Increase Your Productivity through Crowdsourcing

July 1, 2011
By Rhea Drysdale in Online Marketing

As business owners and professionals, we like to take ownership of our work, because what we produce is a direct reflection of who we are and what we’re capable of producing. If you’re like me, this means you might struggle when it comes to trusting others with your work, because there’s no way anyone could ever do it better than you!

Unfortunately, we are not one-man armies.

By living in this mindset, we become stagnant in our current positions or business. We cannot grow unless we work smarter, not harder. This means we have to trust others to help get the job done. Just like we are not one-man armies, we all wake up with the same amount of time in the day. How we choose to use this time will determine our productivity.

For me personally, this has been a massive area of growth over the last year. I am blessed to have a business partner who gives me tough love when I need it and vice versa. Lately, we’ve been focused on eliminating the tasks that do not need to be done by us internally, but can be outsourced to far more skilled professionals like a part-time staff accountant. That was a simple decision to make knowing that they could get the job done better and in a fraction of the time. What this affords the company is more of our valuable time to focus on business development, client strategies, employee training and promotion of the brand.

As we’re becoming more comfortable with streamlining our work loads, we’ve been trying to identify tools we can give our team to make them more efficient with their days as well. If we can increase their productivity, this frees up more client hours to focus on areas like high-level strategy, pounding the pavement for link development and professional development. This provides an immediate return to our clients and makes it easier to keep and retain work.

In our quest for greater efficiency, we’ve been turning to more crowdsourced solutions. Crowdsourcing isn’t new, but it’s new to our company (remember, we’re I’m just getting over this trust thing) and I’d wager that the average business owner and marketer has never played with the majority of crowdsourced services.

Have you heard the story of the frog that’s brought to a slow boil? Check it out, I’m not abusive to animals, I swear it’s a good metaphor. The gist of the anecdote is that like the frog, we can tolerate a lot of mind-numbing crap work if it’s added to our plates gradually. If we took a minute to step back from our days and really look at what we’re spending time on, we might identify some huge areas that could be done faster and cheaper by someone else.

This is where crowdsourcing can improve our productivity. Let’s look at two services that can immediately help improve your websites and your daily to-do’s as a search marketer or business owner.

1. is a web-based service that makes it easy and inexpensive to conduct usability testing. For those of us that have had to conduct focus groups and user testing in the past, you know how time consuming and incredibly expensive this can become when done through an agency or consultant (of course I don’t recommend using to replace the insight they provide!).

On a whim, I decided to use with the Outspoken Media website several months ago. The results were better than I could have hoped for, producing a long list of areas we need to improve on and are actively work towards. This feedback showed us problem areas where we didn’t realize we were missing opportunities. You don’t know what you don’t know!

We’ve since used on several client sites with even better results because the hardest thing to do is to tell a client that their website is broken. If we don’t have a strong website, effective content and sales funnels to work with then all the link development in the world won’t matter because the return simply won’t be enough to justify our monthly budget. With, we now have videos and notes from a third-party that can help us get buy-in from our clients who understand that we’re not just preaching personal opinions or SEO mumbo-jumbo.

Cost: $39 per user test. There’s some difference of opinion when it comes to how many tests you need to produce statistically significant results, but we like to conduct three tests, which gives us a nice set of data. If you have a bigger budget, go for more.

It takes about fifteen minutes to create your account and get started with your first test. You’ll want to make sure you’re selecting the right audience and framing your questions in a way that doesn’t introduce bias.

2. Amazon Mechanical Turk

At SMX Advanced, I spoke on the Leveraging SEO Power Tools session with Natala Menezes from Amazon Mechanical Turk. It was an interesting session that left me feeling a little uncomfortable, because I don’t think we lived up to the session’s title. The room was expecting cutting edge SEO power tools, but we found ourselves presenting almost exclusively on crowdsourcing tools, specifically, Mechanical Turk. Regardless of the expectations of the room, I hope attendees left with some creative concepts in mind for how they can use tools like Mechanical Turk to increase their productivity, because I really do feel that it is an invaluable solution.

