How to write a web design RFP

What is an RFP?  RFP stands for “request for proposal”.  It’s a common way for companies and individuals to request service details from a service provider including costs.  Today, we’ll be going over how to write an effective RFP for web design and development.

Why do I need to write an RFP? Should I just call up a company?

RFPs often exist to create agreement and consensus within the organization prior to asking for bids.  It’s just as important for the organization requesting the proposal as it is for the service provider. RFPs can also be a good test of the service provider (web design company) before you hire them.  The web design company would be happy to provide a proposal with just a call.  That said, by having an RFP, the organization usually benefits by analyzing their priorities before continuing.

Why are we writing this?

We are a digital agency and we get quite a few web design RFPs throughout the year.  We’ve seen some good ones and some bad ones.  While web design RFPs can be difficult and time consuming, we think that its a great way for organizations to focus their thoughts before approaching agencies.  By providing this resource, our hope is that we can help people create good web design RFPs.

Below is an overview of what we believe makes for a good RFP from both the client perspective and the provider perspective.

We’ll be putting in examples throughout to demonstrate what might be written in each section.  FYI, we used a cooking class (with a focus on organic foods) as an example company.

Company Overview

Who, What, Why? Or the Mission Statement It’s important to know who is involved, what you provide as a service/product, and why you provide a worthwhile experience for your customers. These three items help define the current state of your company. This gives context to the work. We often ask our clients about what they sell, who their main target audience is, and why it is that they have an advantage in their market. Be bold when talk about what and why you do your work. In the end who do you help? Giving an official feel and a sense of confidence in the mission statement is very important as you’ll be taken more seriously. It doesn’t have to be heavy, but it’ll definitely get the attention it deserves. Example: Our mission is to help people learn how to eat better. Our cooking classes are offered to the community at a fair price using organic and fresh ingredients from our garden as well as nearby farms. Our clients experience a wonderful meal and learn about the importance of home cooking. The audience includes married couples and older people who are interested in staying healthy and eating well.   Company Vision and Growth This is just as important as the mission statement. Having a vision for your company and a growth path or goal will signal your ambitions. This section might include your product ambitions (ex: be in Target, Walmart and other large retailers by Q4 of next year.) It could even be just to grow brand awareness through the website and social media.  This section is particularly important since it helps us to know where you’d like to go next. Example: Our goal is to increase our class sales by 25% over the course of next 6 months. The increase in revenue will allow us to move towards putting out our kitchen supply products into larger marketplaces such as Target and Wholefoods.

Goals and Objectives for the Website

While the company goals are outlined in the last section, it’s time to reflect that as website goals. First two sections here are meant to answer what’s required and the “nice to have” items for the website.  The rest of the items will fill-in the details so that there is a good context for the work that’s being defined. What’s absolutely required as part of the new work? Be honest and bare bones about what you need. What is the minimum that you can live with? A lot of companies can get away with just home, services/products, about, and contact pages. That may not be enough for you, but be honest with yourself and cut all of the unneeded options. This will allow you to focus on what’s really important with your website. Having more doesn’t always equate to success. You want people to focus on what’s important and take the action, not be distracted with toys. What’s important here is to prioritize what’s going to make your customers understand your value proposition. Example: Our core service is the cooking class series. A signup and scheduling systems are core to our operations. We will need to keep that from the existing site while making it mobile compatible. The goal is to include these core pages as part of this redesign:
  • Home
  • Classes Schedule/Signup
  • About
  • Team
  • Contact
  What are some nice to haves? Blogs, case studies, testimonials, how it works, our process, e-commerce shop, etc. The list goes on and on. When you think through these extras, be sure to only list what’s required for the current company goals. Overreaching or over building can be equally bad. Example: Here are some nice to haves in order of priorities:
  • Blog
  • Testimonials
  • Explainer Video
  • New Photos
  • Shop (product still in development)
  What do you or your audience like/dislike about the existing site? This is a very helpful question for our designers as it allows us to understand what is working or not working visually. While we have our own opinions, it’s important to understand what the audience or the company believes the site lacks. Example: Our audience do not like the childish color combination on our existing site. We do however enjoy the blue theme and would like to keep that along with the logo. If we can figure out a new color combination to “mature” the site while keeping a fun spirit, it would be ideal.   Sites/Brand that you aspire to become Understanding your visual goals and aspirations is just as important. With the understanding of your current likes/dislikes, we can look at peers and similar sites which offer solutions and ideas for improving your visual identity. Example: We like the Wholefoods brand as well as the Chefsteps brand. The earthiness of Wholefoods mixed with the fun and clean feel of Chefsteps would be ideal. We want to stay away from looking techy at all costs.

