An SEO (search engine optimization) RFP (request for proposal) can seem like a highly technical process to run. Like any procurement challenge, you want your RFP for SEO to assess a number of agencies as rigorously as possible in a short space of time. However, SEO RFPs also raise a number of different challenges for you as a procurement team, namely: the need to assess capabilities without experience of actual work and to evaluate a highly specialized realm that requires years of learning to master.

During this process, you need to keep things objective to get the best deal for your company while also finding the team that’s going to work well with you. It’s a tricky proposition that we empathize with strongly. By breaking it down to the basics and sharing some tips from within the Enterprise SEO industry, we will help you put together a strong SEO RFP.

The benefits of using an SEO RFP template

We’ve seen a lot of RFPs, and we know what the good and the bad ones look like. Bad RFPs don’t help anyone. SEO is a wide and varied discipline, and early miscommunications can send all of the agencies you are assessing down the entirely wrong path. A clear template will give you two vital things:

  1. A true impression of the agencies you are assessing
  2. Their capabilities in the areas that matter most to you 

A good RFP will also give agencies all of the information they need to provide you with an accurate proposal. Using a clear SEO RFP template also saves everyone time. If an agency is not suitable, you want to cut them out of the running as soon as possible. 

Every RFP is different, and you will have unique priorities. Therefore, we’ve made our SEO RFP template robust and editable to reflect what matters most to you.

What is an SEO RFP?

An SEO RFP (request for proposal) is a document that you send out to SEO agencies in order to find the best partner. Let’s start at the beginning: What should be the goal of an SEO RFP? Every single SEO situation is unique. For each circumstance, different agencies will be more or less suitable. This means that there is no one-size-fits-all “SEO package”.

Therefore, an SEO RFP is not about finding the best agency; it is about finding the best fit for what you need. A strong SEO RFP is one that will give you the best chance of finding that agency. This makes the first step of running an RFP for SEO defining exactly what you need support with.

What does a good SEO RFP process look like?

The first step in a strong SEO RFP process is to assess exactly what you need from an SEO partnership. In this stage, you should:

  1. Define what your goals are from SEO. Setting clear goals within your SEO RFP provides a clear direction for agencies. This means that everyone is aiming for the same goalposts, and you can better compare their capabilities.
  2. Assess your internal capabilities to support an SEO agency. SEO is a partnership. The agency will need input from your side for a number of tasks. 

For example, your development team will often need to implement their SEO recommendations on the site. Or, your content or brand team will need to review and sign-off on new content created for the SEO campaign. Determining and disclosing the internal resources and capabilities to actually implement these changes will go a long way to helping you define what support you need, and how much support you actually have internal capacity for.

1. Shortlist agencies

You’re now ready to shortlist agencies and identify a primary point of contact at each. At this point, tell them very roughly what you are looking for - for example: if you need international SEO support, you will want to confirm that they can operate in the languages and regions you require before going further. 

Confirm with them that they are able to service your requirements, and ask if they are interested in responding to your RFP. At this point in the process, you should vet for capacity and actual services. If you plan to share confidential information, you may also require them to sign an NDA. 

Select the number of agencies that you reach out to carefully. Every agency you add to your shortlist is another that you will have to take the time to review, assess, and provide feedback to. The fewer agencies you assess, the more care that can go into assessing each. Agencies put a lot of work into responding to RFPs, and it doesn’t hurt to be mindful of the free work you’re asking of them.

2. The brief

In the briefing stage, send your shortlisted agencies information on what you are looking for. We’ve provided a list of the information you should include in an SEO RFP. This gives the agency another opportunity to self-assess whether or not they are suitable for your brief. 

As an agency, a good RFP will immediately make it clear to us whether or not we are suitable. This can often even make us rule ourselves out at the very start: Just as much as you, agencies want to work with the right people who are going to form solid long-term partnerships. We’ve also provided a sample list of questions you may want to include within your SEO RFP.

