1. SEJ
  2.  ⋅ 
  3. SEO

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

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

image credit: ShutterStock

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.

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

Subscribe To Our Newsletter.

Conquer your day with daily search marketing news.