5 Steps to Assembling an All-Star Link Building Team on oDesk
If you're not familiar with oDesk, it's an online jobs marketplace where businesses can hire and manage contractors remotely. What I really love about using oDesk is the ability to find good, inexpensive link building (and link marketing) help in a matter of hours. However, finding quality help isn't always easy. Having to pour over a mountain of oDesk applicants to find contractors who are both cost-effective and reliable can be a real challenge.
But fear not, I've come up with a five step process to help you separate the wheat from the chaff and find qualified, reliable link building help on oDesk quickly and easily.
Step One: Thinning the Herd
When posting your job on oDesk, make sure you have a list of really specific "preferred qualifications." My standard list seeks to target only contractors who:
- Have done previous link building or SEO work on oDesk
- Have a rating about 4.5 stars or higher (on a scale of 1 to 5)
- Have scored at least a 3 on their English fluency test (on a scale of 1 to 5)
- Have worked at least 100 hours
- Have an hourly rate of $10 or lower (I'm not kidding when I say "cost-effective")
Having a set list is especially helpful when posting a "SEO" or "link building" job on oDesk, since those terms are magnets for anyone with a pulse and will often attract a few hundred applicants in the course of 24 to 48 hours.
Now, even though you do set preferred qualifications, you're still going to get a bunch of people who ignore your list and apply anyway. But that's okay because oDesk gives you the ability to sort, filter and reject (in bulk) anyone who doesn't meet your criteria. So right out of the gate, I do an initial round of filtering that includes:
- Sort by "highest feedback," reject anyone with no feedback or less than 4.5 stars. (NOTE: that these are my personal thresholds based on experience, but feel free to set your own)
- Sort by "fewest hours," reject anyone who is new to oDesk or with less than 100 hours. (Newbies can learn on someone else's dime)
- Sort by "lowest rate," reject anyone charging less than $1 per hour. (I've seen rates as low as .22/hour. And while it may be intriguing, I doubt I'm going to get a quality job paying $1 for four hours work. However, it seems that other employers on oDesk have high expectations for what they should get for $1)
So what I'm left with are ONLY candidates who have put in at least a full 40 hours work week, aren't working for pennies and have solid feedback scores, which filters out roughly 80% of applicants. Maybe you think I'm too stringent, but when you've got 200 applicants to sort through, you need to set some hard and fast rules for the initial round of qualification.
Step Two: Good English = Good Link Builders
Now, you might feel it doesn't matter if your oDesk link building team understands English, but speaking from experience it does...a lot. If their English is poor, the amount of time (and money) you will waste on miscommunication can be brutal. Also, without proper English skills, you can't task them with anything that's even remotely client-facing, which limits their utility. I'd much rather pay a premium knowing my instructions will be understood, followed and the job will get done right.
To verify English skills on oDesk, look at how a contractor scored on their English exams. Note: DO NOT go by the "English Level" score under "Profile Facts," since it's "self-assessed":
Instead, look at how well they did on the oDesk English skills tests.
So the above it a prime example of why you can't trust a self-assessment. This guy rates his English level as a 5--which is a perfect score--but he only scores in the lower 5% percent in English spelling. Also, I recommend checking their cover letters, which is a pretty good sign of their fundamental writing and communication skills. This guy's letter is riddled with typos and half of it doesn't make any sense. So much for the "self-assessment."
By this point, I've pared my original list of 200 applicants down to a much more manageable group of potential hires for my link building team, and it's on to step three.
Step Three: Check Out Previous Gigs, Feedback Scores and Hours Worked
Many contractors will fib a little about their skills on oDesk in order to meet the employers job requirements, which is a lot like real life :) However, the great thing about oDesk is that everyone has a "Work History and Feedback" section in their profile so you can review all their past performance ratings from previous employers.
An additional tip here is to be a little wary of anyone with all 5 star ratings. I've heard rumors of ratings gangs on oDesk, but seen nothing conclusive. Now, I'm not saying you shouldn't hire contractors who have 5 star reviews, but a few 4 stars here and there may be a little more "natural." Also, you can also drill down into each Job Title and see the original job description and details of work performed for that particular job, to get an idea of their strengths and experience and to put a little more meat behind the ratings.
Step Four: The Interview
So by this point, I've pared my list down considerably and I'm left with maybe a dozen contractors. What I like to do next is to send each of them an email asking the same generic question. One of my favorite things to ask is "Can you tell me a little about your link building strategies and tactics?" which is a great open-ended question. What's more, the responses are often good for a laugh too. So with the interview question, I'm trying to get an idea of:
- Responsiveness - How quickly do they reply to my email
- Communication - How well they can communicate
- Overall Impression - What kind of gut feeling I get from their response and whether or not they seem like a good fit for the role
If I don't get a response in 24 hours, or the English stinks, or the email is filled with talk of "link wheels" and "Angela and Paul backlink packets," then I usually reject their application and I'm left with a handful of contractors who are ready for the last step.
Step Five: Link Building Litmus Test
The final step in assembling a link building team on oDesk is to give the remaining candidates an actual assignment. Now, I 'm okay with wasting a little money at this stage, since the objective is to find solid members for my team. I figure spending some short money up front here saves me money in the long run. However, I try to mitigate any "loss" by tasking each of the contractors with actual work that I need done. I make sure to keep the tasks really simple and pretty controlled, since I don't really know these guys and I don't want them screwing something up royally.
So by handing out actual assignments, I'm looking for the contractors who are the:
- Most efficient
- Most accurate (attention to detail is critical)
- Most cost-effective
For me, this phase is the final test. If they complete the assignment correctly and timely, then I add them to my oDesk team. Because to me, if they've made it to this point, it's a really good sign that I can trust them more work, and higher level work potentially, and be confident that it will get done right. Finally, I'd recommend adding more than contractor to your link building team, since it's insurance should somebody not work out.
Ken Lyons is the co-founder of Measured SEM, an Internet marketing agency in Boston, and a marketing consultant for DIYSEO, a company that offers SEO software for small business as well as a Free SEO Report.