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For many businesses, SEO is a black hole. Lots of stuff goes in, and almost nothing comes out.

There are plenty of reasons for this: executing an SEO effort requires the right strategy, a solid commitment and adequate human and financial resources to get the job done.

Coming up with the latter -- the human and financial resources -- is often one of the biggest challenges business face. So it was with interest that I read a post written by Rand Fishkin of SEOmoz entitled "Leveraging Mechanical Turk, oDesk, ELance & Craigslist for SEO".

In it, he notes that "SEO has a number of tasks that requires human effort in a format well-suited to freelance services" and goes on to detail which SEO tasks can (potentially) be outsourced to freelancers on oDesk, Elance and Craigslist, and how others can even be crowdsourced via Amazon's Mechanical Turk. It's well worth a read, and got me thinking: even if your business can outsource/crowdsource some or all of its SEO efforts, should it?

Here are some pros and cons to consider.

The Pros

  • Tap into a larger pool of talent. Services like oDesk, Elance and Craigslist give you access to a global network of freelancers. For businesses not located in large metropolitan areas, this network may provide one of the only means of accessing qualified freelancers to work on SEO-related assignments.
  • Realize cost savings. It is often possible to realize cost savings by hiring freelancers, especially those that are located out-of-area. For instance, if your business is located in New York City, where the cost of living is exorbitant, chances are freelancers in just about any other city will come at a lower cost than local freelancers. The potential cost savings from outsourcing can, of course, be even lower when you go international, especially when outsourcing to a country with a weaker currency than your own.
  • Segment your workforce. As Fishkin's post makes clear, it's very much possible to build a virtual SEO workforce that is segmented by task. Somebody you hire on oDesk could be doing research and collecting data, while the human 'robots' on Mechanical Turk can perform grunt work like harvesting email addresses. For obvious reasons, this has some advantages over relying on a single outfit to handle every aspect of your SEO strategy.

The Cons

  • The local factor is often worth its weight in gold. While it may be possible to outsource some SEO tasks through freelancer websites, enough can't be said for the ability to meet in person with the people you're counting on to help you achieve your goals.
  • Project management can be difficult. Managing a virtual team of freelancers is often a nightmarish task. Communication can be an issue, keeping track of where things are may be more difficult than imagined and 'putting everything together' from multiple sources is likely to be a job in and of itself. In short, it usually takes a lot of work to manage a virtual team. Depending on your needs and capabilities, this is often more costly and time-consuming than expected.
  • The risk of failure is high. Outsourcing always comes with risk. Fishkin himself guesses that "more than half of the projects contracted on these services fail". While there are common sense ways to reduce the risk of failure, and Fishkin suggests some, bringing multiple chefs into your kitchen via the internet will always present some hurdles to producing a delicious meal.

So what should you do?

The decision to outsource or crowdsource your SEO via the internet is not an easy one to make. If you have some knowledge of and experience with SEO, and have the time to project manage, outsourcing/crowdsourcing SEO tasks may be a viable way to get more result for less dough assuming you're prepared to take on some risk and go through fits and starts. If, on the other hand, you need personal service (and maybe even a little bit of hand-holding) and value risk management and peace of mind over potential cost savings, finding a reputable local one-stop-shop will probably be your best bet.

Photo credit: ToastyKen via Flickr.

Patricio Robles

Published 7 April, 2010 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2403 more posts from this author

Comments (9)

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Kyle Healey

I think the biggest reason that so many businesses see SEO as a black hole is because the panick they are not seeing results and can the program before it gets rolling. I've seen it so many times, people quit right before they are about to blow up.

