- Moving SEO work off-shore has become increasingly popular as a way to save costs and free up time for more complex marketing work.
- The biggest advantage of overseas agencies seems to be cost savings while the biggest challenge seems to be communicating across large time differences.
- Content can be especially challenging to outsource overseas because of the difficulty of finding native-level professional English writers.
- The best way to decide what kind of agency to work with is to understand your budget and SEO needs and do thorough research.
As SEO nerds, we’re always happy to answer questions about our field. One question we’ve been hearing a lot lately from both existing and prospective clients is about the wisdom of hiring an overseas agency vs. a U.S.-based agency.
Understandably, brands shopping for digital marketing services want to make the best decision when it comes to costs, quality of work, and more. The digital marketing climate is fast-paced and dynamic, so to keep up with your competition, you need to make sure the agency you work with can get you real results. At the same time, marketing teams will always be constrained by budgets. Many companies look to overseas agencies in an effort to keep costs low.
So, is there really a difference between U.S. agencies and overseas agencies? If so, how should you decide what type of agency to hire?
Obviously, we’re a U.S.-based SEO agency, so to keep our answer as objective as possible, we spoke to companies in a range of verticals about their experiences working with overseas agencies. Below, we’ve compiled insights from startup founders, CEOs, CMOs, and other representatives working in ecommerce, tech, B2B services, and more to give readers a better understanding of what overseas agencies can and can’t do.
Why overseas agencies?
Outsourcing work to off-shore companies has long been a business practice in the U.S. Normally outsourcing brings to mind manufacturing, but moving SEO work off-shore has become increasingly popular in recent years.
One of the driving motivations is cost. Another is the need to offload low-tier, very specialized tasks onto an agency with the appropriate skills in order to free up in-house staff for more complex work. Many of our respondents reported positive experiences in both of these areas.
That said, budgetary and workload concerns only form parts of the whole SEO picture. Keep reading to see what else real-life founders and marketers have to say about their experiences with overseas SEO agencies.
Real experiences with overseas vs. US agencies
The founders, CEOs, strategists, and marketers we spoke to described both positive and negative experiences with overseas agencies. Their responses focused mainly on differences in costs, quality of communication across time zones and cultures, and quality of results in the areas of rankings, backlinks, and content.
Though some experiences may have been affected by natural variation in the quality of the agencies our respondents worked with, it also seems that your experience with an overseas agency will be partly informed by your particular needs. Understanding this will help you make the right decision for your company.
“The biggest advantage of using overseas agencies is the cost,” says Alina Clark, co-founder of CocoDoc. She says that working with an overseas SEO agency for two years enabled the software development company to achieve its SEO vision – something she doubts would have been possible on a startup budget had they worked with a U.S.-based agency.
Virtually all respondents cited lower costs as a benefit of working with overseas agencies. For many respondents, this was enough to justify the decision despite concerns about quality of work or communication. Addressing concerns that overseas agencies might lack certain specialized skills, founder and CEO of GetVoIP Reuben Yonatan says, “In my experience overseas SEO agencies have a good handle on the technical side of SEO and can be an affordable alternative to stateside companies.”
The biggest advantage of using overseas agencies is the cost.
One common refrain about overseas agencies is that you get what you pay for, meaning low costs can translate to low quality results. Some of our respondents acknowledged this possibility. “My experience is always positive because I know what to expect,” says Nicholas Torres, Front End Developer and SEO Manager at MBS Sign Supply, explaining that had he been looking for “tier 1 content or backlinks,” he would have been disappointed with the overseas agency he worked with. He says that while most of the backlinks he got with the agency are noFollow links, which Google does not value as highly, the costs and time saved on building content and backlinks made it worth it.
John Ross, CMO of Test Prep Insight, echoed this cost-benefit analysis. “Do not get me wrong,” he says, “the quality of the content they generate and the links they drive are not quite as good as that of an American agency, but it is solid.” He estimates that for roughly 30% of the cost, his company got 80% of the quality. “So yes, we probably could receive higher-quality content and better links from an agency in the U.S., but I’m just not sure the price jump justifies it.”
“But in some cases,” he nevertheless adds, “it might.”
Communication and working relationships
While the biggest advantage of overseas agencies cited by respondents was cost, the biggest challenge was definitely communicating across time zones and cultures.
For some respondents, the challenge was manageable enough to keep working with the agency. “It made communicating a little hard at times,” says Jamie Hickey, founder of Coffee Semantics, of the 9.5-hour time difference, “but I would use them again without any questions.” John Ross of Test Prep Insights also acknowledges that the time difference can be “pretty annoying” when there’s an urgent issue, but adds that despite this inconvenience, “I have been pleased with their responsiveness.”
Some respondents barely felt the time difference at all. “I was shocked to see these experts work crazy hours to meet our deadlines,” says Abby Herman, Director of Strategy at Snap Agency.
