Many agencies have found extraordinary growth by deciding to outsource SEO. You are probably reading this because you are a small agency and are struggling to increase your revenues. You are not alone. Particularly in the first few years of business, it is extremely hard to get your agency off the ground. Many small SEO firms make the mistake of focusing on operational issues before they have a sizable customer base. In other words, they start to worry about scale before their agency has any revenue. This is a fatal mistake.
In this guide to selecting an SEO outsourcing company I will walk you through the critical considerations you need to assess as you look for a partner that will help grow your business over the next 10 years. We will explore the critical components and decision criteria that Fortune 100 companies use when they outsource business services. I will outline the questions to ask any prospective SEO Outsourcing firm that you might speak with as well as techniques for determining if they meet the standards to support your agency. If you make this decision correctly, you will be on the path to strong revenue growth and achieve your financial goals.
There are many articles about search engine optimization outsourcing on the internet. Why should you listen to my advice? It is critically important that you evaluate the source of information as you start this journey. I have over 20 years of professional experience in the Information Technology field. In 1997 I co-founded a firm that built technology and services exclusively for Fortune 100 clients. By the time we sold the firm in 2008 (with 250 employees) we had acquired a significant customer base including General Electric, AT&T, Chevron Texaco, Ford, Coke, and Pepsi. I spent extensive time with each of these giant clients during the sales process and during the transition from in-house to outsourced services. I often ran these implementation projects to ensure the outsourcing was smooth. These large companies were very eager to outsource as much as possible because they understood this was an excellent way to drive down costs and improved financial performance.
Semify has been an SEO Outsourcing company for nearly 10 years. Additionally, we maintain a column at Search Engine Watch to remain current on the trends in search engine optimization outsourcing.
Am I too small to outsource SEO?
You are never too small to outsource SEO services. As you start your agency the most critical activity you have is finding and acquiring new customers. In short, you need to be focused on sales. If you do not have clients, you do not have a business. Many agency owners avoid SEO Outsourcing because they believe they will lose control of the work and won’t get high quality deliverables. This is certainly possible if the wrong firm is selected. However, with the correct partnership the risk of low-quality deliverables actually is mitigated.
Think this through for a second. If you are a small agency with a relatively short history in business how are you going to be able to match the quality of a highly tuned operation that has been focused on SEO outsourcing for nearly a decade? You can't. SEO Outsourcing companies have served so many agencies that they have worked out the quality problems that plague newer businesses. They also have more resources to apply to problems as they emerge. For these reasons, outsourcing SEO is especially important when you are small which is contrary to most people's understanding.
Selecting an SEO Outsourcing Company
Starting your search for a firm to Outsource SEO is like any other project. It requires careful planning and focus. You should start by writing down a list of your decision criteria that you will use to pick your partner. Here's an example list you can use if it is helpful:
How long has the firm been in business? What do their customers say about their service? How responsive is the company to me? How professional is the firm on the phone? Did they use a formal presentation? Does the firm seem organized? How structured are their deliverables? Do they share results from other clients to demonstrate effectiveness? Will they share customer service statistics? Do their reports match what you will need? How will they support your growth?
These are just a few of the questions I would consider asking a prospective SEO Outsourcing company as I started my due diligence process. But I could make a list of 30 more easily. Let's walk through a few of these and explore why they are important.
Obviously, you don't want to select a firm that has not been in business for a while. New firms tend to disappear quickly as the business cycle consumes them. If you are going to have a trusted partner who is in charge of your product delivery, you want to know they will be there in five or ten years. I personally would not select any firm that is younger than 7 years old.
Customer reviews are another important area to consider. You want a firm that has a strong reputation with many customers who are willing to vouch for the service. You don't want SEO from someone brand new with no track record of success. You'll get plenty of offers but avoid these companies. There is just too much at stake with your customer revenue base to hand over the responsibility of search engine optimization to someone who is not tried-and-true.
You should make an assessment of how responsive you feel the company is to you. When they schedule calls are they on time? Are they highly organized? Do they have agendas? Do they take meeting minutes and send you e-mail summarizing action items? These are all skills I saw from my days with Fortune 100 companies. Well-trained business people are not only professional, they are highly organized. They have discipline, take notes, and are highly efficient when it comes to getting things done. This is the team you want on your side. As you speak with the SEO Outsourcing company you should get a feel for how disciplined their team is. Do they track all their issues in a central system? Are they constantly referring to meeting agendas and project plans? These are very positive signs that you have found a highly disciplined team to work with. If you do not see these things, you should question how they will stay organized when you have 30 customers.
I believe that any firm that does not use an organized presentation as part of their sales process is one you should not work with. A well-polished sales process is an indication of how much time and effort they put into their customers in the past. You do not want to be the guinea pig.
Structrure of Deliverables
Review the structure of the deliverables the SEO outsourcing firm is presenting to you. Again, if they are operating at scale and have been in business for over 7 years, their deliverables will be highly structured. This does not mean they will not be flexible as well, it just means they will be highly organized on the core activities that they do with high repetition. This is exactly what you want to see. If they have completed the activity repetitiously for nearly a decade you can rest assured that it is a well-polished business process and benefit from that efficiency.
