Can SEO Agencies Effectively Outsource Elements of SEO?

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What an odd question. Outsourcing is a tricky area for businesses though, and as SEO is a contractual business for many, agencies and freelancers often see movement in demand for their services. This raises an interesting question on whether this increase in demand can be effectively met by outsourcing to SEO’s.

What do I mean by Outsourcing?

When I talk about outsourcing, I’m not just referring to outsourcing elements of the SEO process to India to capitalise on cheap labour, but examples such as to an outsourced link-building contract given to an ex-employee turned freelancer, or a web development agency you met at a networking event.

Outsourcing takes a wide variety of forms, but the measure of ‘effectiveness’ is regarded by the value it adds to the client. So can SEO effectively be outsourced by a SEO?

It sounds stupid, but I raise the point because I, like many freelance SEO’s or SEO managers, have been in the situation where there has been a temporary/semi-permanent need to increase the capacity, or indeed, take on a specialist. This might be a link-baiter, a press release copywriter, or a social media-come-link-building specialist. But in outsourcing are we at risk of diluting the value or the message of our services?

How about we tackle some of the pros and cons…

Lost in Translation?

Outsourcing to foreign lands can quite easily lose meaning and purpose as communication passes through cultural and linguistic diversity. Other challenges to managing working relationships can arise too. But for SEO, when trying to see and understand your link-profile or the context of one page and it’s relationships to many, it becomes all the more complex. Meaning can therefore be lost.

As such, there are great advantages of having a centrally-operated SEO process, which has a deep and/or holistic understanding of the SEO process on behalf of the client. Keyword analysis is a great example of this.

Let’s say that your keyword research is your greatest pride and joy. You’ve mined the hell out of your analytics, done all the competitor analysis you can muster for a lifetime, and have finalised on a healthy list of primary and secondary keywords, with clusters of modifying terms, and even sprinkled the excel doc with a touch of fairy dust. Everything is looking rosy. Sharing your understanding of that document and all that went in to its development is going to be a little more difficult than handing the document to a freelance SEO tasked with link-building or copywriting.

Is a SEO shooting themselves in the foot?

I don’t say this in a way to shoot myself in the foot. I have, and still am, working on SEO projects where I have to inherit someone else’s keyword analysis, market analysis and more. But I think it goes without saying, you need to challenge and understand the purpose and the meaning of this activity in order to understand the context of what you do.

A great link-builder, for instance, is not simply one that gets a link on request, but rather one that is relevant and timely to what other activity is happening. An understanding of one’s role among the rest of the SEO and social media team becomes all the more important.

Education, therefore, on the inter-relationships of each element of SEO is naturally going to be a key part of the managing a SEO team, especially one that includes outsourced elements.

Two Steps Away from the Client

The outsourcee is two steps away from the client:

Client > SEO Agency > Freelancer / Outsourced Team

I have been and still am a sub-contracted SEO, working for a number of web design / digital agencies, but in being a further step away from the client to what they are I have to ensure that I am as attentive as possible…but needless to say this is difficult. I use Basecamp for its simplicity.

Two Steps becomes Three Steps

The outsourcee is three steps away from the consumer:

Consumer > Client > SEO Agency > Freelancer / Outsourced Team

If you’re two steps away from your client, you’re three steps away from the consumer. If you’re the outsourcee, ensure that you absorb all you can and from channels as close to the source as possible. If you’re the outsourcer, share all the information you can to pull the outsourcee into the mix of what is going on.

I know my pal, Glenn Murray, would have a few words to say on this front as I know he takes great care in working to understand keyword usage for SEO, and of course understand his clients’ needs. A deeper expression of the purpose and ambition of the SEO therefore needs to be communicated to each person you employ as part of your team.

Remote working teams are no longer remote, but there’s potentially a lot of information lost in this game of Chinese whispers! Work-in-progress meetings/conference calls are often a good idea.

Value to the client and the consumer

There’s sometimes the reluctance to say to a client that a freelancer has been employed to help with the workload or cover a specialism, but it’s a real shame. Clear and honest communication from the beginning is what builds great business relationships.

Factors that might feed in to your decision to outsource

  • Depth of knowledge and experience (and of working as a sub-contractor)
  • Length of relationship. Do you trust them to add value?
  • Pay and terms – and the associated added value?
  • Like with other business relationships, is each person/team equally ambitious?
  • Time and flexibility – can they work to your campaign ambitions and deadlines?
  • How closely can you manage the process? Don’t be misguided in thinking that outsourcing is the easy way out – it’s actually a larger team for you to manage.
  • Are the tools and procedures in place to report, monitor and manage the outsourced person/persons?

Different models for different businesses

Ultimately though, you get what you pay for in SEO. If you want a heavy-handed/no-frills SEO campaign, then maybe sub-contracting elements to India is not the worst idea, and equally if you’re looking for support in a specialism such as analytics or data mining then bring them as close to the centre of the activity as possible and you’ve got the best chance of success.

