What Makes a Good SEO Proposal?

SMS Text

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:

  • Introduction
    • Who are you and what’s your mission statement/purpose?
      • Brief company background info start-up to present.
    • Why are you submitting this RFP?
  • The Body
    • What is your plan?
    • How will you implement this?
    • Who is involved?
    • How will it be measured/evaluated?
  • Recommendations
    • 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:

The Introduction

The Bad:

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.

The Good:

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.

The Body

The Bad:

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.

The Good:

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.


The Bad:

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.

The Good:

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 Bad:

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.

The Good:

This section was kept simple and explained what the client was getting and what else was available for an estimated cost.


The Bad:

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.

The Good:

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.

Joshua Titsworth

Joshua Titsworth

Digital Marketing Specialist at Vizion Interactive
Joshua Titsworth is passionate about all things Internet and technology related. When he isn’t online tweeting or blogging, he can be found tracking down shanked golf balls across... Read Full Bio
Joshua Titsworth
Get the latest news from Search Engine Journal!
We value your privacy! See our policy here.
  • Chris Lister

    Josh, great article and insight.

    As the person who writes all of the proposals for our agency, it is a constant struggle to find the balance point between giving away too much information and not sharing anything of value. It really is important for the potential client to grasp our understanding of what needs to be done, without giving them a step by step blue print for doing it themselves.

    What has been extremely effective for us is to create proposals that talk directly to the potential client, while addressing their unique needs, challenges and opportunities. I recently had a discussion with a new client who said they went with our agency because our proposal seemed to have been written just for them, while the other proposals received were more general and boilerplate. If you can take the time initially to create something unique for the potential client, it gives them some insight on how your services will also be tailored to their needs.

    Once again, excellent post.

    • joshuatitsworth

      Thanks Chris, so glad you liked it. From the responses I'm seeing I think it's safe to say disclosing what will be done to the site in question, in detail, is something many are hesitant to go into detail about. However the client does need to know what the plans are. Liked you've mentioned it's about creating something for the unique client, not something for the masses. Thanks again Chris 🙂

  • Rebekah

    Great post, thanks for the advice. I was just researching this the other day – your timing is perfect 🙂

    • joshuatitsworth

      Glad you liked it, hope it helps you out.

  • Rachel Q. Jensen

    Nice post Joshua! I was just discussing with a colleague the other day about the level of detail to put in a proposal. This is very useful, thanks.

    • joshuatitsworth

      Thanks Rachel, from the client side detail in a proposal is really helpful but from the agency side you don't want to give everything away. Good luck!

  • James Svoboda

    Your insights are great. As an Agency, we rarely receive this level of, if any, feedback on proposals.

    • joshuatitsworth

      Thanks for the comment James. I always wondered how agency's got feedback after proposals were sent. I mean yeah, you can judge based off of percentage of those accepted. But, could the proposals be improved is a tough question to answer when no one says anything. It's a question that was answered every time a grant was reject or even accepted. The deciding body would send back a “score sheet” on which areas where well received and which weren't. To my knowledge no one ever got a 100%, so it comes down to figuring out which areas are more important to those making the final choice.

      • James Svoboda

        A common assumption is that potential clients that solicit RFP's from agencies are, by nature, soliciting many proposals. In your case 30 or so. Wow. So it is also typical for the un-chosen proposals to not only rarely receive a response, but tangible feedback is an even more unlikely.

        Hummm, might have to start requesting feedback…

      • joshuatitsworth

        LOL, yeah I wasn't expecting that many. Which also begs the question, with so many proposals to look at how much time was spent with each company on the phone, if any? About requesting feedback I do think asking for it is a good idea. Anytime I got a rejection writing grants I called up the foundation and asked to have a session to go over the RFP. Not to plead my case, but to better prepare it for next time.

  • Bruno Hug

    Great post, because we always miss some point for a seo proposal… This will be my checklist.

    Thanks Joshua!

    • joshuatitsworth

      Glad you like it Bruno. Not all of them will be perfect, you can only make sure you're doing everything you possibly can to present the best you have to offer.

  • Daniel Pavey

    Great article, thanks.

    It sounds like it was a great opportunity to compare lots of proposals side by side!

    • joshuatitsworth

      Thanks Daniel. At first I was kind of shocked, but then when I realized what opportunity I had in front of me I couldn't pass it up. Glad you enjoyed it.

