Finding a good outsourcer for website changes/design/marketing?
August 3, 2010 6:32 AM   Subscribe

How to outsource to a good integrative website marketing/design firm or individual? Or please provide your personal recommendations.

How does one find a good outsourcer? I've been burned three times in the past (first firm went bankrupt halfway through the project, second firm couldn't communicate in English) including the latest instance where our guy bailed on us leave leaving us unable to make changes.

My study abroad company has the shell of a website which looks pretty good but needs copy and graphics. We rank pretty well in terms of search engines, so we need someone who knows something something about SEO copywriting and to not screw up our rankings. We are on an extremely limited budget, and can't spend thousands of dollars on a new site. Basically, we are getting pretty desperate and this will either make or break the company. We don't actually need an entire site built. We just need to convert our clunky text into a competitive, compelling sales message that delivers the value proposition, add some sharp graphics, and a bit of layout work ( very very minor). I have a poor sense of style myself, so we need somebody who knows how to deliver it in style.

Additionally we will have to make in or buy a solution for a membership website in the near future.

I am aware of many of the outsourcing websites: design quote, 99designs, elance, etc.; the problem is how to pick somebody.

Our current website uses Drupal and we are thinking about using a WordPress based solution for the membership website. However I'm open to anything.

I'm hoping for more than just a list of websites. How did you pick a good outsourcer? Do you have any outsourcers that you would personally recommend? if you don't feel comfortable posting it here you can always metamail me for the personal recommendations.

If you don't know an individual outsourcer that could do all three parts ( copy, design, coding), I'll settle for whatever I can get in terms of recommendations if you know someone who can do any part of it.

Finally, how can we get people to make small and incremental changes without having to find an outsourcer every time? Things like adding a new graphic or making minor layout changes.

Ideally I would find a marketing firm in which we would give them a percentage of the increase in revenues. We have great service, get word of mouth, testimonials, great search engine rankings but convert like crap because of our web presence. Do you think there are firms out there and amenable to this kind of arrangement? The way I look at it, they all talk about results so I think they should put their money where their mouth is. I'm 100% convinced if we had a compelling website our sales would increase to the amount that it would be well worth it with this type of arrangement. Since the chain is only as strong as it's weakest link, it would be best to have an integrative approach--so that we can focus on one thing that matters-- conversion.

I'm technically inept and rely on voice recognition software so doing lots of coding myself is out of the question.

posted by chinabound to Computers & Internet (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You pick a good outsourcer by asking them to present their past work in a case study style of format:
  • What was the project?
  • What problems were faced?
  • How were the problems overcome?
  • How successful was the outcome?
You want a person who really gives you insight into their methodology, and not just what technologies they employ. You want someone, especially in SEO, who not only improves your stats, but can interpret them to learn about your users' behavior and how they are interacting with your site.

Do you think there are firms out there and amenable to this kind of arrangement?

Only the desperate.

Working for trade is one thing, working for a portion of your sales, especially for what looks to be a start-up, is another. Marketing alone does not make a successful business; if your product and customer support suck, the business will tank.

To be brutally honest, a small client in this industry who only wants to profit share is a huge red flag. Most clients of this nature don't pay deposits, blame marketing before overall business practices, and are looking for get-rich-quick schemes. I'm not saying this is you, but offering to only pay with profit sharing has a huge negative connotation and many firms will assume you have all the other negative traits.

The way I look at it, they all talk about results so I think they should put their money where their mouth is.

You're not seeing the value of good design/SEO, which is reasonable if you've already been burned before.

A good, reputable firm already puts themselves at risk for your job. It takes time and money, which often is not recouped, to create an initial pitch, do research, and create estimates and an initial plan to get your business. It is already an investment of internal resources to make you successful so you can pay your bills and continue purchasing services.

If you want to only pay someone out of your profit, hire an internal marketing/development team.
posted by Wossname at 9:04 AM on August 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the response. A couple points of clarification:

"Marketing alone does not make a successful business; if your product and customer support suck, the business will tank."

We are not a startup, and we have a proven track record of customer satisfaction. But we don't have a huge budget either. If our conversion rate was the same as our competitors, this would be well worth the while for any company/individual. Aesthetics matter more now since our industry has become more competitive.

Our conversion rate is 1/10 to 1/40th that of our competitors.

We rank on the top page of Google for most of the keywords even though there are a few hundred companies competing for it.

Our bounce rate is astronomical.

"You're not seeing the value of good design/SEO, which is reasonable if you've already been burned before."

I am seeing the value. If they can provide that value, then why would they be afraid of this arrangement? Also been part of forums/training events with people who run their own marketing/web development companies and know less than I do when it comes to SEO, portray themselves as experts on their own websites, and yet are constantly seeking help in such a manner that it would shake their customers' confidence if their customers saw it. Lots of traditional marketing projects are done based on commissions/bonuses/performance targets - so I thought it might be acceptable for the industry as well. 99designs this to some extent proving that a good chunk of the market wants to see something first. There's a reason why PPA is becoming a standard form of promotion online. I don't want to come off as antagonistic, but there has been companies have redone their website multiple times without getting the desired results, while the marketer makes money like a stock broker, making a gain even if the commissioning party is losing.

