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Performance-Based #SEO: Is it Really Risk Free?

The article focuses on performance-based SEO. It also includes an answer to the question "Why companies promote pay for performance SEO?"

performance-based SEO

Controversies regarding SEO are probably as dated as the methodology itself, and performance-based SEO couldn’t really make its place as an exception, not completely at least.

The problem is many agencies who offer performance-based SEO are more concerned about optimizing their own profit than focusing on the businesses of their clients. Also, SEO has drastically changed in the last few years, and many companies still resort to ancient SEO practices that are no longer appreciated by search algorithms.

Moreover, we always have a few bad apples in the bucket!

Why Do Agencies Promote Performance-Based SEO in the First Place?

The reason is actually quite simple. Choosing a performance-based SEO plan is relatively easy to sell, as prospects view it as a safe option to gain enhanced search placement.

SEO companies, capitalizing on this inherent feeling, market PFP SEO as a “risk free” plan, solidifying that trust. The whole equation works in the favor of SEO companies and keeps their bookkeepers busy.

So, is Performance-Based SEO Really “Risk Free”?

No, performance-based SEO is not risk free, at least not if you fall for one of the many pseudo-SEO experts out there looking to lure in new clients. Spam-driven SEO companies will go to any length to get you to sign on that dotted line, but their promises are seldom kept. However, if you engage a competent SEO firm that follows ethical SEO practices, the decision is almost certain to work wonders for your online reach.

Distinguishing the Good from Bad

A Few Not-So-Ethical Tactics Employed by Phony SEOs

black hat seo

Fruitless Keywords

To keep the money meter rolling, some spam-driven SEOs target exceedingly long-tail keywords. Such keywords have much lower search volumes compared to relevant ones. Therefore, it is easier for SEOs to improve your website’s ranking on them – but doesn’t actually bring you in any business.

Hidden Costs

Besides changing a set-up fee (which in itself is an investment, though nominal), many SEO companies charge a maintenance fee” to uphold their efforts, despite failing to produce any noticeable results. If their efforts aren’t paying off, what’s the point in upholding them anyway? Beware!

“Black Hat” Practices

Some SEO companies resort to unethical optimization techniques in order deliver “results” and bill clients. The list includes but is not limited to:

  • Content spinning
  • Keyword stuffing
  • Comment spamming
  • Irrelevant directory submissions
  • Creating countless poor quality back links

All these practices clearly violate Google’s Search Quality Guidelines. Though the results delivered by such tactics may seem fine on the surface, under the hood they can cause complete, absolute, and utter chaos.

Short-Lived Improvements: A Clear Wake-up Call!

If the results delivered by your SEO disappear as soon as they arrive on a regular basis, it is a clear sign that something, somewhere is just not quite right.

When you start optimizing a website, the initial efforts usually do deliver some improvements in its rankings. If, however, the improvements are a result of black hat techniques, these results will quickly fall off. If this becomes a trend, it is time you get into the details of what is happening in your SEO campaign and examine all activity reports with a fine tooth comb.

Many clients who are caught unaware of the atrocities being carried out on their website not only end up losing their SEO investment with little to no returns, but also face penalties by search engines for resorting to unethical means to manipulate search ranking.

Does that Mean All Performance-Based SEO Plans are a Sham?

No. Agreeing to the notion will be similar to saying that all hand tools are bad because they injure people. Yes, some people do get injured while using hand tools, but this doesn’t imply that the problem lies with the tools. Probably the user should have known better how to handle them. The case is similar with performance-based SEO.

Being closely involved in the search industry for a better part of my professional voyage, I can confidently say (and I am not the only one) that a lot of SEO companies who offer performance-based service are not focused on delivering performance. Their only objective is to earn as much money as possible.

This cannot be said about every company out there, obviously, but does seem to be the majority.

How to Tell if Your SEO is Scamming You

SEO is a gradual process and may take a few months to start producing results. Therefore, any company who promises you overnight success, cannot actually deliver on its claims, and hence, is most likely trying to take you for a ride.

In addition, competent SEO agencies only offer performance-based SEO to websites that have the potential to achieve enhanced rankings within 2-3 months. To project a website’s receptiveness to SEO tactics, agencies use a number of qualifying parameters, such as:

  • No penalties in the past from any search engine
  • Domain age of at least 3-4 years
  • 3+ page rank
  • Refined website structure
  • Keyword rich content
  • Achievable projections (can’t bring a keyword from 1000 position to page one in 3 months!)

If you are not qualifying on any of the above and are still being offered PFP SEO by an agency, you should know what they have in store for you.

PFP SEO Can Be a “Risk Free” Proposition, Believe it or Not!

First of all, if you are planning to employ SEO, be prepared to pay a setup fee if you wish to work with an agency that actually plans for the long-term success of your business. Simply put, the set-up fee is charged by SEOs to get the ball rolling.


Competent SEO companies actually invest countless man-hours to prepare the stage for your SEO campaign; the setup fee is charged to cover that work which includes tons of research and much more. If you are asked for a setup fee, it is fair to request agency a comprehensive plan of how the investment will be used for your campaign.

In fact, companies who agree to kick off your campaign without a setup fee are usually the ones who won’t do much afterwards.

Now, the “risk” element is the money you pay after the initiation of your SEO campaign. Any serious company aiming to forge lasting ties with clients will definitely ensure there is actually no risk involved. In fact, some agencies even promise to refund the setup fee if they are unable to deliver as per the projections defined in the contract within a timeline. That is how confident SEOs are when they know what they are doing is right.

In a nutshell, if you choose a competent agency, performance-based SEO is indeed a risk free option.

Active Participation: Essential for SEO Success

Any business that hires a SEO to increase online exposure needs to actively participate in their campaign. The responsibility to oversee the proceedings may lie with your company’s online marketing manager, communications manager, or any other authority. Regardless, it is important to designate someone with a fair amount of SEO knowledge to closely monitor all the activities and ensure that every step is being taken as per the plan.

Areas of Focus

  • Scope: Make sure their initiatives are aimed beyond improving the search placement of your website. SEO can do much more.
  • Keywords: You can’t catch a fish if you aim for the moon! Make sure they target the most relevant keywords in order to attract relevant traffic.
  • Tactics: Make sure the agency you select doesn’t resort to dated or unethical SEO practices, such as article syndication, link exchange, use of invisible text, etc.
  • Content: The quality of content used in your campaign is one of result-driven factors. Review every piece of content and ensure that it shares usable information.
  • ROI: Though the reports shared by your SEO will give you a fair idea about your website rankings and traffic, you need to determine the actual impact of the results on your overall business.


Risk, an integral element of every conceivable profit-making entity, almost ceases to exist when it becomes performance-based, but only if you employ a competent agency who values your business and is committed in helping you achieve your goals. Remember, your active participation is pivotal for continued success of your SEO campaign.

What’s your take on performance-based SEO? Share your views in the comments section.


Image Credits

Featured Image: vetkit via Shutterstock
Post Image #1: Laschon Maximilian via Shutterstock
Post Image #2: Edhar via Shutterstock

Category SEO
Performance-Based #SEO: Is it Really Risk Free?

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