Lots of SEO companies promise results. We get that. However, it might be worth remembering the old saying ‘‘if it’s too good to be true..etc’, then it probably is.

We know it’s important to rank highly for your main keyphrases. That’s how SEO works.

However, the next time you get into a conversation with an SEO agency and they roll out guaranteed results or you only pay on results then please try to remember what you’ve read here. It could well save you thousands of dollars.

Search engine optimisation can be a highly effective way of growing your business, but not if you fall foul of the way that Google interprets what you have done.

SEO is  complicated. But, when done right it produces fantastic results. But like most things in life, there are very few shortcuts that produce long term benefits.

Pay On Performance SEO

What Is Pay For Performance SEO?

Performance based SEO or as it is more oftenly worded ‘pay on results SEO’, is a model that allows you to pay once you see ‘certain results.’

Service providers that offer this generally place focus on first-page keyword rankings.

In theory this may sound great. Especially if you are one of the many business owners that have been burned by SEO agencies in the past.

Only parting with your cash on the basis that specific ranking targets have been reached sounds like utopia. You won’t ever have to pay for poor results again, right? However, there is a specific risk attached to this model, which can often affect your future SEO standings.

Pay For Performance SEO Model

To be totally fair, not all pay for performance based SEO agencies utilise tactics that will attempt to game Google. There will be agencies out there that are aligned to your business goals. The challenge however is finding them.

Sadly, the main issue with performance based agencies is the way the pay structure forces attention on promoting quick results. In many cases these results give little to  no thought to the sustainability or indeed potential repercussions of the strategy.

Rapid SEO gains can have an effect of creating issues down the line. Often these gains are at risk as Google learns the impact of what work has transpired. In some cases these methods can also have a detrimental effect on future search engine positions. 

The ultimate Google sanction is of course to implement a manual penalty. Making it much tougher and in some cases impossible for your site to climb back up the rankings.

The take-away here is that the performance pricing model often raises more questions than answers.

Responsible SEO Takes Time

Generally speaking, a proper SEO campaign takes time to get off the ground. 

Yes, gains can be made in the shorter term; however, most of the serious benefits tend to start later in the campaign. It is not uncommon for these gains to start to come into effect between say 4 months and 12 months.

We understand the pressure that some business owners face. With quick results being an attractive option. Falling into a performance based SEO sales pitch can seem very attractive. Especially if you have been burned by SEO agencies before.

But, think about it. 

What methods could a pay on results type agency adopt to get you ranking in super-fast time?

It could be that they are using what is known as ‘Black Hat’ tactics.

These tactics might well include; keyword spamming, over-optimising content, PBN’s or spun AI based content. Or it could even be as crude as bulk buying of back-links.

These methods can produce almost instantaneous results. 

There is a huge caveat here though!

These ranking bumps are then used to ensure the pay for performance (PFP) agency gets paid.

They have achieved their objective, so why wouldn’t they want payment? It’s only fair, right?

Sadly, these strategies are pretty much guaranteed to be spotted by Google’s algorithm, leading to some form of Google penalty.

The penalties that Google can roll out can range from an immediate drop in ranking positions for the keywords you are targeting, to a complete de-indexation of your website. When this happens it is the same effect as having your phone cut off. 

Imagine the impact of that from a business perspective!

You might think these are a bit strong and we are just trying to sell our version of SEO. The truth is, we worry about the impact that these pay on results methods have on unsuspecting businesses.

Everything we (over 20 years of experience) know about SEO confirms that responsible SEO takes time. People who tell you otherwise are the ones that are gambling with your website and potentially risking your standing in Google.

Ultimately, they are gambling with the future success of your business.

The next time you are wondering ‘if pay on results SEO is effective?’, then remember this post.

Strategies Used In Pay For Performance SEO

This is very often where pay on results type SEO strategies tend to fall down.

The reality is that the agency are leveraging their revenue based on delivering results in the fastest way possible. This in itself puts pressure on the adherence of search engine best practice. 

What we are stressing here is that you should be aware of the potential consequences and make a rational decision around the promise of quick results.

