When you outsource your SEO to a third party, you benefit from the specialized knowledge and deep experience of strategists who’ve been attracting organic traffic to businesses for years. But how do you find the right SEO partner if you’re not sure what to look for, and how do you identify a reliable provider you can trust?
In-House vs. Outsourcing — Why Outsource SEO Services?
If you know you need help improving your site’s search visibility, you might wonder if it’s wiser to build an in-house team or outsource your SEO needs.
It’s a great question, so let’s break it down.
Building an in-house team to handle SEO is an expensive proposition, and managing SEO activities can be a full-time job for multiple people. When you outsource your SEO, you’re essentially expanding your team without the overhead of salaries and benefits. Not to mention, if your business is blindsided by changes in the economy or competitive landscape, it’s much less painful to pause or scale back on your outsourced SEO than make tough decisions about downsizing a team of full-time employees.
My experience managing marketing campaigns has taught me the value of staying nimble and being prepared to scale. When you have an in-house team and recognize an opportunity that requires additional bandwidth, you’ll be behind the curve by the time you can expand your resources. When you outsource your SEO, the minute you sense a potential opportunity, your agency can address your increased needs with a deep bench of strategists at the ready.
If you’re sure you want to build your own SEO team, leverage an SEO partner while you work on that plan. At the end of your contract, your outsourced SEO may be generating so much return on investment that you’ll rethink your goal to bring search optimization in-house.
Expertise & Experience
SEO strategists and campaign managers who work in an agency setting gain experience in various industries and have absorbed lessons along the way that help them develop best practices that you can benefit from. Because of their exposure to multiple customers, agency resources accumulate a variety of effective strategies and deep knowledge at double or triple the rate of an SEO that works in-house. Adding these uniquely skilled individuals as an extension of your team opens the door to industry-leading, creative approaches you might otherwise be missing out on.
When you outsource to a trusted SEO partner, you can focus internally on other parts of your marketing strategy. While SEO specialists work to optimize your organic search channel, you’re free to focus on different strategies and tactics to make the most of your growing topical authority and online visibility.
Outsourcing SEO — What Are the Options?
When you’re ready to outsource your SEO, there are a whole host of ways to do it.
Three basic options include:
- SEO consultants
- Integrated all-in-one marketing agencies
- Specialized SEO agencies
Let’s dig into the pros and cons of each.
These SEO providers are usually solopreneurs who assist businesses with certain aspects of their SEO needs. While you may be tempted by the simplicity of hiring a single consultant who charges a cheap hourly rate, there can be some serious downsides to this arrangement.
A consultant brings a singular, transactional perspective to every one of their clients. They make their living by exchanging their time for your money. By extension, they’re reluctant to engage in strategic planning activities that take more time and care to implement. Consultants often look for tactical ways to achieve “quick wins” for their customers at the expense of longer-term, slower-burn strategic efforts that pay dividends over time. There’s also a question of accountability — what recourse do you have if someone ghosts you or, worse yet, damages your business’s reputation with unsavory SEO practices? We see people come to Victorious all the time after having this exact experience.
Integrated All-in-One Marketing Agencies
Integrated digital marketing agencies offer SEO as one option among various digital marketing services. While it might seem desirable to have one shop handle all your marketing needs, the result is a lack of focus on SEO. All-in-one digital marketing agencies lack the depth and breadth of SEO focus, so you’ll end up engaged in a broader set of marketing channels and strategies, as opposed to fully leveraging sustainable, high-ROI SEO activities. These jack-of-all-trades agencies commonly lack true SEO mastery.
Specialized SEO Agencies
An agency specializing in SEO offers a deep bench of strategists and an infrastructure that can bend and flex to support its customers with what they need when they need it. Another benefit of outsourcing SEO services to a specialized agency is that they often have the resources to invest in deep strategic work at the outset of a partnership and create a custom SEO proposal and SOW just for you. Frontloading a campaign with a comprehensive discovery process requires the committed perspective of a true partner.
What to Expect from an SEO Partner — The Basics
A reputable SEO company should provide a clearly defined set of SEO services.
Depending on your SEO goals, the agency you choose might lean more heavily on specific tactics. Still, you want to make sure these essential services are available to you throughout your campaign.
