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How to Include SEO in RFPs

Many companies, both small and large, contract out for their website support through the Request for Proposals (RFP) process.  For many organizations, particularly governmental or those whose funding comes from government, they are mandated to get multiple bids on any significant project.  And for the rest, it’s just good business practice.

These organizations know that they need to incude SEO as part of their request, but it is often added as a very minor piece of the evaluation.  Most of the time, it is a single line in the request, often worded as “SEO is required”, and valued at 5% of the RFP scoring or less.  Then, when the proposals do arrive, the organization does not have the knowledge of how to score the proposals.  As a result, all of the bids contain a statement like “We will conduct SEO on the new site”, and they all get full marks.

But Search Engine Optimization is much more complex than a single line, and it deserves more consideration and a higher weight.  This is a feature of your website which, if done properly, is not simply an add-on, but a fundamental component of both the website design and implementation.  It adds significant value to your website, building your return on investment.

So, how should SEO be included in an RFP?  Here are some suggestions on what can be included and how to evaluate the responses.  Not all of these will be applicable in all circumstances, but the applicable items can be chosen for any given situation.

  • Explain how data from our existing site will be used to optimize the new site.

The proposal should include an analysis of the analytics for the current site.  The purpose of this analysis is to mine the existing data to determine what is working, what is not working, and align this with the goals for the new site.  The proposal should include wording that commits the bidder to analyzing the keywords sending traffic to the site currently, and using the content of successful landing pages for those keywords to maintain current website authority.  Also, since Google has now cut out reporting on keywords for most searches, it is essential that the analysis include data from Webmaster Tools.  If you have never set up Webmaster Tools to work with your site, then unless there is an overriding business reason to quickly replace the website, it may be a good idea to include a period to collect Webmaster Tools data. Otherwise, you will be throwing out the baby with the bathwater by needlessly eliminating or changing parts of your website that are already successful.

  • Describe the technical SEO aspects that will be included with the new site.

Fortunately, this area is normally not a problem with any competent web developer, as most companies have realized the importance of SEO and take care of this as a minimum. However, it is still a good idea to get this in writing because some companies still cut corners in this area.  Some mandatory items you want to see in this response include writing page titles for all pages that are based on target keywords, descriptive URLs, ALT text for photos, ensuring no duplicate pages if URLs are generated dynamically, including descriptions of videos, creating attention-grabbing meta descriptions, installing Analytics and Webmaster Tools, and incorporating keyword research into the content.

  • Describe how keywords will be determined and used.

First off, if the proposal says that keywords will be used in the meta keyword tag, take the proposal and feed it to the shredder.  If a web developer ever proposes using meta keywords, they do not know what they are doing.  But when it comes to keywords, one very good (and free) source for research is Google Keyword Planner (the replacement for Google Keyword Tool).  But this shouldn’t be the only source.  Keywords can also come from the Analytics from your existing site.  There are also a number of other keyword tools from companies other than Google that should be used.  The plan for these keywords should include mapping them to individual pages of the website, and compiling a list of potential blog posts and updates to target future keywords.  A simple list of keyword phrases is only a start – there has to be a plan on how they are to be used, and more credit should be given to bidders that have a plan for usage.

  • Explain what actions will be done for local search.

Searches on Google and Bing are local – their results take into account the physical location of the searcher as much as possible.  Particularly for small, physical stores, or for those with multiple locations, there are steps that can be taken to help ensure that they come up on these searches. Many of these are not difficult steps, but they are essential, such as ensuring an address and phone number are on every page, making a separate page for every location, and claiming business listings on Google and Bing services.

  • List the proposed measures that will be incorporated to evaluate the SEO effectiveness.

It is very important to be able to measure the performance of your website over time.  The most obvious way of measuring SEO impact is to monitor website rankings on Google and Bing.  But a good SEO regimen should go beyond this, including items such as performance of certain landing pages, and breaking down measures into verticals such as geographic area or visitor source.  Some measures will require incorporating custom Google Analytics code into the website.  There are millions of possible ways to measure performance, but they should match to your business or organization goals.

These items are simply the things that should be taken into account when the website is being built.  But in an ideal world, SEO is an ongoing operation with continual monitoring and adjusting of the website.  If this is a component of the RFP, there is a whole collection of items and evaluation criteria that should also be added to the RFP.