#1 Keyword Stuffing

An old strategy that just never seems to go away is one of keyword stuffing.

Here the pay on results SEO agency will insert keywords that aren’t thematically related to the page. 

It’s extremely likely that you will have witnessed this type of strategy on sites around the web.

Here's An Example:

“Do you want double glazing windows? Our double glazing windows are the best in the industry. We build our double glazing windows on site. For double glazing windows that are custom built, contact us at doubleglazingwindows@example.com”

#2 Vanity Based Or Zero Searched Keywords

Many pay on results SEO’s will adopt a strategy that includes the sole focus on vanity keywords. These are search terms that are extremely low competition, and even when they rank will fail to deliver tangible search traffic.

Most of the time the agency will target long tail keywords, without focusing on the shorter term variations. This means that your website will fail to be found by any real volume of searchers.

Rankings can be achieved relatively quickly, allowing the agency to ‘demonstrate’ their skill set.

Don’t get us wrong, targeting these zero search keywords is an effective strategy, but only when it is combined with a comprehensive SEO campaign. One that also targets search terms that will deliver both traffic and indeed conversion opportunities.

Otherwise all you will have is inflated keyword rankings without a comparable traffic jump.

It doesn’t take a genius to see that this passage of content isn’t natural. What’s more, GoogleBot can spot it a mile off!

#3 Abusive Link Building & PBNs

Link building is an SEO strategy that drives results. Both positive and negative.

You see, a healthy link building strategy will include naturally sourced links of all different types and qualities. However, these take time and patience to acquire, not something that the pay on results SEO’s have in abundance.

To fast track your results the SEO agency will very often set about purchasing links.This in itself is a big no no for Google. In fact, it’s so bad that they publish information around it in their best practices guides. 

You can read more about this and indeed the many other things that some agencies carry out here – https://developers.google.com/search/docs/essentials/spam-policies

Another contentious issue revolves around the use of private blog networks (PBN’s). These more often than not consist of expired websites that have the goal of sending links back to their own websites.

Although they are expired, or dead. These websites may well have accrued domain authority and the ability to still share link equity. 

Pay on results SEO agencies like these websites as they can shortcut the proper link building process, therefore producing almost instantaneous results.

However, since the back end of 2014 Google has been on the hunt for these blog networks. The search giant took out a large number of PBN’s which resulted in the de-indexation of thousands of participants. 

That said, PBN’s are still widely used today. The key takeaway is that you need to be aware that it isn’t a question of ‘if Google will find them’, ‘but when Google will find them’.

Getting caught adopting this practice will almost certainly devalue your site from the front page of search. In many cases it also results in your site being completely de-indexed.’

#4 Introduction Of Long Term Contracts

Once the pay on results agency have ‘demonstrated’ deliverability they will very often be looking to lock your business into a long term contract. After all, why not, they have produced the goods. Haven’t they?

Sadly, what tends to happen here is that they position themselves as the experts and commit you to a 12 month contract. 

Usually, the short-term results that they have achieved start to fade. They don’t have the skill-set, understanding, or indeed the motivation to continue with a proper SEO strategy.  

A combination of the 3 previously mentioned strategies will ensure that you struggle to realise any form of real return on your investment.

They will be saying things like ‘give it a bit more time’, ‘the results will come back’, ‘it takes time for Google to go to the next level’, etc. All these things are designed to keep you paying for longer.

Sadly, you are now starting to lose business to your competitors.

What usually happens is that you are forced to look for ways out of the contract. Often fending off conversations from reliable service providers for a few months, while your current agency ekes out more money from your bank account.

Steering Clear of Bad Practice SEO

Despite the presentation of some of the risks associated with these shady SEO practices there are still numerous business owners that fall for their ‘sales-pitch’.

It’s easy to understand why. You’ve tried SEO before with an agency or sometimes multiple agencies and didn’t get the results you thought would come. 

The actions or non-actions of these agencies make it ‘necessary’ for you to consider a different strategy for your business.

