Pay-for-Performance SEO vs. Retainer SEO Programs

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Search Engine Optimization (SEO) lies at the center of digital marketing. It helps businesses in improving their online footprint and visibility. In other words, SEO efforts lead to businesses generating more leads and having more sales. Most business people are aware of this key role of SEO.

However, very few of them succeed in making the most of it. Businesses and websites can’t turn their SEO efforts and investments into meaningful returns due to their flawed strategy.

For instance, many decision makers can’t decide between Pay-for-Performance SEO and retainer SEO programs. Others opt for the latter and get abysmal marketing and sales results. In this piece, we will draw a comparison between Pay-for-Performance (PFP) SEO and retainer SEO programs and how Performance-based SEO is the better option for the two.

Also Read: Pay For Performance SEO Is Accountable Marketing, Not Shamming

What Is Pay-for-Performance SEO?

As the term suggests, it is an SEO service model where you only pay after assessing the results of the given optimization services. The regular KPIs in Pay-for-Performance SEO models are web traffic, keyword ranking, and revenues. In short, a business is promised a measurable/tangible return on its investment in Pay-for-Performance SEO services.

What Is Retainer SEO Program?

It is also known as SEO maintenance services. In a retainer SEO program, a business hires an SEO expert/firm on an upfront fee to take care of its optimization requirements. This SEO program usually runs on a recurrent basis, and fee payments are not subjected to particular SEO results.

Pay-for-Performance vs. Retainer SEO Program

Before we start comparing these two SEO models, it is important to mention here that retainer SEO programs have been around for longer and are considered a standard SEO practice. Pay-for-Performance SEO is a relatively new approach, and businesses are still catching up on it. Since retainer SEO services is more deep-rooted in the digital marketing world, you will find many proponents.

Also Read: Pay For Performance SEO: What Makes It A ‘Risk-Free’ Preposition

On the other hand, many people still see PFP with skepticism. This biased view of both these approaches has primarily developed due to the aggressive promotion of retainer programs by digital marketers.  However, this is not another promotional piece about retainer SEO programs. Here, we would like to give you a dispassionate overview of both services so you can decide on your own.

Pay-for-Performance SEO Retainer SEO Program
No overhead expenses Recurrent monthly pay-outs
The client is not locked into any contract Often comes in mandatory
6 and 12-month retainer packages
Paying for the exact results The KPIs are vague, and clients
don’t know for what they are paying the retaining fee

Let’s expand on the above points and see how both these SEO options work.

Pay for Time/Pay for Results

The essential difference between Performance-based SEO and retainer SEO is that, in the case of the latter, you pay for the time of the SEO firm. In the other, you pay for the results that SEO companies/experts bring. So, what would you opt for? Let’s try to understand this with the help of an example from everyday life.

Suppose that the plumbing system of your kitchen has broken down and you need a professional plumber to fix it. When you search for a plumber, you get two options: a professional who quotes a price for the entire work and a contractor that charges for their time. What looks like a better and result-oriented option? Of course, the better option is the plumber who is charging for the job and not for the time.

Now, use this analogy for your SEO requirements. Pay-for-Performance SEO services charge for your particular results, e.g., improving your website’s ranking for certain keywords. A retainer SEO program offers you a block of their time for a certain amount of money every month. In the US, most retainer SEO program costs from $2,501-$5,000 per month.  On an hourly basis, the charges are somewhere between $100 and $150 per hour.

These are recurrent charges that you have to set aside every month. So, even if you get the desired visibility and ranking results, they come at a greater cost and a lower ROI.

In Pay-for-Performance SEO, you don’t have to worry about the time constraints because you are not paying for minutes and hours. You don’t have to worry whether the desired SEO milestone will be scaled in 2nd or 3rd month because your payment is tied to results instead of time.

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Transparency and Accountability

The model of PFP SEO is set as such that people and firms offering it can’t fool their clients. For them, the only way to succeed and get paid is to bring results to the table. Like retainer SEO, they don’t have the room to confuse clients with the jargon. Moreover, they can’t exhaust clients with long explainers regarding the “process” to mask their underwhelming performance. Clients are more interested and invested in getting the result instead of knowing the process.

The basic working model of PFP SEO makes it a more transparent and self-accountable way to deliver optimization services.

Also Read: Pay Per Performance: A Cost Effective SEO Methodology!

The Façade of “SEO Takes Time”

Retainer companies often hide behind the excuse “SEO takes time.” This allows them to keep on charging their clients without showing any results. Pay-for-Performance SEO companies can’t make any use of this argument. Whether SEO takes time or not, they will only get paid when they furnish results.

Criticism of Pay-for-Performance SEO Services and Is It Justified?

Many experts criticize Pay-for-Performance SEO services for its shady and shallow practices. But is there any truth to those allegations? Let’s dissect

Allegation: PFP SEO uses vanity long-tail keywords with low volume search

Answer: Any reliable SEO company can’t do it, especially when clients can find themselves about the status of a keyword through various easy-to-use and free SEO tools. PFP SEO experts show clients all the crucial numbers about a keyword, including the search volume before start working on it.

Allegation: PFP SEO involves keyword stuffing

Answer: It is a laughable claim since keyword stuffing has been an obsolete SEO strategy for too long.

Allegation: PFP SEO uses abusive link-building strategy

Answer: This might be true before Google’s crackdown on PBNs (Private Blog Networks) in 2014. Now, you can’t fool google with “artificial link juice” any more.

Allegation: PFP SEO forces companies to use unethical means to rank keywords

Answer: It is important for PFP companies to have long relationships with their clients as on an average billing on a project starts from 3rd month with a small number. A Pay-for-Performance SEO company can’t get away with unethical keyword ranking in such long-term partnerships.

We hope that this comparative discussion helps you pick the right SEO approach for your business and website.

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