10 Tips for Writing an Effective Web Design RFP

When marketers embark on a web design project, one of the first common practices is to develop a document–a web design RFP–that outlines the project’s requirements.  This document usually comes in the form of an RFP (Request for Proposal) which typically outlines the project, timeline, and overall parameters.  Once completed, the web design RFP is usually circulated to agencies that, in turn, craft proposals in response.  The whole RFP process has many weaknesses and flaws, but we will limit our attention to the document itself.

web design rfp

Investing substantial time in writing your web design RFP can really help you find the right digital marketing agency partner.

Like most things, there are good RFPs and bad RFPs.  And since most talented agencies are receiving plenty of RFPs on a regular basis, you really want to be sure yours is well conceived and written if you want it to be taken seriously by a talented agency.  There are plenty of web design RFP templates available online which can guide you on structure.  But when it comes to really making your document accessible and attractive to a would-be agency partner, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. Describe the project in full detail – This is probably a given, but be clear and detailed descriptions of your project requirements and expectations are a must if you want to solicit comparable bids.  Consider providing a site map, how many design revisions you might require, and what functions your site should perform beyond delivering content (i.e. e-commerce, shopping cart, social media integration, etc.).  The more detail you provide in the web design RFP, the better.  And if there are any items yet to be determined, it is always a good idea to state those unknowns.
  2. Provide a helpful narrative of the project situation – If your website has a meaningful history that might be helpful to the agency, providing it would help to ensure that the responses meet your needs.  For example, if the site has been in operation for 10 years but it has fallen short of expectations in terms of sales or lead generation, indicate that.  Or if the site has really effective search engine traffic that needs to be preserved in a re-design effort, be open about it.
  3. Describe your technology preferences – Many companies are attached to or alienated from a particular software package or operating system.  If you have non-negotiable technical preferences, be sure to describe them in the web design RFP itself.  At the same time, use candor and clarity if you are looking for agencies to make suggestions or recommendations.
  4. Be clear about the division of labor – From design and technology to copywriting and project management, a web project has a myriad of expertise requirements.  To the extent possible, be clear about which of these roles you are expecting an agency to perform.  For example, some clients want to provide site content or photography while others want the responding agency to do so. Whether you want the agency to provide all services in full or to collaborate with your existing team members, try to be clear about who will be doing what.  If you aren’t, different agencies will make different assumptions.
  5. Be open with your budget and time constraints – Whether your budget is small or large, it is always advisable to disclose your budget and timeline within the web design RFP.  This will ensure that the right vendors respond and/or direct you to others that might be more suitable.  Many companies are reluctant to do this because they will miss an opportunity to gain a competitive price, but soliciting multiple bids should cure this concern.  If a budget or timeline is not disclosed, many agencies may assume that the RFP process (a great deal of work for the agency to go through) is merely a speculative exercise–not a real, funded project.
  6. Consider your response requirements – As stated above, the web design RFP process involves an *uncompensated* investment of time from the agency.  As such, be sure you are not asking the agency to do too much in crafting a response.  RFP documents can request too much superficial information (resumes from all staff members, spec creative work, private financial statements, etc.) that you might want to save for only those agencies that make your short list.  If your web design RFP creates too much work for the agency, they may end up declining to participate.
  7. Be clear about how the decision will be made – Different agencies have different business models and project approaches that work for them.  Being clear about how you are making your decision might really help you to be sure you find the right fit.  It is a good idea to be open how about how issues like service quality, price, references, technical strengths, project capacity, and longevity might play into your decision.  Some RFPs even go so far as to create a point system where different points are assigned to different factors.  This helps to ensure not only a good client/agency fit, but a helpful methodology for making your decision.
  8. Lend attention to content – A critical part of a web design RFP is communicating how large your site will be in terms of number of pages.  This will help agencies understand how much production work will be required.  While you don’t have to state an exact number of pages, providing a range (i.e. 5-10 vs. 50-60) really helps a firm understand how to estimate the resources required for the project.
  9. Personalize your invitation to participate – In most cases, it’s a good idea to send a personal letter along with your web design RFP document.  It may be worthwhile to include the number of firms invited to participate, reasons why an agency has been invited, and so on.
  10. Don’t mass mail it blindly – The best way to have your web design RFP document ignored is to send it blindly to 20-30 firms and hope for the right agency to respond.  There are way too many RFPs being circulated for agencies to service, so they can be selective.  Pick 1-3 agencies whose work and reputations you admire and work to build relationships with them.  You will know quickly whether you need to widen the circle, which you can always do.  You’ll be more likely to end up with a couple really strong proposals than 15 weak ones.

Crafting a web design RFP document is an important part of the creating and managing an effective digital marketing strategy.  While the RFP process itself can have many flaws and pitfalls, crafting the actual document is a helpful process for the client in order to really think through the project and what is needed.