Look for an agency that’s willing to invest in a comprehensive discovery process. If an SEO provider doesn’t take the time to understand your goals and current state of search optimization, there’s no way they can tailor a campaign that’s going to return meaningful results for you.
A discovery phase should include:
- Strategic goal setting
- Keyword research and discovery
- Competitive analysis
- SEO content audit and internal link analysis
- Comprehensive technical site audit
At the end of a comprehensive discovery process, the agency you outsource your SEO to should offer strategic recommendations based on their analysis.
These might include:
- Focused keyword themes to anchor your SEO campaign
- Content opportunities designed to increase your topical authority and help you outperform your competitors in search
- A comprehensive link building strategy
- Plans of action to address your technical barriers to search visibility
- Recommendations to optimize conversion rates – mapping keywords to points of conversion
A trusted SEO partner can often help implement their recommendations.
Look for an SEO agency that can assist with:
- Content creation or content briefs
- Implementation of technical improvements
- Placement of quality backlinks
- Content syndication backlinks
- Enrichment of your existing content
In the truest sense of the word, an SEO partner will offer a steady and predictable cadence of activities designed to communicate the progress of your campaign and maintain your site’s ongoing SEO health.
Ask a potential partner about:
- Regular technical SEO site sweeps
- Monthly performance calls and consultations with SEO strategists
- Responsive support for industry changes or product launches
- Continuous strategic consultation
Because no two businesses are alike, and no two websites have the same optimization needs, a reliable SEO provider will offer additional services to support your specific situation.
Find out about all those services that you might want in your back pocket if a Google algorithm update hits your site, or you make site changes, and all of a sudden lose ground on important site rankings.
You can look for things like:
- Bad link disavowal
- Manual penalty fix
- Site migration assistance
- Additional keyword research to expand your topical authority
- Robots.txt optimization
- XML sitemap creation & submission
- Keyword cannibalization/duplicate content audit
- Site architecture optimization
- Schema review & implementation guidance
- E.A.T. (expertise, authority, and trustworthiness) Analysis
- Added link building when needed
- Google Business Profile optimization
- Local citation audit
- Local SEO services
Beyond the Services — What True SEO Partnership Looks Like
A comprehensive list of services is essential when considering who to choose as an SEO partner. Still, as anyone who has worked with an agency of any kind likely already knows, the services themselves are really just table stakes.
Think about what an SEO agency offers beyond the services themselves. Here’s my shortlist of things to look for in a potential partner.
1. Clear Expectations
We all know how important accurate expectation-setting is for any partnership, but it’s especially important for SEO because of all of the unknowns that exist within optimizing for search. An excellent SEO agency will be transparent about how they are aligning the services they offer with your marketing goals and should be clear about how their campaign strategy will generate results that map to those goals. They should want you to know exactly what the process entails and be transparent and communicative with you about everything that happens after you sign a contract.
2. Being Treated Like a Partner
From your account manager to your customer success manager – and every strategist working on your campaign in between — the metrics that matter are the ones that help your business thrive. Your SEO agency should be working with you to understand which metrics those are and welcome questions and opinions as fodder for great conversations that move everyone toward the highest outcome for your business.
3. An Understandable Process
Look for SEO strategists who can clearly explain what tactics they’re employing on your behalf and why they’re working (or not). Conversations that make SEO sound like “magic” should be a clear red flag. When you have monthly meetings to review your campaign, you’ll want your SEO company to present results using precise and easy-to-understand language. Your SEO team should respond with recommendations that propel your campaign forward if you offer questions, concerns, and suggestions.
SEO is a data-driven activity with a clear set of metrics that point to a successful campaign. Organic traffic for the sake of organic traffic isn’t very meaningful. Your relationship with an SEO partner should begin with setting clear SEO goals to establish accountability for specific metrics that align with your business goals. Your SEO partner should be driving these conversations with you at monthly check-ins to make sure they’re delivering on their commitment to you.
How to Outsource SEO
The first step in the outsourcing process is to build a crystal clear picture of your needs. After you’ve outlined what you need, you’ll know how to communicate those requirements to potential SEO partners.
What Are Your Goals?
An SEO strategy can support many different marketing or business objectives, so focus on what you hope to achieve through your SEO partnership.