You dive in, happy that you have no initial outlay and the pressure of results are firmly locked onto the performance based SEO supplier.

To help demonstrate the issues that can be faced, look at the chart below. A previous prospect of ours took the decision to work with one of these performance based agencies. They enjoyed quick growth initially; however, a Google update (algorithm) picked up on the bad practices used and their rankings then dropped to the lowest they had in quite some time.

Pay For Performance SEO

Likely the quick wins were a sign that the pay on results SEO agency could deliver; however, ultimately this particular business felt the ire of Google and lost those gains.

Reliable SEO takes time, more than that, it takes a reasonable degree of expertise. 

Technical elements like audits, search term research, content all take time when carried out in the right way. Then there are the continual tweaks occurring to steer the results in the direction needed.

These things can’t happen overnight. And, Google is honed to spotting them, if they do.

We get it that it can seem frustrating that you maybe your rankings haven’t moved quite as quickly as you had hoped. 

But remember good SEO takes time. Quick fixes don’t exist. Anyone telling you so is likely to end up costing you in the long run.

If you are looking for healthy, sustainable growth then you must choose an agency that is aligned with your goals.

Partnership Route Or Pay For Performance SEO in 2023?

The feedback that we receive from happy clients is that a successful campaign feels like you are a partner. 

With a focus only on results the feeling changes and you strip your agency of the ability to serve as a consultant and partner. Removing much of the value.

Pay for results SEO negates the need for emotional investment between the service provider and the business. Often it leaves you with the feeling of a ‘you vs us’ transaction.

Here’s a question to ask yourself. Would this model encourage trust for you? If it doesn’t, then don’t pursue a tie-up with an agency that works this way.

The Ideal SEO Agency Strategy

The feedback that we receive from happy clients is that a successful campaign feels like you are a partner. 

With a focus only on results the feeling changes and you strip your agency of the ability to serve as a consultant and partner. Removing much of the value.

Pay for results SEO negates the need for emotional investment between the service provider and the business. Often it leaves you with the feeling of a ‘you vs us’ transaction.

Does this model encourage trust for you? 

If it doesn’t, then don’t pursue a tie-up with an agency that works this way.

Aligned Outcomes

One of the biggest criticisms that SEO agencies get is that they aren’t aligned to the outcomes of their clients.

They believe that their role purely consists of getting the client ‘ranked’. 

While this is a fundamental element in any successful SEO campaign, it isn’t the be all and end all. Especially if the outcomes aren’t aligned with the business they are working for.


What we mean here is that the SEO agency should also be focusing beyond the delivery of ranking or indeed traffic.

The traffic that arrives needs to be ‘fit for purpose’, it needs to be able to convert.

Non-converting traffic is just vanity. It only becomes relevant when it turns into a phone call, an email or a visit.

Any reputable SEO agency will be focusing on helping their client to improve conversion rates, so that this traffic doesn’t fall into the category of vanity traffic.

As an SEO agency, you can’t convert the enquiries into sales. But, you should at least be aligned to make sure that there is the best possible chance of gaining an inquiry from the search engine traffic.

Realistic Goal Setting

Incredible ‘overnight results’ aren’t sensible. Furthermore, agencies that suggest this are just peddling lies. Sorry to be blunt, but this is the harsh reality of it.

No one owns Google, except for Alphabet. So with this in mind, promises of near instant or guaranteed results are just pie in the sky.

SEO takes time. Results come with consistent growth, just as long as realistic goals are in place.

Yes, ultimately you can dominate search rankings. However, only once you have gained the trust of Google.


You shouldn’t be confused, or in the dark about what your SEO agency does for you. 

We see this quite a bit when speaking to potential new clients.

They often tell us that their ‘agency’ throws around industry based terminology, but they don’t really understand what actions are being taken, nor what is being achieved.

Buzzwords are cheap and ultimately don’t really mean much. If you keep hearing these then it might well be time to re-evaluate your current SEO provider.

While SEO can seem a bit technical, it’s always good to show what work has been carried out. Plus an outline of what ongoing work is scheduled. After all, you are paying the money, why shouldn’t you get to know what’s going on.

