Rules for Outsourcing in Search

We work with in-house search marketers all the time at Distilled. Many of us have been one at some point, so we understand there is so much to be done and so little time. The first thing many companies want to do is outsource everything possible (read:delegate!), but then why have an in-house search marketer? Put simply: there are things that need to stay in-house to be truly quality.

Outside companies can only understand so much about your business, keeping a sharp search mind in the company is imperative. You need someone that understands your business, has a hand on the pulse of the business and what needs to be done online. The key though is finding someone that can also see that they cannot do it all.

I got the idea to write this post from a presentation that Kate Buck Jr. made at PubCon Austin last year. She was talking about outsourcing social media and how in some instances is it required when a company lacks expertise in the area.

So, What CAN be Outsourced?

Alright, fine. I'll lay it out. ;) The things I see outsourced the most often are:
  • Content Development (blog posts, articles, blurbs, product descriptions)
  • Social Media/Outreach (finding and contacting people that are possible guest post hosts, Twitter and Facebook account management and strategy)
  • Creative/Infographics (images for PPC, infographics, ideas for link bait)
  • Link Building (see outreach ...)
  • CRO (testing and strategy to get the right combination on your site to increase conversions)
I am not including things like site reviews, coding, tool development or paid search. Things like code reviews can be outsourced if they are not your cup of tea but typically this overlaps with site development.

Paid search is a whole other beast and the case can be made both ways. This is one of those things that if you are not an expert, finding help is preferred. But if you can find the talent, retain that talent. Understanding your product is imperative to paid search just as it is SEO.

Here are some rules to determine if you should outsource parts of your online marketing plan.

1. Keep Your Strengths In-House

Not every search marketer can be an expert at everything.There is too much to understand, and the bigger the company the more challenges there are. There are companies that will need expertise in Schema, Product Feeds, and Local Search, but not all companies need help in these areas. An in-house search marketer might be brought in because they are talented in marketing, coding, site structure, international SEO, display advertising, link building, or social media. That is not an exhaustive list, but you get the idea.

Let them do what you hired them for, but understand that they cannot do everything. If you are an in-house search marketer, don't be afraid to seek assistance in areas, but own your own knowledge. If you really get Local Search, seek help with a site review and site structure. Check out some people to help with link building as you work on mentions and getting reviews. All parts of search merge together (each part impacts the other) so be aware that even if what you are good an overlaps with another part, keep going at what you do best, communication is key.

2. Have a Budget and KPIs Ready

Once you understand what you need help with, the first thing you need to do identify what you want outsourced resources to help you do. Identifying KPIs will allow you to set a budget as well. Do not go into hiring someone without a budget. It may not be a full amount ("$5,000 a month for 3 months is all I have") but having an idea of your metrics, goals, and what you want to spend in some way (per lead, per 1000 conversions, per 100 likes) will help the contracted company get to know what you are looking for and how best to help you.

Outsourcing Content Example

If you want to outsource content creation, you would want to know what kind of content needs to be created, how much, and what the goal of the content is. If you are looking to outsource some article writing for your company blog and you can take care of 5 posts a month, but want to be posting 3 per week (12 total), you'll need to look for someone that can do 7 posts a month.

Then take a look at how long your posts are normally (if you don't know, write one yourself, they will need examples to go from) and how long they take to write. If your salary is $50k a year, assuming 40 hours a week, you don't want to spend more than $25 an hour. If a blog post takes you 3 hours to write, that's $75 per article at the most, and you want it to cost the same or less than you doing it (unless you want higher quality, that's up to you).

The company outsourced to would be measured by the originality of the article and timeliness. In the long run, you'll want to look at unique visitors to the posts and search traffic over time. If you are looking for links, tracking links to the posts would work too. Do what works for you.

You would then go into the process wanting:

  • 7-10 Posts per month
  • 500 words per article on average
  • $50-$100 per article
  • High quality with the goal of informing readers about xxxx industry (why does the blog exist?)

3. Monitor KPIs

When you do find someone to outsource things to, track their progress or have them do it for you. At the start of any relationship you should take time to sit down with them and discuss your goals and how to measure them. Make sure both sides agree on how the work is being measured. This will help you keep things on track, on budget, and help you know when it's time to get out of a relationship if that time comes.

Outsourcing Link Building Example

If you did your work in the beginning you should have an idea of what your link building project has been designed to do. I'll be frank, link building seems like an easy example, but alas it isn't. You would assume that the number of links acquired is what needs to be measured, but that isn't always true. The best link building should be measured by links, mentions, traffic, conversions, emails sent, reply rate, linking domains, ranking, and so many more. It all depends on your goal and a good link building company will try to convince you to tie results to short term goals like links acquired, but also longer term goals (better in my book) of increased traffic from the links and from natural search. And of course, all of this should be increasing your bottom line.

Some Examples of Specific KPIs:

  • Ranking Specific Key Terms
  • 200% Increase to Natural Search traffic from those keywords
  • 100 New Root Linking Domains a Month

4. Ask Questions

Questions are your best friend. You want to use them to ensure that you are getting quality work. Ask about the people working on your project and their qualifications. Ask how they are getting links. Ask to see the content and ask for changes (if they are required). Ask about plans for once the infographic is completed. Even if the company is not contracted to do outreach on an infographic, get their thoughts on it.

Communication is key to any successful project.

But as a note from the other side, do be aware of the time you are taking by asking questions. You want to keep things on track and on budget. Asking too many off topic questions can result in increased costs. Always be on top of costs and how much time you are taking in meetings. There is always a balance.

5. Don't Be Afraid to Leave

If things are not going as planned, do not be afraid to leave. Stopping link building for a few months will not kill your site. Looking for a new SEO strategist is not going to hurt your rankings. Changing who writes your blog posts will not send people screaming. Your business is under your rule, not that of someone else. Change can be hard (especially when it comes to tracking) but it will not hurt you.

If your metrics are not lining up right, and you have brought this up to the outsourced company or person but are still not seeing the results you would like, try something new. If you try something new and it's better, awesome. If it doesn't work out, as long as you are a good client and pay on time, the old provider will welcome you back with open arms. This world is all about testing things to see what works best.

6. Know Your Exit Strategy

With that being said, there are many companies that will try to scare you into staying or try to keep things from you. Know this plain and simple rule: if you paid for the work, you get to keep the labors of that work. This is true when it comes to creative work, content, strategy, etc. When it comes to services like link building and social media though, depending on how it is done, the exit strategy can be harder.

You need to be sure you are the owner of any external and internal (think email) accounts and have the power to change the password once a change happens. Many people have been stuck without the account they paid to develop and maintain. In the end you need to know what is yours and make sure it stays yours once any relationships end.

In the end, it's about what you are good at and delegating the rest as your budget allows. Companies are more than willing to spend money on anything as long as it brings a good return. If you can get the job done by someone else for less and spend your time and expert brain power on something else, they will praise you for that. 

What do you think? Is there anything I missed that people should know before outsourcing anything?

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