There’s an increasing trend to outsource link building to India, Pakistan, the Phillipines and other remote countries where link builders will work for a couple of dollars an hour, or less. Ethical issues aside (I’ll return to those later), outsourcing link building is hugely problematic. In this article, I’ll present some common issues before tackling how you can create clear instructions to maximise the likelihood that you’ll get what you want. I’ll also go over some tips to help you build a good relationship with your outsourced link building team.
In dealing with outsourced link builders, here are some issues I’ve encountered:
Confusion over what is a link
It might seem relatively straightforward to you but link builders have very different thoughts on what creating a link for you actually means. Some count social bookmarks as links, others count posts on social networks. Many link builders will try to create links through blog comments and forum posts for you, but these often require moderator approval so that, at the time they report to you, you can’t really see if you’ve attained that link or not. Other link builders use and directory submissions which again require weeks or months to approve. Others create links in forum profiles but these frequently sit behind log in screens so aren’t seen by the search engines anyway. To add to this, there’s often confusion over what (say) a PR3 link is. Just because the site is PR3 does not mean a new profile on that site will also be PR3. It’s page rank, not site rank. But link builders will happily tell you they’ve built 150 PR3 links for you, failing to understand this.
You might have a very definite idea of what constitutes a good quality link – your link builder will have other ideas. Whilst I’m in the school of thought that a link is a link, most links have at least some value, you don’t want millions of spammy links and no quality. Unfortunately, without any direction, that’s very likely to be what you’ll get. For this reason, I prefer to use link builders to build specific types of low value link (forum profiles, forum comments, blog comments, directory submissions, etc) and do the quality link building myself. Higher quality links, like in-content links on trusted websites, take more time to achieve but these are likely to be the ones Google really places weight on in the future – it’s possible but unlikely your link builder will be able to achieve these for you.
Another thing to watch is the longevity of the links being built for you. If the links are in content on a blog, for example, they will disappear off the home page into the archives after a matter of time. Make sure your link builder knows what your expectation is here.
Link builders using my personal name on accounts they create has been one issue I’ve had, especially as some of those have popped up on the kind of websites I’d prefer not to be associated with. Volume has been another issue, with huge disparity in what one link builder can produce in a week compared to another – better to pay piecemeal. Subcontracting is a further trap to avoid – once you’ve got a business email address, you’ll be contacted by all manner of companies offering competitive rates for link building and SEO work, but they are outsourcing themselves, which means someone somewhere is ultimately getting paid just a few cents per hour to do the work. Even if you have no problem with this ethically, it’s also another body in the line for chinese whispers when it comes to your instructions.
Dishonesty is a rather sad issue that you’ll have with some outsourced workers regardless of where they are based – you need to check the reports you receive carefully to make sure they are not the same as previous reports, and to ensure the links have actually been built. Also look at the links created to ensure that your link builder isn’t using automatic, black hat software to build links through spamming, which could be frowned upon by Google.
Language is more of an irritation than an issue – most foreign link builders speak some basic English and as long as you present your instructions clearly, without using too many technical words, you’re unlikely to have any problems. You just might have to reword things a few times over – always let them know that you’re very open to questions. Most Filipinos speak excellent English as this (alongside Filipino/Tagalog) is their main language.
Get the instructions right
It’s worth taking some time to give clear instructions to your link builder so that you stand a good chance of getting what you want. If they don’t follow your instructions, you can then dispute their invoice.
Ask yourself these questions and make sure the answers are explicit in your instructions.
- What type of links are you expecting (e.g. blog comments, forum profiles, directory link building) and what do you not want?
- Will you accept links from adult-themed websites?
- May they create accounts and profiles using your actual name, or must they use a pseudonym?
- Must your links be mostly from a particular country (e.g. UK, US)? Consider specifying a percentage.
- Are you looking for links from websites with particular extensions (e.g. .net, .com, .org, .edu)?
- Are you looking for links from pages (or websites) with a particular page rank?
- May your link builder use software to create the links or must it be done manually?
- What balance of follow/no-follow links will you accept?
- Must the links be confirmed or will you accept that they have tried to build the link but it may not yet have moderator approval? You might be happy for the link builder to provide log in details so you can check they have genuinely left a comment which is awaiting approval. For directory links, you could set up an email address for them which you have access to, and can see where they’ve applied for a directory.
- Who will confirm directory links? (frequently, the directory sends you an email with a link in that you have to click to confirm your submission)
- Are there any specific sites they should avoid?
- Do you want them to use variations of your keywords in the anchor text (e.g. ‘link building’ ‘build links’ ‘how to link build’ etc)?
- Must the links be from topical websites relating to your keywords? (you might want to specify a minimum X% must be on-topic)
- What longevity are you expecting? Does it matter if the links move from the primary page after a matter of time?
Tips for managing outsourced link builders
- Start out with a quick test – 2-4 hours or so – to see how well they perform.
- Ask for a spreadsheet of links built each week – easier to read than screenshots. Tell them exactly when you expect the spreadsheet to be delivered to you each week. You can give them a template to fill in, to make sure you get the information you want – the very least you want is the confirmation link showing you where the link they built is. It’s also helpful to get the log in and password details they are using to sign up to any sites, so if you spot anything disasterous, you can quickly log in and correct it or delete it.
- Give simply worded instructions with clear expectations and deadlines.
- Make sure they know they should ask questions if they’re unsure about anything, and always be kind in the way you answer questions so you don’t discourage them in future.
- Never assume they know what something means.
- It’s a good idea to ask them to confirm to you the instructions as they understand them, especially if their English isn’t great.
- Review their work regularly, weekly as a minimum, to make sure they are on track. Give any additional instructions or clarification if you think they don’t understand what you’re looking for.
- Use sharing tools to help communicate – favourites are Google Docs, Dropbox and Skype, all of which are free.
- Give feedback regularly, and make sure you praise them for work that is well done.
Is it ethical to outsource link building?
The answer to this is quite simple. It’s ethical if you pay a fair price, and if you take care that you’re dealing directly with the link builder. A fair price is an hourly rate that would allow that person a reasonable standard of living. You don’t need to compare to hourly rates in your home country, or even pay the same rate to all of your link builders – you need to compare to the cost of living in the Country in which they are based. If you want to be confident that what you’re doing is ethical, Numbeo.com is a great site to find out the cost of living by country. You can also check out any Government set minimum wage for the Country in question.
Do praise and reward your best link builders – they are just like employees. You want to keep good people motivated, and working on your project rather than someone else’s.
Jen Wiss is Angel's Inbound Marketing Consultant. Bringing over 10 years' experience in marketing to Angel, through the years she has helped hundreds of companies achieve the results they want. She is an all-rounder, assisting our clients with her design, SEO and consultancy skills.