A 9-Step Guide to Writing an SEO Proposal [Free Template]

A 9-Step Guide to Writing an SEO Proposal [Free Template]

Imagine you have hundreds of files in a folder labeled “Important Files.” Some of the files are named by date, some by subject, and some by author.

Hands type on a laptop. Illustration of a template.

You have to sift through all of them to find a review of the new neighborhood pizza place. Without a consistent filename or organizational structure, you’re not going to find that review anytime soon.

That scenario illustrates the value of technical SEO, which I learned about while managing a project to rebuild a previous employer’s website from the ground up.

Download Now: Keyword Research Template [Free Resource]

The original website didn’t have a consistent formula for creating new URLs — it was like a folder full of erratically named files — which made it hard for search engines to index and rank new pages.

Without an appropriate URL structure, implementing a keyword-based SEO strategy wouldn’t have done us much good. We needed a strategy that met us where we were.

I share this because it demonstrates two of the most important points in this nine-step guide to drafting an SEO proposal: 1. Know your potential client’s needs, and 2. Use clear, easy-to-understand language.

“I don’t want to throw a bunch of jargon at you and make myself sound smart at the expense of you not understanding. Accessible language is really, really important to us.” Tory Gray, CEO and founder, The Gray Dot Company

Table of Contents

What is an SEO proposal?

When a potential client wants to level up their search engine optimization (SEO), you’ll need to draft a successful proposal to win their business.

I talked to half a dozen experts to create this SEO proposal template, which I encourage you to adapt to your own needs and clientele. SEO proposal template.

The experts represent a wide range of experience, including nonprofits, tech companies, small businesses, and large corporations.

Everybody handles SEO proposals a little differently, but there are some clear do’s and don’ts — including one piece of advice that every single expert mentioned.

1. Goals: Begin your proposal with a few key goals, which you’ll define based on technical research and getting to know your client and their needs.

Your job as an SEO professional, after a discovery call with the potential client, is to identify what problems you can solve for them. This usually begins with a website audit.

“I always start with an audit, because I can’t improve something if I don’t know what’s going on,” Merove Heifetz, founder and chief digital strategist of Acquisition Digital, tells me. “The audit is really foundational.”

Brent D. Payne, founder and CEO of Loud Interactive, shared a little bit about his audit process. He begins by looking at the client’s Google Search Console for current rankings and traffic. He also likes to get clients’ revenue models to see “how many dollars they typically get from a web visitor.”

Armed with this data, he spends several hours doing keyword research using tools like Ahrefs and SEMrush, and uses AI to organize keywords into categories and subcategories. The result is a massive spreadsheet — we’re talking 50,000 or 60,000 lines of data — that reveals strengths and opportunities.

You can also download HubSpot’s free keyword research template to help organize and analyze data collected during this step.

“If you’re using technical language, make sure it’s translated … not everyone will know or care about a canonical link, for example. But you can communicate the importance of it in plain English.” Merove Heifetz, Founder and chief digital strategist, Acquisition Digital.

HubSpot’s own Head of EN Growth, Rory Hope, advises aligning your SEO strategy with your client’s business goals very early in the relationship. “It will allow you to plan the SEO roadmap more closely to those goals whenever possible,” he says.

Pro tip: The website audit is key, but don’t discount how fruitful a good conversation can be. Tory Gray, CEO and founder of The Gray Dot Company, says that “it’s really important to listen to the client.

What are they looking for? How can you give them what they need? Because if you can reflect that in the proposal and the work that you do, [you] will stand out.”

Hope agrees. “Focus entirely on the client, their business, and problems and pain points.”

Can AI do it for me?

It can certainly help! Many people in the SEO industry use AI to organize and interpret huge amounts of data gleaned during website audits and competitor research. This can be a huge time-saver when you’re defining goals.

It’s worth noting that a lot of seasoned professionals have invested in proprietary AI tools. Payne says that Loud Interactive spent three months programming one such tool — and it’s reduced a month’s worth of work to three hours.

2. Executive Summary: In a few sentences, lay out the broad strokes of your plan using jargon-free language.

“Describe the service [you’ll provide] in as broad, friendly, and approachable terms as possible,” says freelance marketing strategist Rachel Claff.

“Use approachable and understandable language. … Metaphors can go a long way here.” Rachel Claff, Freelance marketing strategist

There’s plenty of time to get into the weeds; right now you just want to demonstrate that you understand the client’s goals and have a strategy for meeting them.

Claff suggests structuring your proposal like a funnel, with the broad services outlined at the top, and going into more detail in the scope and budget.

