SEO Outsourcing

2010-05-06 - As a business operating in the United States of America and appealing to an English speaking audience, it may not be in my best interest to farm my SEO or any other development out to an offshore company.

Why would I be so brazen as to say that? Read on and I'll share some offshore outsourcing experiences that I, my clients, and my prospects, have encountered over the past 15 years in this industry.

Why Would You Outsource SEO Offshore?

Language Barriers

The very first thing you will be faced with are language barriers. They do exist and can be a major challenge when communicating requirements. It is a MUST that you provide a complete IBSD (Internet Business Specifications Document) to the Offshore SEO team. If you don't have it in writing, you're going to be plagued with miscommunication issues, I guarantee it, unless of course there is an English speaking intermediary (Project Manager). That puts the onus on them to handle the communication issues and takes some of the language barrier issue out of the equation.

Knowledge Barriers

I don't know about you, but there are certain Offshore SEO's that reside in specific parts of the world who appear to be operating under the premise that it is 1999 again. For many, links are the only SEO they know and that is what I find most Offshore SEOs providing, some form of link development.

Commodity SEO

I classify most Offshore SEO as a commodity. Based on what I see being produced, it is being treated as a commodity by those in certain parts of the world. I'm sorry, but SEO cannot be commoditized like that. You don't take a client's money and then sit there and submit to hundreds of directories that you may own and/or partners within your network may own. If that is what you call SEO, you've missed the boat.

SEO Sweat Shops

You've heard the term "Sweat Shops" before haven't you? Well, that is what I equate Offshore SEO to, a sweat shop. When you have people making $1.00 per hour working on your SEO, do you really feel comfortable with that idea? Do you really think that someone making $1.00 per hour is working in your best interests? Do you feel comfortable supporting someone else's economy while our own suffers?

Time Zones

Without a U.S. based intermediary or one that operates within your normal working hours, you will be faced with various challenges. There may be a 24 hour delay in getting things done, depending on which country your Offshore SEO resides in and the type of service plan provided. Come Friday morning here in the U.S., the weekend has already begun for many SEOs offshore. So, out of the box, you lose one day of the work week. In most cases, you'll have Monday through Thursday for communications and those will usually be delayed based on time zones.

Add to that the normal time frames for work to be performed and you'll find in many instances that it will take a bit longer to get things done. Remember, this is all relevant to the Offshore SEO and their methods of operation. This does not apply to everyone but does appear to apply to the majority.

The Bottom Line

You get what you pay for! I communicate with many Offshore SEOs on a daily basis while participating at various fora and social media outlets. I have great respect for my offshore peers, those who are operating as professionals and operating in the year 2010. I don't have any respect for those who think it's 1999 and are producing the garbage that they are. You know why? Eventually that prospect may contact me, or one of our SEO Consultants Directory members. From the very first contact, that prospect will be on the defensive because they've been burned by an Offshore SEO and now the onus is on us to undo what you did.

Disclaimer: For my offshore SEO peers, don't take this personally. This is business and you know your business better than anyone else. If you fall within the description above, then by all means, do take this personally. Otherwise, take a look around you and look at what your peers are producing. I do the same thing every day, say something to them!

Illustration of Global Group Meeting Offshore Outsourcing Expectations

kartiksh, a Senior Member at WebmasterWorld had great intentions when posting their topic titled "Offshore Outsourcing Expectations (subscription required)". It was a very long and well thought out post. The problem is that the information given reads more like reasons not to outsource your development work offshore.

Note: This particular topic focuses on the outsourcing of development work offshore. The same challenges apply across the board no matter what it is that you are outsourcing.

I've extracted my reply from that topic which includes the initial 28 points of interest that kartiksh brought to light.

  1. Work turnaround while you are sleeping.

    I think that would be typical in all parts of the world, even here in the U.S. We have Day Walkers and then we have Night Walkers. The Internet is 24/7/365, it does not sleep, and neither do those who are part of it.

  2. Cost saving in your delivery.

    Probably the #1 selling point of outsourcing offshore.

  3. Expect to write allot of requirements (documenting requirements to overcome any communication gap due to no. 4 below)

    Unfortunately this would be a deterrent for many. Who is going to write the requirements? "That's what I need a programmer for", and that is how the consumer thinks.

