Your guide to writing an airtight website RFP

11 Minutes

So you got dealt the responsibility of writing a Request for Proposal (RFP) for a new website. It might seem like a daunting task. After all, your team is counting on you to shape the organization’s digital future. You know how important your online presence is to your organization and you want to make sure it serves your needs, now and for years to come.

Unless you have expertise in web development, there will be a lot of unknowns to consider, and it’s best to start with some research. So congratulations, because the fact that you’re reading this means you’re on the right track. In this article, we’ll provide tips, must-haves and watch-outs to get quality proposals from qualified digital agencies. There’s also a free RFP template at the end to get your started.

This guidance focuses on RFPs for websites because that’s our area of expertise. But the tips apply to any type of branding or marketing project as well.

The average RFP win rate for agencies is 44%.‍

Loopio, 2022 ​​RFP Response Trends & Benchmarks

Answering the big RFP questions.

What information is most important to include in your RFP? What will turn agencies off from wanting to respond? How will you get your RFP in front of the right agencies? We’ll answer all these questions and more, providing insight on what makes a good digital partner. Plus how to compare multiple proposals and gauge an agency’s skills beyond their proposal.

An honest agency POV. 

RFPs are a contentious subject for many agencies. Some love them. Some hate them. Some are consistently successful at winning them. Others, not so much. Agencies often gripe about the cost of responding, the process for selection, or inadequate information.

Agencies put significant time and resources into responding to RFPs. You can return the favour by taking the time to create a clear, thoughtful, and fair RFP process.

Consultants will tell agencies to stop responding to RFPs, to nurture inbound leads and grow their own portfolio of work. This is easy advice, but it’s not always practical.

RFPs have allowed us to find clients we would have never reached otherwise and take on exciting projects from around the world. We’re a small agency in western Canada, yet we had the opportunity to work with an innovative social enterprise from Atlanta that uses blockchain technology to solve food insecurity. How cool is that?

It’s tricky for agencies like ours to give advice about these types of things without promoting our own self interest. Of course, we want to see more RFPs matching our skillset, with bigger budgets, and more creative freedom. We’re aware that when we publish content like this, it serves that purpose. So in full transparency, this article aims to encourage you to approach RFPs our way. 

Goals every RFP should have.

Let’s start the same way we do with all projects: identifying the objectives. The goals for creating a rock-solid website RFP should include the following:

Communicate clearly

By explicitly communicating the challenge your organization is facing, agencies will know the problem they’re being asked to solve. Start by thinking hard about your needs. What are you aiming to accomplish by getting a new website? 

Set expectations

Clients and agencies are well-versed in the world of managing expectations. By establishing the goal posts for what you expect for your web project, when it’s needed and at what cost, you’re helping agencies decide whether it’s a good fit for their expertise.

Determine outcomes

It’s ok to tell agencies what you’re looking for (and not looking for) in a digital partner. It’s also important to let agencies know how you’ll be evaluating their proposals. This lets agencies prioritize information and their resources. It levels the playing field and helps you select the best partner for your needs.   

Get technical 

Provide details about the CMS, functionality, features and integrations you need. Not sure what technical functionality or integrations you’ll need? That’s ok, you can be honest about it and ask agencies for their recommendations. Alternatively, you could work with a technical consultant to help write your RFP. 

Be specific & realistic 

Be clear on what you’re looking for and make sure your management team is aligned on the project goals. Then be sure to give agencies enough time to respond and engage in follow up communications. A rushed process will result in lower quality, less-tailored proposals. 

9 must-haves for a stellar RFP.

There could be more you want to include in your RFP. But at a bare minimum, make sure you’ve got the bases covered with these components.  

  1. Company Overview

Assume agencies have never heard of your company. Tell us who you are, what you do, where you’ve been and where you’re going. Tell us how you prefer to work and/or communicate (time zone, video call, email, slack etc). Indicate the designated Project Lead and the resources and team members your organization is going to commit to the project. 

  1. Audience Breakdown

Describe your various users and stakeholders. Clearly identify why they’re coming to your website and how they’re getting there. If you have any analytics to support the audience information, share that as well. This can be high-level for now, a good agency will dig deeper into this in the discovery process.

  1. Current Website Deficiencies 

If you currently have a website, tell us why you need a new one. What are the pain points? What needs to be improved, updated, removed, re-prioritized? Are there performance deficiencies such as speed or mobile-friendliness? Again, analytics can help here if you’re looking to improve certain metrics such as bounce rate or page views.

  1. New Website Needs

Highlight your business and technical goals, and how the new website addresses these goals. Could your new website help your organization operate more efficiently by adding features? Can it automate tasks your team is currently doing offline? Be clear on the scope of functionality requirements, and asset and content needs.

  1. Extra Features

Include any optional feature add-ons and functionality that are not core to the website but that your team would like to explore. This allows agencies to break out these costs separately from the main project deliverables. 