An update call will help to ensure that everyone is on the same page. This helps to break down some of the potential misunderstandings before they develop into something bigger

The best SEO agencies should be able to easily communicate their processes, especially  to people who don’t necessarily have a strong SEO background.

To wrap things up, it’s not unreasonable for you to expect your SEO agency to be transparent in their dealings with you.

Medium To Long Term Viewpoint

Short term goals are fine. In Fact they are necessary to set the foundation for helping to reach some of the more complex outcomes.

However, when an agency focuses on the medium to long term it helps to demonstrate that they aren’t just in it for the fast buck.

They value your trust and are looking to forge  a long term relationship between the two businesses. The longer they are involved in your project then the more they learn and are better placed to deliver even stronger result sets.

These are the agencies that tend to deliver results and when the monthly SEO bill comes in you don’t wonder why you are paying it.

Previous Success Stories

It’s always nice to know that you aren’t the first business that your SEO agency has worked with. Better still if you can see that they have specific experience in your own niche.

Case studies work well as a platform to highlight how they have helped other businesses reach their goals.

If these are from similar business types then it tends to suggest that these agencies are better-equipped to deliver the service you need.

The Wrap Up - Why Pay For Performance SEO Nearly Always Sucks!

Hopefully you now have a better understanding on the way that pay on results SEO is structured. More importantly you will also be aware of many of the pitfalls that this strategy yields.

We hate that website owners are at risk to these often unethical methods. Long term growth being leveraged by the so called pay on results experts time and time again.

Personally, we have heard way too many negative stories about pay for performance SEO and we really struggle to reccomend it.

When the time comes to look for a reputable SEO provider we like to think now you are armed with the inside track you will make the right decision for your business.

Knowing how to be successful in SEO most likely doesn’t involve the use of a pay on results SEO firm.

Check Out These Related Posts

Local SEO
Case Studies
Contractor SEO
How To Measure SEO ROI The Easy Way11 min read

How To Measure SEO ROI The Easy Way11 min read

SEO can help businesses grow, but it can be expensive without proper controls. To achieve success, measure ROI and take steps to improve it. This post discusses what ROI for SEO looks like and how to measure it.

SEO vs PPC: Which is Better In 2023?14 min read

SEO vs PPC: Which is Better In 2023?14 min read

The COVID-19 pandemic and Ukraine conflict have destabilised the economy, leading to rising inflation and earnings. Businesses can still succeed by marketing effectively, with SEO and PPC being effective ways to gain new business. The post discusses the differences between each platform and which could be a better fit for a business.

Is My SEO Agency Really Helping?17 min read

Is My SEO Agency Really Helping?17 min read

SEO can be frustrating if you don’t know if your agency is doing their best work. Many agencies don’t give a damn about their clients and don’t deliver on their promises. This post aims to answer the question of whether your SEO agency is helping you.

Local SEO Case Study Fencing Contractor4 min read

Local SEO Case Study Fencing Contractor4 min read

[dipl_double_color_heading heading_main_part="Case Study Fencing Contractor Service" _builder_version="4.14.4" _module_preset="default" global_heading_settings_level="h1" global_heading_settings_text_align="left" pre_header_font="||||||||"...

Local SEO Case Study Accountant & Bookkeeper3 min read

Local SEO Case Study Accountant & Bookkeeper3 min read

[dipl_double_color_heading heading_main_part="Case Study Accountant & Bookkeeper" display_in_stack="on" _builder_version="4.14.4" _module_preset="default" pre_header_font="||||||||" main_header_font="|700|||||||" custom_margin="0px|0px|0px|0px|false|false"...

Local SEO Case Study HVAC Contractor3 min read

Local SEO Case Study HVAC Contractor3 min read

[dipl_double_color_heading heading_main_part="Case Study HVAC Contractor" _builder_version="4.14.4" _module_preset="default" global_heading_settings_level="h1" pre_header_font="||||||||" main_header_font="|700|||||||" custom_margin="0px|0px|0px|0px|false|false"...