What makes Mechanical Turk priceless? Speed. Once you’re comfortable with the platform and HIT creation, you can setup your tasks and have responses rolling in almost immediately. By comparison, a site like oDesk would require some back and forth approval, candidate evaluation and time for them to individually complete the work. With Mechanical Turk, we’re reviewing results within minutes.

To get the most out of Mechanical Turk, check out A.J. Kohn’s Mechanical Turk Tips, which includes a fantastic list of advice that had to be culled from direct experience. Rand also wrote up a great post on how think about Mechanical Turk.

The cost and setup time will vary depending on what you’re trying to accomplish. It will take longer to learn how to design, publish and review your HITs (Human Intelligence Tasks), but once you’ve created templates for the work, you’ll find the process to be well worth it.

Below are some of our own tips from the experiences we’ve had:

Mechanical Turk Do’s:

  • Break your HITs down to the smallest and simplest process. You could ask a series of questions and develop iterative tasks, but if you’re just getting started, start simple with things like keyword tagging, link prospect list creation or contact information location.
  • Use the bulk uploader for large keyword sets. This will allow you to dynamically pull from a database of pre-defined HITs.
  • Screen your candidates by using the Qualifications provided with each new HIT submission.
  • When in doubt, reach out to the Turkers yourself via the Turker Nation message board and respond to their emails (they will contact you!). I didn’t know the message board existed until I saw a Google alert from a new thread a Turker started about my latest submission. They had some questions and started discussing it amongst themselves, so I setup an account and gave feedback. The result? They had clearer instruction and were excited to take another stab at the work. I received a better quality of results because of this and got to know the community better.
  • Understand what motivates your the Turkers. Remember, they’re human and the reason you are outsourcing this work in the first place is because you have a task that you either do not have the time, resources, patience or skill set for. Learn more about your Turkers. How are they searching for tasks? Why would they select yours? A recent study showed that Turkers like to sort by “the most number of HITs available,” which demonstrates that desire for them to get familiar with a task and quickly run through it bringing in the most potential revenue for them.

Mechanical Turk Do Nots:

  • Leave things open to interpretation. When a HIT required some critical thinking, we often found the individual Turker’s personal experiences clouded their ability to correctly classify the HIT. E.g. for keyword research, “iPad” was placed under “Gifts” rather than “Apple.” Yes, that Turker might like an iPad as a gift, but it is an Apple product and should be classified accordingly.
  • Ignore the approval process. Review your HITs! Downlaod the bulk CSV file and quickly sort through the work looking for oddities. Mark the approved HITs with an X and put a quick reason for any rejections. This means you only get charged for the HITs that were approved, which will save a good deal of time and money if you had .
  • Take advantage of Turkers by rejecting all of your HITs, but still using their work. There are steps being taken to improve the rights of the Turkers by reporting delinquent employers and there is a Turker Bill of Rights. A study showed that U.S.-based workers are more likely to accept a lower wage task than any other nationality. This saddens me and I would hate to think that we’re outsourcing work to our neighbors at less than minimum wage.
  • Use Mechanical Turk for spam. Another recent study written up in The Economist showed that, “41% of the nearly 6,000 HITs tested from relatively new requesters were judged to be spam.” Mechanical Turk is always on the lookout for new spam tactics, which include HITs requesting positive/negative reviews, search ranking checks, CAPTCHA insight and more nefarious purposes.

For more on Mechanical Turk studies and how to incorporate crowdsourcing in your business, check out:

  • Experimental Turk
  • Deneme
  • CrowdFlower Blog

What areas of your business are you outsourcing and crowdsourcing? Have you used these tools before? Do you know of other crowdsourcing SEO tools that can help our readers increase their productivity? Would love to hear your thoughts!

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