  1. Project Specifics

You’ll definitely want to include your scope of deliverables, expected timeline and your budget (more on this later) for the project.

  1. Proposal Requirements & Process

Outline your timing and phases of the RFP process. Be specific about what you expect to see in the response such as a company background, relevant case studies, team bios, and technical specs. What is the process for selecting a vendor? Who are the decision makers on the proposal review committee?

  1. Communication Opportunities

Tell agencies how they can contact you with questions about the RFP. Is there an opportunity for agencies to connect with you before sending in a proposal? Are you open to calls, emails, or a virtual meeting?

  1. Evaluation Criteria

Guide agencies in pre-qualifying the opportunity by sharing what the agency requirements are and telling them how you’ll be evaluating their proposals. Do you only accept domestic or local proposals, or are you open to accepting proposals from national or international agencies? Do you require certain industry expertise from the agency?

Common pitfalls to avoid.

There are certain things within an RFP that are considered to be red flags for digital agencies. This could cause highly qualified agencies to decide not to respond. You want to get a variety of responses from exceptional agencies, right? Here are some watch-outs to be mindful of when crafting your RFP.

More is not more.

RFPs often have super lengthy, drawn out paragraphs and tons of extra pages that can make it difficult for agencies to determine what’s most important. Find the balance between providing useful details while avoiding information overload.  

Don’t ask for free work.

Don’t over-reach for deliverables in the proposal phase. Asking for spec work or advanced technical consultation can turn away qualified agencies who would otherwise be a great fit. Smart agencies know spec work provides little value, because we must diagnose the problem before coming up with a solution. 

Avoid standardized proposal forms.

Let agencies be creative and showcase their brand and team personality. By submitting responses in their preferred proposal format vs. filling out standardized forms, you’ll get a glimpse of their creative potential, not just their boiler-plate answers.

Having no budget is a no-go.

Do you really have to include a budget? Won’t all the agencies just build the proposal to the max budget even if they could have done it cheaper? The best agencies are open to having honest, transparent conversations about budget and scope. If an agency wants to be your partner and collaborator on a project, they are often open to discussing, negotiating and being flexible on costs.

Not sharing your budget up front hinders agencies from being able to understand the full scope of the project and recommend an appropriate solution.

What makes website RFPs different?

You know your business inside and out, but technical expertise may not be your strong suit. So how do you write RFPs for a technically advanced audience? What’s more, how do you evaluate and compare their technical prowess? This is what makes writing a website RFP especially challenging for many organizations. 

It’s ok to not have all the answers from a technical standpoint. If you don’t know specifics on the platform and functionality, simply state that in the RFP and ask agencies for their recommendations. Chances are agencies will have their preferences and solutions for what they would include in the build.

When comparing multiple seemingly similar digital agencies, here are some questions you can ask to get a better sense of their capabilities:

  • What is your preferred CMS and why?
  • What are your strengths in building websites?
  • What is your process for web development and at what stages do you involve the client?
  • Do you outsource design and development?
  • What quality guarantees does your agency have for the website?
  • What are some projects you’ve completed that are similar in scope?
  • Do you provide services outside of website development?
  • What is involved in your website support and maintenance?

Looking for digital partners.

Your shiny RFP is all ready to go. Now what? How do you get it in front of suitable agencies? There’s two approaches that you can take.

Make your RFP findable

To get back an ideal mix of responses from suitable agencies, you’ll want to post your RFP on the most relevant channels.

  • Share your RFP on LinkedIn and ask your network to recommend their favourite creative or technical teams
  • Post on your company’s website and social channels
  • Post on online RFP databases and directories

Bring your RFP to them

You can also search for and reach out to top agencies whose work you admire.

  • Find some websites you love and figure out who built them. An agency link is usually mentioned in the website’s footer. Or you can reach out to the company itself to ask who their digital agency is.
  • Search online for digital agencies that have expertise in your industry or desired platform.
  • If proximity is important to you, you can also refine your search to agencies in your region, province/state, or country. 

Figuring out the right fit.

Agencies often hear stories of clients frantically flipping to the last page of a proposal to see the cost. There has to be more to it than that. Seek out an agency that has proven expertise and success with similar sized projects to yours.  Pro Tip: Look closely at their portfolio. Do the different websites have a diversity in styles and function, or do they all follow a similar template? This will give you an indication of the agency’s ability to adapt the solution to your brand. 

Of course the proposal itself matters. You’re looking for a proposal that is tailored to your specific ask, not just one that swapped in your company name for someone else’s. But it’s also important to get to know the people behind the proposal. Pro Tip: Set up a meeting. By taking the time to meet in-person or virtually, you’ll get an immediate vibe check. You’ll get to see their personality and passion for your project – what it’s all about.

Get started with our RFP template.

You can use this template as a jumping off point for your website RFP and tailor it to the needs of your company.

Here’s the link.