Why Is It Better to Stay Away from Performance-Based Payment for SEO?

Why Is It Better to Stay Away from Performance-Based Payment for SEO?

Are you considering performance-based SEO? Many companies which are just starting their cooperation with SEO agencies and aim at increasing the visibility in organic search results are wondering which settlement method is the most beneficial. Although your common sense may suggest you that pay-for-performance SEO should be the most lucrative option as you’re supposed to pay only when there are actual, visible results, the reality may turn out to be slightly different. Why? Keep reading!

Performance-based SEO payment or subscription?

Pay-for-performance SEO involves preparing a list of keywords that the client wants to do SEO for and setting a bid for reaching a given position in SERPs. So, for example, if a particular key phrase is displayed in the TOP3, then, the agency gets X USD, if it’s displayed in the TOP6, then, the agency gets X USD. In most cases, the bids are reckoned up on a daily basis. In not such a distant past, this settlement method was very popular, mainly due to the fact that very few companies were doing SEO, therefore, just a couple of proper links and suitable content optimization activities were enough to be ranked high.

On the other hand, subscription involves setting a monthly bid for the conducted SEO activities. Usually, in such situations, every month clients get a thorough report describing performed actions and their results.

What does your subscription cost depend on?

The cost of a monthly subscription depends on the number of working hours allocated to a given website. It also includes all the links made and obtained for the page. Sometimes, SEO agencies offer copywriting activities and if your budget is satisfactory, then, your subscription covers also the costs of creating blog posts and product or category descriptions.

Performance-based Payment for SEO may be tempting, but…

Although this settlement method seems to be particularly alluring and advantageous (after all you pay only for the results you see), in reality any SEO specialist isn’t able to guarantee that you’ll get the promised results. Why?

  • First of all, there are many other ranking factors and it’s impossible to affect all of them. To find out more about Google ranking factors, go to one of our previous articles: https://delante.co/google-ranking-factors/
  • In the past, it was enough to obtain links. Even not the most valuable sources of links guaranteed that the website was ranked high. Honestly speaking, obtaining links equaled getting good results.
  • Google algorithms used to be much less complicated than they’re today.
  • Doing SEO is becoming much more popular among companies so it’s impossible to predict what steps will be taken by your competition. Consequently, if a given company invests a lot of money in SEO, then you won’t be able to outdo it, even if you work like a dog,
  • In SEO, there are no one-size-fits-all solutions. Something that works for one website doesn’t have to work for the other. Moreover, it may even turn out that the same activities can have a completely different impact on two websites.
  • Google algorithm is being constantly changed. Every day it’s updated approximately 8 times. Only in 2018 the algorithm was updated more than 3 thousand times (https://moz.com/blog/how-often-does-google-update-its-algorithm). Although most of the updates are almost unnoticeable and don’t turn the SEO world upside down or give SEO professionals sleepless nights, every year there are a few updates that can create chaos. As a result, you can never be sure that an activity you performed a few days ago still has a positive impact on the website. Every SEO specialist needs to be prepared for spectacular successes and even more spectacular failures.

Everyone has their own perspective…

One of the biggest disadvantages of performance-based SEO is that it isn’t quite clear how to calculate the positions of given phrases. SERPs are dynamic and adapt to users and their locations. If you enter a hairdresser in the search engine, your results will depend on the place where you’re. So how can you demand from someone to pay you for being displayed high in Chicago if the same phrase and their website is displayed much lower in Detroit?

When to expect the first SEO results?

Keep in mind that everything takes time. You should see first results of the conducted SEO activities approximately after 2-3 months. Therefore, if you decide on performance-based SEO, the agency will need to work for you for free but of course it’ll still have to pay for the necessary tools or employees who do the job. It’s natural that such agencies want to succeed quickly and as you may guess, quickly doesn’t necessarily mean well or in accordance with the rules.

They often perform chaotic, reckless or nervous activities which later may result in a punishment imposed on the website. A performance-based SEO agency may use spamming and sooner or later Google will notice the unnatural amount of links and consequently it may ban or filter the site. All such activities are called black hat SEO – they ensure fast results and equally fast payments.

Among typical black hat SEO activities, we can distinguish:

  • Unnatural number of keywords or content hidden by e.g. using white font on a white background,
  • Hiding keywords in pictures’ alt texts,
  • Creating unnatural links,
  • Cloaking, i.e. publishing content that is different from the one in the meta tags. Then users enter the site and don’t find the information that is of interest to them.
  • Keyword stuffing which involves applying keywords in an unnatural way,
Google's example of keyword stuffing
Źródło: https://www.digital22.com/insights/how-to-spot-keyword-stuffing-and-protect-your-ranking-page
  • Automatic generation of content through the use of programs that create content and apply keywords,
  • LES,
  • Thin content, meaning websites that are of no value to the user,
  • SEO hacking.