3. Questions

Give agencies an opportunity to ask you questions after the initial brief. When they have more information, they can provide more relevant responses. It can be worth fielding these questions face-to-face rather than over email for two reasons.

First, this serves as a good opportunity to understand whether the chemistry is right for a good engagement. Second, actual dialogue lets them ask follow-up questions, or you can ask them why they need this information.

4. Proposal and costings

Receive the proposals and commercials, and make your decisions. Throughout the RFP process, be mindful that you are asking for a lot of work from these agencies. Always be respectful of this hard work. Value the people doing it as human beings. The Positive Pitch Pledge (which Ayima has committed to) is a great guideline on how to run a respectful pitching process. 

The Pitch Positive Pledge

What should be in your SEO RFP?

Our SEO RFP Template contains everything you need to draft a strong RFP.

1. Information to help them tailor the right package of support

Provide agencies with enough information to let them show you how they can provide support. The greater the transparency and the more relevant the information on your SEO at this stage, the better. But, you also don’t want to overload them with information. You can find what information is crucial for you to share as part of your SEO RFP further down this page.

2. Core questions focusing on what you want to assess

Providing questions based on your core requirements means that you will get answers on the areas that are most important to you. Setting the structure of responses also lets you compare agencies directly against one another in these areas. We’ve provided a list of SEO RFP questions you may ask potential agencies.

Just remember that agencies only have so much time to invest in responding to RFPs. So, the more questions you ask, the less time they will have to give you complete answers to the questions that really matter to you.

Avoid asking for unnecessary and time-consuming information before you need it. For example, we’ve seen RFPs asking for agencies to review and accept 40 pages (yes, 40!) worth of legal terms right at the start. So, entering this RFP would cost agencies not just time, but also legal fees before even commencing. Questions like this may reduce your chances of getting a good agency. However, you can ask necessary qualifying questions that agencies should have quick answers already prepared at this stage; for example, for the agency’s data protection policy or ISO certifications.

3. Don’t ask for a complete strategy or trial free of charge

Avoid asking for unreasonable amounts of specific analysis as part of your RFP without some form of guarantees. Think of it from the agencies’ perspectives. SEO strategies require a significant amount of time and analysis to formulate. This is a piece of work with enormous value. Given the work that goes into RFPs, it’s broadly the equivalent of offering an unpaid internship with the potential of a job at the end of it.

We saw these issues of services theft famously kicking off with both Coinbase’s Superbowl Ad and, less famously, with Thursday’s copy-writer ‘exploitation’. This can open you up to intense backlash, and its also counter-productive. Often, it will encourage the agencies to give even less away than they may otherwise. 

Coinbase QR code Super Bowl commercial

Finally, this approach is simply unnecessary to finding the most appropriate agency. SEO strategies change over time. The future is uncertain. You are therefore better off understanding an agency’s broad processes and capabilities to assess how good they will be for you in the future. However, once you select your preferred agency, asking for a probation or trial period is certainly reasonable!

4. Ask for the opinion of your internal SEO team on your SEO RFP

Get the opinion of a trusted SEO advisor on capabilities and assign weight to this. This person can help you to assess actual expertise, and they can ask important questions as they come up during the actual proposal. You may need to enlist someone in-house who has experience in SEO. But you should also bear in mind that these experts will also have preconceptions and biases when it comes to agencies. Nevertheless, they will likely prove to be more help than hindrance!

Information to include in your SEO RFP

Beyond all of the usual information on timings, and intended formats you would like the response to be within, there is specific information you should include as part of an SEO RFP. We included sections for these within our sample SEO RFP.

1. Define the scope of work

Tell agencies both what is in scope and what is out of scope within your SEO RFP. Are there any specific areas of SEO that require sole or particular focus? SEO has many easy and distinct categories. Examples include Content SEO, Technical SEO, Off-Page SEO, and many more. The more specific you can get, the better. For example, within content marketing you may have a content writing team. And so, you may only want support with ideation, guidance and strategy from an agency, and not actual copy-writing.

