A couple of years ago, I wrote an article for Econsultancy stressing the importance of writing a brief when looking to appoint a search agency.

This was in response to the fact that, in my experience, so few businesses seem to do so.

A brief plays an absolutely vital role on a number of levels:

  • To encourage the business to ask challenging questions of itself.  
  • To help establish if the business is even ready to engage an agency (and indeed the type of agency that should be approached).
  • To provide the necessary information and context for an agency to recommend the most appropriate approach. 

In the somewhat ‘murky’ world of SEO, a brief is perhaps even more paramount. Luckily for you lovely people, Econsultancy has a rather marvellous RFP template for members to download.

And with a little help from yours truly, it has recently received a minor facelift.

So what’s changed?

The template certainly didn’t require wholesale changes.

Most of my recommendations to the Econsultancy team were driven by the need to better contextualise the reason for appointing a search agency, the multi-disciplined nature of SEO, and the necessity to integrate with other channels to deliver a consistent and seamless customer experience.

Background

The first section has been expanded to encourage users to provide more information on company history, recent market trends, products (including most popular, regularity of new launches, average order values and margin), the competitive landscape, USPs and all other routes to market. 

Business objectives

Be sure to outline the overarching commercial/financial objectives for the business, not just those related to the website or SEO. Furthermore, comment on whether the company is on track and what barriers you are facing in meeting these objectives?

This information will help the agency to begin to establish the role that SEO can play in meeting your broader goals and addressing business challenges. 

Success measures

I added a point to discourage the use of rankings as a measure of success. Rankings are simply a means to an end and differ between search engine users dependent upon a whole range of factors.

This should be understood from the outset so that the focus is on the performance indicators that really matter i.e. revenue and ROI.

Technologies and operations

This section has been expanded to ensure the agency gains a more complete picture of web platforms, development partners and perhaps most importantly, the budget available to make changes to the site.

Nothing is more frustrating for everybody concerned than putting forward of a whole raft of recommendations to improve site performance only to be inhibited by budget or platform limitations.

It is better that these are uncovered early on so that the agency’s proposal is based on what can realistically be implemented. 

Overview of marketing activity 

This is a new section that reflects the multi-disciplined nature of SEO, where all marketing activity such as content, PR and social media all have an integral role to play.

In the spirit of a developing a collaborative relationship, outline the skill, experience and available resource for your in-house team to work alongside the agency on these aspects of the strategy. 

Furthermore, outline all other marketing activity (online and offline) that SEO will work alongside. Integration is key and an understanding of what activity SEO will support, and be supported by, will help shape the agency’s recommendations.

Target audience and search insights

Again, this section is now a little broader in scope, highlighting the importance of marketers to consider search as part of the customer journey and experience

As well as more granular information – such as best performing keywords – also include everything you know about your target customer. What insight, profiling, segmentation or persona work have you carried out? 

Timescales and process

In seeking to establish a relationship based on trust and openness, I like a prospect that is willing to share details on the process they will work through such as: how many agencies are invited to tender, do they include any incumbents, who will be involved in making the decision, when are you looking to start, and are there any particular conditions an agency has to meet, such as sector experience? 

You may find an agency discounts themselves from the process based on this information (for example, if they do not have the sector experience you are looking for), thus avoiding any time being wasted on both sides.

Budget

This always raises some healthy debate. Personally, I have always found that at least an approximate idea of budget leads to a more focused response to a brief. Without it, solutions presented simply may not be feasible.

‘This is what you could have had if only you had the budget’ only leads to a feeling of frustration – not a great way to start a relationship.

Another way of framing it might be to look at much you are able or willing to invest. For more information on budgeting and SEO payment models, please see my previous article on the topic.

That’s about it. I hope subscribers find the updated version a useful resource. In fact, I actively encourage anybody looking to recruit an SEO agency, whether you are experienced at doing so or not, to use it.

By following this template, you’ll be less likely to make a decision that may ultimately cost much more than the time invested in writing a proper brief in the first place. 

Ben Potter

Published 12 February, 2015 by Ben Potter

Ben Potter is the former Commercial Director at Leapfrogg and now a new business mentor to aspiring digital agencies. You can follow him on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn.

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