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Pay for Performance SEO vs. Monthly SEO Services

SEO is hard.

It can be difficult for seasoned vets, much less some noob hoping to get to Page One on the cheap. SEO takes time. It takes knowledge and a strategy in order to make it to the top.

But here’s where it gets really difficult: choosing the right SEO service.

Beyond the tactics used, the pricing structure of SEO is about as consistent as a contradiction. You can pay by the hour, by the project, monthly or based on results.

Most people pay monthly for SEO services, but a growing number of companies offer customers the ability to pay AFTER their rankings go up.

What Is Pay for Performance SEO?

Pay for performance SEO is exactly how it sounds: you pay for results. If you don’t see an increase in rankings, you don’t pay.

This new pricing model can be a bit intimidating for those in the SEO industry, particularly companies that do not have the capability to scale. The value proposition for consumers is huge, but many an SEO will be quick to tell you:

  • Pay for performance is BS
  • Pay for performance is too good to be true
  • Pay for performance is black hat

You get the point.

Most of the people yelling these battle cries (not surprisingly) offer SEO services that are in direct competition to the model they are speaking out against. Is that to say that one beats out the other? Not entirely.

How Pay for Performance SEO Really Works

Do you know what Moz,, Raven Tools, and Majestic SEO all have in common?

No, they’re not part of a clandestine SEO power circle laughing maniacally in smoke-filled backrooms, cigars in hand, plotting their next Google takeover.

Still can’t figure it out? I’ll give you a hint: data.

They build tools to take search data (keyword traffic, rankings, and fluctuations in the SERPs) and turn it into actionable insights for their customers. By gathering this data over time they are able to make educated inferences into how Google ranks web pages. Do they have a blueprint to Google’s algo? Of course not. Do they have enough data to recognize patterns and signals that contribute to rankings? Without a doubt.

Does your SEO company do that? Probably not.

What Google, Moz, Ahrefs and Raven Tools have in common with real PFP companies — analyzing SERPS and logging data.

As much as SEO is an art, effective pay for performance SEO is data-driven. Google updates its algorithm at least once per day. It’s in constant flux. While pay for performance SEO might not make much sense to an independent consultant or small firm, a company who has been doing SEO for years can always approach things differently.

Here’s how to spot the real PFP companies from fake ones.

  • They have years of data and experience. Experience is critical, but data even more so. Measuring the correlation between SEO activities and rankings helps build processes that earn higher rankings. In turn, those processes create a more efficient way of getting results.
  • They have worked with hundreds of customers. A reputable pay for performance SEO provider typically has been in the industry for years and served hundreds, if not thousands of customers. No SEO tool or blog article can ever give you insights like these.

Pay for Performance SEO: Cleaning Up The Misconceptions

#1 – Pay for performance SEO is blackhat.

Invariably, the most common complaint you hear against pay for performance SEO is that rankings are manipulated using shady tactics so the client can be billed.

Are there performance-based companies that will blackhat your rankings and take your money? Absolutely. Are there SEO companies that will charge you every month and still not get you any rankings? You bet.

The pricing model is not the culprit. This is a problem that exists in the SEO industry, just as every industry has its own bad apples. I have a friend that is the most generous person I’ve ever met. Want to know what he does for a living? He sells cars. Generosity is not the the first thing that comes to mind when you’re talking about someone who sells cars now, is it?

#2 – Performance-based companies guarantee rankings.

This has been stated a million times on the internet, but for the sake of consistency I will repeat it one more time: never trust a company that guarantees rankings in Google.

However, this should not be confused with a guarantee that you will not pay unless your rankings increase. If you are using a performance-based service, you absolutely should have a guarantee that you won’t be billed unless your rankings go up!

#3 – Your rankings won’t last.

This couldn’t be further from the truth. Success compounds. When you do things right, your site goes up in authority, rankings follow, and so does traffic. Once you rank for a keyword, it’s much easier to sustain those rankings. The real battle is getting there.

Pay for performance companies have a vested interest in maintaining your rankings because they can keep getting paid. If your rankings drop, you pay less or end up paying nothing at all.

To make it even easier to compare, we made an infographic!

Pay For Performance vs Traditional SEO

So Is Pay For Performance SEO Better?

It depends. For most small businesses or first time SEO investors, performance-based SEO can make a lot of sense. Even more so if you are on a shoestring budget.

On the same token, the scope of work performed under pay for performance SEO is very controlled for obvious reasons — we have to balance getting results for clients and ensuring profitability for the company. Essentially, the “business risk” is transferred from you (as a customer) to us (as your SEO company).

Now, if you can afford to invest thousands of dollars into SEO per month, it makes much more sense to invest in inbound marketing. When you pay upfront and sign a contract this allows the agency you choose to allocate time and resources to give your campaign success. More times than not you’ll also get help with content and social media when taking this route.

That being said, if you are a local business on a shoestring budget, a reputable pay for performance SEO company can help you see ROI from organic search without you having to pay upfront.

Or you can just pay a la carte for social media and blog management. 🙂

Pay for Performance SEO Is Not For Everyone

You might find this one surprising: there is no guarantee we will work with you. That is not meant to sound harsh. We’re very direct about who we can help and who we choose to work with. While we do work with businesses that target a national audience, our core focus is local small business owners. We’ve found this to be the best fit because we have great success with local rankings. And it works for our customers because most small business owners would rather see results first.

Would you rather pay monthly or for results?

Marketing jack-of-all-trades, ascendant wordsmith, and self-proclaimed World’s Best Dog Dad. I write about SEO, social media and content marketing.