Should SEOs Guarantee Their Work?

Should SEOs Guarantee Their Work?
Key 'Takeaways' From This Post
  • What do you think? Should SEOs guarantee their work?
  • According to Google, no one can guarantee #1 ranking on Google
  • 29% of SEOs say that work should be guaranteed “under some circumstances”

It’s an age-old question: Should SEOs guarantee the work they do for a client? With so many variables impacting search engine results (like Google algorithm updates, quality content, site structure, UX issues, coding, backlinks, how a website currently ranks, etc.), most SEOs would probably agree that there are just too many moving parts to guarantee search results.

Google has even come out publicly discouraging businesses from hiring SEO agencies that guarantee placement on Google.

“No one can guarantee a #1 ranking on Google. Beware of SEOs that claim to guarantee rankings, allege a ‘special relationship’ with Google, or advertise a ‘priority submit’ to Google. There is no priority submit for Google. In fact, the only way to submit a site to Google directly is through our Add URL page or by submitting a Sitemap and you can do this yourself at no cost whatsoever.”

However, if you dig a little deeper, there are some circumstances where SEOs feel they can guarantee certain results.

In a recent poll, we asked BrightLocal customers to answer the question “Should SEOs Guarantee Their Work?” A total of 699 participants took part in this poll. Here are the results!

The Make-Up of Poll Respondents

The respondents to this poll were made up of:

  • Digital Marketing Agencies
  • Marketing Freelancers
  • Web Designers
  • Small Businesses
  • In-House Digital Marketers
What type of business are you?

What type of business are you?

(Please note that out of the total number of respondents, only 11% answered the question “What Type of Business Are You?”)

This mix of respondents is interesting:

  • 46% were Small Businesses
  • 36% were Digital Marketing Agencies
  • 56% were in the digital marketing profession

At first glance, you would think that most people that responded were Small Business owners/employees, but when you look at the digital marketing profession as a whole, the majority of respondents were “in the SEO industry” in some fashion, whether they were freelancers, web designers or in-house digital marketers who work inside a company working on their digital marketing efforts.

So here comes the big question…

Should SEOs Guarantee Their Work?

Should SEOs Guarantee Their Work?

Should SEOs Guarantee Their Work?

When asked this question:

  • 19% said Yes
  • 52% answered No
  • 29% responded that work should be guaranteed “under some circumstances.”

Should SEOs Guarantee Their Work?

The 52% that said SEO work should not be guaranteed was not a shocker. However, when you look at SEO services from a client’s perspective, your thinking may change. After all, to a client SEO is a “mysterious” word that digital marketing agencies throw around, but they see little tangible proof or actions taken to help their site rank higher on the search engines – with the goal of getting more business. This is mostly due to a lot of “behind-the-scenes” work that SEO professionals do to help their clients battle search rankings. (There are literally hundreds of tactics and strategies that make up the “whole” that is SEO.)

Additionally, our culture is very guarantee oriented. People love guarantees and many consumers expect a guarantee when they purchase a product or service. To them, why should SEO (or any digital marketing campaign) be any different?

So if you were a client, would you pay someone potentially thousands of dollars each month for an unknown? Something where there is really no promise of results? No guarantees for performance?

This leads to the 29% of respondents who said that SEO work should be guaranteed under some circumstances. We asked these people to dig a little deeper into this answer, and the responses we received may surprise you. They may also make you think a little differently about how you approach your clients when selling SEO services.

Under What Circumstances Should an SEO Guarantee Their Work?

What we found is that there were specific “categories” of answers from the people who thought that SEOs should guarantee their work “under some circumstances.” So what are the situations where SEOs should guarantee their services?

Task-Oriented Guarantees

As an SEO, there are certain “tasks” that you can do to help increase the odds of a site ranking higher on the search engines. In fact, many software tools will literally analyze a client’s site and give you a step-by-step list of exactly what tasks/steps you should do – based on best practices – to help your client rank higher.

So if you have a task-oriented agreement with a client, then SEOs were inclined to offer a guarantee. Here are some of the responses we received:

“If an SEO controls all factors associated with a task, the work should be guaranteed. For example, if a site has new location pages and needs an updated XML sitemap, an SEO should guarantee that the XML sitemap will be updated with the new URLs by a certain date.”

“SEOs should say what they will do [the tasks they will perform], but results are another story.”

“You should guarantee what you will do and track what has been done, but you should not guarantee ranking results.”

“You should guarantee if it’s based on completing work.”

“You can guarantee improvements of best practices. You can’t guarantee certain rank positions.”

“You should show proof that you did the work you said you would do for the client.”

