Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a complex marketing activity with many tasks requiring particular expertise. It's also an area that's changing and evolving all the time (eg: Google pushes search algorithm updates weekly) so it's really important to get SEO right because there are direct business impacts and risks involved with getting SEO wrong.
For an organization or agency without an SEO function, outsourcing SEO will initially be a new cost however that cost in most cases will be likely lower when compared to employing a full-time SEO professional or in-house SEO team.
Of course, sometimes it just comes down to the basic need to get the work done. As Ravi Davda, CEO of UK-based digital agency, Rockstar Marketing says:
"We can't do everything ourselves. I spent years learning SEO, and only then did I start to outsource the process. I remember the days where I would sit and write blog after blog, in order to get great at writing. However, this obviously isn't scalable, so I got to the stage where things needed to be outsourced."
There are many other benefits of SEO outsourcing beyond scaling and cost savings. And as with everything there are some drawbacks too, so let's breakdown the pros and cons of outsourcing SEO for both digital agencies and SMBs.
Benefits of Outsourcing SEO for Digital Agencies
For digital agencies without SEO talent, the trigger for SEO outsourcing is almost certainly winning client work that requires SEO services. Apart from the potential cost savings of outsourcing work, there are also benefits specific to digital agencies:
Agencies who offer SEO as a non-core service benefit greatly from outsourcing SEO. The flexibility to engage an SEO professional on short notice for short-run projects gives agencies the ultimate flexibility to offer the service to the market without the ongoing costs of employing a full-time resource. This type of ad-hoc outsourcing is common for agencies who offer a wide array of services but are small in size and only scale up when and as it's needed.
2. Employee Satisfaction
James Taylor, an SEO Consultant in the UK outsources some SEO tasks to local VAs (Virtual Assistants) and cites benefits not only to him and his business but also to the individuals he outsources to:
"I use virtual assistants based in the UK, and they essentially become employees who enjoy greater flexibility on their side too."
Indeed, flexibility is a mutual benefit and these days it's such a big priority for employees (whether they are full-time, part-time or freelance).
Outsourcing search engine optimization to known SEO experts enables agencies to move super-quick. Depending on their availability, outsource work can begin as soon as you put down the phone. And as we know with SEO projects, there are usually quick wins that can be achieved in the first few days of work. This kind of turn-around impresses clients and can even lead to project expansion. In comparison, hiring a new employee can take several weeks, even months to find the right candidate, go through interviews and then wait out notice periods.
4. Free Up Resources
There are a lot of overlapping skills within digital agency staff. Skills possessed by an SEO strategist may also be present in Social Media Strategists, Paid Media Specialists and/or Content Marketers. In smaller agencies, ad-hoc SEO work is carried out by generalists or non-specialist SEO practitioners. By outsourcing this work to dedicated SEO specialists, it can free up your people to focus on their core skill sets.
5. Win New Business Opportunities
Related to the above points, SEO outsourcing can enable an agency to compete on projects that require SEO as part of the mix of services. For example, a web development agency could pitch on work that not only includes design & development but also SEO strategy as part of the deliverables. In this instance, the value of outsourced SEO talent extends beyond a project itself and into the pre-project / pitch phase of a project.
Benefits of Outsourcing SEO for SMBs
Many of the same benefits of outsourcing for agencies, extend to SMBs as they grapple with building and structuring internal marketing teams. For most SMBs, SEO is an outsourced function - either to a digital agency or an SEO freelancer. In most cases, this is because it isn't viable to maintain a full-time SEO role on staff. But there are additional benefits of outsourcing SEO for SMBs too:
1. Improved Scalability
Business founders constantly think about growth. Outsourcing SEO can help SMBs move and scale quickly without having to commit to ongoing costs or investing time and money into upskilling / training.
2. Access a Skilled Talent Pool for Future Hiring
Tanner Arnold is the President & CEO of Revelation Machinery and sees a major benefit of outsourcing to be building a professional network of specialists who one day
"One of the best aspects of outsourcing is that it expands the pool of candidates available for hire. Rather than focusing on local SEO specialists, outsourcing can provide you with access to SEO experts from all over the country and even the world."
3. Save Money
Sometimes it comes down to the economics of it all and outsourcing SEO is almost always more cost effective than hiring full-time talent. The main variables are how you find the right outsource talent and how you engage them. Not all outsourcing works the same way and there is a lot of variability in freelance SEO fees.
4. Get a Different Point of View
Matt Weidle, Business Development Manager at Buyer's Guide believes the expertise and experience that comes with outsourcing SEO are worth their weight in gold:
"Outsourcing your SEO will provide you with the opportunity to gain a fresh perspective on issues you may have overlooked."