Pro tip: Use plain language. Every SEO expert I talked to, regardless of their specialty or industry, emphasized how important it is to leave the jargon at the door. Write like a human, be friendly, define acronyms and other industry terms, and be clear and concise.

What is plain language? Plain language is communication your audience can understand the first time they read or hear it. The plain language movement in the U.S. began in the 1970s, when the federal government encouraged regulation writers to be less bureaucratic. Source: PlainLanguage.gov.

Can AI do it for me?

As long as you’re prepared to edit out jargon or other unclear language, tools like ChatGPT can speed up this process.

3. Research and Analytics: Based on your research and website audit, provide a few key insights.

This one may be hard to hear if you love a good spreadsheet (I see you), but your proposal should contain just a few key insights.

Phillip Lunn, CEO and co-founder of West Loop SEO, says, “Don’t burden potential clients with terms and data that could be reserved for the person behind the computer doing the implementations.”

The goal of your proposal is for the potential client to become your client. They don’t need to see 20 pages of data — but they do need to trust that you’ve built an SEO roadmap that will achieve their business goals.

Pro tip: To avoid overwhelming a potential client, Payne doesn’t open with his 500-megabyte spreadsheet. He uses insights from the data to create 12-page Google Slides presentations, which are a lot more palatable for the layperson.

Can AI do it for me?

Almost certainly, depending on your comfort and experience with AI tools. It’s not a substitute for your own experience and insight, but it can speed up your research and analysis. As Payne puts it, “AI is an efficiency tool.”

4. Opportunities: What specific areas can you help your client achieve significant results?

Don’t underestimate the power of a case study to demonstrate the value of your work. Claff says that many clients are surprised by how quickly they see results, so using a previous success as an example is more persuasive than simply promising to “boost your SEO.”

“Try to put everything in layman’s terms. We use case studies as much as possible.” Phillip Lunn, CEO and co-founder, West Loop SEO

Rory Hope says, “Demonstrate the value you‘ve achieved for other clients. Include quotes. And if you can’t share primary data, use a third-party tool like Ahrefs to show the visibility uplifts.”

Can AI do it for me?

If you’re using case studies from your own experience, you’re your own best resource. That doesn’t mean AI can’t help, especially if you have access to proprietary tools.

5. Trade-offs: Be crystal clear about the scope of your proposal, both in terms of what is included and what isn’t.

Tory Gray gave me a great example of what this can look like.

Her firm often works with nonprofits that want to avoid the word “charity,” but “they still want to show up [in searches] for ‘climate change charity’ or ‘water charity’ or whatever they focus on. So how do they do that?”

It’s a tricky question that she navigates through a lot of conversation with the client. Clients have different levels of comfort; one might be comfortable using the word “charity” in alt text that describes images, and another might want to avoid it altogether.

When Gray proposes solutions, she ensures that the client understands the trade-offs.

If your proposal includes “musts” and “nice-to-haves,” note these in your budget (step 8) to avoid scope creep.

Pro tip: “Be 100% above board and make sure [you’re] delivering the right information,” Gray says. And be humble: Gray also uses this as an opportunity for the potential client to correct her if there’s been any misunderstandings.

Can AI do it for me?

Your experience is one of the most valuable things you can bring into a client partnership. If you often work with clients with complex requests, use AI to help spark ideas, but rely on your own experience with similar challenges.

6. Expectations and Deliverables: In clear, plain language, lay out what you’ll need from your client and what they can expect from you.

What information will the client need to provide upfront, and on an ongoing basis? What aspects of the project require collaboration? What kinds of results should they expect to see?

Rory Hope puts it succinctly: “Outlining what SEO can and can’t achieve is very important for expectation management.” He suggests building this into your SEO roadmap by including organic traffic leads and revenue uplift projections next to each SEO priority.

“Consider your key decision-maker, and use language that will appeal to that decision-maker.” Rory Hope, Head of EN Growth, HubSpot

Pro tip: Hope adds, “Clearly list out each deliverable that you’ll be completing for a client, both at the beginning during the audit phase, but also as an ongoing part of the strategy. Consider your key decision-maker, and use language that will appeal to that decision-maker.”

Rachel Claff stresses that a successful proposal hinges on listening to your client, and offers this example: “Pinpointing keywords is a collaboration between the two of you … If you ask [the client] for their optimal keywords, it’s not always going to match with what will actually get them the most return.”

Your client — let’s say it’s the new neighborhood pizza joint — may want their website to be on the first page of search results for “pizza.”

