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Create SEO proposals that get approved: Pitching big initiatives to clients and stakeholders

Author: Gus Pelogia

an image of author Gus Pelogia, accompanied by various search-related iconography

Writing page titles, performing keyword research, adding hreflang tags—typically, these SEO tasks don’t get any pushback and you can start doing them straight away, leading to quick wins.


But what if you want to focus on larger, more ambitious SEO projects? Perhaps a project that will take several months before it goes live (and several more months after before you can even prove impact)?


Let’s talk about the steps you can take to write an accurate and effective SEO proposal to get your clients or C-suite on board with your big plans.


Table of contents:



Why write an SEO proposal?


First of all, winning a client is different from keeping a client over the long term. There are many reasons why clients may switch to different SEO agencies, but there’s also a powerful reason behind why they renew: trust in the people doing the work. While in-house SEOs work under a different set of circumstances, that same trust is crucial if you want to achieve results that justify your salary/retainer.


To keep your clients or C-suite happy and build trust, you need to show in detail what optimizations you would like to implement, how they will potentially improve the business, and get everyone involved to understand and bet on these ideas with you. 

The most important part of explaining and getting your client/stakeholders on board with a large project is getting them to understand their own involvement. Often, clients hire SEO agencies and expect them to simply “do their magic.”


This can work for some, but what happens when you need other stakeholders to actively work on something? Here are some examples:


Stakeholder

SEO project

Internal subject matter experts

Article review for blog

Internal UX employee

Design a new page type

Client POC (marketing or sales)

Send you a weekly report of locations that clients/customers/patients are converting from

Other service suppliers (i.e., dev agency, design agency, freelance writers, etc.)

Get the client to secure additional budget to hire other suppliers


If you need resources from your client or C-suite, it’s crucial to discuss and reiterate deadlines, meet the other stakeholders, and make it very clear that, without their involvement, you cannot deliver what the business needs. 


Understanding their role will allow them to secure the resources required, even if it’s as simple as a weekly file export or as complex as meeting other suppliers and creating a new workflow from scratch.


From idea to project validation


It’s easy to fall in love with an idea—it happens to me every other day. SEOs are always learning and trying to figure out what is “working” right now and Google is always rolling out new updates or features—a new featured snippet, a new speed metric, a new acronym.


Some of these new SEO considerations can have a huge impact, but others might just end up being “nice to have.” Do you need all your pages to have a “Good” INP score? Do you need to nest every structured data field?


A graphic that says “Interaction to next paint (INP)” with a gauge showing that “good” is under 200ms, “needs improvement” is between 200 and 500ms, and “poor” is longer than 500ms.
Source: Google.

Since I started working as an SEO product manager, I’ve changed my approach on SEO from “ticking all boxes” to “prioritize what I can prove will have an impact.” It’s not a matter of not executing certain work, but instead choosing your priorities, because we don’t have unlimited time or resources.

This alone takes a lot of tasks out of consideration. 


Let’s say, for example, you want to create an internal linking project for an eCommerce marketplace. You found a way to link related categories and display links to pages that fall under certain criteria (e.g., most popular this month, certain search volume, on sale, etc). Your proposal involves lots of high-value pages and you believe it can improve business metrics, so you’re all in.


However, if this feature just works on blog pages, you might not have a large impact on the business. Traffic may increase, but that alone usually doesn’t pay the bills.


If you have a small number of 404 pages, unless those pages earned external backlinks or users are reaching them often, fixing them won’t have a direct SEO impact. Sure, you don’t want users to have a poor experience, but you can’t come back to your client/boss and justify a month’s work by fixing 404s in deep pages and hoping that it’ll lead to more sales.


A screenshot of the 404 status pages report in GSC.
Google Search Console reporting “not found” pages.

You might agree or disagree with me on the importance of those tasks, and that’s okay. The mindset I want to share here is: 


  • How can you validate the success of your project?

  • What metric do you expect to improve by doing this activity?

  • Do you see yourself and the client understanding the impact of this project three, six months down the road?


Here are some easy examples:


Optimization & expected outcome

Associated metric

By adding this structured data, I expect to increase CTR to [page type]. 

CTR increase

By blocking [Bingbot], I expect to be removed from [Bing Chat]. 

Pages removed

By creating an HTML sitemap, I expect [pages] to get indexed quicker. 

Indexing speed

By redirecting these broken links, I expect to gain [50] backlinks to [page type].

Number of backlinks


Over time, you start realizing that some optimizations are simply nice to have, but you won’t be able to pinpoint an impact (SEO or business-wise) and since these tasks can’t be validated, they will naturally be a smaller priority.