Not sure where to begin? Learn how to set S.M.A.R.T. SEO goals.
What Existing Resources (If Any) Do You Already Have?
You might not have an in-house SEO team at your fingertips, but you might have existing internal or external resources and talent that can help support your SEO activities. Do you have a web development specialist? What about a content writer? An intern who can implement on-page SEO recommendations? Understanding what resources you have already will clarify what you need from an SEO partner — including implementation help or content creation.
Evaluate Your Urgency
You may have an urgent need to improve your search engine rankings. Do you have a manual penalty that needs resolving ASAP? Have you been slammed with spammy backlinks? Is there a new competitor in your industry that’s co-opted your organic traffic? Before outsourcing your SEO, clarify any pressing issues you need help with right away.
Know Your Budget
A worthwhile SEO partner will want a complete understanding of your budget before making recommendations for your SEO strategy. Look for a partner who can offer a realistic point of view about what’s achievable with the budget you have and heed their advice if they recommend an additional investment to achieve your goals in the timeline you have set. Be aware that if you urgently need specific results, those needs can impact the budgetary requirements of your SEO campaign.
Create an RFP
A well-written and comprehensive request for proposals is a must-have if you want to do your due diligence in selecting an SEO partner that can meet your needs, on your timeline, and within your budget.
The good news is that you don’t need to be an SEO expert to hire an SEO expert. You just need a great RFP process.
Are You Ready to Find an SEO Partner?
Download our ebook to get all the tools & templates you need to build a robust RFP process and find the perfect SEO partner.
What Does the Best SEO Partnership Look Like?
I’ve covered the basics of why SEO outsourcing can be a great choice, what you should look for in a potential partner, and how to go about finding a great SEO partner for your business.
Here are some specific characteristics I want to highlight that can make all the difference in your outcomes. These traits differentiate a genuinely remarkable SEO agency from average ones:
A People-Centric Approach
It’s a common misconception that SEO is solely about a clinical approach to algorithms. As with all marketing activities, data is an integral part of building an effective SEO campaign, but only when that data reflects how people use search engines and when the resulting site pages are genuinely attractive to human beings. A truly exceptional strategist is a student of human nature and employs great creativity to find a sweet spot at the intersection of search demand, users’ search intent, and SEO content.
This creative approach requires robust collaboration between customers and SEO specialists. As such, you should be on a first-name basis with a team of dedicated specialists who care about getting you the results that will make a meaningful impact on your business.
At Victorious, we use a “pod” structure, which gives our customers a primary point-of-contact they can depend on, plus an extended team that’s up-to-speed on what’s happening with campaigns. The result is consistent and continuous support, even when your primary point of contact takes some well-deserved time off.
Speaking of putting people first, you deserve an SEO partner that values your input, listens to your concerns, and responds to what you need. Beware of anyone who casts your worries aside and tries to prescribe what should matter to you.
Look for an SEO partner who believes your needs are paramount and maps every aspect of your campaign to a goal that you’ve identified as important to your business. Remember, those SEO goals are meaningless in a vacuum, and your SEO team should be looking to connect them to your bottom line. When an SEO strategy supports your larger marketing objectives, the only SEO metrics that matter are those that roll directly up to your goals. Watch out for SEO consultants who talk passionately about metrics that seem impressive but that you can’t figure out how to connect back to your bottom line. I like the old “CEO test” – can I explain to my CEO why it matters without straining to connect the dots?
A genuinely stellar partner is excited to tell you what they’re doing and how they’re doing it. Look for an SEO provider that can dig into specific expectations to make sure everyone is on the same page about SEO strategies, tactics, and intended outcomes. High tail it out of the room at the first sign of smoke and mirrors.
At Victorious, transparency translates into a consistent commitment to customer education. We know that a well-informed partner is our most valuable resource in delivering meaningful results. We’re dedicated to creating the best SEO blog to pull back the curtain on SEO concepts and techniques. We’ve also created an exclusive customer knowledge base that details how to implement our recommendations with additional SEO education that supports your campaign.
Are You Ready to Improve Your Search Visibility?
Get started right away with a free SEO consultation from Victorious to see first hand what a remarkable SEO partnership can do for your business.