Hiring Freelancers For SEO - A Few Tips

If you have ever tried hiring a freelancer via oDesk or Elance, you know how difficult it might be. Tens of applicants might seem great at first glance, but after a more detailed review, you will quickly find out that the majority of them just apply for every job they see, and they don't truly care about your particular job. Well, they have nothing to loose and the application process is easy for the freelancers. They just copy the same cover letter to many of the job posts and that's it.
If you post a job regarding copy writing, SEO or online marketing, you will probably receive around 100 applications. Many of the freelancers will have a title like this:

"SEO/SEM/SMM/Data entry/article writing expert", or another example:
"SEO expert Penguin & Panda".
It is fascinating to see freelancers who try to be everything for everybody. I usually reject/hide these applications without even reviewing them. If they cannot specialize in something concrete, they are most likely not good at anything.
For me, the second example of the title seems even funny. What in a world is a "Penguin expert"? "Penguin" was one of many updates of Google that changed the way of websites ranking. I assume that the only Penguin experts are the creators/programmers of this update at Google. For SEO specialists, Penguin & Panda only made the rules more strict - in a simple sentence they say "SEO must be natural without spam", that's it. We don't have to make things more complicated than they are. Promoting a person as the "Penguin expert" means that this person only copied the well known terms, and in fact knows only a little about SEO.
SEO is changing constantly, but many rules are here since Google started. Website optimization is not only link building. It's all about marketing, understanding the target audience and providing some value. Fortunately, thousands of spammy links don't work today. We all hate spam, and if you have a blog, you know how annoying it is to get rid of it.

Does the freelancer really understand SEO?

If a freelancer speaks only about "white hat" link building, it is suspicious. What kind of links, on what sites? Links on forums? How to create them without getting banned? It all ends up in providing value and offering something useful to your audience. If you start with questions like this, you will find out that the majority of the freelancers that applied for your job have no idea about the big picture. In fact, any SEO efforts are forbiden by Google. They want the link building to be done by others, not by the web owner. I am not sure, if there is such thing as "white hat" link building. If you do it, you are more or less violating the Google rules and you must stay under the radar. And that is a really task to accomplish.
The most difficult part about hiring freelancers from Bangladesh, Pakistan or India is a terrible lack of creativity. I have given a chance to many freelancers so far, but the results were similarly poor in most cases. They failed even with a simple task to spin the title/description a little. At our company, we have a decent manual about what the employee is supposed to do, however, you cannot replace a creative person with a robot.

Advice for hiring a freelancer

1) Filter those who even didn't read your application. Ask the applicants to use your name in the greeting or some concrete words at the beginning of the application. Then, if they start with "Dear Sir/Madam", you know they are not a suitable fit.
2) Reject those who claim to be experts in everything. If you search for an article writer, you need someone with perfect English and language skills. You don't want to hire anyone who is a "data entry expert".
3) Reject those with a bad profile or a poor quality photo. You cannot expect the freelancer to do your job well if he or she is not even able to present himself/herself.
4) Do not rely much on the feedback score, rather read the text comments. Nobody is perfect, and if you see the score 4.99/5, it is most likely because the person is begging for 5s after every job. I admit, I have given a higher score than the freelancer deserved, too. I try to be sympathetic to the freelancers. I understand they are not from rich countries. Simply, I don't want to harm their source of income.
5) Take your time and do interviews patiently. People are one of the most valuable assets your company has. Even a single person can destroy your team or complicate other's work. The hiring process needs a special attention, however, the employee will be able to show his/her quality only on real projects.
6) Concentrate on creativity. Give the new employee a few simple tasks to see his/her performance and responsibility. Employing people overseas has its difficulties. You cannot see everything they do (without several other tools) if they are effective or not. Most of the time, they work from home and can be easily disturbed. Responsibility is even more important than when you have the employee in the next-door office.
7) Be nice to your freelancers. High fluctuation of employees is terribly costly and time consuming. If you find talented people, make them happy so that you don't loose them soon. Give them bonuses, praise them for excellent work, communicate also more personally. Simply be a nice leader and not a boss.
Hiring freelancers overseas can raise a lot of difficulties. Even if you have 100 applicants, the success is not guaranteed. Be patient and assign enough time to the hiring process so that your company can satisfy its clients and grow. Good luck!