Evaluating SEO Proposals

Have you ever undertaken a search for an SEO (define) vendor/partner? Are you thinking about starting to look for a new partner soon?

Because SEO is sometimes not fully understood by clients, they often struggle to know what to look for in a partner, and what types of activities and deliverables an SEO project should entail.

When you solicit proposals from vendors, it is important to have a frame of reference for what to expect in a proposal. What are elements that should be a part of a typical SEO project? What does a comprehensive, well-defined SEO program or project look like?

In my day I’ve seen many SEO proposals and executed countless SEO programs. These experiences have helped me learn what needs to be part of a successful SEO program. So my plan is to share these learnings with you in order to help you better evaluate potential SEO vendors.

Before You Start

Just to be clear, this column is not a magic bullet that will instantly make you an expert in evaluating and selecting an SEO vendor. It will give you a good idea of what to look for, but without a baseline understanding of SEO, likely won’t be very helpful.

That’s why it is important to do your research on SEO so that you are somewhat educated on how SEO works and what type of activities are typically involved in the process. This will give you some sense of a benchmark as to where you should be heading and enable you to better evaluate what is put in front of you from a given vendor. It will also help you compare across multiple vendor proposals to determine which one seems the most thorough or appropriate for your needs.

Once you feel sufficiently educated, you can begin your potential partner search. Depending on your procurement approach, you may request a proposal from one or several vendors. These proposals will vary in style and contents, and the next section will help you better navigate these in order to determine which proposal best meets your needs.

What You Should Be Looking For

Just like any proposal from a potential partner, you first need to ensure that they have understood and integrated your project objectives, as well as any relevant requirements or constraints within the proposal. At least a brief reiteration of your goals and how the SEO project will meet these should be included.

If the company has understood your goals and requirements, they should be able to articulate how the SEO program will aim to achieve those.

A solid SEO project proposal should ideally include consideration of the three main elements of SEO: Web site structure, content, and link building.

  • Web site structure: Activities to ensure the site is built or revamped in a way that is search-engine “friendly” so the Web site structure follows industry best practices in terms of technical architecture, coding, hierarchy, navigation, linking, redirects, etc., and can be easily accessed, crawled and indexed by the search engine spiders.
  • Web site content: Activities to ensure the site content is optimized for search engines, utilizing specific keyword terms of value to your business. This typically involves keyword research and selection, development of keyword-rich meta data (page titles, descriptions), and integration of keywords into on-page elements including headers, body copy, links, alt text, etc.)
  • Link building: Activities to increase the authority of your Web site through the acquisition of relevant, authoritative inbound links from third-party sites. Link building typically takes two forms: direct, wherein other Web sites are directly solicited for links, and indirect, wherein activities are undertaken that would encourage inbound links, such as participation in social networks or user-generated content site (e.g. blogs, forums, etc.), distribution of press releases, or article syndication.

In addition to the actual SEO activities, the proposal should also review and include the analytics approach for the project, including pre- and post- benchmarking, definition of KPIs (define), and the reporting framework (frequency, depth, format).

Related to measurement and evaluation, at least some minimal discussion of ongoing SEO, maintenance, and optimization should also be present (i.e. whether it’s included in the scope or not of the current project, and if included, what would it consist of).

A well-designed proposal should also include a detailed review of the key deliverables, which should elaborate on the areas above. “Deliverables” outline what is going to be delivered as part of the project. I’ve included some sample deliverables below. Depending on the style of the proposal, the presentation of these will vary. But these samples should give you an idea of the type of things you should be seeing.

  • Sample Deliverables: Web Site Structure
    • Audit of existing Web site by SEO specialist or team to create a checklist of changes to be effected in order to improve search-engine friendliness.
    • Development of SEO best practices document for production team to use during site build or revamp.
    • Input of the SEO specialist through the production process (content map, wireframes, design, development).
    • Execution of defined SEO best practices on Web site by production team.
  • Sample Deliverables: Web Site Content
    • Keyword research and selection for up to X number of pages on the site by SEO specialist or team.
    • Development of keyword-optimized meta-data and content for up to X number of pages on the site by SEO research team.
    • Execution of meta-data and change to content for optimization purposes.
  • Sample Deliverables: Link Building
    • Development and provision of a link-building strategy (direct and indirect strategies).
    • Identification of potential link partners.
    • Execution of link-building strategy, where applicable.
  • Sample Deliverables: Analytics and Reporting
    • Set-up/installation/configuration of site analytics to track search engine referrals.
    • Pre- and post-launch benchmarking on rankings and organic search traffic.
    • Monthly reports for three months following site launch.

The pricing for each deliverable should be clearly laid out in the proposal so that you can understand the cost of each activity and the time and resources involved. The overall project budget should also be disclosed, including a payment schedule, as well as any terms and conditions associated with the project.

Some “nice-to-haves” in a proposal would include items such as:

  • An overview of SEO (what it is, how it works).
  • Key definitions/glossary of terms.
  • An overview of the capabilities and experience of the company/SEO specialist or team.

So if you’re looking to find a potential SEO vendor worthy of your investment, hopefully these quick tips will aid in your decision-making process. Happy hunting!

Join us for Search Engine Strategies San Jose, August 10-14, 2009, at the McEnery Convention Center. Spend Day 1 learning about social media and video strategies with ClickZ.

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