Why Pay For Performance SEO Is Really Too Good To Be True (Provided You’re Cautious Enough)

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Why Pay For Performance SEO Is Really Too Good To Be True (Provided You're Cautious Enough)

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The other day I dropped by a small tea stall near my house and one of my friends jokingly said to the tea guy: “hum paise tabhi denge agar chai achi hogi” (we’ll pay you only if you delight us with your tea). Now that’s a pretty natural instinct. We don’t like to spend money on things that give little to no value.

That’s the idea, around everything pay for performance. Like in any other industry, in SEO too you may come across many, many snake oil peddlers with a pay-for-performance tag, who often have punch lines such as get no. 1 on Google fast as hell but momentarily, mind, get thousands of low-quality and penalty inducing links for just $50 and the like. Such firms are most afraid of one question: how?

I want to make a case here that if you’re cautious enough, you can make the best of pay-for-performance SEO.

Keep in mind the dangerous hazards

SEO has a bad, bad name around the world and is, for many, a snake oil term – that’s one of the reasons why some of us are gradually shifting to inbound marketing, which encompasses SEO and other free traffic-driving factors such as content and social, too.

But let’s be honest: we all somewhere have tried to game search engines, if not today, maybe some years ago. Even if many of us have understood that gaming search engines is probably one of the stupidest things to do today and turned to white-hat practices, some bad apples are still (and always will be) around to rape unaware people off their hard-earned money.

So, here’re some practices that a bad pay for performance SEO firm may use to incur Google’s wrath get fast rankings:

  • Article syndication
  • Anchor text over optimization
  • Thin content
  • Content spinning
  • Keyword stuffing
  • Comment spamming
  • Directory submission
  • Fake social signals
  • Low and even porn quality backlinks
  • Excessive doorway pages
  • Cloaking
  • Excessive internal linking
  • And counting…

How you’re often duped

Remember, bad pay-for-performance SEO firms often define rankings as performance or results because they are easiest to manipulate for a while. The most important thing one needs to understand here that SEO is a slow process, one that can never, ever be done overnight.

Say, for example, a snake oil firm promises you top rankings for certain keywords in a month. The firm would quite probably sit idle for the first 15 days, but for the last 15 days it’d do a terribly aggressive SEO (using some of the above practices) so it can make an impressive month-end report. As soon as you see the report, you’re super excited. And incredibly happy. You make the payment immediately while thinking that the firm probably deserved more than that. But as the days pass by, you’re amazed to see your rankings disappearing like a shooting star. Like they never existed. That’s when you realize you’ve been duped.

Be cautions to make the most of the pay-for-performance label

Before hiring a pay-for-performance SEO firm, ask how it’ll help you achieve your objectives. Clearly define what you consider as results or performance. Don’t think about rankings only; think relevant traffic, profit and customers – because ultimately they matter. Clear that you don’t want any shortcuts to be taken, that you’re looking for only high-quality, relevant inbound links and that you’ll review all their work before making a payment. Moreover, think about all the factors that greatly impact SEO as well – factors such as content, authorship, social and user experience.


  • Crazy cheap price tags are often a trap.
  • SEO is not all about rankings. It’s much more than that. So ask for more.
  • High-quality SEO takes time. And consistent efforts.
  • If you’ve been duped by a black-hatter, most likely you were at fault, too.
  • Start investing in all the influencers to SEO.
  • Pay for performance is a great culture that can always prove to be a win-win if you’re careful.

P.S. How it’s good for us as SEOs

It’s a great position to be in (isn’t it?): telling clients that they need not pay us until we fulfil their expectations and get them what they want. This helps us:

  • Win clients easily – even the big ones. 😉
  • Focus better on what clients do give a shit about: results.
  • Increase client retention rate (of course, if we don’t go on building more and more sand castles by using shady practices).
  • Think about the bigger picture – giving clients the long-term SEO benefits so that they stay and spread good words about us.
  • Bag heavier pay cheques.

P.P.S. We need to be cautious, too

  • Educate clients and close in only on the deals that’re realistic.
  • Define in advance what performance metrics will be counted and how we’d get paid.
  • Always take a setup fees for on-page SEO.
  • Be aware of clients we can’t afford to take.

Agree? Disagree? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Ruchi Pardal

Ruchi Pardal

Ruchi Pardal is the Director of ResultFirst, a Digital Marketing Company with a global clientele. Serving in the digital domain for more than a decade,... Read Full Bio
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  • Emilio

    @Ruchi Pardal,

    This is seen almost all the time! Unfortunately it is companies such as these that have tainted the name “SEO”, they claim they can get a company on top of search engines with their so called “effective tactics”. In reality what is happening is that as you mention in your article companies get suckered in to their deceptive practices. Sure many companies want results and that is a given fact, however, the true results which a company needs to concentrate on are those results which will not get them penalized.

