How to write an SEO proposal that will get the client on-board
There is an untold confession in digital marketing – SEO is hard. No one can really guarantee to get you into the front page of Google or keep you there all along in the same place. There are too many factors that go into getting the equation right on ranking. Besides, you all need to stay abreast with the latest tweaks in search engine’s algorithms. And that is only part of the hard work. The other part is actually having to explain it all to your client!
Organic traffic is a heavily loaded word. By calling other kinds of traffic ‘paid’, clients automatically tend to assume that Organic is free. Technically, it isn’t if you are (and should be) paying an SEO professional to get and maintain rankings for you.
While you can’t over-dramatize and commit on getting an amplified x times traffic in a proposal, nor can you promise “Page 1 rankings”, but you can always use examples to help clients understand how things may look in the near future. SEO is a long-term commitment and the proposal has to convince your clients that you’ll be around and get them the results they are looking for. It will showcase you as an agency or freelancer who is updated with the latest in SEO and can be agile enough to tackle future updates from search engines too.
So is this THE SEO proposal that’ll work for you?
We don’t know. A simple search for ‘SEO proposal template’ on Google gives 16,50,000 results. Those are templates that seem to have worked for a bunch of people. We can tell you that this one works for us.
In this second part of our three part series on writing proposals, we present the tried and tested SEO proposal template that has helped us not only get a good few SEO clients but also retain them.
Get our guide to writing winning Social Media proposals here
As always, let’s start at the beginning – The Brief
Before a written proposal is submitted, you’ll most likely have a call or meeting to discuss the problem at hand.
Over the years, we’ve noticed that most of these briefings have two common points –
– I want to rank on No. 1 for x term
– I want to increase my traffic exponentially
At this stage, many clients aren’t too keen to press about targeted traffic, leads or conversions. It is about building reputation and visibility with the right terms and getting a boost in traffic. Then, depending on how much knowledge they have about SEO and its workings, other demands then crop up.
During the brief meeting, it is important to gauge your client’s knowledge graph on the subject. If it is just the page 1 rankings they want or the overall online reputation management that comes from real SEO.
Use the brief meeting to analyse the client’s most important business goals and how it maps back to marketing goals and metrics.
Set expectations right
Take the opportunity of the brief meeting clear off the myths on SEO. It isn’t a magic portion. It will cost money and that too monthly. It will need to be done consistently. You can’t just stop with On-page SEO. You’ll have to complete a round of technical SEO too. The effects of SEO will be seen only when you sustain it with link building efforts. And last, but not the least, it doesn’t come with guarantees.
Gather data to be used in your proposal / pitch
Data is an invaluable driver in an SEO proposal. Unlike social where the numbers are clearly visible, an SEO check will require some digging into analytics to give a proper audit report.
You can either ask for view access or specific reports to be emailed to you.
We use four key elements when we design a proposals
1. A background
After you present a quick executive summary, you can delve down straight into the insights and analysis that you’ve gained from your research. Right from the opening part of the proposal, you’ll have to find and use every opportunity to wow your client. The research has to be thorough, but more importantly, the insights have to be well-presented and aligned with the business. Limit yourself to 5 key takeaways at the end of it so that you don’t overwhelm with too much jargon or analysis in the first go.
Reports to include
a. A website audit report: The report that presents a health certificate rating for the website. There are many free and paid audit tools available including some with white label options to do the heavy lifting for you. We use a mix of tools, not just one to do our analysis, pick out the best insights and put it together. Other than testing for the standard content / text ratio and page speed time, deep delve from a customer perspective – were you able to quickly find what they were selling. Did the check out process work find. Use both Search engine and human element when doing a website audit.
b. A ranking report: Without going into indepth keyword research, this report can include the top 10 non-brand keywords that you would generally type into Google to look for a site / product like this. You wouldn’t need any sophisticated tools right now but going forward you’ll definitely need a tools like WebCEO to keep a track of your client’s ranking over a period of time. It helps when memory fails on what the ranking was a year back and you need a quick graph to showcase the ranking changes over a period of time. WebCEO is one of the best ‘Rank checker’ tool out there which has automated scheduling and even does ranking checks for blended search.
c. A link audit report: Research on the clout your client holds in the online world. If they are new, this report wouldn’t make sense. Nonetheless, you’ll still need to include it as a proof of where you started from. If the site has considerable backlinks, you can use a quick check with Cognitive SEO to see the quality of backlinks.
d. A social media analysis report: Should you include a social media report in your SEO proposal? Social media has two important aspects – one, it is a driver of ‘organic’ traffic and two, it allows you to get a picture of how clients directly interact and engage with the brand online.
e. Online reputation report: Imagine looking for a company by its name. On the first page of search results, you not only find the company website but also a few others who’ve shared reviews and recommendations on third party websites. It is very easy for a negative review in organic search to squash the possibility of a site visit even before it starts, directly having an impact on organic traffic. Get this to your client’s attention and make him understand how you can help.
f. Competitor report: Looking at how their competitors are currently faring can be a great wake-up call for your client and the kick they need to push your proposal into action. You can run a quick competitor analysis to gauge how much they are gaining from organic traffic which can give a perspective of where you client needs to head.
g. Revenue report: There is nothing like money when it comes to moving the needle. Your clients are businesses – and businesses know the language of money. If your SEO report can connect the click to conversion, your revenue report will be the tipping point of your proposal.
This is a report not many agencies easily include in their initial research so insights from this report can give you an edge when presenting. We let each of our reports have one main graph and a maximum of three points in the analysis.