I used Ahrefs’ keywords explorer and found that “pizza” will be “super hard” to rank for, so I’d suggest an alternative to the client that will meet their goal of increasing foot traffic.

Keyword difficulty: 87. Super hard.

Image Source

Pro tip: Be specific and don’t promise what you can’t deliver. Phillip Lunn says that although his clients expect him to bring in more high-quality traffic, he likes to set more specific expectations based on the client’s current digital presence and the data he’s gleaned.

Can AI do it for me?

Every SEO expert I spoke with, even those who lean heavily on AI tools, emphasized the importance of getting to know your client. Expectations and deliverables are specific to each client, so tread carefully if you use AI.

7. Timeline: Because SEO isn’t a one-and-done proposition, include your recommendations for both the short- and long-term.

Some potential clients, especially if this is their first serious foray into SEO, may think that it’s something you do once.

But “the processes undertaken to gain organic traffic are slow and steady — because that’s really what organic traffic is,” Merove Heifetz says.

Your timeline should include your estimates for research, implementation, and maintenance.

Can AI do it for me?

If you have estimates for certain tasks, AI can definitely help you build a realistic timeline.

8. Budget: What can you reasonably accomplish within your client’s budget?

What do you charge, and what is your payment schedule? This is also a good place to revisit expectations to avoid falling prey to scope creep.

Rory Hope suggests including the number of hours your team will allocate to the project. “The more granular you can be, the better,” he says, “as it builds transparency” with the client.

“The more granular you can be, the better, as it builds transparency.” Rory Hope, Head of EN Growth, HubSpot

Tory Gray adds a note of advice for people starting out in SEO: “Don’t be afraid to charge more. … Don’t undervalue yourself or the value you are bringing to this business — and how much money you are going to make them.”

Pro tip: Heifetz provides “specific recommendations and the level of priority for those recommendations.” Clients need different levels of support, so she also offers options: The client can implement strategies with her supervisory support, they can divvy up the work, or Heifetz’s team can handle all of it.

Can AI do it for me?

Just be sure you double-check its math.

9. CTA: What is the clear, simple next step your potential client needs to take to sign a contract with you?

The call to action should be the easiest, quickest step of your proposal: Tell your potential client how to become your actual client.

“It’s truly about proper communication, which is a lot of work. Be as transparent and forthcoming as possible.” Brent D. Payne, CEO and founder, Loud Interactive

Can AI do it for me?

Sure it can, but do you really need it to? The call to action shouldn’t change much from proposal to proposal, so whether your potential client needs to click a button or reply to an email, let them know what the next step is.

The Future of SEO: Is AI Taking Over?

If you’re just getting started in the client-facing side of the SEO industry, you may feel the pressure of artificial intelligence closing in around you.

Our experts are resoundingly clear on this point: AI isn’t going to replace humans. “SEO isn’t dead or dying,” Merove Heifetz tells me. “It’s just changing.”

Brent D. Payne uses proprietary AI in his work, and he predicts a significant price reduction in the not-too-distant future, because AI makes it so easy to scale up. But he agrees: “I don’t think SEO will ever go away.”

Question: Is AI killing the SEO industry? Answer provided by HubGPT, HubSpot’s internal AI tool: AI (Artificial Intelligence) is actually playing a significant role in shaping the future of the SEO industry. Rather than killing the industry, AI is enhancing it by allowing for more sophisticated and efficient strategies. AI-powered tools and technologies help SEO professionals analyze vast amounts of data, identify trends, predict user behavior, and personalize content for better optimization. AI also enables automation of routine tasks, such as keyword research, content generation, and performance tracking, freeing up time for SEO experts to focus on strategy and creativity. While AI may change the way certain tasks are performed within the SEO industry, it is not killing it but rather transforming it and making it more effective. SEO professionals who embrace AI technology and utilize it strategically are likely to have a competitive edge in the evolving digital landscape.

It would say that. But our SEO experts agree.

Payne also points out, “People are slow to adopt new technologies. We were slow to trust the internet. We’ll be slow to trust AI.”

In the background of Payne’s Zoom window, I noticed an Apple Macintosh Classic, a model that was discontinued in the early 1990s. He said, “I like the juxtaposition to the AI work that we’re doing.

I think it shows how far we’ve managed to come over the past 30 years when it comes to society. And I want it to be a constant reminder that humanity will continue to evolve with technology.”

Using the SEO Proposal Template

Just as SEO differs based on a client’s goals, resources, and industry, so will your proposals.

Use our free SEO proposal template as a guideline, and adapt it for your own needs and clientele. You aren’t going to be replaced by robots anytime soon.

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