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I put a project into one of the outsourcing systems requesting link development. I defined very clearly my parameters in order to avoid directory spamming. Things like "no pages named links", "no pages with more than 25 links", "on topic sites only", "no reciprocal links will be given", "no bad neighbourhoods", "PR4 or higher sites only", etc. etc. My hope was to find someone who would go out there and truly "sell" the virtues of our site to real sites in order to have them link to us.
I received a few proposals but only one that looked worth it. They told me they were a company in NYC and that they were ISO9002 certified. I checked out their site, read their reviews and talked to them. They seemed to talk the talk and understand what I was going for. I hired them.
Things started off very procedurally. I was assigned a project manager and given a long questionnaire to fill out. It was apparent that things would proceed according to their procedures and less according to my definition of the project. I decided this was ok because they were responsive when I pointed out discrepancies and I figured this is typical of an ISO company. The other thing that became apparent was that this company was in India. Eveyone I talked to had Indian names and accents and they only communicated very early in the morning.
My first deliverable was 50 links. Exclusively directory spam. Violations of my original request everywhere. I got on the phone with them and discussed it. It was clear that they had their way of doing things and everything else received a "does not compute". I was able to get them to replace the worst offenders and decided to continue to completion. First, they were all on-topic sites, all had some PR and I was able to reject any with more than 100 links. I was also able to give them some variations on the anchor text. Second, I decided it was no worse than what my competition was doing and it was working for them, so why not allow a little for me. Finally, I figured the proof would be in the affect to rankings. If things went up, then I could call the project a success.
The rest of the link deliverables were pretty much the same. I let the links cook for a little while and then did some evaluations. The issue that I saw was that they'd pointed them all to the homepage with only a few anchor text variations. However, I was ranking #1 for one of the less common variations and overall (it's always hard to tell) I think my rankings had improved. I decided to change my tactics a bit.
First, I asked them to do another batch of links, but this time I sent them my own titles, descriptions and links. I made them all deep links with many variations on title and description.
Second, I put out another request for a blog and forum writer. I realized that I needed to manage the project on a very granular level; i.e. "I need these kinds of links from these kinds of sites on these kinds of pages with these kinds of surrounding text and you solicit with these kinds of communications". Because of this involvement I decided the most I could handle was to find a writer to participate in forums and blogs and drop strategic links. I didn't mention link development or SEO because I realized this would invite my outsourcers to use their own tactics.
I received several proposals to my second request. I hired a few and they recently got started. So far I'm getting much closer to what I expected than the first project. It requires explaining things like how I don't want links in forums that don't actually link the url or show the link or that they can't leave the www. off the front of the url or that they should use a deep link instead of a homepage link when possible. It's too early to tell what the affect of this is.
Yesterday, I received a bit of a shock about my first project (the one I'd extended with the company from India). One of my customer service reps forwarded me an email she'd received. It was a site owner complaining about the spam email she kept receiving requested that her site reciprocate a link. It turns out that the company doing the link development is basically impersonating my company in link exchanges. They set up a site like www.someweirdname.com/mycompanyname which is a "directory" of links. They find sites with reciprocal link pages, then they post a link on this impersonating site. They then send emails to the site owners that look like they're comming from my company. The from address is email@example.com (kind of thing). The signature was "webmaster mycompanyname"! Wow, did I fly off the handle.
So, that's where I'm at. I'm not going to make any recommendations on what might work for you and your site, I'm still not sure what will work for mine.
To add to RogerD's good advice:
Most folk who fail in their early attempts to offshore/outsource do so because they apply different criteria and processes than they would if the staff were working under their own roof. So tell me, before you hire an employee, don't you scrutinise his CV fist and talk with his previous employers? Why don't you do this with your link devt co? Double standard, doomed to failure. You need to be much MORE careful, not less.
Whether you're outsourcing or hiring talent, most of your success comes from your recruitment skills and processes.
Over the years, I've chatted with 3 CEO's of the bigger Indian SEO cos, chatted at length with 2 in their Indian offices - including their staff, outsourced with 1. Cities included Bhubaneswar, Pune and Delhi. Reasons for not keeping up communications with any included: Lies and deceit and only looking after their own interests. The inside track on Indian SEO is that you need to be VERY careful. I've not yet come across any Indian SEO company that were worth sending my work. The mindset focus is on efficiency; not quality, relevancy or results. The professional ethics are, lets say: "different" - so best to have a relationship in India with someone you REALLY trust.
I've gone the route of developing my own team, and invested a massive amount of my time in training them up. (No, I don't want or need work for them, not my business model)
Beware going with USA cos too - many top SEM cos outsource to India. Many big India SEO cos make most of their money from USA SEM cos. USA SEM's charge you top dollar, reap the cost savings, and you think you're getting a quality service.
One of the Indian cos mentioned above will outsource your work to other Indian subcontractors.
If anyone wants a list of Quality criteria to use when evaluating a prospective site and page, I'd be happy to share.
Nobody's mentioned it yet - the mentality I'm getting from this post is of not paying the giver for links...
Have a great sysad in Vietnam, and developers in Russia. Outsourcing is the way to go, just don't be sloppy in how you go about it.
Also don't expect India to be able to take care of all parts of your process. Segment it down to the repetitive and lower level analysis and take care of the rest yourself. One of the Indian cos mentioned above pay their staff $55 per month. You will end up talking with his highest level employee who gets several times this figure.
[edited by: JudgeJeffries at 9:17 pm (utc) on April 5, 2007]
Above that we have an infinite scale through on-topic all the way up to authority. Targeted traffic increases value further. That's what we're all after at the end of the day.
I also agree that PR should not be used as a metric. A PR1 page can still be classed as relevant and therefore meet the baseline. And if the linking page has been created specifically for the link then it will obviously have PR0.
If I were outsourcing link building i'd want to know a)how does the company identify relevancy, on-topic, authority and hub b) how do they identify trust.
I would then ask to see examples of the kind of links they propose to build for me. If they're not prepared to do that then steer well clear...
SE's used to give weight to unrelevant links (link farms etc) then they raised the bar. Currently the baseline is set at 'relevant'. Maybe they will raise the bar again. If so how high? On-topic? Authority?