It shouldn’t bore or overwhelm but have the right quantity and quality of information that’ll let your client sit up and take notice. It is also a good way to showcase that you’ve done your homework and have a keen interest in getting the opportunity to work with them.
2. Goals and Metrics
Setting up goals for SEO (on paper) is one of the most slippery aspects of the proposal. While you want to say that you’ll get high visibility and boost in traffic, it is best you align this with the company’s overall marketing goals and then present it.
a. Increase revenue: This is relevant for an eCommerce company who is selling products directly online. If you have historic data you can trace back the value of each organic visitor and directly map it to say how an increase in targeted traffic and directly increase revenue over a period of time. The SEO approach for such a site is generally about having pages that quickly move the customer to the purchase line and get them into a transaction mode.
b. Increase leads: This works for a site that is service oriented or is in the B2B category where the decision-making process involves many people. The SEO process for such a site differs in the presentation for content. Because there is more time to contemplate over a purchase, a strong base of content and helpful blogs can help gain leads over a period of time
c. Increase ranking for non-branded organic keywords: While this is a no-brainer, we’ve seen enough scam proposals to know that this has to be in black and white. At this stage in the proposal, you should be able to identify the top most prized keywords for your client to decide on an optimization strategy for them.
d. Discover new source of traffic from long tail keywords: Get the list of long tail keywords which you can partially share in the proposal which can be used on the site and to create new content.
The old time goals of traffic and are outdated. You can of course set metrics around them that can be monitored. But just gaining backlinks without any tangible result will get you a confused and angry client.
3. Tactics and Processes
The SEO for a site depends on multiple factors. The size of the site, the platform it is built on and the business itself will determine the nature of SEO. Even a 5-page WordPress site can be optimized to get great results. We’ve optimized eCommerce sites with thousands of pages that need you to have full knowledge of plugins and some neat coding tricks up your sleeve. From OpenCart to Shopify, while a good portion of the basics remain the same, you’ll have to be agile to see what the platform offers and what its strengths are.
The important thing to keep in mind is that you can’t give out the full details in the proposal – partly to ensure that your secret sauce remains a secret and also to ensure that your competitors don’t know what you are up to. Don’t put in more than a few bullets here as an outline and tell the client that you’ll be explaining the rest personally.
When discussing processes, we’ve seen numerous plug and play SEO agencies provide slabs – Gold, Sliver, Bronze and Platinum which is governed by the number of keywords you choose. This approach has never really appealed to us. It seems like a square peg in a round hole. The clients don’t know how many keywords their site can be optimized for and then end up taking this decision solely on budget restrictions.
At the end of the day, if you are putting your heart and SEO in setting up the SEO for someone, it can’t be half-baked. It is best you make the recommendation for the type of plan / package your client can choose and then plan for the future.
A good part of SEO goes into creating new content and sometimes new pages too. Suggest an outline of these requirements and how the responsibility will be divided up.
Don’t forget to mention an outline of things you’ll take up under Tech SEO – from webmaster console to compressing codes
4. On-going SEO
On-page SEO is only the first part of the equation. A website, like a plant, needs constant watering and sunlight i.e. new content and great links to thrive and fulfil its SEO destiny. Gone are the days where you’ll be building backlinks blindly. You’ll need a full strategy for you off-page SEO. Keeping someone on board and paying them a monthly retainer is a slightly scary concept for a client when they don’t know what type of results to expect.
You can explain to your client that the retainer works in two ways – it allows you to strengthen the SEO over a six-month duration while them to have you on board to ensure you are moving towards delivering the results you’ve promised.
5. Timeline Analysis and Reporting
The big question that looms over an SEO agency is ‘WHEN’. When do we start seeing results?
It is hard to explain how soon the results will come. Some take 2 weeks, others take six. It is a good idea to ask for three months at least which can give you time to optimize, find and solve errors. During this time, your reporting can be mostly monthly or as per your client’s preference.
Some clients get jittery and need a weekly update on the work done. Others relax and wait until the end of the month to have their report and analysis meeting. You can propose a timeline and see how it goes.
6. Budget and Terms
There are SEO freelancers and some agencies who are OK with working for peanuts. Their idea is to get the account once, do the job and get out before well-defined results show up. Then there are the crème – who do very limited but good work – enough to charge a good few lakhs for a month of work. We’ve known both kinds in our line of work.
Serious clients know that SEO isn’t an optional marketing tactic but a mandatory one. Even startups that claim to have ‘no budget’ have to budge for SEO. Therefore, if you are confident that your tactics will yield results, you shouldn’t undercharge.
Most clients with limited budgets are generally happy to take on the ‘one-time’ SEO cost and then spend on on-going SEO as required. This keeps both the client and agency happy.
While the terms may not necessarily be in fine print, you can still mention about ensuring that you’ll follow ethical practices for SEO. Other factors like payment terms also need to be made clear at this stage itself to avoid confusion.
The only winning formula that has worked in our SEO proposals is the customization of SEO and content marketing. Getting a full understanding of the business and its goals and then mapping it to an SEO strategy always lets the client understand you better.
In the end, it is always about insights and not data, revenue and not traffic. As long as your SEO proposal sticks to that rule, it should get you a happy client.
Have an SEO proposal format that works for you? Do drop us a comment.
To check out a winning proposal strategy for a Social Media client, click here.
In our conclusion to our three-part series, we will soon be sharing a Content Marketing Proposal that’ll not only get you clients but also help you in retaining them. Keep watching this space.