So, can SEO agencies effectively outsource elements of SEO?

If you’re an SEO agency outsourcing elements to another SEO agency or consultant, ensure that you each take time to learn about the clients’ brief, the industry, it’s unique keywordscape and of course the mechanics of the relationship.

The wrap-up and the clichéd analogy

Outsourcing provides flexibility and agility in SEO, something many people constantly strive to achieve. Outsourcing is not a bad thing. It is the management of outsourcing that is the bad thing.

I expect this analogy has been used before, but if you imagine SEO as a bunch of ingredients, campaigns can quite easily fail…but if you imagine it as synergy of complimentary ingredients then of course greater things can be created.

So finally, yes, in my opinion SEO agencies can effectively outsource elements of their operations to freelancers or other outsourced SEO teams, but it’s in the manager’s hands to make it a true success.

Have you been involved in any outsourcing projects? Did you learn anything you would like to share?

Ben McKay is a SEO Manager for Mediaedge:cia and Freelance SEO Consultant. He writes at Just Me and My on search marketing, with a focus on sharing thoughts on managing SEO and online social media marketing campaigns. Why not say hi to Ben McKay on Twitter!

Ben McKay
Ben writes about managing SEO and the ever growing joys of consulting on SEJ and his blog, Just Me and My. He's an organiser of... Read Full Bio
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  • Glenn Murray

    Nice post, Ben. (And thanks for the mention!) I have direct experience as the freelancer in your SEO equation. In fact, it’s something I do day-in and day-out. So obviously, I agree that it can be done effectively. But I agree that both parties have to be truly on the ball, and the freelancer needs to be very skilled at what they’re doing.

    I’d also add that outsourcing introduces the sticky issue of ownership. I don’t mean legal/copyright ownership; I mean the feeling of ownership. Pride in the job. Commitment to getting it right. Taking no shortcuts. Going for absolute quality (not trying to do the least possible work for signoff). This is always tricky when you’re outsourcing, because of the remove from the consumer. It’s much harder to be careless when you have a direct client breathing down your neck, and when it’s your reputation that’s riding on the success of the project. One way this can be addressed (to an extent) is to pay for deliverables/results, not hours.

    You mentioned that both parties have to pay close attention to the brief. I’d heartily second that. If you’re outsourcing simply to reduce the time you have to spend understanding the project, you’re gonna get stung.

    And finally, I’d add that you should be sure – before outsourcing – that your freelancer can do the job as well as you would, were you to do it yourself. If they can’t – or if you’re not 100% sure – you’ll definitely be shooting yourself in the foot.

    Thanks again Ben.

    Glenn Murray (@divinewrite)

  • Ben McKay

    Thanks for stopping by Glenn!

    I think your comment about ownership is a very important one. Outsourcing isn’t about outsourcing responsibilities/accountability, and as such shouldn’t be treated as fobbing off the workload. Management (or rather mis-management) of outsourcing can lead to a real break-down in it’s effectiveness, but not in accountability.

    The oursourcee is accountable to the agency and the agency is accountable to the client. Each stage requires an emphasis on professionalism and value-adding from the carried out work.

    Results is definitely one option to pay by. I have paid and been paid using various fixed and hourly methods, but I personally think that is a decision to be made on a case-by-case basis. Apparent value in the clients mind needs to be the primary goal at the end of the day.

    And a great point to end on Glenn:
    “And finally, I’d add that you should be sure – before outsourcing – that your freelancer can do the job as well as you would, were you to do it yourself. If they can’t – or if you’re not 100% sure – you’ll definitely be shooting yourself in the foot.”

    …great stuff, thanks very much!


  • Mike

    SEO outsourcing by SEO companies is something in my opinion is a mandatory option all SEO companies should have in their arsenal. While controlled growth is best for any business, the need to scale up quickly should always be addressed with a solution in your back pocket.

  • Ben McKay

    Totally agree Mike. I’m about to write a post about the demand for SEO funnily enough…

    Cheers for commenting. 🙂

  • rocky

    nice post. i am very happy to read it

  • DocuMaker

    Outsourcing Through Rentacoder explains the proper way to outsource online before making mistakes via trial and error.

  • Alex

    I found your blog on google and read a few of your other posts. I just added you to my Google News Reader. Keep up the good work. Look forward to reading more from you in the future.

  • Boston SEO

    Communication is essential when trying to effectively outsource. If both parties are equally ambitious throughout, I feel that SEO outsourcing by SEO companies is a terrific alternative and should be considered by all. Great article.

  • Data Recovery

    Great tips, I'm always looking for ways to maintain my seo efforts.

  • Data Recovery

    Great tips, I'm always looking for ways to maintain my seo efforts.