    We will see many companies or even individuals which will offer SEO services for a very low price and because of these individuals or companies the SEO industry will continue to be seen as the bad guy. In my opinion “pay for performance” will never work. I guess this is why many of these companies or individuals attempt to get as many uninformed clients as possible, so that they can taken for a ride of their lives.

    I totally agree “pay for performance” is a waste of time and most importantly one needs to be very careful when and if one considers this type of service.

    • Ruchi Pardal (post author)

      Emilio, pay for performance is not as bad as it sounds. It’s not a sham, as Forbes claims it to be. It all boils down to choosing the right firm and expecting realistic results.

      Pay for performance or not, one can always get duped. Anytime. Anywhere.

      That increases our responsibility. As SEOs, we all need to educate like crazy so clients know what’s right for them and their business. We need to help them understand the difference between SEO and spamming.

  • Yogendra Chavda

    True said Ruchi. Most of the SEO providers are working on giving results in quickest time possible which sometimes reaches the results also! But, Google just comes and wipes those sites from search engines due to heavy link building and low quality link building, Due to which many client’s lost trust on SEO providers which make them think thrice before giving their website to any SEO Provider.

    Also, those clients which doesn’t understand SEO at all and they just put their feet in those kind of TRAPs.

    So, basically both the parties need to understand the work and the outcome before beginning with the work.

  • Sumit Dass

    GREAT said ruchi!!

    I totally agree with your article
    Thanks for sharing 🙂

  • Ponseel

    The beginning of your article is in a way, and the end in an other. I’m in SEO since 1998 and for a long time I said to my customer : paid on results, or for performance, ok but when did we mesure the results ? Few years ago, some software could give us an monthly average of the keywords. Nice ! So why not having a paid for performance ? We always do the job whitout black hat technics.
    We try it with some of our customers with these principles :
    – it’s the customer who choose his keywords. No limit.
    – Every keyword had his own price who depends on the position
    – An invoice every month
    – The contract shall be one year.
    And we learned :
    – you must have enough keywords on target, the more you have, the better.
    – the longer the contract is , the better it is.
    – when we begin to have results, paid on performance is more expensive
    – have a good lawyer : when we have results, some customers stopped to pay us

  • Duran Drake

    Good article Ruchi,

    But i have a question about security about the SEO how much sure we could be in terms of getting a Good lead in terms of business rather than getting the spam or junk content . For Example it is been expected to get come order of website development , and not a RESUME of an Employee.

  • Raghuveer

    Really Interesting point Ruchi.. 🙂

    But we should also be very careful about clients who don’t understand the present scenario in SEO. They just need rankings in a short span. What should we do about these kind of stereotypes?

    • Ruchi Pardal (post author)

      Educate. 🙂

  • Mubi Rana

    Love That (Tea) Example in First Paragraph of Your Article 😀
    I’m Little Bit Confuse with your opinion about “Anchor text over optimization” How it is bad for Seo ?
    I mean to say how much anchor text is fine on one page ?

    • Khem Raj

      @Mubi Rana

      There is no limit for how much. As per my understanding, @Ruchi wants to say that you should have a balanced backlink portfolio

      i.e. if you have 100,000 links so it should not be like 50,000 are developed for just one or two anchor texts and 50,000 links are developed for various other anchor text.

      You can divide your links portfolio as follows:

      70% Do-follow
      30% No Follow
      and then
      you should equally distribute your link portfolio among various anchor texts, instead of using just one, two or three.

    • Chris

      it means….

      don’t have all anchor text as the same keywords and mix it up with related keywords and other random words such as…

      click here
      visit here
      this site

      and so on…

      If you are selling a pay per performance model then make sure you have a profit share agreement – not just a standard fee, especially if you are marketing high ROI products/services.

      The clients need to meet us halfway also.

      Plus, get something in writing/contractural.


  • Csilla Incze

    Very straight to the point article, Ruchi! I just wanted to share that what I have saw in terms of SEO agencies promising rankings to clients, is that they promise such rankings for keywords for which the company is laready ranking high or which have very-very low monthly local searches. And indeed what we, honest SEOs can do is to educate clients.

  • sachin bhutani

    Performance based model is what i have learned from Ruchi and i know you guys try almost all possible and genuine activities to achieve top ranking for your clients and i appreciate your hard work. Best of luck…