If you have never heard of The Scotty Principle, you might as well just give up now.

Go home. We're done here.

Okay, now that all the non-geeks have left the building, we can have a frank, honest conversation about SEO (and a bit of Star Trek).

I've always heard of people that are so good at sales they could sell ice to an Eskimo, water to a fish or prescription glasses to the blind. I think I once bought a bridge.

Having a good salesperson is great, but the sell-at-all-costs approach can often come back to bite the companies that hire them.

What does all this have to do with The Scotty Principle? Let's back up a bit and get some context. Lieutenant Commander Montgomery "Scotty" Scott was chief engineer on the U.S.S. Enterprise under Captain James T. Kirk. Of course, this being a TV show, Kirk had all the best people at his command, and Scotty was no exception.

Attacked by a crystal entity and the ship loses weapons systems? Scotty is the man to bring them back online. Romulans have the Enterprise caught in a time-traveling tractor beam? Scotty can deactivate it. Headed toward Uranus to wipe out the Klingons (tee hee)? Scotty will make sure the warp coil is it top performance.

But, Scotty is the habitual over-estimator. When asked, "How long till the warp coils are restored?", Scotty estimates three hours and completes it in two. When will the transporters be back online? Scotty estimates 20 minutes and does it in 12 (and JUST in time too!). In short, this makes Scotty look like a miracle worker.

When working with the Enterprise's Chief Engineer, Geordi LaForge, almost a century later (go with it, it's sci-fi!) Geordi was asked by Captain Picard how long certain repairs would take. Geordi estimated two or three hours. Later, Scotty asks Geordi, "How long it will really take you?" Geordi responds, "Two or three hours."

At this point Scotty is taken aback and says, "You told him how long it would actually take you? How do you expect to be considered a miracle worker if you tell them how long it will really take?"

While Scotty isn't a salesman, all good salesmen can learn a lesson here. Imagine if Scotty said he could fix something in the time required, but in the end, he just wasn't able to pull it off.

Disaster strikes. The Enterprise blows up. Roll credits. Send the cast and crew home. The series is a wrap, and they won't be taking the action to the big screen to make three great movies (out of six)!

The salesperson has a job to do: bring in new business. But, a problem arises when the products or services are unable to deliver up to the sales rhetoric used to entice the buyer.

This happens frequently with Search Engine Optimization companies, and it's one of the reasons that too many people feel burned by bad SEO. It's easy to tell people what they want to hear: "19 days to #1!", "Ranked in the top three!", "First page placement for all your key phrases!" But, it's much more difficult to fulfill such promises being made.

Despite the fact that no one can guarantee a #1 ranking, there are still plenty of "SEO" companies out there that insist that they can and will pull it off, "guaranteed!"* (*enter enough small print here to make any such guarantee null and void, should the client do as much as sneeze wrong.)

The truth is, the SEO may actually be able to achieve the results they are promising, but are they for the keywords that matter? And, if the SEO is unable to deliver per the client's expectations, he or she simply points to the loopholes spelled out in the small print.

The SEO industry is aggressive; every SEO's motive is to convince potential clients that the services he or she provides are a cut above those offered by their competitors. This is why so many oversell with the promise of spectacular results that may or may not be achievable.

Few SEOs go out of their way to provide a truthful assessment of what is possible and on what kind of timeline. New sites will take longer. Competitive industries require a bigger budget. And, poorly developed websites may require drastic and/or expensive changes in order to bring them up to par.

SEOs that are honest with potential clients find that they lose many sales from those looking for a quick fix, instant results, or some kind of ranking guarantee. But, they'll also discover that those who do become clients have a much better grasp on what's at stake, how long it'll take, and what kind of results to expect. Oh, and they are much happier too!

I've always made it a point to let my clients know that we set benchmarks for achievement throughout the first year of their campaign. By communicating these benchmarks and expectations clearly to our clients, we've been able to maintain a very low turnover rate over the years, maintaining a renewal rate of over 90%.

That's not to say that we always achieve our goals, but we do communicate with the client any problems or issues that we see may be effecting performance. By keeping them in the loop and not only succeeding, but exceeding, client expectations, we've earned enough trust for the times when we don't hit our benchmarks.

SEOs that have made pie in the sky claims in order to sell you their services know they can't deliver on the results. SEOs that go by The Scotty Principle sell their services based on historical results, while ensuring that expectations are in line with reality.

SEOs don't need to oversell by making promises and increasing expectations beyond their ability to deliver. The SEOs that educate clients, provide a truthful assessment of expectations, then work aggressively to achieve results beyond those expectations, will find they have to worry less about getting their next client to replace the three that just left. Their focus can instead center on developing and maintaining a strong and profitable relationship with each client for years to come.

May 20, 2011

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.


Getting new customers is a lot harder I think than working hard to keep the ones that you have. I couldn't agree with you more that a lot of companies over promise and under deliver and that is a huge problem for our industry as that is what a lot pf people judge us by.

I couldn't agree more, so many seo companies over sell and over promise. WHY!! can't they see that there is no longevity in it.

You're right. A lot of people out there make tall claims. It is good to under promise and over deliver.

I've actually had to tell potential clients that my SEO company wasn't the best fit for them, specifically because they wanted guaranteed results and they wanted it fast! I'm not willing to compromise the reputation of my company to get a client. If someone approaches me about beginning SEO on their site (that launched two weeks ago) I tell them to spend a year really fine tuning their site and to call me back. Without that age factor, anything I do for them will be severely hindered.

Hi i really like the way you put that into perspective, very engaging . The big problem with many seo companies in my opinion isthat anyone reads a few guides and ranks there own site for long tail keyphrases and thinks there an expert and will promise the earth.
Whilst page one #1 is great its converting traffic that counts.

Overpromising is a big problem in our industry, especially from some of the bigger companies but most of them have been using spammy methods for years that I think now may have been seriously compromised by Google's latest update.

You are only grasping at straws Scotty you have no proof of this claim at all. If you cant make the claims like "guaranteed front page listings" then you not even in our ball park son. Catch up on your reading rather than dissing other SEOs. Bruce Clay, me and alot of other top SEO professionals i know promises front page listings why cant you? Wow, take this post down your embarrassing yourself.

Todd, Anybody can make the claim. I just haven't seen anyone make the claim without having enough small print to make the claim worthless. "First page lisings?" For what keywords? Who picks them? What search engine? For how long? Oh, look at the small print. First page rankings for some easy-to-achieve-low-conversion keywords. First page rankings on any "top tier" search engine such as Alta Vista and Meta Crawler! Not getting results? Contract says its your fault because you didn't implement every suggestion exactly as we dictated!

People making those kinds of claims give everyone in the industry a bad name. My point? I have yet to see an SEO guarantee that was worth anything at all.

Todd. You obviously have had a lot of experience in seo judging from your website. However, out of all the success stories you have, how many failures have you had where you just couldn't get a site to the top? No one can guarantee to get all sites that they work on to the top. You can make the guarantee, but can anyone deliver every time?

Is it not getting more difficult to sell seo services with all these frequent search engine update?

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