I recently had a former client come to me to ask my opinion on the services his new SEO company provided him. He was certain they did not meet their stated guarantee and wanted me to look over his site to confirm his suspicions. After looking over the information provided, I found it interesting that the contract was relatively vague as to what services they would actually be providing. Outside of the guarantee, the only real specifics were meta tags and "optimization" of text for 15 pages. The guarantee, on the other hand, was considerably more specific, stating they would achieve 15 top 10 rankings counted over 15 search engines, from a the 25 plus keyword phrases selected.

After analyzing the site I had to tell him that, by all appearances, their services portion of the contract had been fulfilled. If they did even minor editing of the meta tags and page text (and it certainly did appear to be minor) they did what they were contractually obligated to do. As for the guarantee, if you throw enough crap (keywords) against the wall, something's gonna stick. In this case, just one of the 25 targeted keywords achieving a top 10 ranking on each of 15 engines would sufficiently fulfill the guarantee. Not a particularly high, nor difficult benchmark to attain.

Each week I get calls from prospective clients looking for some kind of guarantee for our services. Sure, we can provide a guarantee that gives us enough wiggle room to be useless, such as the one mentioned above, but personally, I would rather work with a company that is a bit more forthright in their business practices.

Doctors don't guarantee that any surgery will be successful (though they do provide the odds), and accountants don't guarantee that if they do your books that you won't be audited by the IRS. SEO is not the same as a doctor or accountant, but these analogies will be useful. Why don't they provide guarantees? Because they do not have total absolute control the body or mind of the "client". Aside from the fact that there can always be unknown complications during surgery (as with SEO), the doctor has no control over what the patient will do once he is outside of his care. Anything from rejecting the doctor's advice to not taking prescribed medications will help determine if the surgery is a total success or not.

Similarly, if the accountant is not given full control over your finances, he is unaware if the client has participated in any shady activities. And, even more simply, the IRS decides who they audit, not the accountant, much in the same way search engines decide how to rank sites in the search results.

But a good doctor, however, can substantially improve chances of a successful recovery and a good accountant can decrease chances of an IRS audit, but there is no way to provide an ironclad guarantee, nor do I think either would even if they were substantially sure of success. In any thing, success takes a long time to achieve, but it only takes minute to undo.

To continue with our analogies, would you prefer a doctor that told you they'll make some incisions in your stomach, perform the operations, sew you back up, and guarantee that the stitches will not get infected? Or would you prefer a doctor that simply told you what operations will be performed giving you the chances of recovery? While the first offers a guarantee of sorts, that guarantee is only a small part of the whole operation. What good is it if the stitches heal properly if the surgery is a disaster?

Again, would you prefer an accountant that tells you they'll import all your financial information into their accounting software, Calculate the results and guarantee that some of the numbers will be accurate? Or would you prefer an accountant that tells you that they will make sure that your information will be inputted and calculated correctly based on the information provided and will provide you additional assistance if you should get audited? Audit assistance is a better path than assuring only some numbers will be accurate.

When I get callers asking me for a guarantee I am always tempted to appease them, to tell them what they want to hear. But, as with many companies that provide such guarantees, I might then be tempted to do no more than the fulfillment of guarantee requires. Guarantees sound good, but most are not worth the paper they are printed on.

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January 13, 2006

Stoney deGeyter is the President of Pole Position Marketing, a leading search engine optimization and marketing firm helping businesses grow since 1998. Stoney is a frequent speaker at website marketing conferences and has published hundreds of helpful SEO, SEM and small business articles.

If you'd like Stoney deGeyter to speak at your conference, seminar, workshop or provide in-house training to your team, contact him via his site or by phone at 866-685-3374.

Stoney pioneered the concept of Destination Search Engine Marketing which is the driving philosophy of how Pole Position Marketing helps clients expand their online presence and grow their businesses. Stoney is Associate Editor at Search Engine Guide and has written several SEO and SEM e-books including E-Marketing Performance; The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!; Keyword Research and Selection, Destination Search Engine Marketing, and more.

Stoney has five wonderful children and spends his free time reviewing restaurants and other things to do in Canton, Ohio.

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