As a consequence of such activities, Google may impose a manual or algorithm filter on your website. Getting rid of such a punishment involves incurring costs and you still can’t be 100% sure that all the filters will be removed. The process may take a few months and in the most extreme cases it may be necessary to move the site to a new domain.

Changing product range

An SEO subscription is particularly beneficial for all stores whose product range is constantly changing. Thanks to it, SEO activities can be easily adjusted to the changing assortment. On the other hand, if you choose performance-based SEO, then the initial keywords stay the same, regardless of the products offered on a given website.

It’s also worth mentioning that doing SEO for only selected phrases, as in the case of pay-for-performance SEO, can be considered as link manipulation which increases the chances of Google imposing filters on your website. Moreover, such a strategy is simply ineffective. Each product or service can be searched for in numerous ways. A professional SEO agency knows that users may look for hairdressers by entering phrases like hairdresser, hairdresser Detroit, hairdresser in Detroit, good hairdresser, hairdresser curly hair, who is a good hairdresser, hairdresser dyeing, hairdresser keratin… and many more. Very often performance-based SEO contracts take into consideration only one way of searching for a given subpage.

As we’re already talking about the phrases… Some SEO agencies which offer pay-for-performance SEO choose or suggest choosing key phrases that have virtually no search volume. Therefore, clients need to be knowledgeable so that they aren’t tricked into paying for keywords that are completely worthless for their business. Sometimes it happens that dishonest agencies want to do SEO for ridiculous long tail phrases that nobody will search for.

Although properly applied long tail phrases can be beneficial for your business, there is a considerable difference between doing SEO for phrases like “hairdresser for curly hair in Detroit” and “hairdresser John Smith who has a twin brother in Times Square in New York”. In the latter case, being ranked on the first position probably won’t bring you any traffic or benefits.

Unexpected SEO results

During conducting SEO activities, it may turn out that phrases which first weren’t included in the performance-based contract start being ranked high and improve traffic or conversion. Well, obviously, due to the fact that they weren’t a part of the contract, the client isn’t obliged to pay for them. However, isn’t it a bit unfair that the agency brings measurable profits to the company and doesn’t get paid for that?

To sum up

For the time being, no SEO specialist is able to guarantee immediate results. Meticulous actions, constant effort, and many working hours will start paying off after some time. Such an approach is safe and you don’t have to be afraid that your website will be banned or that Google will impose a filter on it. As we’ve already mentioned, Google updates its algorithms 3 thousand times a year. Consequently, you can neither predict nor promise to get only satisfactory results. A valuable SEO campaign takes weeks or even months.

It’s totally understandable that clients get frustrated when after two months of cooperation there are still no visible results, however, in such a situation an honest and transparent SEO agency will simply show its activities and explain why doing SEO for this website takes longer. Thorough SEO activities are time and energy-consuming, however, they’ll ensure high positions of your site in the search results.


The price of the SEO process is an individual matter and there’s no one good answer. Each process is being influenced by many factors and so is the cost of SEO activities. Here are a couple of elements that affect the final price for the SEO process:

  • the current rankings of your website,
  • domain history and its authority,
  • competition online activity,
  • the current state of website optimizations,
  • competitiveness of the industry and market,
  • the scope and type of SEO activities.

As you can see many factors that vary from one website to another can influence the cost of SEO. It’s always better to get a free quote and find out the exact price based on your website’s analysis 🙂

SEO budget is usually being distributed among different SEO elements so that the whole strategy brings the best results. Generally speaking, you pay for

  • SEO audit,
  • on-site SEO activities
  • off-site SEO activities (e.g. link building),
  • analytics,
  • copywriting services,
  • reporting process,
  • constant contact with SEO specialists that monitor your website performance and react to any errors
  • tools used by SEO specialists during the process.

Of course, it can vary depending on the needs of each client deciding to invest in SEO process 🙂

Junior SEO Specialist - Karolina

Junior SEO Specialist

The graduate of Polish Philology, took her first professional steps in performance marketing. Fate directed her towards SEO and since December 2018 she has been gaining knowledge and skills in the field of positioning. She loves Shakespear, Krzysztof Krawczyk and everything that is pop culture. She feels best at the interface between the mass and the sophisticated. She dreams of a trip to Brodway to see her favorite musical Hamilton with an original cast.

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