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Tips on how to craft a legitimate RFP for SEO services

Since entering the agency world in 2007, I’ve seen my fair share of RFPs (short for “request for proposal”). Sadly, I would say that 9 out of 10 of these RFPs are asking the wrong questions, even when the RFP is coming from a Fortune 500 organization.

Sure, they include the typical high-level questions like “how do you propose to optimize our web property(s) for search engines like Google?”, but the problem is that these broad-stroke questions allow SEO snake oil salesman to deliver equally broad-stroke answers with fancy-sounding catchphrases like “synergy, KEI (keyword effectiveness index), and keyword density”. These words look good to an SEO novice but ultimately reveal that the agency/provider in question isn’t up to the task.

Unfortunately, I find that the for the most part, it’s often SEO novices that are tasked with crafting the company’s RFP, which is why there are so many of these broad-stroke questions that allow sub par SEO providers to weave their appealing yet hollow stories and win business that they don’t really deserve.

So what are some of the right questions to include in an RFP? Here are some “must haves” if you’re serious about selecting a top-notch SEO shop:

  • Explain, in detail, your approach to keyword research and selection for individual web pages of a client site (You’re looking for a provider that maps out keywords on a page-by-page basis as opposed to just doing one huge round of keyword research at the outset and then trying to fit keywords on that list to the individual pages of your site)
  • Explain your methodology for ensuring that your SEO recommendations are approved and properly implemented in a timely manner (You’re looking for a provider that is willing to present to any and all stakeholders – including other agencies and third-party vendors – involved in the approval  and implementation process, including folks in other divisions and VP and C-level executives. You’re also looking for a provider that is willing to work directly with IT/dev stakeholders to painstakingly walk through the recommendations and figure out what’s feasible and what’s not feasible in terms of implementation. Lastly, you’re looking for a provider that is willing and capable of implementing recommendations directly if feasible/necessary)
  • Walk through you entire process for link building. Please include your methodology for selecting prospective targets for outreach, your approach to messaging/communicating with these targets, and your method of reporting on the progress and success of link-building efforts (You’re looking for a highly-detailed process, which includes multiple methods of discovering potential targets, formal “pitch” messaging templates, an emphasis on securing keyword-rich anchor text, an detailed reporting on how many outreach attempts have been made and what their status is. Also, if they mention that part of their link building strategy is to create fresh content to facilitate link building efforts, that’s a big plus)
  • Explain your approach to analytics reporting for SEO programs (You’re looking for a provider that focuses on figuring out the exact dollar value of an incremental conversion. In addition, you’re looking for a provider that focuses on non-branded search referrals as opposed to simply aggregate search referrals, which include branded keywords that you already rank No. 1 for. You’ll also want to hear about efforts to measure year-over-year trends to account for seasonality as well as a focus on specific, high-value “must own” keywords. Lastly, you’re looking for a provider that explains how they will use analytics not just for reporting, but to actively mine for insights that can inform the strategy and tactical efforts for the program)

As always, this is just the tip of the iceberg, so if you’re tasked with putting together an SEO RFP for your organization, feel free to reach out to me and I’ll be happy to help flesh things out. Also, if you feel like you’re stuck in the unenviable position of crafting an RFP for SEO even though you’re not an expert at SEO, then make sure to check out this post for additional guidance.

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