  4. Pronunciation understanding problems initially in English language.

    Yikes! I'm going to be forthright and tell you that this has been in the top three reasons prospects and clients give after having an unsatisfactory offshore experience.

  5. Lot of time in back and forth communication (at least 10 to 20% more than doing work onshore) initially until team and you align with each other.

    With time zone differences, #3 and #4, the project deadlines are usually extended.

  6. Lot of visual examples you might have to give in design if you are talking or explaining something local (i.e. native US theme). This way they will understand your culture and it will reflect in their work delivery.

    Hehehe, you have to do that with local talent too. I'm a visual person. I like to see it at the browser level. That's where my audience is going to see it.

  7. Odd hours of communicating initially, unless you decide and freeze fixed daily time of communication.

    Again, we don't sleep. There are always people at the helm 24/7/365. Here in the U.S. the 0700-1600, 0800/1700 and 0900/1800 working days are a standard and have been for ages. That's when business is taken care of. That is when the sun is up and those who make the decisions are available.

  8. Daily and/or weekly and/or monthly reports of work done based on the offshore relation you start. A team or dedicated employee for you may report daily, a time and material based resource or, work can be reported every week and some packaged SEO can be reported monthly.

    Too many man/woman hours involved up to this point. I'm only on #8 right now and have 20 more items to go, yikes!

  9. Requirement and delivery signoff before moving forward to next phase or work of same project on predetermined and agreed timeline.

    Agreed. This would be normal operating procedure. But, based on experience with both local and offshore teams, that doesn't always happen.

  10. Desktop sharing or conference call as per the need, Vonage and WebEx is handy here.

    Vonage and GoToMeeting here. Use it every day, all day. I can't see any of us working without these types of tools in today's development environment, it is a given.

  11. Ask for white label services if you want.

    Hmmm, what's that? There are colors associated with services? Are there black label services too? You know I'm just kidding with you, please, don't take this personally at all. I have a passion for this topic as you can see and will see.

  12. AttentionAsk for security of information and your communication, NDA or information security standards etc.

    This is probably where I'm going to have some concerns for the client. As soon as that client's work leaves our border, our jurisdiction no longer has control. So, in theory, while you can have all the NDA's, Non-Competes, etc. in place, they don't mean jack!

  13. If a small bit of correction is required and you realized that only after India offshore center stopped working for the day, it could be you will have to wait until next day for outcome of the same, irrespective of how small or easy of a fix that it might be. This is a frustration point if you do not understand this, unless you have agreement for US working hours.

    I would really like to share a story with you in regards to the above. I'll make it short though. These types of changes are responsible for major delays in development. They continually crop up as you progress through further testing and they take forever and a day to get completed.

  14. Onshore project coordination or local account manager for making sure communication is clear and both parties understand is key to success. For example, I being here might explain some localization better than you by telling and giving them idea and relation with what it means in India for them. By such coordination the communication remains smooth.

    Ah, you could have saved me all this time replying by putting that one first! This is the key to the castle. Without the intermediary, the process is doomed for frustration from start to finish. But, now we have to find the intermediary, and, they have to be brought up to speed on everything we need to do, the documents, etc, etc, etc. Personally, if I'm a business and I have to invest that amount of time, I'm going to hire someone locally to work with to protect and watch my investment closely. Not a project manager who is outsourcing my protected work offshore.

  15. Development methodology, you choose Agile vs. CMMi or Rapid vs. Waterfall.

    We'll choose the one that gets the job done in the most realistic amount of time and works correctly out of the box. While that is a pipedream for many of us, you can at least get as close to perfection as possible. The only way I've found to do that is with local business partners. You'd be surprised, but there are still quite a few of us Americans who like to support our local businesses, I'm one of them.

  16. AttentionIntellectual rights and licensing of images or other code in use. Many individuals or small groups still run from pirated software and preview versions of paid licensed images.

    I know you had really good intentions when posting this excellent topic of discussion, but #16 is going to get you into legal trouble. And the client. You can't do that. And my client most likely will not have any recourse against the creator who stole those images and/or content. Shame on them.

