the visions of number one search engine rankings dancing in the heads of Marketing VPs. But, so be it.

We’ve all received the e-mail. Some company that nobody’s ever heard of tells us that they’ve unlocked the secret to rankings within the search engines. They’re so sure that they guarantee organic search engine rankings.

That’s pretty bold. If a company ever finds a way to guarantee organic search engine rankings, that company will undoubtedly go public and have a market cap approaching that of Google’s.

I might have believed such a thing when I was younger. That was before I had any amount of experience in life (which has taught me that anything that sounds too good to be true, most likely is not true) and in interactive marketing and SEO (define), which has taught me how much work goes into optimizing a Web site for organic search results.

I don’t blame you for wanting to believe this.

Selling organic SEO efforts to the executive team can be tough. You can help them understand how this process works and how much it will cost, but you’ve also got to tell them that results can’t be guaranteed.

This is why, more often than not, the executive team will elect to go the direction of PPC (define) SEM (define). They can understand “performance-based” marketing, which everyone loves.

Getting this executive team to buy into organic SEO isn’t easy. They may want SEO to be promotionally driven (“let’s advertise our sale this weekend through organic search”), or they may believe that SEO is voodoo.

Unlike Santa Claus, organic SEO is for real. You can get much more value out of SEO efforts than through just about any marketing vehicle that exists.

Does any SEO company own a search engine? If they did, then perhaps they could guarantee a top ranking on that search engine. Otherwise, they don’t control the algorithm (define).

As much as I might know about search engines, I never guarantee top rankings.

Case in Point

One of our clients ranked number one for their most important keyword on Google for 18 months straight. Then, one morning, I woke up and they had dropped to number four.

What happened? I didn’t do anything overnight to cause this.

Could it be that Google changed their algorithm? Could it be that other/new competitors came into play or that current competitors began optimizing their Web sites, or perhaps started doing a better job with their organic SEO efforts?

Does this other so-called SEO company prevent your competitors from ever optimizing their Web sites? Do they have some inside information that has somehow eluded absolutely every other SEO individual or company?

What makes more sense? That this other company is full of it, or that every legitimate SEO firm just doesn’t know what this one company knows?

Obviously, the e-mail would be enough to scare me away. You should be scared of testing out these types of offers, too.

What Could it Hurt?

Well, it could hurt plenty. If you need to investigate this topic further, you should read Matt Cutt’s post about Traffic Power.

I tell prospects all the time, “I don’t really care too much if we do or don’t win your business, but I do care enough to make sure that you don’t end up working with a firm that might actually do more harm than good.”

That would stink, huh? You actually convince the executive team that SEO is worth doing, then hire the wrong firm and your site (potentially) is banned from Google. Well done.

This makes my job even harder. To be the firm that someone comes to after they’ve been through a bad experience with another firm is like dating someone who just ended a really bad relationship. You have to work 10 times as hard to build the trust that this other jerk had without trying at all.

Bottom line

If it sounds too good to be true, it is too good to be true. Since my kids don’t read Daddy’s column, I’m saying it again: there’s no such thing as Santa Claus or guaranteed organic search engine rankings.

It’s hard work. It does work. But, like anything in life, you get out of it what you put into it.

Related reading

Google for branding: Getting more from search engine services
The changing face of search: Dynamic content and experiences that perform
Case Study: How BDCenter transformed a reputation from 48% negative on Google to neutral