Also make sure the deliverables are what you want. It is easy to get caught up in a sales process and lose sight of the actual work that will be done for your client. Remember, they will always be your clients. Retaining them is your highest priority and you remember how hard it was to get them in the first place. For these reasons, you want to make sure the list of deliverables your SEO outsourcing team will be providing matches the expectations of your customers. Again, if you outsource early in your growth cycle you will be able to shape the expectations of your customers - which will make this process much easier.
Ask for proof of product effectiveness. This is also an easy step to overlook after you've become excited talking to a representative from a search engine optimization outsourcing firm. But in the end, if the rankings don't move in the direction your customer wants you will lose revenue. A firm with a long track history will have no problem providing references from clients who are pleased with the results. Ask to speak to them and do your due diligence by probing deeply into how their experience has been with the SEO Outsourcing firm.
Customer reviews online will also give you insight into how effective the SEO outsourcing company is. However, you do need to take these with a grain of salt. There will always be unreasonable customers who leave nasty reviews no matter what efforts the firm has taken. Most consumers are savvy enough to sort through and discount crazy people. If you see nothing but negative reviews you should be concerned about the effectiveness of the product.
Finally, The Firm should provide tools to help you evaluate the effectiveness of your own campaigns. Ask them how we will know if things are working three months into a campaign. This will help you in several ways. First, it will set your expectations for what the firm can do in the first 90 days of a campaign. Second, it will give you guidance on what you should tell your customer to make sure those expectations are aligned and you don't inadvertently mislead your client.
Reporting and Technology
Evaluate the reporting and Technology of the firm you're considering outsourcing to. Do they offer the reports you will need to show your customers? Monthly reports are a significant portion of the deliverable for search engine optimization product. Be sure you are comfortable with the reports the SEO outsourcing company can provide to you. Ask how they will be delivered. See if they have an option for automatically emailing them to your customers to help save you work. As we discussed earlier, your efforts need to be focused on sales and marketing to grow revenues. If the outsource team can offload work for you by automating report dissemination, this is very attractive.
Ask lots of questions about their technology in general. They should have several ways in which they help you save time through the use of technological shortcuts. For example, most SEO outsourcing services will give you access to APIs that they have with major data providers. Ask these questions:
Does their dashboard give you access to some SEMRush?
Can you gain access to ahrefs through their white label portal?
These features will save you time and money which is critical as you are focused on growing your agency.
Supporting Agency Growth
Finally, you should dive into how they will help your agency grow revenues. After all, you have decided SEO outsourcing makes sense because you want to focus on revenue growth. Your partner should be able to assist in this process if they have been successful in the past. Ask them for case studies of previous agencies they have worked with that have seen significant growth in revenues. Ask the SEO firm if they will consult with you on difficult sales and marketing problems.
Many small agencies struggle with getting enough leads in the top of their sales funnel. Talk about this problem openly with potential outsourcing partners. Have they helped agencies solve this problem in the past? Ask them for a case study of an agency that has been helped through their consulting services.
Other small agencies have plenty of leads but have a hard time closing them. Their problem doesn't lie in marketing SEO services but in the sales process itself. There are many places in sales that often need a touch-up. Perhaps an unstructured pitch is resulting in a low close rate. This problem is easily solved with a professional looking deck. Your SEO outsourcing company should be able to assist you in building that deck and helping you practice it. Expect to pay for the service, but it will be well worth it.
Other agencies suffer from a lack of skill with closing. They may get plenty of times at-bat and use a professional deck to make the pitch, but when it comes to closing the deal they don't have the skills. Again, talk about this openly. Do not boast about your ability to close if your close-rate is low. The SEO outsourcing firm should have a strong practice that you can learn. After all, they have been in business for nearly 10 years and close customers every day. Ask them how they do it and if they are willing to teach you their techniques. Strong SEO firms will want to share the skills because they know it will make your business stronger.
Ask if the SEO outsourcing company does round tables with other agencies? Are they building a community that shares best practices and business intelligence? If they are you should participate in these programs attentively. Show up to the conference calls and take notes. Offer your experiences and share stories with other agencies. The bonds and knowledge that will grow from these activities will help you develop your business skills and the size of your agency.
In summary, SEO outsourcing is an excellent decision for any small agency looking to grow in the exciting field of digital marketing. I hope this guide to finding an SEO outsourcing company has been helpful. My experience in the Fortune 100 space demonstrated to me that there is a large financial advantage in this type of business model. For all the reasons outlined above, all agencies should consider search engine optimization outsourcing so that they can focus their attention on sales and marketing to acquire customers. Customer retention is also critically important and requires relationship management skills on the part of the agency. By focusing on customer acquisition and retention while outsourcing the back-office operational work of search engine optimization I believe a small agency could achieve strong financial growth in a short amount of time.