The time has come for a new website (or website redesign), which means that you need to write a website request for proposal, or web RFP. Where do you begin?
A quick web search yields a few examples and basic templates, but they vary wildly and don’t seem to really speak to your goals for developing or redesigning a new website. You need to write a website RFP that will clearly articulate your needs and generate responses from the best website designers and developers out there.
In this article, we’ll:
- Walk you through a step-by-step process for writing a website design RFP.
- Tell you the information you absolutely must include.
- Proved a few common pitfalls to avoid.
- Share tips for using the right voice in your RFP.
Why the Web RFP Process is So Important
We receive website RFPs for website design (or redesign) and development all the time. Some are VASTLY better than others in terms of setting expectations and including all the info we need to respond with a thorough and project-appropriate proposal.
We can usually tell whether a company is a good fit for us simply by reading through their RFP. The best ones:
- Clarify the goals of the new website design.
- Explain the criteria for vendor selection.
- Articulate details like functionality, deadlines, selection processes and contact information.
But don’t let this intimidate you — an RFP doesn’t need to have fancy format and pithy jokes, or flowcharts about where it all went wrong with your last website design.
Here’s a secret: Some of best web design companies hate responding to RFPs and will decline to participate once they review the RFP. This means that if you’re using an RFP process to select vendors, you may be missing out on some serious talent.
When you’re writing your web RFP, keep in mind that you aren’t just asking potential web designers and developers questions that will help you pick the best partner — you’re also telling them about who you are and creating an impression of whether they would like to work with you. You’re not just picking a vendor — you’re also hoping that they pick YOU.
The last thing you want to do is lose out on getting to work with a great web design company because they determine that you would not be a good client based on your RFP. Let’s not let that happen!
The Basics: How to Structure Your Website RFP
There are 11 crucial sections every web RFP needs
- Intro / Project Overview — In this section, you should include the vital information that vendors receiving the RFP will be looking for to make an initial decision on whether the project is worth their time. If you get this part right, more vendors are likely to actually read through the rest of the RFP.
- Company Overview — In this section, you should introduce your company in one or two paragraphs. You don’t want to overwhelm readers with unnecessary history, but include enough information so that those who have never heard of you will get a sense of your business.
- Your Website’s Audience — Here is where you can describe the audience of the website, aka who you want to transform into customers. This is critical information for the website designers, developers, strategists and copywriters — the type of audience will determine everything from functionality to UX and aesthetics.
- New Website Objectives — Identify the primary objective of your website and list any secondary or tertiary objectives in this section. A website with an objective to increase sales-ready leads will look and act very differently from a website with a primary objective to educate investors.
- Current Website — In this section you should take a very honest inventory of exactly what is not working with your current website. The more specific you are, the better. Don’t worry, we won’t judge you on the state of your current site!
- New Website Functionality Requirements — In this section you’ll list functionality that is essential for your new website. The more specific you are on these requirements, the more accurate estimate your vendors will be able to give you. This is different from your new website objectives, which are about goals; this part is about specific functionality.
- New Website Wish List — Here, you will include optional functionality that is dependent on budget. Separating this list from the requirements will allow you to see line-item costs and empower you to make a decision on functionalities based on budget and timeline impact.
- Ecommerce Details — If your new website will have an ecommerce component, you should list details such as product/SKU quantity and near-term and long-term anticipated growth. These details will prove useful when it comes to designing an ecommerce platform that makes sense for your immediate and future budgets.
- Website Budget Details — In this section you’ll reiterate your budget (which should be included at the top in the project overview) and include any details that need explaining, such as payment schedule or fiscal year limitations. We’ll explain later why sharing your budget is a must.
- Proposal Requirements — Here, you should provide an outline of what responding vendors should include in their proposal responses. Every website design and development firm has a different process. Providing a clear outline will help standardize responses, which will help you compare proposals in the decision-making step.
- Website RFP & Project Timeline Details — In this section you’ll reiterate your RFP deadline (which should be included at the top in the project overview) and also let vendors know when they will be hearing back on their responses, should they be selected as a finalist or win the business. You can also include your kickoff and target website launch dates here. Just make sure your dates are realistic.
The Details: How to Write a Kick-Ass Web Design RFP
Now that you have a foundational knowledge of know how your website RFP should be structured, you’re ready to build on it and make it your own!
