Regardless of what type of business you have, if you’re involved in online marketing then there’s bound to be a point where outsourcing aspects, or all, of your SEO campaigns becomes a consideration.
In this post I’m going to explore SEO outsourcing, based on my personal experience of dealing with hundreds of online freelancers, SEO agencies, and link building companies.
SEO Spin is essentially a link building company, so there will be some natural bias in this guide. However, I often use freelancers and most of our customer base is comprised of consultants/agencies. I understand that all types of outsource providers serve their purpose and I’ll try to be as objective as possible and give you my genuine opinions and suggestions based on my 6+ years of both outsourcing to freelancers and companies all over the world, and running an SEO outsourcing company myself.
What is Outsourcing?
Outsourcing simply means the service or product is produced outside of your business. You could be using the company in the office next door, and that would still be classed as outsourcing, or ‘externalising’.
“Outsourcing is a practice used by different companies to reduce costs by transferring portions of work to outside suppliers rather than completing it internally.
Outsourcing is an effective cost-saving strategy when used properly. It is sometimes more affordable to purchase a goods [or service] from companies than it is to produce the goods [or service] internally.”
Unfortunately, in the SEO world, the term ‘outsourcing’ has also become synonymous with ‘cheap low-quality services’. Typically they mean from India and The Philippines. Perpetuated by guys like this: who use the terms ‘outsourced’ and ‘cheap’ and ‘low quality’ interchangeably, as if they’re synonymous, and think that simply being ‘overseas’ qualifies you as not giving a shit about the quality of your output.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with hiring people from India, The Philippines – or anywhere else for that matter, it’s often much more cost-effective than hiring from ‘Western’ countries because the wages for THE SAME level of talent are less: because of their country’s economy. There are a lot of very talented people in SE Asia, the problem is knowing how to sort the wheat from the chaff, manage them effectively, and how to get the best rates without compromising quality. Three things which are basically down to hands-on experience, and are way beyond the scope of this – already incredibly long – post, I’d have to write a book to get those processes down in text form.
In this post we’ll be discussing the different types of people and companies you can outsource to. Wherever they may be based, for the sake of this post, is irrelevant.
Contracting Out, Reselling, White Labelling.
I see a lot of confusion around these three terms so I’ll break them down as best I can.
‘Contracting out’ is just another term for outsourcing. In my SEO circles, it’s most commonly used in reference to using individual ‘contractors’ or ‘subcontractors’ or ‘freelancers’ or ‘virtual assistants’ (all of which are basically the same thing), rather than companies. You would build a team of a bunch of freelancers, each with a specifc skill in order to produce your own original products or service. If your product or service is unique and original enough, it’s usually smart to keep these freelancers out of direct contact with each other until you can trust them fully, so that they can’t replicate your entire strategy without your input (Paranoia alert!). Let them communicate via something like Slack which you can control. If the service or product is an ongoing thing, and is successful, then you should be looking to give your team members full time contracts and get them working exclusively for you asap.
‘Reselling’ is simply selling a product or service that another company or individual has already fully developed, that you mark up for profit. So, it’s a type of outsourcing. One of the highest converting keywords for SEO Spin’s advertising is ‘SEO reseller‘, but the searcher is not really looking for a reseller, they want to be the reseller. SEO Spin is not a reseller, it’s a service provider for resellers. Some ‘retail’ SEO companies (usually deal directly with business owners, rather than consultants or agencies) will have a ‘reseller program’ where they offer reduced rates to other SEOs ordering in bulk for their clients.
‘White labeling (US) labelling (UK)’ is a form of reselling whereby all branding of the original product or service developers is completely removed and the product or service is passed off as the reseller’s own. It sounds almost sinister when it’s described like that, but it’s perfectly legitimate and commonplace in all walks of business. For example, my friend in the UK wanted to start his own line of protein products to sell alongside the major brands he was retailing at his bodybuilding supplement store. He’s no scientist, so he obviously had to use a 3rd party to delvelop his product. He ended up whitelabeling a manufacturer that he later found out a lot of the huge nutrition brands were whitelabeling too. Most SEO spin clients white label our SEO services, as a component of their broader marketing services.
What Aspects of SEO Should Be Outsourced?
Google currently use over 200 ranking factors so below I’ll break down each one – just kidding. For the sake of this guide we’ll boil it down to two groups: ‘on-page’ and ‘off page’.
Basically on-page is optimizing your content and the technical set-up of your website, off-page is the term for all of the signals that come from other websites, such as backlinks and social media signals.