Current Setup / Existing Site

Existing brand (include logo, brand book as an exhibit if possible) Include the full resolution image of the logo here. If you have a brand book, be sure to attach it to the document also.   Existing website (mention less accessible, but important pages) This is very important as we don’t want to miss any page or functionality that’s crucial to your operation.  Please list existing functionality for the site such as forms, schedules, events or anything that’s not obvious at first glance. Example: We have a shared calendar which is hosted on a page on our site. Its shared between all teachers to avoid conflicts. We also have a privacy policy, and 2 other disclosure pages which are not part of the main site.   Existing application/technology which must carry over Be sure to talk about your email setup, your current web hosting company, and any existing IT contacts. Example: We use G-Suite for our email, Webfaction for our website hosting and XYZ IT company to manage our internal network as well as email support.   Current sitemap (if available) If you have an existing site, its very helpful to have the existing sitemap. This will help us determine how big your site is. It also helps us determine if you missed anything critical that may not have been mentioned earlier. If you’re running WordPress, a common place for the sitemap is at:

Submission Guidelines (Proposal Guidelines)

This part is for the web design firm (the provider) to look through and reply with. Generally speaking, it’s a guide for them to follow. We’ll give you some good questions to ask as well.  In addition, we’ve included a “what to look for” for each of the sections below to help you judge the proposal that you receive. Company Overview The company background section should cover who, what and why for the provider. This should cover their mission statements. Here are some defaults that you should definitely ask:
  • When did they start their business? (years of operation)
  • What gives them competitive edge/different from the rest of the market?
  • How many people are in the firm? (key team members)
  • Do they have in-house design and development?
  • Do they outsource the work?
What to look for in this section:
  • How generic is the writing? Do they talk about you at all in relation to the work?
  • Do they do their own work? Or are they just a pass-through company? If its not obvious, ask.
  • Do they seem to have creative value? Is there a sense of legitimacy?
  Portfolio Hopefully, they have at least 3 to 4 relevant/good websites to show you. You should also ask for matching references if possible. What to look for in this section:
  • Do the portfolio items have any relevance to what you’re building? If not, its not the worst case scenario.
  • More importantly, do they look good? Do they function well? Visit each of the sites to make sure that they are what you want.
  • If none of the examples spark your fancy, judge them more on their ability to fit the audience for each of the websites. If they do a good job, there’s likelihood that they’ll do a good job for you too. Not everyone’s built a cooking class websites before, but if the team is good, they’ll know what to do.
  Planning/Process This section is an important one to pay attention to. This section will show you how they might produce your website. Some companies operate in stepped processes (waterfall), while others do it in an iterative process (agile). Thus, this section can depend greatly. Also, some firms like to do everything “hands-off” for you while some like more input. Depending on your style and needs, this section is very important. What to look for in this section:
  • Does the process make sense to you?
  • Does it seem like the process has a sense of attention to detail?
  • Does it work with your team?
  • Is it the right level of involvement for you?
  Testimonials/References It’s a good idea to ask for opinions outside of what’s provided. Its also a good time to go check their Google and Yelp Reviews too.  If there are particularly unhappy customers, usually, this is a good sign of inconsistent service or a crazy client (we’ve seen that too!). What to think about in this section:
  • If you’re going to call a reference, have a set of questions ready. Don’t just call them. Ask them about how long they’ve worked together and what has worked well/badly.
  • If they can’t provide references, think about the social skills that the company may or may not possess!
  Project Overview You need to pay close attention to the details which are provided in this section more than any other. This section will go over the details of what the provider believes is in your best interest. This might include a set of goals based on provide information, a modified sitemap, template suggestions, content ideas and more. What to look for in this section: Attention to detail is the first thing. The second thing is the vision that they carry for you and your website. The vision might not match perfectly, but if they present a creative solution, the team is probably ahead of the pack.  What you don’t want in this section is a bunch of packaged words made to fill the blanks. If the project overview doesn’t seem opinionated, but “up to you” at all corners, there’s definitely an issue. What you want is to have them tell you what you need. It might not be 100% right at the proposal phase of the project, but a team with a creative and attentive thought process will always bring out the best ideas. As for technical details, it can be difficult to decipher for most people. Here’s a few things you definitely need in 2016:
  • Responsive web design (mobile compatible)
  • Content management system (Be sure to use opensource CMS in case the company goes away. Don’t use in-house or custom CMS, it’s gonna be a pain later.)
  • Hosted by third-party (don’t want the company to host it, they’ll own everything that way)
  • Google Analytics for traffic/conversion tracking
  • Social Sharing capabilities (FB opengraph tags, etc)
  • Most pages loads in under 3 seconds
  • Uses modern CSS3/HTML5 code
  • If the site is dynamically loaded, it should use a good Javascript framework like React, or Angular, etc. Not jQuery only.
  • If you have an existing site, a data and URL/SEO migration plan
Also, if you’re paying good money, make sure that the company isn’t using a bought template to build the site. That’s just inappropriate.

Submission Details and Budgets

Due Dates Be sure to give the company at least a week to reply. Its difficult to get multiple parties to sign off on a proposal.   Evaluation and Criteria This can be different for everyone, but it should be based on what it is you’re looking for. Sometimes, you’re looking for the most inexpensive offering. Sometimes, you’re looking for the best. Be honest and you’ll get the best answer.   Budgetary Restraints Please be honest in talking about budgetary restraints upfront. Otherwise, you’re wasting your own time as well as everyone else’s.  This can also prove to be useful for both parties as you’ll get to see the value-proposition of each firm.  You’ll also be able to tell apart which company is the right fit in both cost and value through providing this information.  Typically, firms won’t place a bid for an RFP lower than their budgetary limits.


We hope that this article helps you put together an informative request for proposal. If you think this is over the top and you just don’t want to deal with an RFP, just contact us.  We’ll get you a web design proposal in about a week or less. Questions, ideas or comments? Feel free to comment below.