Drawbacks of Outsourcing
As we've seen, there are many benefits of outsourcing SEO services but what about the downsides?
1. Inability to Retain SEO Knowledge In-House
SEO knowledge is a must-have for any business reliant on web traffic. There is a good argument for keeping this knowledge inside an organization or agency because internal SEO experts can help educate and evangelize the importance of good SEO practices in the whole organization.
2. Lack of a Dedicated Resource
Having a full-time SEO strategist or SEO team on staff means you can always immediately avail of their expertise. For the same reason that Fortune 500 CEOs fly in private jets instead of being shackled to commercial airline timetables. As much as outsourcing SEO gives a company flexibility (budget-wise) it also takes some of the control away and your urgent project might be dependant on their availability and current workload.
3. Lack of Long-Term Focus
SEO outsourcing for short-run or ad-hoc projects is great but where an in-house SEO expert or team makes all the difference is in the longer-term strategy and planning.
Why Should You be Careful About Outsourcing SEO?
The drawbacks above relate to the potential effect that outsourcing SEO has on your organization but what about if you just have a bad experience with the quality of outsourcing. This is perhaps one reason why some companies feel like they've been 'burned' by outsourcing SEO. One such digital agency was Think Orion. Their Marketing Head, Jack Altmen shared some candid thoughts with us about their first experience with SEO outsourcing:
"To be very honest, as a Digital Marketing agency, we always faced problems providing SEO services in-house. We are experts in Google and Facebook ads so when we started outsourcing SEO services, we initially opted for a cheap service provider. This led to complaints from our clients and eventually we discontinued offering SEO services. Outsourcing to the cheapest provider was the worst decision we ever made."
After the initial roadbump, Think Orion regrouped and decided to give SEO outsourcing another shot.
"We were introduced to an SEO team that wasn't cheap but had great experience in on-page, off-page and technical audits. Plus they had experience in a difficult niche. Our management team decided to give it a shot. Since then we haven't looked back. Not only are we driving organic leads for clients, but also for the agency. Our revenue has increased by 35%."
The learning here is to be careful about the service provider you choose and not let price-point be the only deciding factor. Below, we'll go more in-depth into this topic to ensure you start your outsourcing journey on the right foot.
Types of SEO Providers
According to agency directory site, Clutch, there are over 36,000 SEO agencies around the world. With borderless business accelerating in the last few years, it has become increasingly common to outsource SEO services to agencies outside of your city and even outside of your country.
SEO Agencies like Vindicta specialize in SEO. While they're headquartered in Northern Ireland, they have offices in the UK & Ireland and service clients across Europe and the US too. Even though most SEO agencies don't explicitly say they can white label their services, it's worth contacting agencies to see if you can work with them in this way. While there are dedicated SEO outsourcing companies, a typical SEO agency can generally fill the same need.
Freelancers / Consultants
Outsourcing SEO services directly to individuals like freelance marketers or consultants is another option to consider and could be lower cost than outsourcing to an agency. Marketerhire let's you search for pre-vetted SEO professionals that match the exact skill-sets you need for your project. This makes the selection process much more efficient.
US-based Super SEO Guy is an example of an SEO consultant with agency-level expertise and SMB-friendly pricing. Consultants are usually more cost effective than agencies because they don't have the same overheads so can charge a lower rate due to their lower operating costs.
But working directly with a freelancer is not for everyone as some projects are simply too big or too involved for 1 person. In these cases, an SEO agency may be a better fit.
Talent marketplaces like Upwork list thousands of freelancers who can respond to a specific SEO job brief that you post. You can also browse available SEO projects that freelancers typically perform for clients:
Talent on these marketplaces can be 'hit and miss', so it's important to screen candidates well, ask them for previous examples & results and work with them on short-run projects to gauge their capabilities. It may initially make sense to filter candidates to your country so as to start with local talent who are likely to align better to your language, culture, time zone and ways of working.
White Labeled Service Providers
For digital agencies that don't offer SEO services or don't have SEO expertise on staff, an interesting option to consider is to outsource to a white label SEO agency to perform all your SEO services at arm's length.
One such example is Australian-based Online Marketing Gurus who provide white labelled SEO services to other agencies including white label link building. White label SEO providers work with agencies in several different ways:
- White label service: all work is passed through you and the white label provider is invisible to your client
- White label account manager: an SEO account manager or strategist is client-facing but is white labelled so as to appear from your agency and part of your team
- Transparent outsource: a more uncommon model where the client is aware that SEO is being outsourced by your agency to a seperate provider
White label providers like Online Marketing Gurus, may be the best fit for small agencies, looking to grow into SEO projects.
