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.