Getting inquiries from people who discovered your SEO services isn’t rocket science. Optimizing your own site, social media marketing, PPC ads, affiliate programs and word of mouth are just some of the channels that you can leverage to attract leads. If you’re reading this post, I have no doubt that you already have that part figured out. However, lead generation is just one step among several in getting website owners to become paying customers. After the initial exchange of emails, most prospects will ask for a SEO service proposal.
In essence, a proposal is a business document where you acknowledge the prospect’s needs, identify what issues are present and outline what you can do to help him out. However, a proposal can be so much more than that: it’s also a platform where you can make an impression and build on the interest that the potential client already has for your services. With simple verbiage, an intuitive flow and attractive design touches, your proposal can spell the difference between winning a deal and having a prospect go to your competitors.
While there’s no universal template for the perfect SEO service proposal, there are some models that work better than others. Through testing, feedback and continuous evolution, my team at GDI has developed a proposal template that’s been instrumental in closing deals with 15 out of 21 prospects (71.4%). Four of those prospects are still weighing their options while only two have declined.
GDI’s proposal template doesn’t have a shabby batting average if you ask me
So how exactly do we do it? For starters, we follow a set of key principles that should be palpable in each proposal that we send over. These are:
- Use simple verbiage. The goal of a proposal is to help your prospect understand exactly what you plan on doing for the benefit of his business. The last thing you want to do is to confuse him or her with fancy jargon that’s not necessary to drive home key points. Write to express and not to impress. When we write proposals, we avoid heavy technical, legal and business terminology that the average person may be unfamiliar with. If we’re using acronyms, we make it a point to properly define what they mean. We also avoid using big words and adjectives. We stick to the facts and empower our prospects with information that will help them make the smartest business decisions possible.
- Don’t tell when you can show. According to a study by the University of Minnesota, visual information is processed 60,000 times faster than text by the human brain. Educational psychology also teaches us that most people are visual learners. Taking those two nuggets to heart, we decided to take a more graphical approach when we’re trying to drill crucial points to our prospects. Charts, graphs and screenshots have served us very well. Instead of having our prospects read through walls of text, they can absorb key messages that we’re driving with a single glance at graphical assets. In the downloadable template, you’ll see how we use visuals to make persuasive statements with minimal use of actual words.
- Drive points with facts and stats. Business people love hard facts and numbers. When issuing statements in support of your service pitch, try and back them up with statistics from credible sources. This could be as simple as showing them keyword search volumes from the Adwords Keyword Planner or citing figures from analyst reports and academic research. For the more advanced among us, we can show them conversion funnels, lead value computations, lifetime value estimates, etc. Just make sure to drop only the numbers that are relevant to the flow of your proposal’s discussion. Don’t make a habit of bringing up numbers that are out of context just to make an impression. This can annoy your prospects and contribute to them pushing off of the negotiating table.
- Make it as long as it needs to be and as short as possible. A proposal is part business document, part sales collateral. Treat it as both of those things and keep in mind that you’re writing proposals in order to convey a simple but effective message. Before you start writing, list down the things that you think the prospect values. Prioritize them and see which ones you should pour more details on. Keep in mind that your prospects are busy people and they won’t have the time to read and absorb unnecessarily long documents.
With that said, we at GDI have the mantra of “as long as necessary, as short as possible” in everything we write. Our proposals undergo several revisions to eliminate words, phrases and sentences that are unnecessary. We avoid words that have four syllables or longer, we make it a point to use the simplest terms possible and we stay away from excessive adverb and adjective use.
Shorter, snappier sentence constructions make your proposal feel slick and more professional. It prevents readers from spacing out, increasing the chances of getting your most important messages across.
- Looks count for something. Writing is only part of the proposal creation process. You also have to pour in some serious effort into its visual design to help maximize its effectiveness. Using your company’s letterhead is a good start, but you’ll want to consult a graphic designer to see if there are additional touches that can complement the letterhead. Make sure to send the proposal to your prospect in PDF format to package it nicely. Sending in an MS Word file to a potential client is, quite honestly, an amateur move.
- Goals, issues and proposed work need to match. If you were in a new restaurant and you weren’t sure what to order, you’d probably ask the waiter to help you out with some recommendations. You’ll want to get brief descriptions of the courses that seem interesting and you’re sure to appreciate information on serving sizes.