over 6 years ago


Social Media Marketer

Outsourcing works well for SEO, but project managment is an essential component of the process, as pointed out. The offset to this is a good structured SEO campaign that incorporates deliverables & an action plan. After thirteen years of success, challenges, frustrations providing SEO to clients; the biggest black hole is the Content Goals, Web Site Design, User Interface, Menu Structure, Platform, etc. and the fact that in 75% of most companies SEO is thought of after the site has been designed and/or launched. And, to compound the matters further, many web site designers cringe visibly when SEO firms are brought into the picture, as goals/objectives for both marketing processes can be vastly different. Many/many times the client doesn't want to change the "lovely design" - the down side for most is a gorgeous web site, with no or minimal traffic. Like the old adage about a tree falling in the forest with no one around to hear it.........

over 6 years ago


cheap ugg

Anne and Joe and some other dude look at the layouts and make bizarre pronouncements. Anne does her I-think-I’m-being-enigmatic-but-really-I-look-constipated grin and then Minion Brett is sent to tell Team Bitchy that they won. Kate and Ashlie are brought in so that one of them can be told that she’s “not the right fit.” Oh, Anne, so coy! Anyhoodles, Kate is finally sent home and she pulls an act the likes of which the world has not seen since Omarosa 1.0: she tells Anne how much she hates Evil Megan and Abusive Dyshaun and Pointlessly Neurotic Johanna and how she wants Ashlie to win. Sweet, sweet Ashlie, who’s only nice to Kate because she has to be

over 6 years ago

Jayne Reddyhoff

Jayne Reddyhoff, Director at Zanzi Digital

I cannot see how you could successfully outsource SEO tasks in this way unless you have considerably more then "...some knowledge of and experience with SEO..."

However, as a small website marketing company with a good level of this knowledge and wishing to grow fast, I can see that there could be benefits to outsourcing some well defined SEO tasks as an interim measure.

It takes time to recruit and/or train staff and new customer work does not arrive in neatly packaged, 1-full-time-person sized lumps!

Outsourcing could be used to supplement existing staff until there is sufficient work to justify recruitment.

But clear definition of work packages and deliverables, plus good project management will be critical success factors

over 6 years ago




Great post about the pros and cons of outsourcing. It is always important to be very detailed and specific in your job description. Ensure you portray exactly what needs to be done and set the expectations of your freelancer right from the beginning.

It is good to set scheduled payments and milestones so once the freelancer has completed a portion of the job you can pay them a portion of the total amount. This will help you to monitor their progress and make tweaks along the way.

Freelancer.com is the largest outsourcing site in the world. We just hit 1.5 million registered users.Try posting a job at http://www.freelancer.com

Register for an account and use the coupon code "SEOMOZ" to receive three free projects

over 6 years ago


Jay in Toronto

Outsourcing is ok but I will never understand why people outsource to companies that don't speak and write the native language of the site that needs to be optimized.

over 6 years ago


Eva Andrea

I agree with Social Marketer that Outsourcing can work well with SEO "but project managment is an essential component of the process". And I believe this is the topmost important factor in the success of the SEO project, in fact with any project. Using project management tools like Gantt-charts, calendar, and document collaboration can help everyone identify roadblocks and deadlines, therefore project success of your outsourcing partner can easily get tracked. Check out this tool for reference www.worketc.com

over 6 years ago


Toronto SEO

I think outsourcing for SEO, like mentioned above, has it's ups and downs. SEO is a manually intensive job and can take hours of tedious work to get even a little bit accomplished. If you can find the right group of people to outsource to, you can save yourself from doing a lot of the tedious things and concentrate on running your business.

As long as you do your due dilligence before hiring, you should be fine.

For instance, if you are hiring international, make sure they can speak and write well in your native language. One of the big things I have found helps if you;re outsourcing is to take a hands on approach at the beginning and record videos in a detailed way to show your workers exactly what they need to do.

This goes a long way in cutting down the risk and headaches when outsourcing.

almost 6 years ago


Internet Savings

I think to use this service you just have to find more simple tasks that can easily be assigned to others. It might be worth trying something like directory submission or web 2.0 page creation. Just don’t assign anything that can have negative implications if done poorly.

Internet Savings

over 5 years ago

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