How to master the enterprise SEO procurement process


What many SEOs underestimate when they get into working for an enterprise company is that there is more to the job than just optimizing the website.

Most corporations have strict procurement processes that could be easier to navigate. However, if you, as an SEO, understand this process and are prepared, then it can go smoother. 

While my team evaluated some of the top SEO tools used in enterprises, I put in the efforts needed to make the procurement process go as smoothly as possible.

I have been through this process for five different enterprise companies, and I have to say that it’s never easy. While I have been told that I hold the record for the quickest procurement process for one of those companies, that process still took some finessing. 

I’m going to take you through the basics and the process enough to give you a leg up when you are ready to bring on the vendors you have chosen.

What is procurement for SEO in simple terms?

Procurement is the fancy term for getting stuff your company needs from outside sources. Regarding technology, as it pertains to SEO, it’s all about snagging the right services that support your SEO to keep your operations running smoothly. 

Large corporations adopt lengthy procurement processes because it helps them align their tech purchases with business strategy, save money, handle vendors, manage risks like overlap and security issues, and stay on the cutting edge of technology.

Think about it this way: by nailing the technology procurement game, companies can ensure they’re getting the gadgets, software, and IT support that fit like a glove. 

They can score the best deals, keep tech vendors in check, avoid any major mishaps, and bring innovation to the table. 

If you go into this process to understand where the business is coming from, you should have the patience to navigate it. 

SEO needs leadership support

SEOs know the value of getting buy-in and support from the upper-level executives within the enterprise organization to execute the changes needed to be successful. 

SEO tools are yet another tick on that support list. In the dynamic world of SEO, obtaining support from leadership before implementing SEO tools is paramount. 

Here’s what you should consider:

1. Aligning business goals

Leadership support ensures strategic alignment of SEO tools with broader business objectives, integrating SEO efforts into the overall business strategy from the start.

2. Resource allocation

Seeking leadership support secures the necessary budget and resources for effectively implementing and leveraging SEO tools, overcoming potential budget constraints, and ensuring long-term commitment.

3. Organizational buy-in

Leadership support fosters buy-in from stakeholders, facilitating smoother adoption and collaboration across teams, overcoming resistance, streamlining decision-making, and ensuring a unified approach to SEO tool implementation.

4. Overcoming resistance to change

Leadership support communicates the importance and benefits of SEO tools to the organization, encouraging a positive attitude towards embracing innovation, facilitating change management, and navigating resistance or skepticism.

5. Influencing decision-making

Leadership support facilitates decision-making processes, obtaining approvals, securing partnerships, negotiating contracts, prioritizing SEO initiatives, and leveraging leadership influence to drive successful implementation and maximize SEO tool impact.

I will always find one or more people at the executive level, including someone I report up to (either directly or up a level or two), and try to get support from other teams (it could be the Director or VP responsible for content, engineering, growth or digital marketing). 

I started the procurement process with the support of an executive to find that person either quit or was laid off during that process. Not to mention that the more support you have, the harder it is for the CFO to say “no” at the last minute. 

Understanding the procurement process and how it pertains to SEO

Suppose you find yourself in a position where a tool like Botify, Conductor, Brightedge, or seoClarity or onboarding an agency will help your SEO. In that case, it’s time for you to get involved with the procurement process. 

The process evaluates potential SEO service providers based on their expertise, track record, pricing, and contractual terms. 

The organization may negotiate service-level agreements (SLAs) and establish specific terms related to SEO deliverables, performance metrics, reporting, and ongoing optimization activities. The steps found during this process include:

  • Identification of needs: Define the goods, services, or resources the organization requires.
  • Vendor identification and evaluation: Research and assess potential vendors based on cost, quality, and reliability criteria.
  • Request for proposal (RFP) or request for quotation (RFQ): Solicit detailed proposals or quotations from selected vendors.
  • Proposal evaluation and selection: Evaluate received proposals and choose the most suitable vendor(s) for further negotiation.
  • Contract negotiation: Negotiate terms and conditions, including pricing, payment terms, and warranties.
  • Contract award and implementation: Award the contract to the selected vendor(s) and initiate the agreed-upon goods or services.
  • Supplier relationship management: Manage vendor performance, address issues, and ensure compliance with contractual obligations.
  • Contract renewal or termination: Evaluate contract performance and decide whether to renew, renegotiate, or terminate the contract.

