Let’s start by stating two things you already know—one, the internet is part of everyone’s everyday life, and two, it’s not going away anytime soon. So how do Americans spend their surplus of time on the ubiquitous internet? According to a recent study, Americans spend an average of 23 minutes per day using search engines. As a business, this means that SEO is more important than ever. SEO, the methods used to optimize your website to be found by search engines, is no longer an optional feature or added bonus for those companies that can find the extra funds lying around. It’s something that needs to be part of your overall marketing strategy. The question is no longer ‘Should I do SEO?’ the question is ‘Do I hire and train an in-house team or do I outsource this service?’ There is much to consider when deciding whether to staff up a team or to outsource your SEO to a partner. Here is an outline of the most common factors that companies evaluate in their decision process.

Pros & Cons of Outsourcing

Pros:

  • Get It Now – When you hire a company, they can start immediately and should bring to the table years of experience figuring this out with other clients (i.e. not figuring it out with your account!). Remember, the longer you put off your search engine marketing the farther your competitors are getting ahead of you. Waiting until you feel educated enough to do it yourself may mean it never happens!
  • Stay Up To Date – SEO is not a one and done thing, it takes regular maintenance and upkeep. This makes it very easy to become outdated and behind with your SEO. Because search engines (a.k.a. Google) update their criteria for ranking sites so frequently it is extremely easy to get behind. I can’t tell you how many times each year I have to update the way I do SEO. Hiring an agency allows you to keep up with industry best practices.
  • Tools & Expertise – Good SEO requires expertise. Yes, the individual SEO practices aren’t that difficult, but it’s the tailoring of those practices that takes time and talent. I always joke that a monkey could do my job, but the reason my services are still needed is because of the many moving pieces that go into a successful SEO campaign. It’s no longer “enough” to just do SEO; you have to be the best at it. Outsourced SEO, when compared to an in-house expert or team, is usually able to bring a variety of specialists—SEO Analyst, Analytics Specialist, Content Writer, Developer, Link Builder to work on your account as needed. If you’re looking at paid search, an agency will also have a CRO Specialist and PPC Specialist. A successful social media marketing campaign would also need a team for social media. As you can see, this adds up. Agencies typically have more tools of the trade and resources, which equates to efficiency and cost savings.
  • Don’t Quit Your Day Job – Whether you sell custom jewelry, high-end home automation systems, or local dental services, focus on what you’re good at. Outsourcing saves you the hassle of hiring and training in-house, or doing it yourself; which lets you focus on the big picture.
  • Affordability – I’m saying this with a HUGE caveat—SEO doesn’t have to be expensive. Outsourcing saves you the costs of hiring in-house as well as opportunity costs associated with doing it yourself or training your team. Now here’s the caveat: be sure you aren’t going too cheap; this could cost you many dollars in the long run (see the third bullet point under “Cons” below). The average salary for an SEO expert is between $5k and $7k per month. If you multiply that by the size of your team you can see how quickly that adds up. Keep that in mind if you are considering forming your in-house team versus outsourcing to an agency.
  • Objective Eyeballs – Outsourcing to a good SEO team that understands your brand can give you a new perspective on selling your products or services. Hiring an experienced agency means bringing all of their past successes (…and fails!) across many industries for you to take advantage of. Pick their brain and let them share their more objective, business-outsider thoughts on your business and website.

Cons:

  • You Know Your Customers Best – You’re still in business because you’ve seen some amount of success in selling your products and services. You (mostly) know the keywords/phrases customers are likely to use; it’s not hard for you to put yourself in their shoes to know what they are going to search for online to find your product. Outsourcing your SEO means there is going to be a learning curve for someone else to gain an understanding of your business. It also means that you provide a level of trust that they’ll get it.
  • Passion – They aren’t your brand! Nobody else will care like you care or have the vested interest in your ROI like you do. I think this is the hardest part of outsourcing your SEO because everything else can be taught or prepared for–this cannot. But this doesn’t mean you won’t see success with outsourcing, this just means you will have to learn to work with your SEO team to overcome the “passion factor.”
  • Poor SEO Could Destroy Your Business – It’s hard to say what the ideal cost of SEO is because it depends on the size of the business and the industry. I can tell you this, the cheaper the SEO, the more likely it is offshored, almost always a bad thing for SEO work that is going to be read by human beings. If you outsource to a low-level agency and they make mistakes or take part in shady tactics and get penalized, they can just move on. But you can’t. Poor SEO could cost you a LOT to overcome in the long run—DO YOUR RESEARCH.
  • Good Talent is Hard to Find – <RANT>“SEOs” are a dime a dozen nowadays and I feel like everyone has “SEO” as a skill on their LinkedIn profile. There is no universal certification out there to really know who’s qualified and who’s not and I’ve met a LOT of really incompetent SEOs giving us a bad name.</RANT> It’s important to remember that not all SEOs are created equal; good SEOs are much harder to come by. It can take some time to filter out the good from the bad. To make your life easier, I’ve actually put together 20 questions you can ask when interviewing SEO agencies (see below at the end of the post). Feel free to add to this list as you see fit!
  • SEO is Easy – I’ll be the first to admit that SEO isn’t difficult to do—I’ve already mentioned that I feel monkeys could do my job. What makes SEO difficult is that there are SO MANY moving pieces to keep track of and tailor to the needs of the brand and campaign.

