I work as an in-house SEO for a company that has a good-sized website, just over 150,000 pages and growing. I’m one of few people in the company whose job it is to daily review our web stats, and suggest changes we need to implement. But with a site this big, it’s pretty daunting. After swallowing some pride, I was pleased to hear we had a company to consult with on larger projects so I could stay focused on other tasks.
Everything has been going okay so far, but I was curious as to how this particular company was selected. Luckily, in the process of moving offices, my boss stopped by my desk and dropped off a huge folder of files. As any employee would, I look up at him stunned and before I could say anything he said, “These are all the other consulting companies we considered previously. Take a a look at them and tell me what you think.” Eager to finally get a chance to look at how these were prepared, I agreed. After a few hours of sifting through thirty or so SEO Proposals (SEOPs) I was greatly surprised both in a good and bad way at the same time.
The format of the SEOPs was really similar to the request for proposals (RFPs) I would prepare for grants (I worked for a non-profit for a few years to help raise funds). The structure of your typical grant RFP followed the format below:
- Who are you and what’s your mission statement/purpose?
- Brief company background info start-up to present.
- Why are you submitting this RFP?
- Who are you and what’s your mission statement/purpose?
- The Body
- What is your plan?
- How will you implement this?
- Who is involved?
- How will it be measured/evaluated?
- Any client testimonials?
- Case studies?
- Supporting documents?
- Research papers, etc.
- The Finances
- What does the budget look like?
- What costs are involved?
- Are there any unforeseen items that may affect these numbers?
There maybe a few sections here and there that differ and the order may vary, but surprisingly the two are similar. When I noticed this, I went back through a few of them again and started to separate the good proposals from the not-so-good ones. Here is what I found that tells a good SEOP from a bad one:
These SEOPs started off with explaining what SEO is and how it is useful to websites, which is fine if you’re talking to someone who has never heard of SEO. When it comes to sending a proposal to a company that has reached out to you about using your SEO services, they are already aware of what it is and its usefulness. There is no need to explain what it is to them.
These SEOPs explained who the company is, stated their mission and explained their philosophy in regards to SEO. They did not explain SEO, they expressed their own opinions as to how it should be used and implemented. The philosophy of a company is huge to me. If I’m looking to hire a company to help me, our ideals on SEO should be similar. I’m not saying we will agree all the time, but knowing where a company stands on this is a big selling point. Sure, a company could lie just to get the client, but just like when a non-profit lies and the grant is taken away, consulting firms can be fired.
This is the trickiest part of the proposal for consulting firms. They’ve, hopefully, looked over the site and have some ideas on what to implement but they don’t want to give any “free advice” anyway. This is completely understandable. However, these proposals essentially transcribed a phone conversation. There needs to be some risk with this section. Not to say in detail what to do, but to say here is how your website is currently behaving. These sections were pretty vague, safe and lacked effort. Again I understand why not much detail is given, but if no risk is taken how will the potential client know you’re serious?
As a side note, I do think it is okay to reference articles that explain how certain processes work, i.e. domain changes. But when you do this I’d make sure you aren’t referencing an employee of your competition whose biography and place of employment is included in the article. Essentially you’ve just given a recommendation to a competitor.
These companies. took. risk. They actually ran a few keyword ranking reports for terms we wanted to rank for, were ranking for and ones we needed to rank for that hadn’t been discussed. This showed a lot of work on their part and it also showed they were behaving in the manner that we were going to hire them anyway. I also got a sense of their work ethic from these good examples. Going above and beyond when no definitive contract had been signed conveyed they were serious about getting our business. Is it possible to get a client without taking this type of ”risk”? It absolutely is, but without risk the rewards are minimal at best.
If your only quotes from clients say, “They provided great service”, I’d either go look for more quotes or question how great your service really is. This is probably my own preference, but a quote like that is similar to that of a blog comment that says, “Great Post”. A statement like that doesn’t really make me want to call the company back and say “You’re hired!”. On top of that, the “case studies” are really nothing more than a one page document that states, “We did keyword research for client XYZ, analyzed their website and now their traffic has increased.”. Neither of these were really persuading me to want to hire or continue communication with this company.
What I really liked wasn’t the fact that real names and companies were used (though that did help), but that the quotes were descriptive and you could tell thought had been put into it. These were quotes that were memorable and did not blend in with the rest. The case studies provided by these companies explained the condition of the site before hand and provided detail on how they went about analyzing the site. Lastly, rather than comment on the increased amount of traffic, a mention on the increase in conversions/sales was used.
The only way this section was messed up was when the companies gave no actual dollar amount and were very vague as to what the client would be paying for. Now, I’m not saying your prices should be listed like a menu from Burger King, but you should be able to let people know what they are getting for a rough estimate. If there are any extra services you provide that weren’t discussed list them here as well so everyone is aware. Nothing can taint the relationship like an unknown cost appearing out of nowhere.
This section was kept simple and explained what the client was getting and what else was available for an estimated cost.
These SEOPs seemed pretty cut and paste. I’d imagine if you compared two proposals for different clients in different industries, they would read the same. So my question is, if no two websites are marketed the same why would the proposals be the same? During the initial call there should have been enough time to identify what the client’s concerns were and how they would be addressed.
Unique, original and memorable are three words I’d use to describe these proposals. If these were cut and paste, then I was fooled, though I doubt it. To me it was pretty clear these companies took time to listen to the potential clients and tailored the SEOP to fit them. The impressive part was the company’s who not only listed the customer’s wants, but the ones that listed (in a polite manner) what the customer needs were.
There wasn’t a single company that hit every single area perfectly. What I believe it comes down to is the client. It’s about optimizing the SEOP to fit their needs and to persuade them to become a client. Think of it the same way your company optimizes websites. It isn’t about you, it’s about attracting them and getting the conversion.
I’d love to hear some thoughts on this from companies that send out SEOPs and those who have gotten them. What areas are more important to you and which are of least importance? Thanks for reading.