These steps don’t always have to happen one after the other, and there are essential things to check off while going through each level of the procurement process. 

For example, once you have identified the tools or agency you would like to evaluate, it’s time to request a demo or walk-through of their services. 

Before any such conversations begin, I ask them to sign a non-disclosure (NDA) agreement. There is usually someone on my team or someone in legal that knows where to get access to the agreements. 

In some cases, I have found that there is already an NDA in place. (Microsoft is one such company. Since it is so large, there is a good chance that someone in the organization has spoken with the tool or vendor I’m working with.) 

This is also an excellent time to look for a master service agreement on file on the off-chance that someone has already worked with the vendor.

Kicking things off with a non-disclosure agreement

To sign an NDA with a vendor before starting procurement and reviewing SEO tools, there are a few steps to consider:

  • Identify the need for an NDA to protect sensitive information.
  • Draft or obtain an NDA document with terms and conditions.
  • Share the NDA with the vendor and negotiate any necessary changes.
  • Once both parties agree, sign the NDA.
  • Securely store a copy of the signed NDA for future reference.

Initiating the procurement process for SEO tools and engaging with vendors requires these steps. Identifying the need for an NDA, obtaining or drafting the appropriate document, and negotiating terms if necessary is crucial.

By ensuring both parties agree and sign the NDA, the confidentiality of sensitive information is safeguarded, and the procurement team will appreciate that you have respect and understanding of their process. 

Navigating the master service agreement

Master service agreements (MSAs) solve the time-consuming nature of contract negotiations. 

I like to start this process when the team is confident they would like to bring on the tool or vendor, even if they are still evaluating other tools. 

These agreements establish fundamental terms between vendors and clients, saving time and money while enhancing efficiency and productivity. 

An MSA outlines the scope of work, confidentiality, geography (if applicable), product delivery requirements, work standards, intellectual property rights, payment terms, taxes and fees, limitations of liability, legal venue, warranties, indemnification, insurance requirements, and termination clauses. 

MSAs also provide a framework for future contracts, streamlining the negotiation process and allowing parties to focus on project-specific issues. 

To get a an MSA approved through legal and the vendor, I like to consider these steps:

  • Obtain a draft of the MSA from the vendor or your legal/procurement team.
  • Engage in negotiations with the vendor to reach a mutually acceptable agreement.
  • Iterate and refine the MSA based on feedback.
  • Obtain final approvals from legal and the vendor.
  • Execute the MSA and securely store a copy for reference.

With huge enterprise companies like Microsoft or Google, you can check if there is an MSA already in place, potentially saving time and effort in contract negotiations. 

Without the MSA, contract management could prove to be lengthy and frustrating. The MSA reinforces the protection of both parties rights and obligations, so it’s well worth getting it started at the beginning of your procurement process.

This part of the procurement process starts after you have identified which tools and/or agencies fit your needs well. Ideally, you would identify your needs first and then gather a list of vendors that appear to fit those needs. 

I will usually have my team provide feedback on their struggles that might slow them down or any frustrations with other teams asking them for support.

Tasks that take time, time availability, or even knowledge level can be solved with tools and/or agencies. 

I have a good handle on what tools are available in the SEO industry so I can bring those tools to the team based on that list. However, I still spend time researching any new vendors that might have popped up. 

The key is carefully evaluating each tool’s features, scalability, integration capabilities, data accuracy, and user experience. Some things to consider while evaluating the tools:

  • Features: Ensure the tool offers comprehensive capabilities aligned with your SEO objectives and requirements.
  • Scalability: The tool should be able to handle the size and complexity of an enterprise-level website, including a large number of pages, domains, or campaigns, and ensure the vendor can provide adequate support.
  • Integration: What are the capabilities of the SEO tool? Ensure that there is compatibility with your existing technology stack to enable seamless data synchronization and streamlined workflows.
  • Accuracy of data: Examine the methodology and data sources used, prioritizing tools with a proven track record of delivering accurate and up-to-date information.
  • Usability: Consider the team’s experience and ease of use of the SEO tool, looking for a user-friendly interface, intuitive navigation, and available support to maximize productivity and minimize the learning curve for your team.