There are definitely pros and cons to outsourcing your SEO, there are pros and cons to most decisions we make in life, but that just means we need to prepare ourselves to mitigate the chances of the cons making their way into the picture. To help you in this process I have laid out some steps to take in order to outsource without having the cons take over your decision. As someone who has been on both sides of the table, there really isn’t any con that can’t be overcome.

How to Outsource Your SEO the Right Way

  1. Ask The Right Questions – I have put together a list of 20 questions you can ask when interviewing SEO agencies to handle your SEO. This is by no means an all-inclusive list that you have to use, it’s simply meant to give you a start and to help you avoid the pitfalls of hiring a lousy agency that doesn’t have your best interest in mind.
  2. Interview Multiple SEO Firms – Now I would love it if you were to walk out of your first meeting with Dan Posner (head of sales here at Big Leap) with a signed agreement for us to handle your digital marketing but it is in your best interest to interview multiple agencies to find the best fit for you and your brand. At the very least it will give you more confidence in your agency of choice when you interview multiple because you will see exactly what I’ve been talking about—not all SEOs are created equal.
  3. Give Your Agency a Chance – Who performs well with someone lurking over their shoulder? I don’t know anybody who does. The point is, allow your agency of choice the room to succeed. I can’t tell you how many times a campaign has had a hard time gaining traction due to a client trying to micromanage something they didn’t really understand to begin with . It’s a tough thing to do, trusting your marketing to an outsider, but if you’ve done your due diligence and researched SEO agencies then you can have confidence they will do what’s best for your brand.
  4. Work With Your Agency Of Choice – Giving your agency a chance does not mean turning it over to them and hoping they will succeed. You can and should be a part of the campaign, as an agency we need your help! You are the brand, you know your customers, and you have insider knowledge and resources that will help us succeed. My most successful campaigns have come about when a company works with my team. This works with big companies and budgets all the way down to our smallest local businesses. Just be prepared to work with your agency to help them succeed. If your agency doesn’t want you to help or asks nothing of you, you should run immediately.
  5. Bring Up Concerns And Ask Questions – Your SEO agency shouldn’t have a problem being completely transparent about what’s going on; this means they shouldn’t have a problem answering your questions if you have concerns. Digital marketers are a nerdy breed, we forget there are things that aren’t common knowledge outside of our industry and forget this when explaining things to clients. Make sure you have a point of contact who can answer these questions and concerns because they may not have realized how unclear they were on a subject. Again, if an agency has issues with answering your questions or seems shady in their answers then head for the hills. There is nothing they can’t be completely transparent about here.
  6. Be Dependable And Respond To Requests – This goes hand-in-hand with working WITH your agency of choice. In order to run a successful campaign we need things from you and the faster you’re able to get these items back to us, the more efficient we are able to be at our jobs. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been held up by a client who has been slow to respond to my requests. In the end it’s you (the client) that pays for any delays.
  7. Make Sure They’re Listening To You And Asking The Right Questions – Last but certainly not least, pay attention to your agency and make sure they have your best interest in mind and that they aren’t just trying to pad their pockets and giving you something ineffective. There are multiple right ways to see success with your SEO campaign, just make sure you have found a knowledgeable team who wants to see your brand succeed.

Outsourcing your SEO is a very easy decision when you know how to approach it confidently. Rather than putting all your resources into training your own in-house team or spending all of your time trying to tackle it yourself, you can spend a little time educating yourself enough to find a competent agency to handle things for you.

And now, as promised, my list of questions to take on that first meeting with your potential firm:

20 Questions to Ask Your SEO Firm

  1. How do you measure campaign success?
  2. How do you determine which search terms to focus on?
  3. How do you create content for search optimization? Methodology?
  4. How do you integrate with other aspects of our marketing?
  5. What is your approach to link building?
  6. What does your initial “setup” include and what services do you provide month-to-month?
  7. What’s your best success story? Can you show me examples?
  8. Can you guarantee me success for [insert term here] quickly? *If their response is “yes” you need to run! Follow-up question: What guarantees do you offer?
  9. What ROI can I expect? How will I see progress? What criteria do you use to determine success?
  10. Do you have references?
  11. Can I contact you if I have concerns?
  12. What does content mean to you?
  13. Do you know any shortcuts?
  14. What is your client retention rate?
  15. Who will be doing the work on my site?
  16. Do you know the different algorithm updates? *Do some quick research on this and make sure they have a confident overview of each (panda, penguin, pigeon) update.
  17. Are they well known? Do they speak at conferences or are they on boards of marketing groups?
  18. Will you implement changes or do I need to do this?
  19. How will you help attract customers, not just visitors?
  20. How long are your contracts?
Jamie Bates