  17. Processes, reporting, monitoring, project status etc.

    Whew, I'm at #17, how many more to go? At this point, I think I've calculated about 120-180 days in paperwork, project management, etc. When can we get started on this project?

  18. One point contact is better than talking to all team all the time. knowing team member is good but making one point contact helps.

    One point of contact is a MUST! My experience tells me that this is also a challenge as point of contacts seem to change too damn frequently. More delays in bringing the new point of contact up to speed with the current project status and another level of communication challenges.

  19. Visit offshore facility or go surprise visit.

    Okay, you send us 20 round trip tickets with all expenses paid. We'd like a Penthouse Suite (or two) for the time we'll be there.

    Come on now, I don't think Mr. Foo here in his Sunny Southern California office is going to be footing the bill to trek over to India and pay surprise visits in a country where he has never been before.

    No, Mr. Foo wants to meet down at the local Starbucks to discuss his new automobile or to brag about his children's latest accomplishments.

  20. Spending more time in providing approvals.

    Okay, at this point, I would say most of us have decided that we are going to resource to local business first and then consider outsourcing as a "second" option.

  21. Ask lot of questions and expect to being asked lot of questions. That doesn't mean you or they do not know the work but it is to make sure we are on same page. This is to avoid last minute surprises upon delivery.

    Oh boy, add up #1 through #20, get to #21 and I feel as though I'm caught in a 301 Permanent Redirect Loop.

  22. Expect to hear NO on services.

    Well then, expect to hear NO on a contract.

  23. Project delivery plan and timelines for most of the projects.

    I know, I know already. You told me that above. It's good that you point this out.

  24. Documentation and user training.

    If I were to have done all of the above, items #1 through #23, I'm going to charge "YOU" a pretty penny for making me do all of that. Yes, I'm going to put that onus on you.

  25. More profits.

    Where? Show me the money!

  26. Offshoring can help cut down costs, provide faster time to market, but choosing the right outsourcing vendor and maintaining the expectation level in delivery and communication is the key.

    This is another point that should have been immediately at the opening.

  27. Expect local regional holidays however, please keep in mind they are working during your holidays and most of them do work on Saturdays.

    This has been a challenge for many clients. And, the average work week is Monday thru Thursday in U.S. time. Usually its Friday there and Thursday here. And then come our Monday, it's Tuesday there. So, there really are only four business days for "work". Take into consideration everything you've outlined above and the time to completion has extended well beyond what can be achieved locally for thrice the price and probably 1/3 of the development time and frustration.

  28. Respect religious or social issues of the resource you are working with, not company. They are more social and attached to family.

    So are we, it works both ways. I don't think that would even be a concern. The challenges arise when you have too many holidays clashing with our normal business hours. And then you have too many of our holidays clashing with your normal business hours. Man, that makes for a very challenging development environment, wouldn't you say so?

    Add that to items #1 through #27 and you have a document about as long as my reply x10000.

In Summary

Outsourcing your Internet marketing requirements, application development, etc. can save you money, that appears to be the dominating factor when outsourcing work offshore. But, does that one factor outweigh all the other potential challenges you will be faced with in an offshore environment? If you can find a professional project manager locally who can handle all of the above for you, then you may find your offshore experience to be a pleasant one.

I know from working on various outsourced projects over the past 10 years that it does not work for my type of clientele. I work mostly with local Internet entrepreneurs and the reason they contact me is because I'm around the corner from them and, if anything happens, they can send Guido over to perform basic surgery on my kneecaps. No, seriously, my clients have had miserable experiences when outsourcing their previous work offshore.

Your outsourcing experiences will differ and I'm sure there are plenty of satisfied customers out there who have used offshore talent before and continue to do so. I say kudos to you and your team for making it work. Some of us have been less fortunate and have a sour taste in our mouth when it comes to outsourcing work offshore.

For myself and my clients, we'll happily pay local development rates ($50.00, $75.00, $100.00, $125.00, $150.00 per hour) and deal with those challenges that we'll have with local talent. Yes, there are many challenges to contend with in all parts of the world. There really is no reason for a U.S. based company to escalate those challenges by outsourcing their development work offshore. Not unless you have a top notch local project manager who has a proven track record in meeting all of the above requirements.


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