“An SEO should be able to prove ‘work done.’ Too many times the client receives a report with some numbers, but the digital marketing firm never proves (or shows) that they actually did anything.”

“You can guarantee activity completed, correction of errors in a timely manner, reporting regularly, etc.”

“Guarantee for services provided, not results expected.”

“Only in regard to known variables, such as resolving duplicate page issues with GMB or other well understood tasks. Guaranteeing ranking is not advisable.”

“They should guarantee specific deliveries, and results of those deliveries, just not specific changes to search rankings.”

“You should guarantee that your will add x listings/month, etc. but not guarantee rankings or increase in customer business as this not solely under your control.”

“Guarantee deliverable items such as links, citations, etc. Not actual ranking results.”

“You can guarantee quantifiable tasks, such as “I will claim your Google My Business listing.”

“Guarantee the work done, but not the results.”

“I can guarantee the work and technical fixes I make on the site.”

ROI and KPIs

ROI and KPIs are important for measuring the success of any digital marketing campaign. Here were the thoughts our participants had with regards to guaranteeing results.

“You can guarantee if there is a clear and specific SEO KPI.”

“You should guarantee leads and positive ROI, not specific rankings.”

“When you have promised a client a certain level of results in return for a fee. Then, if you don’t achieve what the client was led to believe, you should work free or return some/all money paid.”

“When the site owner is guaranteeing conversions.”

“We make guarantees on deliverables and deadlines. We also make guarantees on how much we can affect revenue KPI’s. We, of course, won’t ever guarantee a specific placement or ranking position.”

“There are certain KPI’s that you can meet and rankings should be in a positive trending direction but to meet exact goals of growth should not be expected.”

Low Competitive Keywords

 It’s much easier to rank a page for low search volume keywords or keywords with less competition. Now ranking for these keywords often don’t lead to many sales because the search phrase isn’t searched for very frequently. However, some people polled felt you can guarantee results that pertain to low competitive and long-tail keywords.

“You should guarantee when it’s a low competition keyword and the client has a huge budget.”

“Simple long-tail keywords for which you absolutely should be able to rank for.”

“Guarantee known, easy long-tail keywords.”

“Never guarantee hard competitive keywords.”

“Some markets and keywords are too competitive for a guarantee.”

Rankings – With Caveats

Guaranteeing that a site will rank for a specific keyword – or even on page one of Google in general – is something even Google discourages. But we did find that some participants felt that you could guarantee some elements of rankings.

“The only time it should be guaranteed is that the rankings will be better than they currently are.”

“An SEO should guarantee that there will be movement to better search engine rankings over time, but not guarantee when that will happen.”

“Any SEO should be able to get improvement, but guaranteeing a certain ranking or set number is next to impossible.”

“Local SEO should be easy to prove.”

“Proof of a starting point with the client and then reports on how they are showing up as you do your SEO work. Your online presence is not an exact science but if you are charging people hundreds or even thousands of dollars each month you better be able to show them something!”

“If the agency is  in control of aspects of the client’s site, such as content and offers, then an SEO has more control on how to optimize for rankings.”

“You should guarantee an improvement in their visibility based upon where they are now.”

“In my business, I don’t take on a client that I am not certain that I can make successful. Success can be guaranteed with the client’s cooperation. What cannot be guaranteed is the time frame for success. A firm should keep at it until success is reached.”

“You can guarantee if you are familiar enough with a vertical and the local competition. However, I would always include a big asterisk saying that SEOs can never really guarantee results.”

“SEOs should guarantee that a client will see improvements in traffic, leads and exposure online with the caveat that it will take time. Anything more specific than that is a guess and should not be guaranteed.”

“An SEO could offer a 90-day trial period. If the client does not get first page placement, then there is no charge. But there is absolutely no way SEOs can guarantee a specific position.”


I have used BrightLocal on many projects, they are very thorough and save me a huge amount of time

Chris Thomas Australia

Citations/Online Directories

Claiming a client’s Citations/Online Directories is a measurable part of SEO. Getting a business listed on online directories and citation sites has proven to be helpful in rankings. Some of the participants in our poll felt that guarantees could be made in this area of SEO.

“Guarantee listings on major citation sites (Yelp, Google, Merchant Circle, etc.) to get their name on out there, but no guarantee of specific placements in general search listings.”

“As an SEO, I can guarantee visibility with citation building. I can guarantee deliverables. However, I cannot guarantee traffic, rankings or conversions.”

“SEOs can guarantee that a specific number of citations will be built.”

“You can guarantee citation listings — that’s about it. SEOs can’t guarantee the number or sessions or even conversions.”