In short, when evaluating tools and agencies during the procurement process, it is crucial to consider these factors to ensure they align with your SEO objectives and requirements and can effectively support your team’s needs.

The art of negotiating pricing to fit your budget

Negotiating contract pricing for an Enterprise SaaS tool is critical to securing the right solution for your organization while ensuring value for your budget. 

The trick is understanding your budget before evaluating the tools and clarifying to the vendor that they must fit within that budget. Some things to consider when it comes to pricing:

  • Conduct thorough research and compare pricing models and features of similar SaaS tools, considering your budget and the exact needs of the SaaS tool.
  • Clearly outline your specific requirements and prioritize critical features, emphasizing their importance during negotiation discussions.
  • Highlight the potential for a long-term partnership and express interest in extended contracts or volume-based pricing to secure more favorable pricing terms.
  • Discuss customization options to ensure the SaaS tool meets your needs without unnecessary costs.
  • Explore alternative pricing structures, competitive offers, and bundled services while engaging in open dialogue to find a mutually beneficial pricing arrangement that aligns with your budget and requirements.

There have been told at one company that I have authority over a $1 million yearly budget. I have been told at another company that we only have the budget for one tool, and I have to get approval from my director. 

Every company and every SEO’s role is entirely different. For example, let’s use a tool that comes in at $250,000 up to $300,000 for a one-year contract. 

Prices can be negotiated down, but be ready to lose features. When I clearly understand what the team needs from the tool, I will list that out with the vendor and negotiate a tool with the features I know we need that fall in a budget that makes sense. 

Contract terms are also helpful when negotiating. Some vendors will consider lowering pricing if there is a 3-4 year or more commitment. 

I have been able to negotiate contracts to cut $600,000 off the yearly budget, and I’ve been known to negotiate a single tool from a $240,000 one-year contract to $80,000 for a very streamlined version with a three-year contract. 

This skill of mine has been precious to employers, so I recommend that enterprise SEOs learn the skill of negotiating. 


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Getting buy-in from IT

Most SEO tools for enterprise companies are software as a service (SaaS). When implementing an enterprise SaaS tool for SEO, the IT department is crucial in ensuring seamless integration and optimal performance. 

The IT team can effectively leverage the SaaS tool to enhance SEO efforts while prioritizing data security and system compatibility by considering key factors such as technical requirements, security, and data privacy.

  • Technical requirements: Ensure the SaaS tool aligns with existing IT infrastructure, such as operating systems, databases, and web servers. Verify compatibility and integration capabilities for seamless implementation.
  • Security and data privacy: Verify that the tool has robust security measures to protect sensitive SEO data. Additionally, confirm that the SaaS tool for SEO does not collect user data and solely focuses on analyzing public-facing content.
  • Data integration and migration: Assess how the SaaS tool will integrate with existing systems and processes. Determine the ease of data migration, potential transformations, or mapping required, and ensure smooth data flow between the SaaS tool and other IT systems.
  • Performance and reliability: Evaluate the SaaS provider’s track record regarding uptime, service availability, and overall performance. Consider server redundancy, load balancing, and disaster recovery mechanisms to ensure reliable operation.
  • IT support and training: Understand the level of technical support provided by the SaaS provider and the availability of training resources for IT staff. Ensure that there are channels for assistance, prompt response times, and access to documentation or user forums to effectively utilize the SaaS tool for SEO.

Considering these points, the IT department can successfully integrate and leverage the enterprise SaaS tool for SEO while prioritizing data security, system compatibility, and reliable performance. 

Additionally, they can ensure that the tool focuses solely on public-facing content analysis and does not involve collecting user data.

At this point, you should have the NDA on file, the MSA approved and finalized, the pricing and contract terms solidified (or 1-3 options available), and IT approval. 

