Free Search Marketing RFP Proposal Template

In response to my post yesterday "The Art Of The SEO Proposal", we had a few comments from readers wanting to see examples of proposals. Thanks for the feedback, guys. It really helps us to cover areas you find most valuable.

I looked back through some old proposals looking for examples, and here's the one that earned me the most money:

Hi (name removed),

It was great to meet up and hear about your plans for (name removed).

As discussed, this email is to confirm the scope of the project.

I will undertake search marketing for (name removed) with the aim of generating new sales leads. The KPI will be based around increasing the volume of verifiable leads per month, and demonstrating these leads came from search engine visitors.

Contract to follow.

Kind regards,


Feel free to use it ;)

The problem with templates, and why I don't recommend relying on them, is that they aren't specific. There are no magic words that will ensure clients sign on the line. If you're pitching for thousands, or tens of thousands of dollars worth of work, then you need to do upfront research regarding the clients specific business problems, and that must flow through into your proposal.

The exception is if you're taking a "throw-it-against-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks" approach, in which case you just need to swap out a few details. Personally, when I receive such proposals, I bin them, and then make a mental note not to have anything to do with that company again. If they can't be bothered, then why should I?

The "proposal" above, which was just an email, was arrived at after a working lunch. The client came to me by a word of mouth reference. This particular client was the internet marketing manager for a large, international bank.

Over lunch, I asked questions about the clients business, the problems they faced, and what they hoped to achieve. I made it clear to the client before lunch that if I didn't see an opportunity to get them more business using search marketing, then I would tell them so. No hard feelings, and at least we'd have a nice lunch.

It turned out that was the right thing to say for this particular client, as he had a dim view of search marketers - he'd engaged people in the past, and it hadn't worked out - and he was visibly relived when I started to talking about solving business problems, rather than rankings, links and tags.

In this instance, the proposal fit the client. He was already sold by the time I put something in writing, he just wanted to sign-off and get on with it.

However, template guidelines can be useful, especially if you're struggling to know what to say. Proposals are a plan for solving a problem, and they outline the terms of engagement. You need to state what the problem is, explain how you're going to solve it, and explain why you're the best person to solve that problem.

One of our readers, Hugo Guzman, from provided a great example of structure he uses, which I'll reproduce here:

1) Clear bullet points on scope of work (details, details, details)

2) Emphasis on three main facets of SEO (site-side, link building, analytics). In many cases, it's our ability to demonstrate link building or analytics proficiency that wins the business.

3) Emphasis on the tie between SEO and social media

5) Emphasis on the tie between SEO and content development

6) Emphasis on our team's ability to work directly with client stakeholders (IT/Dev, marketing, PR, and even legal for some clients)

7) Emphasis on our team's ability to take overall business goals into account (not just being SEO-centric)

8) Emphasis on ROI (explaining how you will justify their monthly spend...again it's all about the details)

9) Emphasis on the idea that SEO is ongoing and not a one-time engagement

10) Emphasis on the importance of "baking" SEO into redesigns, site migrations and even the addition of a single page of content

11) Case studies and client testimonials

12) Emphasis on our efforts to be thought leaders in the space (aka "shameless plug for my blogging efforts over the years")

That's a good a structure as any, and notice how Hugo emphasizes the need for "details, details, details". There are no short-cut to specifics, and you need to understand the clients business in order to provide them. Don't be afraid to ask questions. Most clients will appreciate your level of interest.

Here are a few other template ideas to get you started:

  • Clearly state the problems you will solve. Grab a sales proposal response table to help you map out and address problems. Here's a free response table template from Microsoft
  • Address the customers issues, one by one. Use the customers name frequently
  • Organize the proposal either a) exactly the way the customer has specified or b) by order of issues, from most important to the customer, to the least.
  • Try to articulate benefits, as opposed to features
  • Most customers skim proposals, so use bold headings, graphics, and break the proposal up into themes. White space is your friend.

In terms of structure, SEO proposals typically include the following:

  • Covering Letter - summarizes the main points. Briefly. If there are five other proposals sitting on the clients desk, what is going to entice the client to pick-up your one? Clue: it's about them, not you.
  • Articulate The Business Problem
  • Articulate Measures of Success/KPI
  • Outline Your Solution
  • Specify the work you will do - break it down into tasks. Don't go into cryptic detail concerning SEO minutiae. Keep it broad and general, and pitched in terms the customer will understand without resorting to a Google search.
  • Provide a time scale and budget
  • Provide case studies, recommendations, and outline of your skills and qualifications. In my experience, case studies are pure gold. Clients want to know you're solved these types of problems before, which lessens the clients risk.

There are, of course, a million ways ways to skin a cat. If people have any further suggestions and proposal examples they would like to share, please add them to the comments.

Further Reading:

Published: November 17, 2008 by A Reader in seo tips


yet another ben
November 18, 2008 - 10:08am

Hi Peter,

Now that is what I can service! Can I also have the lottery numbers too?

Thanks to Hugo too! He's like a super hero, or something!

I was saying to Gab [thanks Gab!] that my approach is a little odd...I have a brief phone call as a kind of filtering process, a meeting face-to-face discussing my ideas and do some refinement of these ideas to inform more definitive plans.

This is followed up with a lot of presumptuous work that I put up on Base Camp [highly recommended]. I then refer clients to this working space on Base Camp, and clients absolutely love it - I think the best thing about this is that they visualise the process and the working relationship much more easily...a big selling point, I feel.

It is very presumptuous though, and not suited to all, especially as most of my clients are referrals it makes it a whole lot easier I guess.

This way of working does accrue a lot of 'dead time', it doesn't work to templates and really does gobble time, but I see it as an investment in the working relationship and in work that I don't need to do at a later stage...

That said, I would like to build some templates into my toolkit...and it looks like I've got a good start with all this info.

Cheers everyone, really appreciate it,


November 18, 2008 - 1:27pm

Thanks for mention, Peter!

@yetanotherben - thanks for the kind words! I'm just a working man like you. Not all of us can be self-mad SEO rockstars like Aaron and Peter ; )

I kind of like your approach in that it's fairly unique and will help to make you stand out from the competition. Also, one thing that can't be understated is the power of referrals. When you do good honest work, the reward is high-converting referral leads!

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