Today’s guest post comes from James Agate. James is the founder of the content marketing and link building agency Skyrocket SEO. We’ve heard great things about James’ work, and he’s helped many of our customers out with guest blogging and link development services. You can connect with James on Twitter or Google Plus.
If you work in an agency, the arrival of Penguin has probably led to some fairly challenging logistical issues. In the past, the ability to service a larger number of clients was made possible because lower level link building was fairly scalable.
Now that high-quality link building practices are a must-have in every campaign – how does one achieve the same scale as before?
Well the answer unfortunately is you can’t.
Those days of being able to systemize and offload the entire process to the cheapest worker capable of copying and pasting from a spreadsheet into an article spinner are probably over.
However there’s no need to despair because there is the opportunity to scale high-value link building to a certain degree and I believe the answer lies in process design and division of labour.
What is division of labour?
For anyone unfamiliar with the term, I believe it was originally devised by Plato and applied to an economy as a whole but the widely held definition as popularized by the economist Adam Smith is “the separation of a work process into a number of tasks, with each task performed by a separate person or group of persons.”
Most link building processes can be systemized (to a degree) and streamlined. For most campaigns to be successful you don’t need to be constantly reinventing the wheel – it’s more about consistency.
How does this apply to us SEOs?
As agency workers many of us face this challenge of not enough time in the day.
As an agency owner I also face the challenge of maintaining a profitable business model by getting the most value out of my team without compromising on quality.
Applying the principle of division of labour to our link building campaigns within Skyrocket SEO has dramatically improved efficiency whilst maintaining fairly consistent levels of quality (there’s definitely a teething phase so don’t scale this too quickly) and improving levels of staff motivation (because there is less time-pressure related stress overall).
We operate a virtual team as well as an in-house team and this allows us to work almost around the clock close to 7 days a week and everyone plays their part in the process.
How to deploy this in your agency
Step 1 – Map out a process
The key to success with this is in the design of the process and fully understanding every single step that goes into making something bigger happen.
The end result might be getting a blogger to publish a post and help promote a competition you are running for a client but within that there are likely to be lots of micro-steps for example identifying the bloggers, sifting through the opportunities, gathering contact details, making contact and so on.
Map out the process and explore how it may be improved upon, redesign it if you have to. We have process manuals for nearly everything we do at Skyrocket and I really don’t think there is anything wrong with having a step by step guide to doing something – it doesn’t make you any less of a skilled individual.
The fact remains that there will ALWAYS be a need within SEO processes no matter how much you break them down for an expert – the secret is ensuring you (as the skilled mind) are only involved in the activities that A) You have to be because quality would suffer otherwise or B) Because you can add the greatest value.
I recommend trialing this with one kind of link acquisition within your agency and then rolling out once you are happy with the results.
I have written previously on process design in link building and in scalable content production so it might also be worth reading these posts as well to get a full feel for what I am talking about here.
Step 2 – Analyse your internal capabilities
Walk through the entire process step by step and identify what should be handled in-house and what could potentially be handed off to a virtual worker.
For us, it made a lot of sense when it comes to link building to hand off research and heavy lifting with spreadsheets to a virtual team. We can then focus on what we do best – strategy, creative ideas and developing relationships with publishers and bloggers.
It is important to look objectively at not only your current internal capabilities but also career objectives of your team and whether it is a productive use of time to carry out a certain task.
Step 3 – Divide
I think the use of worldwide labour found on sites like oDesk gets a bad reputation.
It has a negative rep because it is the client that by and large get it wrong, they hand off an entire business function to an individual who understandably (perhaps due to the lack of training or their lack of English language skills) completely messes things up.
‘Outsourcing’ then gets written off as a waste of time.
If you are smart with your division of labour you can operate a team of virtual workers alongside your in-house team and achieve levels of scale that just aren’t otherwise achievable.
Do I recommend handing off the task of sending hundreds of emails to bloggers to someone with a poor grasp of English? No! Of course not.
Finding contact details or gathering tons of data for an infographic project – well it makes a lot of sense.
Step 4 – Recruit & Train
Finding, recruiting, training and managing virtual workers is really a whole post in its own right but here are some general thoughts on this step.
- Be specific – everything included in the job post and your communication with a prospective virtual team member should be completely unambiguous.
- Maintain control – I can’t stress this enough. Too many projects fail because the objectives for the worker are too loose. You need to maintain a number of safeguards to protect your clients and you. We have multiple layers of control and quality assurance so everything is checked before it moves to the next stage. We are selective about the information we release and we are meticulous in our directions of things we do and don’t want.
- Don’t go too cheap – not only should you consider paying a fair wage for these individuals in other countries (many of whom are capable, thorough and committed workers) because it’s the right thing to do but also because hiring too cheap can lead to bad or unreliable workers and the failure of the project.
- Always interview – you get a much better feel for how well a virtual worker is going to do within your organization even if it is just a chat via Skype.
- Be thorough but clear in your training manuals – remember that your virtual team are likely to speak English as their second language so produce all training manuals with this in mind. There’s no need to treat the individuals as incapable but to avoid any unexpected results, we typically leave no margin for errors – we clearly state that this is what we need and this is how you can do it.
Step 6 – Test then Scale
I touched on this briefly earlier on in this post but it really is so essential to test this out on a small scale before rolling out across all of your different areas of work.
We learned so much from doing this on a small scale, it was completely controllable and easily managed – once we had a firm grasp of what was working and which tasks were a good fit we looked at other areas.
It doesn’t hurt to be experimental on a small scale (if you keep the control measures in place), I think you’ll be surprised at what you can delegate to your virtual team. Some things we now know are a good fit, others definitely aren’t.
Actually being able to “give up” that task is obviously a psychological barrier that you’ll need to overcome but with a small scale test it gives you and your boss the necessary reassurances.
I’d be lying if I told you this was all as simple as it sounds but then you don’t need me to tell you that. As my friend Patrick Hathaway so eloquently put it in our conversation about this the other day “the secret of any business process is the management of said process”.