Last week, we started a new column in which we expose SEO Myths and the people or sites that perpetuate them. It’s an irregular column but if you were worried that I wouldn’t have enough to write about in this space, rest easy. Not only are there plenty of myths in this industry, but the stories have begun finding me! So ladies and gentlemen, I proudly present our second SEO myth… Guaranteed Rankings.

There’s a popular cliché that says “There are no guarantees in life except death and taxes.” I’d like to tweak that just a bit for the purpose of our discussion. “There are no guarantees in SEO except change… and maybe Danny Sullivan.” So, when an SEO company (seop.com << nofollowed) calls me out of the blue and offers guaranteed #1 rankings in Google, Yahoo! and MSN for “any keywords I choose” I’m naturally a bit skeptical*. Apparently this caring individual noticed that the company I work for advertises with Google AdWords for a specific competitive phrase and yet they “couldn’t find [our] website when looking in the organic search results.” Now, I will admit, our rankings are not currently where we want them. We bounce around between 8th and 13th for this phrase but usually hover around 10th or 11th. However, given the industry in question, I would hardly consider our site hard to find for that phrase. Nevertheless, being the open minded person that I am, I figured I’d at least ask a few questions before hanging up.

“Just doing a quick search, I noticed that in fact your website is not in the top 100 in Google for the terms “seo”, “seo services” , or “search engine optimization performance”. Why is that?”

Apparently, despite what their page titles, meta tags, and internal anchor text suggest, they don’t actually optimize their site. You see they only accept two clients per industry and it would not be worth it to the company to rank for those terms. Of course I should mention that they do in fact employ sales people who apparently spend their days cold calling potential customers. It’s just that they don’t want the free traffic, leads, and business those rankings would provide.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that an SEO or an SEO company is only qualified if they themselves rank well for their target terms. But, when a company guarantees to deliver #1 rankings across the three major search engines for any term I happen to choose, they’d better have a better excuse for their own poor rankings.

As I said earlier, there simply are no guarantees in this game. As long as the search engines continue to tweak and “improve” the algorithms they use to rank sites, there will be change and fluctuation in those rankings. Just because you’re on top today, doesn’t mean you won’t find yourself in the basement after the next update. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the sales pitch from seo-guy.com:

In the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) world, search engine rankings speak for themselves! If an SEO company can rank its own site on the first page of SEO search results, that company has already demonstrated its professional effectiveness. As you might have noticed, we rank on the first page for virtually every SEO related keyword - “SEO Company”, “SEO Services”, “SEO Consulting” “SEO Expert” - just to point out a few. With these kinds of rankings in the competitive SEO world, it is no wonder that so many have chosen us as their search engine optimization company.

Unfortunately for them, they no longer rank on the first page for ANY of those terms. Even if you throw out seop.com’s ridiculous claim to be able to produce top rankings for any term I choose (ok, I’ll take buy, poker, pills, mortgage, loans, and Google please) they are still perpetuating the myth of guaranteed rankings.

The only guarantees that ANY SEO should provide their clients is that they will work to the best of their ability to improve the clients’ rankings. If you’re being promised hard work, honesty, transparency, and professionalism that’s great. You may very well have found a quality SEO (and you’re probably not talking to an seop.com salesperson). If you’re guaranteed top rankings or placement, you should probably look elsewhere because in SEO, guaranteed rankings are a myth.

*UPDATE: In the interest of fairness, seop.com’s website says this about guaranteed rankings “While SEOPerformance, like all ethical companies, will never guarantee exact placements.” I suppose it is possible that the salesperson I spoke to just made that up on the spot, however, that part of the conversation sounded very scripted. That combined with their lame “we don’t optimize our site” excuse for their lack of rankings, is enough to make me question their credibility.