Great SEO only gets us a high bounce rate at this point. Since we already have good search engine results we have to make sure that they don't get messed up. So trust me, I do see the value and that's why want to make sure that it is done right.

I can certainly see your point, about putting themselves at risk-- we also have to provide quotes for potentials, but I have a lot to lose in this situation, more so than the web company since this is our face to the customers and search engines whereas it's just one of several in a portfolio for the outsourcer. A beautiful sight without the rankings would be just as bad or worse. Hence, the only metric remaining: conversion or PPA.

"If you want to only pay someone out of your profit, hire an internal marketing/development team."

As I stated, I'm asking for help getting outsourcing. We don't have that much that needs to be done to justify a full-time team, nor the budget; if we did, we wouldn't be looking to outsource.
posted by chinabound at 9:54 AM on August 3, 2010

99 designs is essentially a design contest / spec work site. (Lots of people think sites like this and the concept as a whole are bad.) It is not indicative of the market as a whole.

There will be people hungry enough to consistently take spec work in order to get a job. Outsourcing sites like those you have listed are mainly going to cater to students and offshore companies. You are going to have to sort through a lot of crap, and the sample questions I gave you up-thread will be your best bet for finding someone decent.

Bear in mind this is an industry that has a very easy gateway to entrance - anyone with a computer and an internet connection can pass themselves off as a web designer or SEO expert, as you have noticed in your forums. If you want quality work, you need to search for agencies/individuals that specialize in the services you need. Do your research, interview them, and ask for references. If you have a realistic budget, you could try posting an RFP to sites like You can also try looking around for starters and see if any candidates meet your budget and skill needs.

If your conversion is as bad as you say, you probably need a redesign as opposed to a few tweaks here and there. And that is probably making your expectations even more difficult to fulfill. It's sounding like you really need some consultative services. You need someone to sift through your stats and figure out why your bounce rate is what it is. You need someone to figure out if the people visiting your website are even the correct audience. You're performing well under your keywords, but are there other keywords you could be missing? You need someone to do a usability review, with conversion in mind. Maybe the site is broken on browsers in your market share. Why are people not finding what they need?

If the people you interview are not immediately thinking about the above issues, they don't have the skills you need. Move on to the next candidate.

Ultimately, your budget and approach to your needs are going to determine what you get. If you have the sort of budget and timeline that allow for consultative services, you stand a much better chance of success.

And yes, you will want to set baselines and goals. You can try offering a bonus structure. A bonus plan on top of a reasonable pay structure could be more appealing than 100% profit sharing. But don't be surprised if no one bites.
posted by Wossname at 11:44 AM on August 3, 2010

You get what you pay for. If you don't have cash on-hand to pay someone to help you, no credible marketing specialist will take you seriously.

SEO is also not just a one-time project (although very few companies actually optimize their website for search, and it is expensive and troublesome to optimize after the fact). Achieving and measuring quantifiable results can take at least 3 months. You need to experiment with different strategies and tools to get the best results. Plus, just because your hard work over several months means you appear higher in the rankings, does not mean you will remain high in the rankings indefinitely. It takes a constant, disciplined effort.

A cheap solution might be to do it yourself. At its basic level, at least for small businesses, SEO is not rocket science. Maybe figure out what your keyword phrases are, and hire a copywriter to write your website while incorporating those keywords. Figure out how to get your site linked, and direct your copywriter to do those tasks.

You work in essentially a startup environment (your cashflow, or lack thereof, is what makes you a startup), so you need to wear many hats. For the time being, you need to become the marketing director who creates the strategy, and manages the project, and measures the results.

However, it will be much easier and quicker to actually pay someone upfront to help you out, rather than wasting time with promises of pay-for-performance. No one reputable appreciates that sort of thing.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:56 AM on August 19, 2010

Again, our SEO is good. I've paid upfront before and been burned--3 times now (one incompetent/couldn't communicate, one went bankrupt after delivering only have the project, and one ran off with our money). We have a solid back-end and operations that leave most customers incredibly happy. A large portion of new clients are referrals from previous ones. (Not good enough for real growth though since the market is dispersed.) We have the system in place, but don't operate at capacity or anywhere near it. Our fixed costs are high, but we are about breaking even. Anything on top goes to the bottom line. So it is not empty promises. The standard in the travel industry is commissions through agents by the way. So that is close to what I am offering. I'm biased here, but if I was an outsourcer I'd think: a website that ranks highly, has traffic, has a good track record of customer service and satisfaction, a growing marketplace, but converts at 1/10th to 1/40th of competitors, who will give me many times my typical charge (orders of multitude for the cheaper outsourcers) if I can get the conversion rate as high as their competitors--I'll take it if I had any confidence. It is a gift, really, because there is a large upside. Not into giving things away, but I'm the money situation forces me to minimize upfront risk--especially given the history.

Question remains, how to hire someone? How to work out some kind of incentive plan that minimizes our upfront risk?
posted by chinabound at 9:57 AM on August 24, 2010

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