I received a note from Network Solutions today with the subject line of “Good Luck Isn’t a Guarantee – Getting Found Online Is”, promoting their search engine optimization services. Nothing remarkable in that, since lots of large hosting companies and related firms are pushing SEO to small businesses as another line of value-add services. However, what is remarkable is that they push this promotion out with a guarantee of top 10 rankings in major search engines:
Now, if you’ve been around the search marketing industry very long at all, you’re probably aware that most of the guides for “picking the right SEO firm” or “how to choose an ethical SEO” recommend staying away from companies which guarantee rankings. For instance, check out the advice from Shari Thurow , David Wallace , MarketingProfs Thought Leaders Summit , and Chris Sherman .
For that matter, Google themselves warn  against companies which promise rankings:
“Beware of SEOs that claim to guarantee rankings…”
The reason why search marketing experts recommend against agencies that promise top rankings is that (1) agencies don’t control the search engines – they are autonomous and will rank whatever sites they wish, (2) for some types of industries and keywords there is already a huge amount of competition and smaller companies may not be able to outrank already-established contenders.
Good search marketing agencies do guarantee that they’ll use the best practices and methods they’ve found effective in the past to help improve overall rankings. This is just like the stock market, though, and the caveat that applies to investment firms and stock purchasing apply to search engine marketing similarly: past results do not guarantee future performance.
Obsessing over one or two desirable or prestigious keywords may actually be ineffective, depending on your situation. As we’ve seen many times over at Netconcepts, the long tail of natural search  is where most companies may find the “holy grail” of ecommerce. Instead of spending 90% of your effort on ranking for a couple of prestige terms, spending that effort across your site on a great many pages and term combinations can result in small, incremental ranking improvements for many thousands or millions of less-popular keyword search phrase combinations, resulting in far greater traffic than is found through prestige terms. Sure, keyword ranking is important, but the Law of Diminishing Returns applies here – for some industries, the amount of effort required to get ranking on a popular term may be so high that it both costs you resources that would be better spent on your many other potential keywords, and the prestige term ranking could be entirely unattainable anyway.
It’s amazing to me that Network Solutions continues to promise rankings in spite of this being such an obvious worst practice. This might be a case where industry certifications would help. Astonishing that they blithely continue to market themselves in this way, despite industry criticism!