As Startup Founders, Entrepreneurs and Businesspeople we are constantly stretched for time. One way to “get back some time” is to outsource tasks, and perhaps one of the most common tasks to outsource is Search Engine Optimization or SEO based work.
However, I have burned through more than four so called SEO experts! What should have been a time saving tactic in reality was a time consuming process that despite having screening procedures in place still failed to weed out the bad eggs.
But before I get into everything I have learned outsourcing SEO tasks to Freelancers, some background on me. I didn’t come into this with zero SEO knowledge. In fact I have been blogging and building online businesses for years. During this time I have developed what I would call an “above average” understand of Search Engine Optimization tactics and on-page and off-page factors.
As with any startup however there are always 101 tasks to do, so I naturally looked to outsource some functions that were time consuming, yet easy to manage, even if engaging freelancers in countries overseas/in different time zones.
Despite having that background knowledge in SEO and supposedly asking all the right questions I still made mistakes. And in this post I am going to share them all.
It’s Hard To Screen For SEO Success
I believe it is hard to screen for SEO success by looking at portfolios/past work because a lot of the “examples” provided by SEO freelancers are for smaller / niche businesses with limited competition, plus I got the distinct impression that a lot of their past clients lacked any understanding of SEO tactics/requirements and could easily be led down any path.
I did however believe my process was robust:
- I had a comprehensive series of questions to respond to as part of the application for the job/task
- I screened out any applicants that failed to answer the questions significantly / lacked positive feedback or hard a limited work history
- I then interviewed the shortlisted candidates and asked them to explain how they approach SEO. I automatically excluded anyone who mentioned spammy or black hat style tactics.
Despite going through this four times and thinking I had arrived at a decent candidate each time, I was let down with the end result.
You Have To Manually Check Their Work BEFORE They Do It
You really shouldn’t have to do this, but wow it would have saved me a lot of headaches. With my first foray into outsourcing SEO (and despite the perfect examples on their portfolio) I got badly worded outreach emails, low quality comments and profile pages that hardly made sense.
As a result I adapted my process for the first week, even though it cost more. I now specifically ask the SEO freelancer to collect the sites, write the comments/emails, etc but don’t post them. Instead they send them to me so I can check the quality and relevance before they are put out there in the public domain.
Understand That A Lot of Their Work Is Just Exported From SEO Tools
Two of the four SEO freelancers provided me with a SEO report on my site. This would be fine except for the fact that they charged hours and hours of time for it when I know it just involved a SEO tool, typing in a domain and hitting export.
One of them did fill it out with some additional information but it wasn’t tailored to my site. In fact, it wasn’t anything you couldn’t find in a 10 second Google search so didn’t add any value for me.
While getting this data can be important it is the analysis and logic applied to it that is valuable. If all your SEO freelancer does is hit export then they don’t have the skills/capability to drive results for your business.
Ask How Much Time Should That Really Take
Often SEO freelancers will charge by the hour, rather than for the scope of the project. Essentially this means they are incentivised to take a longer amount of time to complete tasks.
I saw this time and time again with guest post outreach and blog commenting (which I am not a massive fan of). For example with the guest post outreach you could easily create a mail merge and send out 10, 20 or even 50+ emails in a batch. If you are smart with your merge fields you can even customise the emails heavily to the person you are sending it to.
But no, SEO freelancers will often hand write (or cut and paste) each and every email separately. Essentially costing you more money for the same result.
The Examples Always Look Good But The Results Not So Much
This is relevant for blog comments (if you choose to adopt that strategy) and guest post outreach. I actually drafted a guest post outreach email to use so the spelling on that was fine. What happens though is people reply, and then when your freelancer responds its not always perfect.
This is even worse with blog comments. If the comment barely makes sense then its just spammy. This can be frustrating, especially if the initial work samples they provided (or even in email communication with you directly) their english is good. For some reason they just let the quality slip.
They Almost NEVER Listen
I can’t tell you how many times I told SEO freelancers to do one thing, only for them to ignore it or do the complete opposite.
For example I was very clear about only wanting to create profiles on relevant sites where I could share content or thought leadership pieces. Despite this I found one freelancer created a host of profiles on all manner of sites. It was a waste of money and time (as I then had to delete them all manually).
Unfortunately You Have To Be Ruthless
I personally always look for the good in people and often give them the benefit of the doubt. When working with SEO freelancers this is a mistake.
The fact is they don’t actually care about your business. They just want to rack up hours, get paid and move on. As a result you have to be ruthless.
There is no point trying to train or reason with them. If they don’t do a good job or go against what you ask for cancel the contract straight away.
I have gotten better at this with each freelancer I worked with. For example I worked with the first freelancer for like 6 weeks, the one after than about 4 weeks and the next two about 7 to 10 days. As soon as it was clear they wouldn’t work out or didn’t have the skill set that matched their profile I cancelled the contract.
So What Now
Well, SEO is important and I continue to work on a lot of things myself. The good news is however that I have a new UK based SEO expert coming on board shortly. While he is yet to start work the quality in the pre-planning phase is 10x what I had seen from anyone previously.
This result essentially sums up this entire post. You have to keep trying. It is only through trial and error that you will find the diamonds in the rough.
Also published on Medium.