If you’re already looking to outsource SEO, it’s probably safe to assume that you’ve either built your own website/s, or you have a ‘web guy/s’ that’s done it for you. If this is the case, then you should really be looking to take care of your ‘on-page SEO’ yourself or with your developer. Doing your on-page in-house (or with your own dedicated freelancer) will save you a ton of cash as you only need to outsource link building, or ‘off-page SEO’.
So, to get both on-page and off-page outsourced, you’d have to use an SEO agency or consultant. SEO agencies and consultants generally price based on the perceived ‘value’ of the results they deliver, i.e. they will charge different clients different rates based on how much revenue they predict their clients will generate per month from a successful SEO campaign, which they present to the client as return on investment. They may charge the client a flat ongoing rate of, say, $1000 per month retainer: but when the results are acheived they actually don’t need to do that much SEO work to retain them. The trade-off here is the consultant/agencies takes responsibility for results which, in my opinion, is pretty fair.
If you’re savvy enough on SEO basics and social media and are only outsourcing your off-page SEO then you really only need a link building company, who generally price on a ‘cost plus‘ model: making them much better value. Most reputable link building companies will be willing to offer you free on-page advice as part of their customer service. It’s in their interest for your website to be optimized properly because if it isn’t, the links they build to your website will be less-effective and that will reflect badly on them. Link building companies generally do not take responsibility for results, as they do not have control over the entire SEO campaign, and the clients are usually implementing their own strategy.
(At SEO Spin, we have a free instant SEO audit tool you can use to generate an instant task list of on-page optimization to-dos)
Who Typically Outsources Their SEO Projects
Affiliate marketers – Affiliates build websites around 3rd party products and get commissions for any leads or sales they refer to them. Successful affiliates tend to outsource a lot of their link building to give themselves time to build more websites and focus on other areas of marketing, such as ads. Affiliates tend to be well-educated in SEO and usually use a-la-carte link building services to build their own campaigns.
Small medium-sized business owners – SMB/SME owners, in my experience, are the most prone to being ripped-off by SEOs when outsourcing. They generally have very little knowledge of SEO and fall easily in to traps such as “guaranteed ranking in 2 weeks” and other nonsense like that. I’ve encountered a lot of SMBs that have been wildly overcharged, such as paying for performance on keywords that have no traffic. They often pay rates for consultants or agencies to handle strategy but, with the right education, they could go directly to link building companies and get the same results for much less cost. It’s completely understandable, however, that in a lot of cases going directly to an agency/consultant is the best option for a busy business owner, as it’s totally hands-off. In fact, most of SEO Spin’s clients are agencies and consultants that bridge that gap: without them we wouldn’t have much of a business.
In-house SEOs – Large businesses often employ an ‘in-house’ SEO specialist or manager. Their job is usually making sure the in-house content creators are producing optimised content, the company’s web developers are staying in-line with SEO best practices, and then organising the brand’s link building campaign. All, or part, of the link building aspect is almost always outsourced to link building specialists.
Link buyers from marketing/SEO agencies – Marketing/SEO agencies usually outsource most of the off-page work. They handle strategy, content and technical SEO themselves and then buy links from various link building suppliers.
Web design companies – Upselling SEO services to web design clients is a no-brainer for developers. Most web designers we’ve dealt with at SEO Spin (and there have been literally hundreds and hundreds) know their shit when it comes to on-page optimization, then just outsource the link building.
SEO consultants – We deal with a lot of consultants at SEO Spin. They’re usually very small teams, often solo. Again, they tend to do the on-page for their clients themselves – or have a dedicated web guy – then outsource link building to various suppliers, or hire freelancers to build links for them directly if they know exactly what they want.
Link building companies – Pretty much every link building company actually outsources at some level. SEO Spin included. At one end of the spectrum you’ve got the companies that straight-up resell services from the likes of SEO Spin for a markup, then at the other end you have, well, us. We develop our own services and strategies and then hire in (outsource) extra contractors to work exclusively for us if we need them.
Freelancers vs. SEO Agencies vs. Link Building Companies
Benefits of Hiring Freelancers Directly
- Paying the workers directly is obviously cheaper than via companies
- They can implement your own exact strategies
- They often have a lot of different skills, ideal for small projects.
