Lee Odden

Is Your SEO Firm Outsourcing Your Work?

Lee Odden     Business of SEO, Link Building, SEO

It’s pretty common in the interactive, advertising and PR agency world to outsource components of an engagement where the lead agency does not have specific domain expertise. Those scenarios are often structured by the client who is already working with other vendors or the lead agency bringing in outside expertise.  For the most part, it’s pretty transparent what is outsourced and what is not.

Is this the same in the search marketing and especially, the SEO industry?  The variety of creative, technical and social expertise required to excel and succeed with today’s online marketing programs makes it a formidable challenge for any search marketing agency to staff accordingly. The “cowboy” mentality prevalent in the SEO world makes employing some of the best at their craft unlikely.

While many of the niche experts will spend a lot of their time building out their own content networks, they also often outsource.  It’s also true that many of those new to SEO have learned to promote themselves as specialists in specific areas to get a name for themselves and expand their consulting business from there. Hunger for new work leads to enthusiastic promises.

A while back I caught a request on a discussion thread from a PPC consultant getting more into the SEO space that a link builder was needed. The link builder would not need to report specifics or work directly with the client, just guarantee that “x” number of links were achieved monthly.

I imagined that this request was not unique amongst consultants trying to expand their offerings and wondered if the client knew what they were paying for had little if any Q/A.

Personally, I think if a SEO firm outsources part of a client’s SEO or social media marketing program, they must be actively, if not intimately involved with the work. If they don’t know enough about the tactics, then they should use the opportunity to learn. Otherwise, it’s pretty much a crap shoot what the client is actually getting for their money.

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Lee Odden About Lee Odden

@LeeOdden is the CEO of TopRank Marketing and editor of Online Marketing Blog. Cited for his expertise by The Economist, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, he's the author of the book Optimize and presents internationally on B2B marketing topics including content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he's likely running, traveling or cooking up something new.


  1. I used to feel bad taking “ninja” SEO work. Thinking that the originating company was, for lack of a better term, pulling one over on their client. Then I realized, I’m the one doing the work, so at least I know the SEO side of things will be OK for the client.

    I’ve also been very fortunate to work with firms that are at the least a little forthcoming with their clients, and never make a promise until speaking with me first.

    Still, it does concern me when I see startups offering a service that they have absolutely no insight to, or desire to understand them. Further more, I see a lot of requests from these startups that are requesting the services of others, with unlikely metrics required. The links comment you made comes to mind. Then, a faulty promise to a client gets paired with an inability to deliver.

  2. So – this may make some people mad – but I think outsourcing could be a great way to “learn” how to get into a niche you’re not very familiar with (ie ppc, social media, seo, etc).

    I’m not saying stealing someone’s work and saying it’s your own – but by having analytics and intimate knowledge of how it’s being done – couldn’t you learn from that and do SOME of the work yourself?

    Just a thought – i cant imagine saying “i dont care how you do it, just do it” with anything SEM – that leaves an open door for black-hat tactics.

  3. Avatar Aimee Garcia says

    i believe that the client should know all the things that his employees do.as long as it’s related with their line of work.

  4. Avatar Jaan Kanellis says

    I have worked with many interactive agencies and represented the SEO part of the company on their behalf. I think it is just the nature of the beast. If the client ever wondered, I was always up front and told them I was consulting for XYZ Interactive.

  5. We suppose it depends to what degree the outsourcing goes. If outsourcing to some unknown in India, we think it may be a bit different than outsourcing to a truly proficient and trustworthy group of people.

  6. Avatar Alex Dombroff says

    If the client pays for X amount of links, why does it matter who is actually placing those links?

    -Alex Dombroff

  7. Would have commented sooner – I’ve been in a client meeting all day w/o internet.

    Alex, it’s not as important who does the link building as it is that there’s some kind of quality measure. Links are not created equally, so quantity is not the sole measure.

    Carrie, yes it’s the “I don’t care how you do it” attitude that companies should watch out for when their SEO firm outsources.

  8. Always check your references and resources. Before you subout any outsourcing work, talk to 3-5 referrals and see how the previous projects worked.

    Ask outsourcers for social proof and documentation that they do good work. You may find a great company that is way less and very effective in SEO amoung other things that will help a client’s site go balistic.

  9. Sought After IT Skills
    Sought after skills. taken from http://www.thebaldchemist.com/articles today.

    Basic programming and technical support work are disappearing to automation and outsourcing. The opportunities will be for those who understand business processes, can design and execute technology plans that create business value and can cultivate relationships both in and outside an organisation.
    These hot in demand skills cross traditional boundaries, combine technical know how with a high demand for business and communications savvy.

    Most in demand, those who know how to face clients, design advanced and sophisticated applications customized to add business value in a specific Industry or organisation.

    More collaboration, interdisciplinary and much broader skills than the code crunching programmers presently in abundance are called for.

    The requirement, solid technical competence combined with fabulous business, organisational knowledge as well as outstanding people and communication skills.

    What is service you may ask? Well any thing that is economic that cannot be dropped on your foot. More precisely service is the application of skill to solve a particular problem. IT service in particular.

    Of course there are those who doubt whether these skills can be taught. That they are the results of years of learning and experience. It remains to be seen.
    I hope tis helps with your article Lee. and thanks for your stuff always intersting. The Baldchemist

  10. I don’t see what’s the big deal. As long as the business loop is intact and all transactions are fluid, there shouldn’t be a problem.