What you probably don’t want to hear about is the waiter rambling on and on about what ingredients were used and where the chef learned to prepare the dish. You came to the restaurant to eat a good meal, not to get bombarded with trivia about things that you don’t care about.
The same goes for prospects. They want you to help adress their business needs and most of them will appreciate it if you can show them how you plan on doing that. Make it a point to study the prospect’s site and the nature of his enterprise. Identify why the potential client has not achieved his goals and show him the issues that need to be dealt with. Explain why the issue exists and what your company can do to neutralize it. In most cases, that will be enough. There is, however, no need to state which tools you’ll use, what domain authority ranges for link prospects you like and which SEO influencers you learned your techniques from.
- The proposal is never final until a contract is signed. If you’re new to writing proposals, don’t get your feelings hurt if it takes several revisions to close a deal. Understand that initial proposals are there to be scrutinized, refined and negotiated on by both parties involved. Leave some wiggle room in the scope of work you propose and the service price quote that you issue. Most prospects will push back a little bit and you should try to accommodate their wishes as long as they’re reasonable. Never assume that anything is final until you have a signed agreement in your hands.
- Illustrate the value proposition with dollar figures. There are several key performance indicators (KPIs) that will measure the effectiveness of your SEO campaign. Organic search traffic, keyword rankings (although I don’t recommend relying on this KPI these days), and top-performing organic keywords are some of them. However, there is no metric quite as telling as returns on investment (ROI). This is the measure of how well SEO has worked for the client in hard dollar figures.
In GDI, we offer our prospect closed-loop tracking of ROI from organic search campaigns by setting up conversion tracking in analytics platforms, valuating conversions and gauging SEO’s business impact with year-over-year ROI comparisons. This way, the prospect knows that he’ll be able to measure performance at any given time so he can make smarter managerial decisions. The goal for GDI is always to show through ROI that our service pays for itself while padding up the prospect’s bottom line.
Got all that? Good. Now, if you’re looking to go even more in-depth, here’s the outline for our proposal template along with some specific instructions on how to write them:
I. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
This is usually the opening section of most SEO proposals. It provides an overview of the site’s status and what you intend to do about it. In our template, the executive summary has the following sub-sections:
a. Business Challenges – Usually listed in bullet points, these are the problems that the prospect is facing from a business standpoint. Not generating enough revenue from the website amd being overtaken by rapidly-growing competitors are examples of business challenges. These challenges are often the result of SEO issues that are causing the website to underperform in search results for its target keywords.
b. SEO Challenges – Also in bullets, these are the factors that directly contribute to the website’s subpar positioning in the SERPs. Examples of SEO issues include having lots of crawl errors, duplicate content, a sparse backlink profile or a penalty that resulted from violations of Google’s webmaster guidelines. The SEO challenges are the issues that you have to directly address later on with your recommended solutions.
c. Baseline Metrics – In this section, you can show the client his website’s current state. Monthly visits, traffic trends, bounce rates, keyword rankings, conversion rates and (if you’re given access to it) revenue information. These numbers will act as the baselines which measure how much of a difference your SEO work is making when the campaign starts running.
d. Goals – In this sub-section, you’ll identify the SEO program’s goals based on the client’s business challenges. This can include improving the average position of the site’s pages for its target keywords, increasing search engine traffic, increasing search engine-driven conversions and increasing the site’s overall profitability.
II. WHY [YOUR COMPANY]?
In our template, this is the section where we state the value proposition of our SEO services. This is where we state our core competencies, how those competencies can help the client with his goals, and what makes us different from other SEO service providers. This section is completely optional but we like having it in there to let prospects know we’ve got what it takes to get the job done.
III. WHAT’S AT STAKE?
Nothing helps a prospect realize the importance of your services faster than seeing how much more revenue he could be generating if he just ranked better for his target keywords. Using simple math, you can provide your prospect an estimate of the ROI that your services can bring to the table. You just need to have the following information and apply it to a simple formula:
- Prospect’s target keywords (2-3 will be enough just to make a point)
- Avg. search volume of target keywords based on the target market location
- Google click-through rates according to position
- Website’s current conversion rate
- Average dollar value per conversion
You can get most of this data from your prospect. Keyword search volumes can be mined from Google Keyword Planner while click-through rates of search listings according to ranking can be referenced from figures reported by Search Engine Watch.
To calculate the SEO-driven revenue from each keyword, follow these simple steps:
- Multiply the search volume of the keyword by the decimal equivalent of the CTR according to SERps position to get the estimated visits that the keyword will drive.
