Does Pay for Performance SEO Work? [Answer for 2023]

Written By

Nick Zviadadze

Nick Zviadadze

Founder at MintSEO


What is Pay-for-Performance SEO?

Pay-for-performance SEO is a model of SEO services where you only pay the SEO agency once they’ve hit certain KPIs.

The KPIs can either be traffic (“we’ll pay you once we’re driving X traffic every month”) or rankings (“we’ll pay you once we rank page #1 for X keywords”).

Does Pay-for-Performance SEO Work?

In most cases, no, the pay-for-performance SEO model does not work.

SEO is a long-term marketing strategy and the pay-for-performance model simply does not align with that.

While not all pay-for-performance SEO agencies are shady, the model in its entirety does encourage the use of shady SEO techniques.

The three primary reasons why pay-for-performance just doesn’t work are as follows:

#1. Low-Impact Work

SEO work is not cheap.

The SEO agency you work with needs to pay for SEO content writers (for blog posts or landing pages), link-builders (for outreach), software, and about a dozen other expenses related to achieving results for your website.

With a pay-for-performance SEO model, the agency simply cannot invest too much in your website’s growth, severely limiting the type of impact that it can have.

#2. Short-Term Focus

With a pay-for-performance SEO model, the partner agency is incentivized to deliver results ASAP without focusing on long-term growth.

This way, they’re more likely to be chasing after long-tail keywords with minimal search volume than actually trying to rank you for the more competitive keywords (which are likely to drive significant results for your business).

#3. Shady SEO Techniques

Since pay-for-performance SEO agencies are incentivized to deliver short-term results, they’re more likely to use shady techniques that drive results fast (at the cost of long-term growth).

For example, instead of building organic links, they might simply buy a ton of PBN links or backlink farm links. Such links are likely to get you ranking ASAP, but they’re also likely to get you penalized in the long run.

Want to be able to differentiate good links from the bad one? Check out our guide to evaluating backlink quality!

How to Pick an SEO Agency That Drives Results

The reason people look for pay-for-performance agencies is because SEO is a time-consuming process.

When you’re talking to an agency and they tell you that it’ll take 6 months to a year to drive results, you’re well within your rights to be skeptical.

What if it doesn’t work after you’ve already invested 8 months of agency fees? You’d be very disappointed – and rightfully so.

The gut instinct then is to find an SEO agency that only charges on performance. As we just explained in this article, though, pay-for-performance SEO simply does not work.

So, the optimal thing to do is to find a conventional SEO agency that is going to drive your results within a reasonable timeframe. When looking for such an agency, here are a couple of things to look out for:

#1. Realistic Goals

If an SEO agency tells you that they’ll rank you #1 for your main target keywords within a month or two, turn the other way and run. Chances are, you’re going to get scammed.

A more realistic SEO timeline would be something from 6 months to a year, depending on what your business is about, how competitive your niche is, and so on.

#2. Transparent SEO Process

Just like with any other type of marketing service, your SEO provider should have a very transparent process.

They should give you a roadmap of all the work that needs to be done within the year and keep you updated as they execute it.

If an agency charges you for “on-page SEO work” but hasn’t even made a single change on WordPress in two months, that’s a pretty big red flag.

#3. Strong Case Studies

SEO case studies are a great way to distinguish the best agencies from the rest. Go through the case studies on the agency’s website and be on the lookout for the following details:

  • Who’s the client? Are their name and URL mentioned?
  • Are the results significant? Sure, “100% increase in traffic” might seem impressive, but it’s not nearly as impressive if the increase is from 100 monthly traffic to 200 as if it was from 1 million to 2.
  • Is the process transparent? Does the case study cover the actual steps the agency took to get these results?
  • Does the agency have experience in your niche? SaaS SEO is a lot different than local SEO, so if an agency has experience in one doesn’t mean they’ll succeed with the other.

Key Takeaways

And that’s a wrap – now you know all you need to know about pay-for-performance SEO agencies. Before you go, let’s do a quick recap of everything we’ve covered in this article:

  • Pay-for-performance model is a type of arrangement where you only pay the SEO agency once they reach certain results.
  • The pay-for-performance model simply doesn’t work in most cases, as it encourages bad SEO practices.
  • If you want to achieve long-term SEO results, you’re better off working with a conventional SEO agency.
  • Some things to look out for when picking an SEO agency are realistic goal setting, a transparent SEO process, and strong case studies.
Nick Zviadadze

Nick Zviadadze

Founder at MintSEO
Need a Hand with Your SEO?
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