  11. I don’t think it’s a trouble. Just do your best and eveything will be ok.

  12. What about liability? Wouldn’t you as a company be afraid that there is some sort of liability issue and risk of being sued by outsourcing work that you were commissioned to do? I would imagine that no where in your contract does it say, “we will be outsourcing the work for someone else to do.”

  13. I am not sure that I perceive outsourcing as a negative strategy. If a company has a project which reveals the need for technical skills outside of the company’s capabilities, the utilization of outsourcing will certainly ensure, at a minimum, that the project is completed by the established deadline.

    With regards to quality assurance, this responsibility relies solely with the contracted company, not the business providing the outsourcings services, although that companies reputation could very well be tainted as far as you are concerned. You may even chose not to utilize their services again.

    However, the bottom line still remains that your company will take the fall for an incomplete or below standard project.

    So, in my opinion, if a company choses to outsource, it is their best interest to double check the completed project to ensure its quality before delivering it to the paying client.

  14. As long as the company who is manging the SEO efforts has access to Web Analytics to view Organic traffic flow, and PPC keyword conversion metrics they can get the job done. They do need to be intimately involved with the business as whole too, so link building decisions from the outsourced company will become much more strategic and effective.


  15. Avatar Daniel Riveong says

    First off, many big name agencies outsource part of their work to contractors to partnering agency, even going to so far as issuing them emails, business cards and the link to make it seem like to the client that they aren’t contractors. Right or wrong, this is an all too common practice.

    For SEO, I think we need to understand a few things:

    1. SEO and Project Management
    SEO is increasingly a project management type job – coordinating resources, departments and assembling multi-disciplinary teams. Outsourcing cant replace that aspect of SEO.

    2. Understanding Client Values
    With SEO touching on many areas, there can be issues in outsourcing keyword research or copywritting when sensitive issues like branding are at stake. It’s difficult for an Agency to tell an outsourcing what the client had in mind in balancing say SEO v. Branding for their webpage titles.

    3. SEO and Scale: Where is it?
    The above said, SEO is probably the leasts scalable online marketing strategy. It takes tons of effort and coordination. With that said, having a reliable keyword researcher, SEO auditor, and analytics reporting is something that can outsourced fairly well.

    But the SEO manager still needs to be very hands on and double check work thoroughly (yes, canceling out some of the efficiency of scale, I know).

    And the process for doing link building, keyword research etc needs to be understood by the Agency before hand. Process, Tactics and Quality Control are paramount in SEO, since each Agency has its own style and method.

    Agencies who outsource their SEO with a carte blanche to their outsourcer are putting their clients and themselves at risk.

  16. I’ve been on both sides here – have outsourced some work and we currently do some work outsourced to us by other firms.

    Both are tough. Tougher than working direct with clients (that accounts for most of our best). When hiring someone that I would outsource work to, I find I spend almost as much (or more) time communicating with them than I save. Not really worth it. Only way around that is to give them little direction and input, and that’s probably not a great idea either.

    When being the shop that is doing the work through another firm, it adds another layer in the communication. Makes every small item that much more time-consuming and each revision now has to go through more layers of approval.

    If you can’t tell, I’m a bit down on the SEO outsourcing note right now!

  17. I appreciate all the feedback here. It’s amazing to me that the posts that seem to get the most comments are those random thoughts in my head bouncing around until they finally get out. 🙂

  18. This is a really interesting discussion that I personally think challenges many small SEO/SEM firms out there, even if they won’t admit it. There are so many value added services out there that enhance an online marketing strategy that it gets incredibly difficult to bring all of those resources in-house at a rate that will still be profitable (for the small consulting business).

    Outsourcing various specialties/components of an online marketing campaign seems to be the way to go, but in doing so, I find the struggle is getting the right partners whom will work effectively with your shop and setting up the right project management to keep communication between effective.

    From the client side, I think it makes sense that the client has an understanding of what is and is not being outsourced or when a specialist is being brought in for a given task or project component. In my experience, if we’ve succeeded at creating a successful relationship with the client, it’s more likely that this type of thins can be worked into a project.

  19. I also think that this shouldn’t be a big problem. Outsourcing is definitely not the answer to every problem but in this case it might be efficient.

  20. I agree that you should always try to learn the things you don’t know yet but if the order books are full and your sub-agency does a good job, why bother with learning from them. They probably won’t tell you their “secrets” anyway.

  21. Avatar Daniel Abracia says

    nice post…

    I think it would help a lot..keep up the good work..

    great Post!!!

  22. I would happily outsource my SEO, but my problem in a language problem. I live in Thailand but my websites are in English, and there are very few SEO companies in Thailand offering SEO services for English language websites.

  23. Now there’s a company that inspires you to outsource you seo needs. 😉

  24. Avatar Gideon Flores says

    Great post

    It really challenges those SEO firms out there that are many add ons in the services.

  25. Alec, try doing some research online regard language software. I think programmers have already cleared this huddle for you. You just have to know where to look.

  26. Thanks Reginald. If you have any suggestions for language software then please let me know.

  27. Thank you for adding such a useful information. Keep up the good work!

    Are we going to discuess this thread further?


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