Benefits of Hiring SEO Consultants/Agencies
- They handle the entire campaign so it’s 100% hands-off
- They are results focused
- They usual offer some kind of realistic guarantee of results
- They’re usually very clued-up on what’s effective
- They often specialize in your specific niche or location
Benefits of Using a Link Building Company
- They price based on cost, not value, so much more affordable than agencies
- They have access to a variety of talent so aspects of each project are done by specialists
- They should employ some level of quality control via project managers
- They have access to hundreds of projects to pull insights from
- They are usually up to date on effective strategies
- They are used to dealing with resellers who demand punctuality
How to Outsource SEO
Example 1: Small Campaigns on a Super-Tight Budget
For very small campaigns you may be lucky enough to find a ‘jack of all trades’ freelancer who’ll do your job on a budget. Or maybe you’ll hire one on-page freelancer, a freelance writer, and a freelance link builder. In my experience though, it would be much less hassle, and more-or-less the same price, if you hire one ‘web guy’ freelancer, then use link building packages from SEO Spin, or any other reliable link building company.
Example 2: Small Medium-Sized Business Owner
If you’re confident that you’ve got your on-page SEO handled, then the most cost-effective way to get results would be to use the kind of link building packages we offer at SEO Spin. If you don’t want the responsibility of being in charge of your SEO campaign then find an SEO agency or consultant that specializes in your specific industry, or one that is local to your business.
Example 3: Small SEO Consultancy/Agency or Web Developer
Assuming that you know how to kill it with your on-page SEO and you either do it yourselves or already have a reliable developer or ‘on-site guy’ then I couldn’t really suggest anything other than using a company like SEO Spin for your link building. If you’re busy consulting or developing then you really don’t want the headache (and it IS a f*%king headache, especially at first) of trying to build a team of reliable freelancers.
Example 4: Large Marketing Agency With Big Budgets
We have plenty of pretty big agencies that use SEO Spin. When you’re getting to the size where there are investors and there’s pressure from the board to cut costs to increase margins, it’s often suggested that instead of reselling link building companies (which I, of course, recommend), they employ an outsource manager who builds their own army of freelancers. This will absolutely cut direct costs, but you better make sure that you hire someone that not only has a lot of experience in building remote teams, but also has pre-existing contacts. You will not find reliable people overnight. Western agencies that genuinely do everything ‘in-house’ (actually in their office) usually have a much higher price-point due to the high costs of their staff.
Example 5: Link Building Company
Oh, you’re building your very own SEO Spin, how cute. See you on the battlefield, punk! Seriously though, if you are thinking of building something similar to SEO Spin, bear this in mind: It took me about 12 months of using hundreds of freelancers until I found some pretty solid guys that gave me the confidence to offer services to agencies on a large scale. To build something like we have, you need to build teams of freelancers, then hire the good ones on full time contracts (exclusive where possible), then get them to do future hires in their specifc area for you, and compensate them accordingly. Essentially, these freelancers then become contractor companies with their own sub-contractors. You’re only dealing with one person for each element of each service, which is essential to minimising your hiring, firing and micro-managing.
When you find good people, you need to keep them and promote them and forge proper relationships with them. They are mercenaries, if you don’t reward them and incentivise them to stay on board with you they’ll use the experience gained from you to go and work for someone who’s willing to offer them better compensation. A guy I hired for a random link building job in 2011 now runs our biggest dedicated technical link building team. A writer I hired around the same time for a few articles now takes care of almost all of our writing team, and manages all of our infographic designers. I’ve even travelled to meet several freelancers, they’re my friends, and they’re an essential part of the team.
Getting my freelancers to manage other freelancers was a key turning point in limiting the rate at which my hair was falling out and going grey.
Common Outsourcing Mistakes
I’ll finish this post with some common outsourcing mistakes that either I’ve made, or my clients have made in the past.
Bad research: If you’re new to SEO and try to research strategy online you’re almost certainly going to find old strategies that are no longer effective. Trust your supplier if they say your requested strategy is out-of-date, or even dangerous.
Not being familiar with on-page basics: ‘You can’t polish a turd’ is a rather crude but relevant expression my music technology tutors used to use at university. This absolutely applies to SEO. If you’re on-page SEO is bad, you’re not going to overcome it with good off-page (building loads of links).
Quality control – if you’re employing freelance writers then be sure to check their work thoroughly, use tools such as Copyscape.com to make sure they’re not ripping content from other websites.
Buying fad services – If you find a service called “MEGA BACKLINK ULTRA-CHARGE GOOGLE SNIPER LOOPHOLE 7.9” then you should really question the longevity, or even legitimacy, of its effectiveness.
Expectations and realistic results times. It takes at least a couple of months to rank high for keywords that are going to bring in revenue. Anyone that tells you otherwise is probably talking out of their arse.
Congraulations if you made it this far, I’m glad I was able to keep your attention for so long. If you have any questions, corrections, suggestions or any other kind of feedback, please post a comment below, I will read every one, and reply to every question.
Thanks for reading!
Founder, SEO Spin
Image Credits: Any images not owned by www.seospin.com will be clickable to the original source>
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