You want your website design RFP to stand out by being more focused, self-aware and straightforward than the masses of uninspiring RFPs in your potential vendors’ inboxes. The level of excitement in your RFP is up to you, but it will be improved significantly by thoughtfully executing the following:
Establish Goals for Your New Website
Do a little exercise before you start a wish list for your new site. First, what is the most important thing you want your website to do?
- Educate and inform prospective customers?
- Sell products?
- Generate leads for your sales team?
- Provide information and be a go-to resource in your industry?
- Support high-converting landing pages from a PPC campaign you’re managing?
It’s likely that there are several goals you hope your website will fulfill, but make sure you prioritize them. Pick one definite top-priority goal. Add several secondary goals if applicable, but realize that your primary goal comes first.
- “Our top priority is generating sales-ready leads for our sales team. Our secondary goals are educating prospective buyers on our services and providing helpful resources.”
- “Our top priority is establishing credibility for potential investors. Our secondary goal is making it very easy to contact team members through the website or through social media profiles.”
Be Honest About Your Current Website
If you have an existing site, evaluate it honestly and concisely. Simply saying that your current website isn’t working won’t be enough detail for your vendors — be specific about why it isn’t working!
- Do people not know where to find certain resources?
- Are you not getting enough traffic or conversions?
- Is it aesthetically acceptable but no one at your company knows how to update content?
Be specific about the complaints your website regularly gets, and the things that you hope the new website will change.
- “We can’t find anything on the website the way the navigation is structured. Menu options change based on which page you are on, which is confusing.”
- “The design is visually consistent with our brand, but the tone of the copy is not in line with our brand, nor does it speak to our audience.”
- “Customers regularly tell us they get errors during checkout and must call us on the phone to complete their order (and there’s no telling how many give up and go to a competitor instead).”
Define Core Functionality and Note Optional Features
This is the meat and potatoes of your RFP. These are the elements by which the website designers and developers you send it to will determine what they will charge you.
It’s crucial to be specific by listing which functionalities are mandatory and which may be optional depending on cost so that vendors will be able to line-item optional features. You can then make a more informed decision.
- “It’s essential that we have an accurate and functional store locator that works across all devices. Optional feature: It would be nice to have an interactive map with a legend of custom icons for different store features.”
- “We need a blog on our website to share updates. Optional feature: We would love a full resource center with video library and advanced search functionality.”
One of the best RFPs we’ve ever received was in a very simple outline form. What made it amazing was the honesty with which they assessed their current site, how they outlined exactly what they wanted their new website to do, and how they knew exactly who their audience was.
They eschewed overly professional language for the cold-hard truth, and it allowed us to respond with an incredibly specific proposal, complete with strategic positioning, specific recommendations, and line-items. This helped both of our teams cut to the chase and save lots of time when it came time to kick off the project.
- “We know our current website sucks. But we also know exactly what our goals are for our new website, and we’ve invested in defining our audience and customer profiles.”
- “We do not have the budget for a full brand redesign at this time, but would love to revisit our logo in the near future. For now, we just need a simple, easy-to-use website that we can start building up with great content. A full brand redesign might come down the road.”
Ask the RIGHT Website Questions
As you write your RFP, you’ll probably come up with questions along the way about specific functionalities, platforms or tools.
However, you don’t want to ask questions that will be limiting or that will lead your responders to believe you are tied to specific tools or limited to certain versions or functionalities. Make sure your questions are open-ended and ask for recommendations from the professionals who spend every day building websites.
Remember, you don’t have to be an expert. If you don’t know about a certain aspect, don’t fake it by asking questions or adding functionality specifications that sound good, but you don’t fully understand. Instead, articulate your desired outcome, describe your objective, and ask for recommendations.
The right firm will let you know how easy (cheap) or difficult (costly) various ways to meet that objective will be.
- Instead of asking, “How many portal sites do you recommend?” ask, “What approach would you take to handle speaking to multiple audiences?”
- Instead of asking, “What WordPress plugin would you use to stream a Twitter feed on the homepage?” ask, “How would you recommend we bring social media elements into our website?” (or, “Do you recommend social content be pulled onto the homepage?”).
Include Your Website Budget
YES, you really should include your budget in your RFP! This will save you much time and effort on vendors that are way above your budget. It will also allow vendors that are a good fit to suggest ways to customize your functionality to make your goals work within a budget.