- Multiply the estimated visits by the site’s current conversion rate (decimal equivalent) to get the estimated conversions that the keyword will drive.
- Now, multiply the estimated conversions from that keyword with the average conversion value. The product is the estimated dollar revenue from that keyword in a month.
Here’s an example: suppose you have a prospect who owns an ecommerce site that sells mobile phone accessories. The phrase “iphone accessories” is one of his target keywords but his listings aren’t in the first five pages of Google for the keyword. If you’re confident about helping him get to page 1, you can show him estimates of the kind of returns he can expect when he invests in your services. Let’s use the sample data below and apply the formula above:
- Target keyword: iphone accessories
- Monthly search volume (US): 33,100
- Current conversion rate: 2%
- Average dollar value per conversion: $40
- Click-through rates in Google’s first page (see image below)
Applying the formula I described above to an Excel spreadsheet, we have the sample revenue estimates below:
Important: be sure to make it clear to your prospect that you’re giving him estimates based on current data. Market trends, product seasonality, promos, and other factors could affect the revenue projections in your proposal.
IV. PROPOSED SOLUTION
In this section, we state the recommendations that will address each issue identified under the SEO Challenges section. Through text and images, we’ll help the prospect understand the gameplan. This section is intended to justify the techniques you’ll be using and the investments that you’ll be asking the prospect to make.
This section also stipulates what you’re supposed to do for the potential client and what you aren’t. This is a very important part where you have to be crystal clear in order to avoid future impasses. Under this section, GDI usually has two sub-sections that explain the rationale of how we intend to operate:
The Inbound Marketing Model
a. The inbound marketing model – Using text and graphics, this sub-section shows the prospect how SEO helps his business on several levels. Our company likes to use the graphic below to easily convey the message on how our work ultimately yields a positive, long term impact on the client’s business. Check out the downloadable template to see exactly how we do it. Here’s the image we usually show for quick reference:
b. The SEO process. This sub-section provides exact details on the SEO strategy and the tasks that will be carried out under it. The “canned” GDI SEO strategy usually includes five phases, specifically:
GDI’s fundamental SEO process
i. Full website audit – Includes keyword mapping, establishing KPI baselines, technical audit, content audit, link profile audit, competitor analysis, etc.
ii. Online brand enhancement – Includes creation of social media brand pages, application for local directory listings, adjustments in messaging (when necessary), etc.
One content idea spawns several content assets
iii. Content development – States which content assets we recommend to be created and repurposed for the campaign. This includes blog posts, articles, infographics, newsletters, whitepapers, email copy, social media posts, etc.
iv. Off-page optimization – Link acquisition, social signals and brand mentions are all important factors in moving a site up the SERPs. This sub-section lists information on the techniques we’ll use to get some traction in this aspect of SEO. Press release syndication, influencer outreach, broken link building, guest blogging, link reclamation and other tactics are the common things you’ll see here.
Our off-page optimization model relies heavily on content promotion
v. ANALYTICS AND IMPROVEMENT
You can’t improve what you can’t measure. With that in mind, this section identifies metrics that will gauge the SEO campaign’s performance on a month-to-month basis. Organic search traffic, keyword rankings, conversions from, organic search and ROI are all good metrics to have in here.
This data allows us to gain visibility on what works and what doesn’t. Committing this data to a prospect helps him feel smarter and more empowered with the idea of hiring you. It gives the prospect the promise of transparency and credibility in exchange for the trust (and money) that you’re asking for.
The timeline is a table that contains information on the sequence and timing of the optimization tasks that you’ll be performing throughout the contract’s duration. The name of the tasks, their descriptions, start dates, end dates and the people they’re assigned to can be listed in separate columns for quick reference.
Having a timeline shows the prospect that you have a mature and systematic way of running a campaign. It also keeps your team honest with the pace and quantity of labor that they render.
A sample timeline can be seen in the downloadable proposal template at the end of this blog post.
This section is where you list down the resources that the prospect needs to provide when he becomes your client. Access to the CMS, access to their web analytics data, their Google Webmaster Tools data, cooperation from their development team, and of course your monthly retainer should all be listed here.
There you have it: GDI’s take on creating an effective SEO service proposal. The downloadable template can be accessed below. Get ideas from it or steal it altogether. You have my permission. 🙂
DOWNLOAD: GDI SEO Proposal Template