Your enlisted internal SEO resource can help you to define the scope. If you don’t have this internal resource, just be transparent about your capabilities. If you are open to the agencies’ interpretations on what they can do to help you, the next section is even more important.

2. Your KPIs and targets

Share what your KPIs from SEO are within your RFP: What are you (and your stakeholders) ultimately looking to get out of this SEO work? Clear targets will help the agencies to understand your ambitions. Highlighting business goals and your target audience can only improve the outcome. Are you after general brand awareness and organic traffic, or are you after specific goals like improving conversion rate?

If you are not sharing a budget, you should always provide targets: These let agencies assess the amount of work required to hit your targets. They can then design a support package of the right scale. Go in-depth with your KPIs and how you will assess performance. This will let them work out where they need to focus to add the most value for you.

3. Your priority markets

Include your target markets for the campaign. Regional focus matters to a Google assessment of a website, and agencies will need to know in which countries and languages you want to improve performance. Also, if you can, provide an overview of the types of keywords you want to target or, even better, a specific target keyword list. This is important to include in the RFP because the required approach will differ depending on your target keywords.

4. List of domains (and CMSs) this work is for

List what domains require an agency’s support. For some this may just be one domain, but many RFPs encompass multiple sites and domains. Providing the CMS (content management system) that is in place with each domain is also important within your RFP. This is because different CMSs require slightly different technical approaches to their SEO.

Revealing these to agencies lets them show you their capabilities with your particular set-up. Some CMSs also have major limitations with what can actually be achieved with SEO, and this will also tell them how much support they can actually provide. This is especially true with ecommerce CMSs, the capabilities or limitations of which can have drastic impacts on overall site indexing and internal linking.

5. Developer resources

If the support you’re looking for includes technical SEO, share information in your SEO RFP about the availability and ability of development to implement changes. Be as realistic as you can. Implementation is a necessary factor for SEO success, and you don’t want to pay for SEO recommendations that your team could never implement.

Likewise, be realistic about your SEO maturity. This will show the agency how much extra value they can provide educating and guiding you through changes. If you can, share your typical development cycle. This allows agencies to propose and define potential technical SEO ways of working, a key part of actually getting results.

6. Historic and upcoming actions to be aware of

Within your SEO RFP, share a brief description of any recent major SEO changes or major development changes that they should be aware of. This gives agencies context, an understanding of previous work, and clues as to what may be responsible for recent performance changes. 

Similarly, let them know about relevant upcoming site changes, such as a plan to change analytics platforms (transitioning from Adobe to Google Analytics), or a major site revamp. SEOs will want to know about major site changes, and they may form a key part of the value that agencies can provide you. This is important in the same way that, when interviewing for a job, you need information on the context that your role will fit into.

7. If you have a budget, share it

Sharing an SEO budget isn’t vital, but it helps. At times we have noticed that there seems to be a stigma against this. This is likely due to a fear that the proposed budget will expand into whatever budget is set. But agency commercials don’t typically work like that — more budget buys more work. There are likely several thousand SEO tasks an SEO agency can take on to support and when they have a budget, they can prioritize those tasks within the time that budget allows.

Revealing a budget during the RFP process isn’t a weakness. It’s like giving an estate agent a budget you have for buying a house. A budget provides a range and conditions to work within to find you something that fits. Without a budget, you will waste your time looking at a bunch of houses that you can’t afford. Still not convinced? Remember tip number two: Sharing your targets and ambitions lets the agency estimate how much it would cost you to achieve.

SEO RFP questions

Asking an agency a set of questions during an RFP for SEO means that they will focus their response on the things that matter most to you, and this will help substantially during your selection process. You don’t want your evaluation of an agency to depend on whatever they happen to present to you. You want to assess SEO agencies based on the most important things for you.