If you aren’t clear about your ballpark budget, vendors might propose a plan that includes everything you asked for but that is out of your price range. However, they might be able to lower the cost if they know your budget. A good design and development firm will engage in further conversation with you if your budget is wildly too low for the parameters you desire. Transparency pays off.
- “We have a budget of $60,000 for a new website. We would love to complete the project with $45k and have $15k to invest in content marketing. We would love to hear your thoughts on how to most effectively spend this budget.”
- “We have a $45,000 budget for this website, and we must bill it before our fiscal year-end on October 1st. We are happy to discuss flexible payment options, and website development solutions that will allow us to add additional features and functionality in our next fiscal year.”
Show Off Your Personality
This applies to ALL companies, not just the ones making clever quips on Twitter. Even if you’re a no-nonsense, B2B tax law firm, your business still has a personality. That personality may be trustworthy, credible and reliable; it may be silly, punny and irreverent; it may be authentic, generous and passionate. Whatever your personality, your web RFP should faithfully represent that.
Again, it all comes back to setting expectations. A company that reads your web RFP should be able to get a sense of what kind of a relationship they will have with you, and your business’ personality will even influence how your website looks, feels, and functions for your visitors. So make sure your RFP is YOU.
- “Our company is amazeballs, and our website should reflect that!”
- “We do not have the liberty to share information about our clients. However, we are willing to invest the time in creating case studies based on real situations. In this way, we hope to populate a resource center for our clients, so that they may see themselves working with us in a mutually successful partnership.”
Include Essential Information
You’ll see this in the template you can download at the bottom of this post, but there are some essential pieces of information that you should include in the project overview section — the essential info that all responders will be looking for:
- Web RFP/Proposal Timeline: Include the date you sent out the RFP, the deadline for proposal responses, and a date respondents can expect to hear back from you.
- Website Project Launch Goal: Include the date that you hope your website will be launched. Keep in mind that a typical website takes 12–14 weeks (16–18 weeks for an ecommerce site). If you want your site live next month, chances are that 99% of companies will decline to respond due to an unrealistic timeframe.
- Contact Information: Include where the proposal response should be sent and who to contact with any questions.
Send Your Website RFP to the Right Vendors
If you don’t already have a list of website design and development firms, or even if you do, here are some tips to discover quality candidates:
- Use Google: This may seem like an oversimplified step, but if a website design and development company is worth their weight, they’ll have a website that should come up pretty high in search results for their services. Let Google tell you who’s up on their SEO best practices.
- Check the Credits: See a website you love, even though it’s not in your industry? Many website developers will have a credit link in the footer of the site, so you’ll know who to contact for similar workmanship. If a website designer is proud of their work, they won’t mind being held responsible.
- Research on Social Media: Companies that are successful in the website design and online marketing world will be talking about it online. And if their work is good and their clients love them, others will be sharing it, too.
- Ask Around: Word of mouth is the most common method people use to compile a vendor list. It can be helpful to hear from your network about the experiences they’ve had with recent website redesign projects. Supplemented with a little Google and social media research, this can widen your net.
- Be Selective: Asking too many agencies to participate is a recipe for information overload, and you’ll probably end up overlooking some good agencies because of the sheer volume of information you have to sift through. Sending a website RFP to more than 5 or 6 agencies is overkill.
- Conduct a Pre-Emptive Q&A: Before you send out the RFP, you should have a Q&A period with all the agencies you intend to have participate. During this Q&A period, explain why you’re sending your website RFP to their agency, and be clear about your expectations of the completed RFP.
A Final Note: RFP ≠ “Request for Pricing”
An RFP is a bad way to price shop. Responding to a website RFP is a time-consuming process for agencies. You’re asking them to invest a lot of time and effort thinking about your company and envisioning a custom website solution just for you.
If you’re shopping for price, just call the agencies and ask them their general pricing for a website of an approximate size and functionality. This will at least get you a ballpark for each agency, and will be far less time consuming for you and the agency if price range is an eliminating factor.
There you have it! Those are our insider tips for creating a kick-ass website design and development RFP that will generate proposals that you can use.
Now, for the fun part. We’ve created a handy dandy template that you can use to craft said RFP. Download it, customize it with your name, dates, goals, hopes and dreams. And then BOOM! You’re in RFP heaven.
Good luck! And be sure to send a copy our way — just contact us here.