The differences in time and working hours was the main reason why we shifted closer home…the lengthy back and forth became a tad bit too much.
For other companies, though, the longer turnaround times – often up to 24 hours or more – were a deal breaker. “In fact, the differences in time and working hours was the main reason why we shifted closer home,” says Alina Clark of CocoDoc. “The emails would be late because they came in past our working hours, or the inverse. The lengthy back and forth became a tad bit too much at some point. Getting messages across became hard because answers would be delayed, not due to anyone’s fault, but because we were working across different time zones.”
For Stephen Halasnik, Managing Partner of Financing Solutions, this barrier to communication affected more than just the timeliness of emails and completion of tasks. “The process of SEO, at least for me, is very collaborative,” he says. “I found in SEO that I can’t just give the SEO work to my agency and let them go,” adding that it’s critical for him to instead “stay involved.” The time difference in working with overseas agencies made this impossible.
Knowledge of SEO
In terms of overseas agencies’ level of expertise, we heard mostly positive responses with some caveats.
In general, our respondents found that the overseas agencies they worked with were highly skilled in the areas they needed help with – particularly lower-level, yet crucial tasks that can suck up valuable time from in-house teams.
“We primarily work with these agencies on time-consuming aspects of SEO, such as the creation of title tags, meta descriptions and alt text,” says Harrison Sharrett, Digital Marketing and Content Manager at Prime Office Space. “As an office space brokerage that lists thousands of spaces that are constantly updated as new stock comes to market, it can be hard to stay on top of these vital elements of SEO.”
We primarily work with these agencies on time-consuming aspects of SEO, such as the creation of title tags, meta descriptions and alt text.
That said, some respondents found it was necessary to keep their overseas agency informed on the most up-to-date SEO strategies. Abby Herman of Snap Agency says, “There are some marketing trends they didn’t yet implement, or weren’t familiar with at the time, so we had to work on an A/B type of test for ads to see which one we should use in this particular case.” However, she says that despite the time this added to the campaign, the company was happy with the results.
Quality of results
The most mixed responses had to do with quality of results. While some respondents were pleased with the extent to which their SEO goals were met, others warned that some types of work are better for outsourcing overseas than others.
Caroline Lee, co-founder of CocoSign, says that the overseas agency she worked with provided work before deadlines, tracked each lead, and returned generally high-quality work. Many other respondents echoed these advantages, acknowledging that even when the work was not as good as what might be expected with a U.S. agency, it was worth the lower costs.
That said, one of the main areas where respondents were in agreement was content. Because overseas agencies are usually based in India or Pakistan, there is an understandable fear that a lack of native-level English speaking skills will damage the quality of content written by these agencies. In our experience, we’ve certainly seen content written by overseas agencies that required such heavy editing that the time and cost of producing the content outweighed its value.
Some respondents echoed this concern. “The disadvantage is the quality of writing if you’re looking for content,” says Reuben Yonatan of GetVoIP. “Some of them just have trouble finding native-level professional English writers who’ll work for the local rate.”
Tips & takeaways
At the end of the day, deciding whether or not to outsource to an overseas agency depends on your unique business needs. The following tips can help you make the decision when considering any type of agency, overseas or not:
1. Do your research.
Spend a lot of time researching agencies and ask a lot of questions to vet the agency’s fitness for your needs. In particular, make sure the agency is up-to-date on the most current SEO tactics, says Abby Herman of Snap Agency. That includes understanding the differences between white hat and black hat SEO so you can ensure your marketing efforts are ethical and legal.
Remember that an overseas agency isn’t beholden to the same business laws, so if they break contract or damage your brand’s reputation, you won’t be able to take them to court the way you can in the U.S.
2. Know what to expect.
You might not get top quality results, but you will get what you pay for. For small companies and startups, it may be worth it to quickly build a brand presence with one of these low-cost agencies, but it’s important to weigh the costs as your company grows and your SEO needs change.
3. Outsource work strategically.
Based on the respondents’ experiences, many brands have had success outsourcing time-consuming but simple tasks like meta tags, alt text, etc. rather than more comprehensive projects like content creation and link-building.
Harrison Sharrett of Prime Office Space says the number one advantage of outsourcing this work to an overseas agency “has been the time it has freed up for our employees to dedicate themselves to other aspects of SEO, such as on-page optimization, content creation, link-building, and digital PR.”
In particular, content is usually better when it’s written by native English speakers well-versed in the given vertical.
Weighing the costs and benefits
At the end of the day, there’s no right answer when it comes to overseas vs. U.S. agencies. Instead, it’s best to weigh the costs and benefits of each according to your company’s size, bandwidth, budget, and needs. While the low costs may be a benefit, you may find your company needs the close working relationship and cutting-edge expertise of a U.S.-based agency.Have questions about the best approach for your SEO strategy? We’re happy to talk you through it. Get in touch with the RMG team today.