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Preparing the Ultimate SEO Proposal
By Eric Lander - November 08, 2001

Search Engine Optimization, as a service, can be very difficult to describe to a client. While we all should know that the main goal of optimization is to improve ranks and increase targeted traffic, the ways to perform optimization services vary in great detail. Just as there is no easy or predefined way to describe the values and procedures involved with SEO related projects, there is no standard to proposing such services.

Educate the Consumer
When a potential client hears “Search Engine Optimization” for the first time, they might find themselves a bit scared by the sounds of it. We know that SEO is not a dirty business, and clients are no longer out to be scammed as once was the case. Unfortunately, it will take some time to right such wrongs in the minds of some consumer groups.

Regardless of that though, if you are at a point that a potential client requests a formal proposal form your optimization team, you can be sure that they are not afraid of the services to be rendered on their site. They may however, be confused as to what SEO truly is and what level of work is to be involved.

Keep that point in mind before you even get working on the proposal. Explain to those involved that SEO is simply a process of improving a pages attributes and content value – geared towards impressing the search engines in return for some highly ranked listings.

It’s nothing more, and nothing less. While this sounds simple enough, many believe that SEO is using Overture’s keyword bidding system, or paying Yahoo! to be listed in their directory. SEO is none of these things, and that needs to be clarified. (Note: These other services can be combined with optimization in order to help retain great ranking across the board – but SEO, at its core – simply does not incorporate these processes.)

Once SEO is understood and clarified, you can begin the research work that will serve as the foundation for the proposal to come. I cannot stress enough, that EVERY web site is different, and as that is the case, every optimization plan will also be different.

Drafting the Proposal
As you prepare your proposal, make sure that you do not confuse proposals with estimates. A proposal is a document that outlines the goals of a project, states the objective, target audience, assignment of responsibilities, and so on. In the ideal situation, offer some “sell” information as well – or credentials that justify your staff and organizations legitimacy.

The reason for clarifying all of this information is because it is important again, for both you and your client to be on the same wavelength regarding pertinent matters in regards to this project.

The proposal is a document that will outline your entire approach to an SEO project.

Judging from experience, the following format seems to be the most well received approach:

1.) Project Objective
State the entire project’s objective(s) as you have been able to interpret them for your client. Are your efforts being contracted to increase sales on a commerce site? Generate leads on a services site? Inform consumers about products or events? Here, these questions need to be answered clearly and definitively.

2.) Goals
Do you anticipate a 150% increase in site traffic from what it currently receives? Are you ensuring the client a top 10 position within specific search engines? Here you will want to state what your goals in producing optimization services will be.

Remember, that goals are key steps that you will strive to meet, so stay away from unrealistic goals – like number one SE rankings - no matter how much they may ice the deal for you.

3.) Strategies
Again, SEO as a service will surely entail various types of work and consulting. Will your applied efforts incorporate an extensive link popularity campaign? If so, what type of sites will you seek to establish links with? If you will assist in the paid submissions and directory inclusions for the site, why do they [client] need your assistance? (Because you can write up some killer descriptions, that’s why!)

4.) Target Audience Review
Why even consider SEO unless you can label up an entire demographic known as a targeted audience! If you are optimizing an e-commerce site selling shoes, do not tell them how you see success in attracting car salesmen or auto mechanics. They know their own business and clientele, and all you need to do is understand that clientele’s user habits and tastes – and of course, cater to them.

5.) Keyword & Competitor Research
No matter whom you are preparing to work for, they have some competition. Specifically, they have online competition – otherwise they would be at the top already. So, how are their competitors doing it? What tools and approaches are being used in other facets of the same industry? You will need to analyze and document your findings when it comes down to it, or else your optimization plan itself will be prone to failure.

6.) List of Additional Research Requirements
If you have gotten through steps one through five already, then your client may spring some unexpected things upon you. In order to meet their needs, or even refine any research that you have done up until this point – you will undoubtedly need to conduct some more research in order to make sure your plan is as affective as possible. Here is the best time and place to document that – and be sure to let the client know why it is you would like to continue researching. I will personally guarantee you, if they go with you, they will do so with a bit more confidence in your abilities to meet their needs.

7.) Assignment of Responsibilities
Suddenly, the laws of business come into play! Just state the facts, as you require them in order to establish and maintain an affective business relationship. You will provide services in a timely fashion and do so with some privacy and sensitivity to your client’s needs. Your client will pay the bills as required and will be pleased. Enough said!

8.) An overview…
As I had mentioned before, this is a good place to “sell” your proposal through and through. Are your optimization specialists the most knowledgeable about x, y, and z? Do you have 1000 years of combined experience? Do not be afraid to let them know just how professional and successful you are!

Moving onto the Estimates and Contracts…
Why create such a lengthy and informative document like this? Because you want their business and they need you to optimize your site. Ask for feedback, and really get an understanding for what level of service and cost they expect. If you still feel as though you can execute a signed contract at this point, do so, and do so with confidence. Next week, we’ll take a look at how to prepare an equally thorough estimate using what we have reviewed today.

See you next week!