How to write a business case for your SEO proposal


You can and should find potential pitfalls before your clients do. When I started writing business cases (before bringing an SEO proposal forward) was when I started distinguishing whether certain ideas could get validated and actually had a strong chance of bringing in ROI…or whether I just fell in love with an idea (that actually didn’t have potential).


My business cases have images but are written in a word document (Google Docs or Microsoft Word), not slides. You might need slides to pitch this in a room full of people, but I personally only fully understand and get confident about my idea once I have a long-from document.


Why not also share this ahead of the meeting with your stakeholders, so they are prepared when they meet you, instead of trying to understand everything with you looking at them?


A banner of an SEO agency project proposal template, with a download button

For your business case, you can use Wix’s SEO agency project proposal template or this detailed business case example that I created. Below is a shorter version of the latter, in which I pitch to create “near” pages for a hotel chain:


  • Background

    • Provide background and set the scene for your pitch. Explain the problem you have, how this would be a solution, and the issues with taking a simpler route or keeping things the way they are now.

    • Example: Hotels have huge competition from Online Travel Agencies (OTAs; e.g., Booking.com, Tripadvisor, etc). While your main target keywords are wide terms such as hotels in [city], the bigger the city, the more search results are dominated by OTAs.


  • Opportunity

    • How big is the opportunity? What page types are covered? How many sessions, impressions, or sales can be earned?

    • Example: Although OTAs own the organic results, you can still rank on Google Maps and in the local pack. We believe that Google could display your hotel in these spaces if you have a page targeting specific nearby attractions (e.g., hotels near [attraction]) and got reviews from guests mentioning the nearby attractions (Note: this is a hypothesis, not a guarantee).


  • Technical debt

    • This is an overall view of optimizations to be implemented. These should be double-checked by the teams/people who are executing them to make sure they're relevant and representative of their work (also a great chance to get them up to date and build excitement). I tend to keep this top level, not adding every single task, because that might add noise, especially developer tasks (not being read by developers).

    • Example:

      • SEO: Keyword research to map opportunities

      • Creative: Take photos of the hotel and nearby attractions

      • UX: Design new page template

      • Dev: Code new page template created by UX

      • Sales: Offer a special package for guests going to the attraction

      • Receptionist: Remind guests to leave a review when they check out


  • Minimum viable product (MVP)

    • The smallest possible version of this project, required just to test impact, before a full release.

    • Example:

      • Five attractions (Client needs to decide which ones align with their goals)

      • Three unique photos per page (Client needs to hire a photographer)


  • Timeline

    • Expected milestones for various parts of the project. This keeps the project top-of-mind for stakeholders and shows progress.

    • Example:

      • Page prototype to be presented by [date] and approved by [date]

      • Page content to be written by [date]

      • Release pages by [date]

      • Measure early impact in [30 days]

      • Measure final impact in [90 days]

      • Decide if expansion to [50] more pages is worthwhile


  • Estimated impact

    • The metrics you’ll use to measure the success of this project. You can have SEO metrics in the early stages (indexation, rankings) but ultimately, you need to tie this to business metrics (bookings, leads, sales).

    • Example:

      • Increase Google Business Profile (GBP) impressions by [%]

      • Increase GBP booking by [%]

      • Generate [XX] bookings to special packages related to attractions


I find it more advantageous to write out and refine my business cases instead of creating slides—you can do either or both, as long as there’s an opportunity for your client or manager(s) to give feedback on your proposal.


Pitching your proposal as an in-house SEO


In-house SEOs have some great advantages when it comes to obtaining support from other teams. You’re more aware of the people available, their skills, and competing projects (from SEO and other departments), so the pitch is more about who can work on it and when.


I recommend that you meet with stakeholders (one on one, if possible). Sit down with the decision makers in design, UX, product, content, and other departments to show them your idea and to hear their opinions, questions, criticism, and potential integrations. And, highlight what those teams stand to gain from your initiative so that expectations are aligned.


Working for a global enterprise, I noticed it’s much easier to sell a project when everyone gets some impact instead of just doing something for “SEO reasons”: 


  • Can you identify pages using a common taxonomy or tags and use this to display related products to buyers, but also to improve internal linking?


  • How about the classic case that faster-loading pages are good for users, even though we’re aiming to get a “Good” score from Google?


  • Can you create a top menu or footer that points to your high-conversion pages, but is also the most common destination a user wants to navigate to once they’re on your website?


If you can cover several needs with one project, you’re saving the business money and building a stronger proposal.