While the contract itself is similar to the MSA, the one difference between the two is that the MSA establishes the overall legal framework for the business relationship, especially for long-term partnerships or ongoing service delivery. 

In contrast, the contract for the SaaS tool specifically governs the terms and conditions of using the software.

The MSA covers general terms such as confidentiality, warranties, and liability limitations. Meanwhile, the SaaS contract focuses on the specific terms related to the usage of the SaaS tool, such as pricing, subscription duration, data protection, and support provisions. 

When signing a contract for a SaaS tool for SEO in an enterprise company, there are several important considerations to remember. 

First, carefully review the contract terms and duration, ensuring they align with your organization’s long-term goals and allow flexibility for adjustments if needed. 

I have found that some companies will only allow for one-year contracts, so it’s good to work with the vendor to have a few options ready to avoid further negotiations. 

SEOs should pay attention to the contract’s SLAs, understanding the performance guarantees, uptime commitments, and support response times. 

It’s also good to consider the scalability of the SaaS tool, assessing if it can accommodate growing needs and if customization options are available, especially if you negotiated a streamlined version at a lower budget. 

You want to be sure there is room for add-ons with a simple amendment without renegotiating a new contract. Evaluate the level of vendor support, available training resources, and the process for terminating the contract and data retrieval. 

Work with your legal team to ensure compliance with legal requirements and industry standards and help them address specific clauses through negotiation if necessary. 

I will usually review the contract before sending it to my company’s legal team. Chances are, the legal team is very busy and won’t have time to get to the contract.

Having a complete understanding of those critical points and summarizing that I checked them to the legal team helps the process go faster. 

Procurement isn’t finished with the signing of the contract

After signing a contract, there are several important considerations for an SEO professional to keep in mind. 

While the contract is under review and negotiations are wrapping up, I will start conversations with the vendor about the implementation and onboarding of the tool.

Developing a clear plan to integrate the SaaS tool into existing systems and workflows seamlessly helps my team feel supported, and the leadership team that supported the decision feels at ease that things are going smoothly. 

This is the time to coordinate with relevant stakeholders and establish timelines to ensure a smooth transition. 

Next, invest time training and familiarizing yourself and your team with the tool’s features and functionalities. 

When I run into situations where there is data around team efficiencies before we onboard the tool, I will track relevant metrics, analyze data, and make informed decisions based on reports and dashboards wither provided by the tool or using the ticketing system (like GitHub, Jira or AirTable). 

When I was the marketing director at Smartsheet, one of our biggest struggles was not getting new users to sign up but keeping them engaged and using the tool. 

I carry this knowledge over to the tools I onboard for my SEO teams to this day. I keep communication open with the SaaS provider by providing feedback, addressing issues, and exploring opportunities for customization or enhancements. 

Most of the SEO tools available include account managers and support services that virtually replace the need for any consultants or agencies. 

I encourage my teams to utilize these services by asking them to perform simple tasks or allowing them to offer up recommendations for growth opportunities. 

Vendor management also requires regularly reviewing the contract terms and conditions, ensuring compliance, and staying aware of any updates or changes communicated by the vendor. 

Lastly, I regularly evaluate the return on investment (ROI) of the SaaS tool by assessing its impact on SEO performance and overall business goals. 

I schedule time on my calendar every 6-12 months to make adjustments or reassess the tool’s fit if necessary to drive continued success. 

By considering these post-contract considerations, SEOsl can effectively manage the implementation, utilization, and optimization of the SaaS tool to drive impactful SEO outcomes.

Mastering the enterprise SEO procurement process

While the procurement process is challenging and time-consuming, it is a crucial step in obtaining the right services and tools that support SEO efforts. 

No matter how many times I have been through the process, I am always surprised at how it can be so different with each company. 

When I feel like the procurement wiz, I am surprised by yet another challenge to navigate. Nonetheless, it’s a necessity to master, and I am glad that I have the experience in my skillset. 

By effectively managing the aspects of procurement, SEOs can enhance their strategies, maintain confidentiality, streamline contractual agreements, maximize ROI, and achieve impactful SEO outcomes.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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