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The Case Against Outsourced SEO

The Case Against Outsourced SEO

About a week ago I got a phone call from a college buddy of mine named Paul who runs a soon-to-launch online business. Here’s how the conversation went:

Paul: “We want to hire your company to do the SEO for us. Whatever the price is, we can afford it.”

Me: “Tell me a little more about your company and exactly what you expect to achieve from search.”

Paul: “We want to rank #1 in Google for EVERYTHING in our industry, and I know you can do it for us.”

Me: “I’d be happy to consult with your team to make sure you understand the principles of SEO and get off on the right foot, but I think you’re better off doing the work yourself.”

He was perplexed. Why wouldn’t we want to take on his SEO work? It has nothing to do with him or his company. It has everything to do with the misunderstood nature of what it takes to consistently rank high in natural search. The absolute best companies I’ve worked with make every decision with SEO in mind. Everyone in their organization – from management to programmers to marketing – is thinking about the search impact of their decisions. For that reason it makes sense to hire a consultant or to learn it yourself, but not to hire an outside firm to outsource your entire SEO campaign to.

Most of the time when companies outsource SEO they do it with the mentality of “here you go, you handle it, we expect results.” They view it as an entirely separate entity and not as a core value that needs to be instilled in their organization to be successful. That’s why outsourced SEO just doesn’t work: your organization still makes decisions the old way.

How will this programming change impact our search results? Can we build link-building into our marketing campaign? What adjustments can we make so that both are working in harmony to achieve our objectives as a company and rank as high as we can? There is no incentive to learn about search if someone else is handling it for you, and consequently you probably won’t be asking these important questions when making a critical business decision.

Paul was still a bit confused with that answer. So let’s take a closer look at some of the key components necessary for SEO success and what needs to take place for them to be accomplished:

Keyword Research – this entails researching how frequently phrases relevant to your site are searched. I like to use the SEO-Book tool or the free version of Wordtracker. Keyword research is important because it will impact your site structure, title tags (widely regarded as the most influential factor in how high you rank), and will help identify opportunities in your industry (if a term is searched a lot but there aren’t a lot of good results, you may have just identified a great expansion opportunity for your company). This is best done by either a consultant or the internal head of your SEO campaign, which should be someone in upper-management.

On-Site Optimization and Site Structure – this is what most people think of when they think of SEO. What changes should be made to your site so that search engine spiders have the best chance of crawling it, understanding the content, and ranking you accordingly. Most often, this involves changes to Title/META tags, cleaning up source code so that it’s proper HTML, moving CSS and Javascript to external files, adding sitemaps, modifying internal linking structure and anchor text, and several other standard changes that eliminate all potential crawling and indexing issues. This is best done by your programmer(s) so that they understand the importance of the changes and make them part of their routine in the future. These changes can be suggested by a consultant, but will only really be successful if programmers are on board.

Link building – this is probably the second most common task associated with SEO. By now you already know that you need one-way incoming links from relevant sites with applicable anchor text to rank high. Many outsourced SEO firms will either engage in elaborate link exchanges or purchase paid links for you: both of which are obsolete in terms of having any positive impact in your rankings, and now can potentially penalize you. The best one-way link building techniques – press releases, content syndication, blogging, product syndication, viral videos, etc – all require a LOT of input from you to be successful. Most of the time they should be integrated into your existing marketing plan to have the highest chance to thrive. For example, most companies already issue press releases when they have newsworthy announcements so it’s a natural extension to email the release to online news sites and blogs, and to use an online distribution service. I think successful link building is best done by your marketing department as part of your overall marketing strategy. It’s fine to have a consultant help put the plan together, but the actual implementation of the plan should be done by you.

Analytics – this involves the measurement and tracking of your sites’ SEO and marketing campaign. Previously, this could be tedious for small sites and I might have recommended outsourcing. But with the new version of Google Analytics, a properly configured account will tell you everything you need to know about where every single sale on your site came from. Your programmer or consultant should be able to set it up for you and configure the reports to track only the most important metrics for your organization. I also like to track incoming links and search engine rankings for a site (two things that Analytics does not track), but those can easily be tracked with the Marketleap Link Checker and Digital Point Keyword Tracker (both of which can be found with a quick Google search).

In the end, whether you decide to hire a consultant or tackle SEO internally with the vast information available online, you still need to make SEO part of your organizations objectives for it to be a success: something that outsourcing usually doesn’t do.

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