How to Outsource SEO
If you've decided you're ready to outsource SEO to a service provider consider the following when shortlisting options:
Define Objective Scope
All good projects start with a good brief. So take the time at the start of your project to consider the full scope of the project. This means, defining an objective and making it tangible and quantifiable like "increasing search rankings to appear on in position #5 or above for our target keywords".
This is a great objective because there's no ambiguity about whether the objective will be hit or not. Scope refers to what's included in the project. SEO is a sprawling disciple and includes on-page SEO, keyword research, link building, outreach, content briefing, content writing, content optimization, the list goes on! Be really specific about what is included as part of the scope of work.
Another consideration when outsourcing SEO to a service provider is to think about whether this is a one-off project or will become an ongoing (ie: monthly retainer) piece of work. Your initial objective might suggest it's a one-off project but as many SEO professionals say: "if you're standing still - you're going backwards". So continual keyword research leading to content writing and publishing may be necessary to compete effectively on competitive search terms.
Milestones and Tasks
A large project scope with many moving parts is impossible to manage without chunking work down into milestones and tasks. For one-off projects, milestones are also used to generally split payment of work. This really depends on the size of the project though. Payment aside, milestones will help you plan your project chronologically through time. You might be surprised that a project you thought would take a couple of weeks, realistically will take a couple of months after planning milestones and considering dependencies.
This is the most obvious consideration. If you've never paid for SEO services before, you need to start shopping around and talking to service providers to gauge how much your project will cost. It's only through quotes and proposals that you can gain an understanding of the market rate for the type of work you need done.
Reporting is a commonly overlooked consideration but it's probably one of the most important. If you have clients or stakeholders, you'll need to provide reports about progress and performance. When outsourcing SEO, this is primarily the responsibility of the service provider. But if budgets are tight or you have a natural curiosity in data, you can perform reporting yourself.
There are many tools to help automate your report so you don't have to spend hours doing it manually. For example, if you want to track and report on your keyword rankings, SEOptimer's Keyword Tool is perfect for this. Or if you want to create monthly site audits, SEOptimer's White Label Audit Reports are an indispensable tool. Even better, digital agencies can white label the audit reports with their branding, fonts, colors and styles.
Perform Background Research
As with any new potential hires, make sure you've done some background research on your shortlisted candidates or agencies. Ask them for previous work examples or results of their SEO work. Look for online reviews on third-party sources like Google Reviews, Clutch, GoodFirms, etc. Contact their previous clients and ask them what they were like to work with, what was the briefing process like, did they deliver on time and would they work with them again?
Read the Fine Print
Finally, don't get locked into contracts. When you're starting, everything should be short-run and bite-sized so you can get a feel for how your outsourced provider works. Essential 'try before you commit'. Once you're happy and satisfied with the quality of work, then you can commit to longer term projects and
How Much Does Outsourcing SEO Cost?
This is a really variable question to answer based on who you engage, where they are located and what they are doing. But to provide some ballpark figures, we checked out the pricing plans of a range of SEO agencies as of September 2021.
SEO agency, Loganix offer cost-effective SEO plans starting at $500 per month which include a blog post, 2x guest post links and other foundational SEO services:
Another SEO agency, One Click SEO have a comparable monthly plan (Content Marketing SEO Package) which includes two 800+ word blog posts but without the guest post link building. So in comparison to Loganix, it's a matter of weighing up whether guest post link building is as important to you as content production itself. One Click SEO also offer a suite of add-on services like Local SEO and WordPress Maintance.
Digital agency, WebFX also has monthly packages but start higher at $1,375 per month and scale up to $3,275 per month with a focus on research, strategy and analytics:
Specialist growth agency, Soar offer self-contained projects ranging in price from $200 to $2,600 which can be bought once or performed monthly (eg: foundation backlinks):
Clearly you can see that there's a big difference between services and prices so it pays to shop around. While monthly retainers can start as low as $499, it's important to understand whether the value delivered at this price point meets all your requirements. SEO services can be easily thousands or tens of thousands per month when working with agencies who deliver across the whole spectrum of SEO services. So make a list of the specific services or outcomes you need and start shopping around.
Start with research and look for highly rated, reputable service providers that have a proven ability to deliver on the project needs you have. We'd love to hear about your tips and experiences with SEO outsourcing. Tweet to us @seoptimer.