Search engine optimization (SEO) is intimidating for newcomers, and I totally understand why. SEO requires your attention in multiple areas; you’ll need to improve your website, write content, research the competition, build links, and take care of a hundred other responsibilities. On top of that, you’ll need the experience to do all of these actions — well — and you’ll need to jump through hoops to stay current with the latest Google algorithm changes.
Outsource Your SEO Strategy the Right Way
Accordingly, most businesses that practice SEO end up outsourcing it in some way, either by hiring an agency or working with contractors. While this can be an effective strategy for supporting your SEO campaign, it can also work against you — so it pays to be cautious and do your research.
How SEO Outsourcing Goes Wrong
Let’s start by identifying some of the most critical ways that SEO outsourcing can fail.
- Black hat practices and penalties. Some agencies build their business around “black hat” tactics. In the SEO world, that means using techniques like spamming links, writing low-quality content at high volumes, and even keyword stuffing. In some cases, these tactics can get you a short-term gain – just long enough for your contracting agency to cash the check. But in all cases, eventually, you’re going to face a Google penalty for doing this, ultimately negating any benefits you might have gotten along the way.
- Scams and lack of work. Some companies don’t really exist; they’re shell organizations meant only to scam you out of money. For example, someone might claim they’re “optimizing your site,” but they might not actually be doing anything. These outright scams tend to be rare in the SEO community, but they can result in a total loss.
- Cost and value. It’s also important to consider the balance between cost and true value. High-quality SEO services are necessarily expensive since it takes expertise, time, workforce, and other resources to execute effectively. But if you’re stuck paying $10,000 per month for SEO services, and you only see $9,800 in value, that’s not a good trade. SEO is a strategy that’s truly worth investing in, but if you’re not careful, you could end up paying too much when outsourcing.
Researching Potential Partners
So how can you prevent these problems?
Your best option is to seriously research your prospective outsourcing partners before hiring anyone. Generally, you’ll have two main options for who to hire:
- Agencies. SEO agencies tend to be a bit more expensive. But, in exchange, you’ll typically have access to a bigger roster of experts – and support for every step of the SEO process. You’ll also typically have your own account manager and built-in guarantees to make sure you’re satisfied with the work that’s done.
- Contractors. Contractors tend to be less expensive and more flexible. You can hire individual contractors to help you with specific needs, like link building or writing, or mix and match to build your own team. Either way, you might save money – but you’ll also need to expend more effort and face higher risks.
Whichever direction you go — you’ll want to research the following in every prospective hire:
- Expertise. What kind of expertise does this potential partner have? Are they new to the SEO industry, or does the team have decades of combined experience? Are they familiar with your company and your industry, or is their experience mostly from a general background?
- Services offered/high-level strategy. Figure out what services this partner offers and what kind of high-level strategy they’re going to follow. If they can’t answer your questions in this area, or if they try to avoid the subject, it’s a bad sign. Any SEO practitioner worth working with will explain the entire process to you and work to convince you that they’re capable of creating high-quality work. Good SEO strategies are a mix of technical onsite improvements, quality content generation, and value-focused link building with authoritative publishers. Link spamming and content spamming simply aren’t going to work.
- Quality of work. You’ll also need to do your own investigating to figure out what quality of work this individual or organization is capable of. The best way to find this out is to ask to see examples. What are some examples of the best content this organization has written? What are some of the best live links currently pointing back to their site? If you’re not satisfied with this component, you may need to move onto someone else.
- Reviews and testimonials. Next, look at the reviews and testimonials about this company left by its previous clients. Generally, when an agency or contractor follows black hat practices or scams people out of money, they have a cascade of bad reviews to show for it. Of course, good reviews and good testimonials aren’t a guarantee that you’ll get great service, but it’s a promising sign.
- Past results. In line with this, see if you can get proof of past results. For example, does this agency or contractor evidence the ranking increases they’ve gotten for other clients in the past? New professionals in this industry still have a chance of getting good results for you, but you’re better off working with someone who has a long track record of success.
- Communication. Reach out to promising candidates you’ve found throughout your research and start talking to the account managers and professionals who will be responsible for managing your campaign. Are they polite, prompt, and articulate? If so, it’s a great sign that you’re going to get the customer service you deserve.
- Price. Of course, you’ll also need to think about the price of the services you’re getting. A company may check all the boxes above, but they may not be worth it if their service packages are too pricey.
The Working Relationship
Researching and hiring the right partner is a great first step, but you’ll also need to invest in the working relationship to see good results.
- Push for transparency. A transparent SEO outsourcing agreement is ideal. You should be able to see everything your SEO partner is doing, down to the words they write for offsite content and the backend code changes they make to your website. If your agency or contractor refuses to report on their work, or if you’re not sure what they’re doing, consider it a red flag.
- Insist on regular reporting. It’s also important to insist on regular reporting. Your partner should be showing you not just the work they’re actively doing on behalf of your brand, but also the results they’re getting you. How have your rankings changed over time? How much traffic is your website getting? Combine these metrics with your onsite sales and conversion statistics to calculate your overall return on investment (ROI).
- Ask questions. If you don’t understand something, don’t assume that your SEO expert is taking care of it – or even that they know more than you. Ask questions. The more you learn about SEO in the process, the better you’ll be able to direct and make decisions about your campaign. And if your partner can’t answer a question or if they dodge a question, it might be a sign of trouble to come.
Hold the team accountable.
Finally, hold the team (or individual) accountable for their results. For example, if you drop in rankings for a specific keyword, ask them what they’re going to do about it. If you’re not getting the results, you wanted after several months of work, push them to make up the difference or give you a partial refund.
Outsourcing SEO can be incredibly valuable. In a best-case scenario, you’ll get to tap into some of the most creative and experienced minds in the industry while supporting your site with white hat tactics and saving money in the process.
But the worst-case scenario should be enough to scare you into doing your due diligence well in advance. In addition, not all SEO companies will give you a return on your investment (ROI), so keep that in mind during your research.
Feature Image Credit: yan krukov; pexels
Timothy Carter is the Chief Revenue Officer of the Seattle digital marketing agency SEO.co, DEV.co & PPC.co. He has spent more than 20 years in the world of SEO and digital marketing leading, building and scaling sales operations, helping companies increase revenue efficiency and drive growth from websites and sales teams. When he’s not working, Tim enjoys playing a few rounds of disc golf, running, and spending time with his wife and family on the beach — preferably in Hawaii with a cup of Kona coffee. Follow him on Twitter @TimothyCarter