Pitching your proposal to SEO clients


Now that I have the experience of working in-house, when I look back on my agency years, I realize that I didn’t have as much context as I assumed about my clients’ needs and issues. They won’t always have time to give you every detail about why something is not a priority or can’t be done.


Having worked on both sides, I learned to work with the resources available to me: Does the client care about being in the press? You can consider digital PR campaigns. Do you want to implement structured data but don’t have access to the back end? Use Google Tag Manager.


Try to understand if they have a developer you can rely on and what resources they can commit to your SEO proposal. Half-day per week for three months? Great, here are the five things we’re going to implement over this period. 


Each SEO will have their own strategy, but I find it best to start small (you can call it an MVP, minimum viable product), implement a few things to show that all these tags, links, response codes, and JavaScript can actually bring business through the door, before you ask for more.


Once the small projects start showing results (remember, each project should have an execution, estimated impact, and measuring plan), then you grow to bigger ones. Do you want a new CMS feature? Need to give different directives to different bots? Do you want to run six months of link building campaigns


For all of those potential projects, go back to the business case chapter to check if your SEO proposal is comprehensive. 


How to measure impact


I know it can be hard to measure SEO impact given so many factors that can affect the SERP—algorithm updates, new competitor pages, seasonality, external events, and then finally the SEO changes you implemented. Although it’s hard to pinpoint, you can still look for ways to isolate changes to evaluate impact, even if it’s directional.


Consider our hotel example above in the business case section


  • Can we measure if the new attractions-related pages started ranking?

  • Did the hotel start showing up in the local pack after the change?


It’s essential to plan how you intend to track impact. Discuss with your team or client and agree on which metrics and/or data you’ll assess and stick to these metrics during your analysis period. I learned the hard way, but you don’t need to: start tracking everything and take screenshots ahead of time, so you can show a before and after. Organize them in a folder and name your files appropriately.


If possible, I recommend testing first on your personal website. For instance, when I started trying to get a knowledge panel, I first did it for my own name. This way, I could come to my manager and show a great example first—and then get the buy-in to spend time building one for my company. I learned how to execute first, nearly risk-free and without the pressure—if I failed, no one would even know. Even failing would tell me that something doesn’t work, which would allow me to move on to other tasks and strategies.


If you want to get serious about measuring impact at scale, I highly recommend SEO A/B testing. There are a few tools available that help with this, such as SearchPilot and SplitSignal, but you can also try doing it yourself for free.


A chart showing growth beginning in November 2023. There are no figures on the Y-axis to reveal exact growth.
An example of an SEO A/B test results. The dotted line is the growth the testing group had since the test started, compared to the control group.

Giulia Panozzo wrote a great causal impact guide for Women in Tech SEO, where she explains step-by-step how to set up SEO A/B tests using free tools. I use a similar methodology and this removed a lot of guesswork, while supporting my current and future initiatives. I do think about SEO differently since I started doing SEO A/B tests.


Be aware that not every test will be positive or reliable. Framing these as experiments is very important because you can take some of the pressure off and, even if something doesn’t go according to the plan, you tick an experiment off of the opportunity list and can move on to the next.

To avoid getting disheartened by a test that didn’t have a positive outcome, I try to always have a few tests going at the same (ideally, to different pages), so even if something didn’t work, something else does.


Lastly, I recommend you reflect on what went wrong: Can you still reframe a test? Let’s say if you added a lot of internal links with commercial anchor text but saw no uplift. Can you run this again using anchors and pages that have lower competition? Can you add more internal links to these pages? Did you give enough time for Google to recrawl all pages? The point is: don’t give up on the first negative result.


Create a winning SEO proposal and focus on continuous improvements


SEO is rarely a case of implementing and leaving. We’re always chasing more links, monitoring indexed pages, working to maintain a “Good” page speed score, optimizing content, and so on. But, there has to be a method to the madness if you want to keep your C-suite happy or maintain profitable client relationships.


Proving the impact of specific changes in SEO isn’t always easy, so if you find something that works well for a website, keep trying to improve further. A lot of initiatives I work on as an SEO product manager happen on the back of a previous test, an MVP, or a test done in one locale that’s expanding to others.


Whether you’re working to get a new client or to keep a delighted one, building SEO proposals can help you do more with less, build trust, and secure more resources (and budget) to grow with them!


 

Gus Pelogia

Gus Pelogia - SEO Product Manager Gus Pelogia is a journalist turned SEO since 2012. He’s currently an SEO product manager at Indeed, the top job site in the world. Every day, he writes tickets for small and large initiatives and works in a cross-functional team with writers, UX, engineers, and product managers.

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