What is a Website Request for Proposal (RFP) and How to Write One
The success of a new website build depends on the vendor you choose and how well you are able to communicate your expectations for the project. This is where a website Request for Proposal (RFP) comes in.
As the name suggests, a website RFP is a detailed document that outlines information about your organization and its goals, technical requirements for the build, the project budget and timeline, and other relevant information. You send this document to potential vendors, inviting them to bid on your website project.
Why you need a website RFP
When embarking on a website project, a RFP is an essential tool that allows you to:
Get internal clarity
A website RFP shares your objectives and the project requirements with potential vendors. It is imperative to clarify details prior to kicking off the project, and putting these in black and white will ensure that your entire team is on the same page. Everyone should know why the organization is doing the project, what the project entails, how long it will take, and who will be involved.
An RFP provides the opportunity for your team to outline what you require from the chosen vendor, including specific skills, level of experience, and/or knowledge in a particular industry. Your expectations should also cover your team’s responsibilities versus the vendor’s responsibilities. For example, your team may provide photos and copy, but you need the vendor to handle the design and development of the new website. Maybe your team doesn’t have the capacity to keep the website updated, and you’re looking for a vendor that can stay on to support the website long-term. Your goal is to be as specific and detailed as possible when setting expectations.
Reliably compare proposals
Each vendor has their own process for building websites. Some may offer an affordable cost for setting up a pre-built template while others may charge a higher price for custom design and development. By providing an RFP, you have the benefit of comparing different vendors at the same time using the same criteria. In addition, agencies will respond directly to RFPs, which saves you the time and effort needed to Google vendors and contact them one by one. You can also share the RFP with your network, expanding the list of potential vendors who may respond.
Tips for writing a website RFP
When writing a website RFP, keep the following in mind:
Be clear and detailed
Your goal in an RFP is to answer any possible questions that a potential vendor may have. Vendors appreciate transparency and clarity because it minimizes the guesswork on their part and allows them to come up with an accurate quote. Clear details help avoid gray areas that might cause confusion, especially once the project has started.
The best way to make sure vendors know what you want is to provide examples of websites that you like and to explain why you like them. This can eliminate ambiguity when it comes to creative aspects of the project like design and copywriting. Terms can have different meanings to each person. For example, your idea of what a “simple, clean design” means may differ greatly from what the vendor thinks it means. Providing plenty of examples, including screenshots and inspiration links, will help you more accurately share your ideals for the website.
A simple guide to writing a website RFP
Customize this RFP outline based on your project’s specific requirements:
Give an introduction to your organization and explain the challenges your organization is facing that you hope the new website will help solve. Because the overview sums up everything you’ll discuss in detail in the succeeding sections—and details may change while you’re still putting together the website RFP—we suggest writing this portion last.
Who will be involved
Explain how you and the vendor will communicate once the project begins. Specify who will be the main contact person in your organization, as well as who else on your team will be involved in the website process. This information helps vendors predict what the approval process might look like, which will have an impact on the project timeline. In most cases, the higher up in the organization’s structure the main point of contact is, the longer the approval process will take.
Define how you will measure the success of the project through specific, measurable goals. This may include quantifiable goals like increasing your number of client inquiries, donations, or product sales. This may also include qualitative goals, such as better user experience and organization of information that makes it easier for users to find what they need on the website. The more clearly you can communicate what success looks like, the easier it will be for vendors to come up with a plan to achieve those goals.
Vendors need to know who your website is intended to reach so they can tailor the website’s design, content, and functionality to the target audience(s). For example, a nonprofit’s website should engage potential donors, so copywriting and photography decisions should be made based on what will most appeal to them. While you may have several audiences, we suggest focusing on those that have the biggest impact on your organization to ensure that the website is optimized for your most important stakeholders.
Scope of work
Outline exactly what deliverables you expect from the vendor. Some areas you may include are:
- Website design
- Front-end development (HTML, CSS, etc.)
- Back-end development (software or API integration, database setup, etc.)
- Analytics and tracking code setup (Google Analytics, Google Tag Manager, Facebook Pixel, etc.)
- User testing and quality assurance
- Website training for staff
We suggest sharing a proposed sitemap so the vendor can determine what types of content templates they will need to create (e.g. text, photo, photo gallery, forms). The scope of work allows the vendor to estimate the resources needed for the website and determine the timeline and cost.
Go into more detail about the technical aspects required for your website project. Is there a specific content management system (CMS) you plan to use like WordPress or Drupal? Will you be using payment gateway like Stripe or PayPal to sell products or accept donations? Does your website need to integrate with third party software (HubSpot, Salesforce, Mailchimp, etc.)? Will you need SSL set up to handle confidential information on the website? Additional features may require more resources and expertise, and naturally, a bigger budget. We also suggest that you require best practices for accessibility so users with disabilities can effectively navigate and use your website.
Your website and its files need to live on a web server, and your options will vary greatly depending on the specific needs of your website. Are you planning on hosting long video files or a large database of product information? Then you may need a larger server. You should also include your requirements for website backups, security, and uptime. These specifications will help the vendor determine a hosting solution that will keep your website running as smoothly as possible.
The work on your website won’t end when it’s launched, so you may need technical support, training, or ongoing development, especially if your team has limited resources or knowledge when it comes to website maintenance. Maybe you want a vendor that continues to update the website for search engine optimization. Look for a vendor that can offer great support and make running and maintaining your new website less of a hassle.
One of the most important parts of your website RFP is the budget. Costs will vary greatly from vendor to vendor, so we suggest doing your homework beforehand and getting a realistic understanding of how much your website may cost. This process will help you manage your expectations when it comes to how much website customization will fit within your budget. For example, a custom built e-commerce website is going to be significantly more expensive than using a pre-built Shopify template. Be prepared to provide some room for adjustment in your budget, especially if you are unsure of exactly how much the project will cost. It is helpful to share which parts of the project are absolutely essential and those that are “nice to haves.” Doing away with the latter can help bring down the website cost.
Share the proposed timeline of your project. It’s understandable that you’d want your project done as quickly as possible, so a detailed timeline will help potential vendors estimate how much time and manpower they’ll need to devote to the project. Be sure to provide adequate time for research and data gathering in the initial phases of the project when the vendor is getting up to speed on your organization and the project. We recommend dividing projects into milestones. For example, you can start with the website design first, build out the core pages next, then develop more complex functionality like e-commerce, and finally test and optimize.
Criteria for selection
While cost will be a major factor in choosing a vendor, you should provide the other criteria you’ll be using to make your decision. This may include a vendor’s expertise in a particular industry or skill set, their proposed timeline, previous work, client references, and/or standards that they adhere to. Vendors will appreciate this information because they’ll know exactly what to focus on in their proposals.
Proposal format and deadline for submission
Reading through numerous proposals can be a difficult task, and it’s even more difficult when each one is in a different format. That’s why you should specify what sections should be included in the vendor’s proposal and the file type (doc, pdf, etc.) in which you wish to receive it. Clearly state your deadline for accepting proposals and share a timeline for other steps in the selection process, such as vendor interviews, and what date the final vendor will be decided on.
A Request for Proposal (RFP) helps an organization identify their requirements and goals for a project, set realistic expectations, and easily compare proposals. Remember to be precise and thorough when creating an RFP. Define what success looks like, focus on your most important target audience, specify what deliverables are needed, and set a realistic budget and timeline to get the best proposals from potential vendors.