A long term SEO contract is always better than no contract at all. Not only is it more cost effective, but here I will make the case that it leads to more accountability, not less.
I worked with a company a few years ago that saw dramatic increases after I took over their SEO. The owner had a "business coach" that recommended someone else for their SEO. He was their business coach, and basically controlled all aspects of their business decisions, and though they had hired me prior to hiring him, they trusted his advice because he was recommended by some mentor self-help guru that they admired. He charged them for various services, and paid low wage staff to do the work (something he told me, and bragged about in terms of being such a great business coach). Basically, he was profiting off of the company's trust.
Long story short (as short as I can make this), I wasn't under contract, and they decided to hire his SEO team to do their work. Within 2 months, all of the progress that I had made was gone, they ended up getting banned from Google because the person used black hat SEO; which basically means tactics which are used to unnaturally inflate a website through inappropriate means, such as directory link scams, etc. They called me to fix the situation, and I quoted them 10X what I had previous charged them because it is very difficult to resuscitate a dead website from Google. It took almost a year to bring the website back from the dead and make it stable, and It was at that point that I started doing contracts so I could focus on doing a good job, rather than having constantly changing clientele. Ultimately, I would rather make less money and work with the same clients year after year, rather than making more money, and constantly changing who I am working with.
This example above is why I believe all reputable SEO companies will use contracts; not so they lock in a long term payment, but so they are working with a company that will always be accountable for their actions. If you pay someone $1000 to quickly bring you up in google, and they use black hat methods to get you where you are, you may soar for a month or 2, but when the search engines find out, you will see a dramatic decrease in traffic, and there is nothing you can do, since the agency is simply employing common methods that are not illegal, they are just methods that are not accepted by search engines. Because of this, many in the SEO industry are scam artists, and don't care about long term quality, but rather short term quantity.
The contract is because SEO takes time, and our goal is to ensure there is continual growth, so your business is successful, our contract is renewed, and you share with your friends what a great company you are using (since the majority of our business comes from word of mouth). SEO doesn't work in a vacuum, nor is it something done for 1 or 2 months. It is a constant process, with constant changes (Search "Google Fred Update SEO"). Our goal is to continually show results, and for that, time is needed. Once someone contracts with us, they stay with us; because they see that the progress is constant, and that we do a great job and work for every dollar we are paid.
In my opinion, any SEO company that only charges month-to-month, is not worth using. These companies don't care if they hurt your website in the long term, because they work on quantity, not quality. Our focus is on the long-term, so if 3, 6 or 12 months from now you are not doing just as good, our company is going to be accountable when our contract comes up for renewal. I have noticed some SEO companies mentioning contracts as a scam, but as explained above, it actually demonstrates an SEO agency that expects to be accountable for their work, not some disreputable business that wants to quickly make a bunch of money from a large volume of customers.
The SEO companies that have no contract, don't have to worry about being accountable, as their focus is simply on making money. That is the problem, most SEO companies are dishonest, and use tactics because they have no long-term accountability. So I regularly have to explain this to clients. A contract doesn't have anything to do with locking people into paying, and has to do with the fact that SEO is an ongoing process, a company can't just use an SEO company for two months, six months, or even two years. SEO is an ongoing expense, and long-term contracts are to ensure that we can do things in the methodological approach that we do them in, to show continued results, as we have for over 2 decades.
So many web design companies and SEO agencies are short term; here today, gone tomorrow. We have been in business since 1994, doing the same work we are doing now. When our company relocated to NH in the second half of 2015, we sold our previous client portfolio to a reliable competitor (and friend), and started over, with no customers. We like to work with customers we know and spend time with, thus, and like to limit how much we travel as much as possible. Despite this, within a few months of starting our business here, we watched our website rank, and our clientele, grow again. In less than a year of being in business, we had already made a huge impact on many of our client's business, and have grown to one of the most known and well respected marketing agency's in the Seacoast region.
We get our clients through building trust, not quick inflated results, or fake free reports. Anybody that has the time to send out advertisements and give people free analysis, are people that care about volume, because they are actively seeking clients. If they are that good, in our opinion, they wouldn't have time to do free reports for prospective clients. While we have decided to offer non-contract SEO pricing, in order to demonstrate what it is like to work with us, we still recommend working with us on an ongoing basis to see what Make it Active, LLC can do for your business.