Select your questions carefully. The more questions you ask, the less detail you will get on the ones that matter most to you. You can either ask these questions directly, or ask agencies to address these within their presentation. We recommend the latter: Giving agencies the freedom to structure proposals as they would like gives you an idea of their culture and what they consider to be their core strengths.

SEO RFP questions to assess capability

  • Please provide two case studies in which you have performed services for a client in a similar position to this RFP.
  • Please outline your experience with our CMS.
  • Please provide the average number of years experience of the team that will likely work with us.
  • (For companies in healthcare/financial services etc.) Please outline your approach to EEAT/YMYL.
  • Please provide a summary of your standard SEO project workflow .
  • Please outline in your proposal what steps you take to improve the skills and up-to-date knowledge of your SEO team.

SEO RFP questions to assess additional value

  • What additional tools or software come included as part of your service?
  • Do you offer complementary services such as PPC or social media marketing?
  • Please outline in detail exactly what is and what is not included within your costings.

SEO RFP questions to assess ways of working

  • Please provide an overview of the team that will likely be involved with the account.
  • Please outline your approach to projects of this nature.
  • Please outline a situation in which you have been required to adjust/pivot your approach or services for a client in response to external circumstances (e.g. algorithm changes, regulatory changes).
  • Please outline how you work with development teams to implement SEO recommendations.

SEO RFP questions to assess off-page work

  • What metrics matter most to you when assessing the quality of links?
  • Please outline your process of attracting high-quality links:
    • Do you outsource production of links?
    • Do you utilize a third-party service?
    • Do you take measures to ensure links are not part of PBNs or link farms?

You will likely have other questions more specific to your circumstance. Remember, if you don’t ask, you won’t get an answer!

How to ask for costs within an SEO RFP

You want to be able to compare the commercials that agencies submit on a like-for-like basis. Share what commercial model you are looking to work with. It may be a flat monthly fee, or you may ask how they can be more flexible.

There are two alternatives for how you set out pricing:

1. SEO commercials for projects

The first option - You should use this if the SEO RFP is for a specific project and if you can define exactly what you want from SEO agencies. In this case, make agencies set out within commercials exactly what services they provide within their commercials. This can include services such as on-site technical SEO, keyword research, content strategy, and link building.

SEO services can mean any number of things. The prices you receive will inevitably differ, and the best deal won’t necessarily be the cheapest. Knowing what you will actually get, and taking that into account, will help you find the best fit in the first instance 

2. SEO commercials for retainers

The second option is if you are looking for an ongoing retainer. The best retainers are often agile and flexible, with few tasks defined. This is because SEO is a constantly evolving industry, and your needs will change with every single algorithm update that Google makes.

Search Engine Land estimates that Google makes between 500-600 algorithm updates per year. So you may not want to pin your agency down to specific tasks and deliverables, as your needs will change. If you want a highly flexible retainer, get more details on how much time you will get, and ask what experience you’ll receive access to. Ask for average years of experience, or for a rough split of how time goes between different roles.

In all cases within an SEO RFP, you should also take into consideration what additional tools and reporting the agency will provide . For example, we incorporate our SEO rank tracking technology within every retainer free of charge, which is a massive value-add.

We’ve provided a commercials template for SEO RFPs to help you gather and compare commercials. This is based on all of the best examples that we have encountered over the decades, and which give the best reflection of value for money. Caution: we advise against mechanically assessing solely on this basis of costings. After all, there is no need to assess anything else within your RFP if it is only going to come down to a costing formula.

SEO RFP sample template

We’ve provided two free sample templates for SEO RFPs:

  1. A sample SEO RFP Document - This is the brief that you provide to agencies.
  2. A sample SEO Commercials Document - This will let you collect, assess and compare the value for money that SEO agencies offer to provide in response to your RFP. 

If you would like Ayima to take part in an SEO RFP that you are running, you can get in touch with our friendly team.

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