  • WEBii.net

    Great post. SEO Proposals are still relatively new, and I think they will continue to evolve as the industry changes. It's great to see this informative outline.

  • Stacey Cavanagh

    Great article.

    I think it's a really difficult balance between mentioning to some degree how you plan to formulate and implement a strategy without giving too much of the actual inner working of that strategy away. However, I think there has to be an amount of transparency there, even if it's just a brief mention of the activities you carry out (without exlaining how you do so).

    I think the only other thing I would add to this is a solid objective…. stating that you understand clearly what the client's objective is. Do they really want to “be first in Google,” or is it actually more that they “Want to treble their online sales,” and that you will achieve this by increasing their rankings?

    • joshuatitsworth

      It's definitely an art to be able to find the right balance to provide information but not too much information. I also agree 100% with adding a solid objective. A few of these I looked at didn't even reference what was initially brought up. Listening to the client huh, what a concept :). Thanks for the comment Stacey!

  • David Schoenfeld

    Writing a personalized proposal can be a hustle and maybe you'll get nothing for the work you did. We have a bunch of requests from “so-called” interests who only want to see how we do our proposal and how much we charge. How do you guys filter false requests that might be from a competitor?

    • joshuatitsworth

      I'm not real sure how you would do that. But if competitor has to do that to gain an edge I wouldn't worry about them.

    • Michel

      Call them for more info, you will quick find out if it's a competitor and/or serious.

  • Dhiraj Kumar

    nice advice to handle the complexity of RFP

  • Rushab

    Its really a tough task to write a proposal. I am always very careful with this.
    however a nice article. Really helpful.

    • joshuatitsworth

      Writing a proposal isn't something you just decide one day to do. It takes time and practice. Glad you enjoyed it!

  • Ken Lyons

    Hey, Josh. Really great article.

    I always struggle with how much to divulge and how much time to spend on client proposals. It's a balancing act for sure, always evolving, and I wax and wane all the time depending on:

    a) time constraints
    b) how confident i am on winning the bid
    c) desire to take on new clients (sometimes I'm eager, sometimes not so much)
    c) my overall mood at the time I'm writing the proposal

    As such, I've recently moved to a three phase proposal with phase one being a straight audit. That way, I don't have to divulge any real strategy for phase two until I'm getting paid during the audit phase.

    So far so good. But I'm sure in a year from now, I'll have a totally different approach. 😀


    • joshuatitsworth

      Ken, thanks for stopping by and I'm glad you enjoyed it! Time is a huge factor I'm sure when it comes to preparing proposals. For agency's I'm sure you'd have a lot of clients to prepare them for so you need to maximize the time you spend on each one. It's good to hear you've got a list of items to check off when it comes to preparing a bid. That way you know what areas need focus and which can be supported by other areas of the bid. Thanks again Ken, always good hearing from you.

    • DanaLookadoo

      I want to say “dittos” to Ken's approach. I've also done long proposals and recently started taking a more abbreviated approach.

      Project Overview
      Deliverables & Pricing
      Engagement summarizing scope, cost where they initialize, then signature.

      Nicely written, Joshua. This could be titled “The Good. The Bad. The Ugly of Proposals!” 🙂

  • Mike Barber

    Smashing stuff, always on the look out for new ideas and balanced views and this offers some great advice.

  • Vic

    Having providing an introduction about SEO at the top of the proposal I don't really consider it a bad thing. I've meet so many business owners asking stupid questions SEO related that giving them this introduction is just saving my time.

    I agree with you Josh when you refer to the money part. As a general idea I really like transparency, when people are displaying the prices on their website so I don't have to go to their contact form and ask how much cost this or that. But I have the feeling some website / business owners believes that once someone is contacting them then will be the same as getting a new client or at least will help somehow. I doubt about this. I even believe that not displaying the prices on the website is a bad practice as it can make you loose clients, many people are just to shy or just don't want to contact a business for asking stuff.

  • Jeremie T. Cinco

    Hello Joshua,

    I’m happy for this article its because i’ve learned a lot from you, Before all my proposal was like Bad but now i realized that all my proposals was a look like garbage. Anyway Joshua can you be my friend? I know that you’re a good man and good SEO .