“Guarantee uniform information across most online marketing directories.”

What Are Your Thoughts?

What do you think about SEOs guaranteeing their work? Do you agree with what some of our poll participants said? Are there certain areas of SEO you can/should guarantee? If so, what are they? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

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16 thoughts on “Should SEOs Guarantee Their Work?”

  1. Any firm can choose the direction they want to go. For my firm, we do not and will not provide a performance guarantee. We focus on providing great results period. My question to the guarantee question is, “Does your doctor guarantee you will get better when you are sick? Does your lawyer guarantee that she will win your case at trial?” So you don’t use doctors and lawyers then? If you will use a doctor and a lawyer without a guarantee when your life and liberty are at risk, why will you not use a marketing firm without a guarantee?

  2. Most interesting. I think a related, and very important, question is whether an SEO or other digital marketing campaign should go ahead in the first place. In most cases it’s possible to research and crunch the numbers to assess if a realistic ROI is possible. If a decent return isn’t likely, I think it’s the duty of a digital marketing professional to advise the client to save their money or spend it on a different marketing tactic that will get a solid ROI. Too often I hear from business owners who have paid for marketing where no-one had even checked the numbers, and they were oblivious to the fact that it was never going to make them money. With proper research, a suitably qualified results guarantee is entirely appropriate I think.

    1. Geoff…

      That’s a great point! You should only sell clients digital marketing services that a client NEEDS. If their online directories are all correct with their NAP (Name, Address and Phone Number) and the listings are optimized, don’t sell them Citation Building. If they’re already ranking for keywords in their local market, don’t sell them SEO.


  3. For local, any good SEO company should be able to guarantee at least a page 1 of Google ranking.

    The key to point out to any potential client is, not for each and every keyword they want and, “with time”.

    With time and a good consistent monthly SEO plan and strategy, this CAN be accomplished.

    If a company can’t at least guarantee that, they need to get out of the SEO business!

    1. Hi, Rick…

      One thing to remember is that it goes against Google’s policies to guarantee ANY rankings on Google. (Someone can actually report you to Google.) A lot also depends on how large the city is and the competition. Only a few spots are available on page one. Thanks for your feedback.


  4. There are certainly few aspects in SEO which can/should bring guaranteed improvement and local citation building being one of them.
    Getting business listed on relevant and reputed directories has proven very effective for my local SEO clients.

  5. I love this debate and feel like it’s starting to shift to some middle ground where it makes more sense.

    To pull any “mystery” out of hiring, you should think of an SEO like a personal trainer for your website. If I want to lose 30 pounds and I want a personal trainer to help, I expect they can guarantee they will show up to work and with the right amount of diet and exercise I can get some sort of weight loss guarantee.

    With SEO tasks I expect my website to do better toward my goals. I’m sure some general improvement guarantees are also legit, but without real definition what is that worth? At some level aren’t these “guarantees” just called doing your job?

  6. I like the idea of guaranteeing KPI’s and ROI’s.

    I have seen most businesses increase their conversions by concentrating on the basics and being open to design changes. So by concentrating your efforts where you and the client want to see change is a great strategy.

    Unfortunately, SEO is a moving target but by concentrating on certain aspects I believe conservative guarantees can be given on ROI’s and KPI’s. Clients do need to understand that it all doesn’t come in a month its like a fine wine the longer you work on it the better it gets.

  7. Unless you are Google there is no way you can guarantee search returns or conversions. Indexing and algorithm changes are not revealed even if you are a beta tester, like myself (Certified Google Partner). There are no shortcuts or magic bullets, and it is never just one thing. Google watches for SEO trends performed by the general public and counters them if they don’t like what they see. They do this many times a month so any good hack becomes a dead hack very quickly. Anyone who does guarantee is doing it at their own peril. If you know what you are doing you will have the traffic so you won’t have to guarantee anything. It is hard work, dedication and education that separates the top 2% from the rest in any endeavor.

  8. Guaranteeing that the work will be done is one thing. Every legit digital agency can and should include that level of guarantee. Some things go off timetable so the month to month work schedule should be flexible. But no one can guarantee ranking results-unless of course you own Google and can control its algo. Since none of us own Google, I strongly believe it is unethical to make that guarantee to a customer. Only snake oil sales people make that guarantee. And the ones that I know about use keyword phrases that have zero user intent-they may get ranking but they get little if any web traffic and conversions, sticking the client with a large bill each month and no ROI.

    1. Hi, Edward…Thanks for your feedback. Yes, user intent makes all the difference. If you’re trying to rank for a keyword phrase that gets few searches or are too general, then you won’t get conversions.

      — Sherry

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