How to Guarantee Anything

by Dr. Peter J. Meyers July 21st, 2009 

We all want guarantees, especially when it comes to success. Unfortunately, for every company genuinely willing to stand behind their services there seems to be a dozen using guarantees to intentionally mislead prospective customers. In the SEO industry, guarantees too often seem to be just another form of snake oil, taking advantage of the ignorance of business owners and ultimately making the entire industry look bad.

This post is going to be a little different – I’m writing the rest of it from the perspective of someone who wants to use guarantees to trick customers. Sometimes, to combat black-hat tactics and educate our customers, we have to understand those tactics. I am in no way condoning these tactics. It’s not just that they’re unethical – the simple reality is that almost all of these false guarantees sacrifice long-term results (and often, time and money) for short-term gain. Ultimately, these are tricks – illusions that fool you just long enough for someone to collect their check.

How to Guarantee Rankings

Very few clients really understand the complexity of modern search – they want #1 rankings, and they want them now! So, why not give them what they want? Plenty of companies will guarantee #1 rankings on Google; here’s how they do it:

Exploit The Long Tail

Everyone is still talking about the “long tail”, and it’s easy to get customers excited about the idea (for added effect, let a copy of Chris Anderson’s book fall out of your briefcase). Your client may want to rank for “widgets”, but it’s easy to convince them that ranking for “affordable orange widgets” will produce more targeted traffic. Plus it’ll be a lot easier to reach #1 quickly. Never mind that the long tail really only works in large quantities – let the academics argue over that stuff.

For example, my own blog ranks #1 for “x-wing targeting computer”. Sure, it doesn’t actually produce any traffic, but it’s great for street cred with other geeks:

Google search result

Exploit Pay-Per-Click

If you’re lucky and your new client isn’t very savvy, they might not know that those results in the colored bar at the top aren’t really search results and are just the top bidding PPC advertisers. The top is the top, right? It’ll cost you a few bucks, but set up a campaign and bid what you need to just long enough to get them to the top. Plus, it’s the fastest way to get results:

Google paid result

Exploit Personalization

If your new customer is really clueless, why not log on to their computer and put Google SearchWiki to work? Click that up-arrow and “voila”, rankings magic. Plus, as an added bonus, it gets that pretty green arrow. For example, why should I rank #36 for “web usability” – what’s Jakob Nielsen got that I don’t have?

Google SearchWiki

Put on Your Black Hat

If all else fails, think black hat. The biggest downside of black-hat tactics is that you might get caught down the road. In the short-term, though, there are plenty of tricks that work for boosting ranking. By the time the client notices and their business suffers, you’ll be long gone anyway, so why not use whatever works?

How to Guarantee Click-through

Are your clients looking for help on paid search campaigns? Unfortunately, paid search has a pesky way of being pretty transparent, and those clients are probably going to want you to guarantee better click-through. No problem – there are plenty of ways to get people clicking on an ad, especially if you’re not paying for those clicks:

Use Trigger Words

Good PPC managers will block trigger words like “free”, because they know those words drive clicks but produce low-quality customers. If you’re just looking to drive click-through, though, those words are just what you need. Consider the following ad:

Fake Google ad

Not only are we giving something away for free, but we’re exploiting the fear that we SEOs are just greedily hording all our secrets. Why not give the people what they want?

Bid on What’s Hot

When your client sells something boring, like aluminum siding, click-throughs may be hard to come by. Don’t worry – just add a couple of campaigns on the side that bid on something sexier. Sure, those visitors will leave as soon as they realize your site has nothing to do with the ad, but at least you’ll get the click and drive up that CTR.

Bid Like A Mogul

Of course, the best way to drive clicks is just to bid like a maniac. It’s not your money, right? Give the client a couple of weeks of high click-through, and hopefully they pay your invoice before they get the bill from Google.

How to Guarantee Conversion

What if you’re unlucky enough to have a really smart client? They know that there’s more to life than just ranking and clicks – they want to see real results, and they measure things like conversion rate. Boosting conversion rate just means getting more visitors to buy something (anything); luckily, there are ways to accomplish this, too:

Focus on Popular Items

Find out what your client’s most popular items are and then feature those items on the home-page and anywhere you can. Cut out links to unpopular items (especially expensive ones) – those are just in the way. It’s easy to get people to buy more of what they already like, especially if you remove the noise. Never mind if those other products are more profitable or important to your client’s business model; they’re an obstacle to be removed.

Focus on Cheap Items

Similarly, it’s easier to sell cheap products than expensive ones (all else being equal), so why not focus on your client’s lowest-priced offerings? Make sure price is front-and-center and focus on it throughout the sales process. You’ll bring the bargain-hunters running.

Cut Prices & Shipping

Finally, if you can manage it, get your client to temporarily cut prices, offer coupons or, if they charge for shipping, providing shipping for free. Sure, it’ll cut into their margins a bit, but slashing prices is great for short-term conversion.

How to Guarantee Disaster

So, what’s the harm in any of these guarantees? Even if you aren’t using black-hat tactics that might get you penalized, all of these tricks focus on the short-term, usually at the cost of lasting success. Some of these tactics just aren’t sustainable (like over-bidding on PPC), some cut into your bottom line (cutting prices and featuring cheap products), and some are outright lies that produce no real results at all (like using PPC to mimic organic search ranking). All of these tactics also narrowly focus on just one measure of success, obsessing over metrics like ranking #1 while ignoring whether that ranking drives relevant traffic and, ultimately, sales, profits, and repeat customers. Know what to look out for, and don’t let the allure of easy guarantees fool you or your clients into a guaranteed disaster.

Dr. Peter J. Meyers

Dr. Peter J. Meyers ("Dr. Pete") is the President of User Effect, a cognitive psychologist, and an accidental entrepreneur. In his spare time, he raises a daughter and writes about procrastination at 30GO30.

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5 Responses to “How to Guarantee Anything”

  1. Guarantees from SEO are a guarantee it's a useless service! The service provides top placement for strawman keywords that drive little or no treffic. Literally build a page put your strawman term in the title and your good to go. I'd guarantee that too!

    There is a company touting their 4M placements… what they have is a M pages and industrial strength strawmnan SEO. It's a joke nobody but myself and Edward Lewis are talking about these guys. Ohhh but that would be "outing" ohhh…we don't want to put a scam out of business… oh no we can't have that! we can't do that! This industry will survive depite itself!

    Rant over … sorry Jeff feel free to delete! I just wanted to feel the relief of getting out there in a place it will actuually be read about!

  2. Jeffrey says:

    Agreed. Narrow-focus guarantees are almost always misleading and just lead to an unhappy client in the end. I make it a point to warn clients (and potential clients) to approach any SEO "guarantees" with extreme suspicion.

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