This template includes 13 vital sections needed to protect yourself and set clear expectations with your clients. It’s also fully customizable—you can easily swap out the names, edit the prices and services, and tweak the sample terms and conditions.
How did we create it?
We surveyed over 40 SEO agencies and freelancers, analyzed their SEO contracts, and extracted the best parts.
Here’s everything we’ll cover below:
- Why do I need an SEO contract?
- What are the dangers of not having an SEO contract?
- How to customize the SEO contract template
Disclaimer: Keep in mind that I, Gary, am not a lawyer; nothing presented here should be considered a substitute for legal advice. Neither Ahrefs nor I assume any responsibility for the way you use this information. While you are free to repurpose our sample SEO contract at your sole discretion, you should always consult with a qualified legal professional.
Having a good contract for your SEO services will:
- Establish more trust
- Help legally protect you
- Set clear expectations for your clients
But wait, can’t you just have a verbal contract?
I can’t answer that for you. What I can do is share some stats about your peers that we surveyed.
- Out of the 40+ professionals worldwide that we surveyed, 86% use a written contract for their SEO services.
- Among those surveyed are agencies, freelancers, and contractors who have been working in SEO for an average of 9.5 years.
- On average, they have 22 people working under them as employees or subcontractors.
So, hey, a verbal agreement may work for a small minority. But according to the people we surveyed and my personal experience working in SEO for over a decade, a written contract is the best way to do business.
The way I see it, having a solid contract for your business is like having your boarding pass ready before flying. It will make onboarding new clients a whole lot smoother. Your written contract tells the client where you are heading and how you’ll get there.
Here are a few additional thoughts from those we surveyed:
Chris Anderson on how your SEO contract will help establish trust:
Our contract has saved us many times because we made sure it was watertight. More than anything, it inspires the confidence to stick to the agreement and not just fold when the pressure is on. We work with clients around the world, so having a legal professional review the part that ensures the contract adheres to our local law is important.
Samuel Hurley on how your SEO contract will help protect you:
During our initial days as a new agency, we were working with very small businesses where our point of contact was often the owner of the business. It happened more than once that the owner would want to suddenly cut down our budget or reallocate ad hoc monthly with no notice. That’s when the contract really protected us. Also, we find it particularly important to have a reference point saying ‘this is what we’ve agreed with you’. In our industry, it can often get forgotten especially if the retainer has been going on for a long period of time.
Brian Craig on how your SEO contract helps set clear expectations:
The main benefit of the SEO contract is that it sets expectations upfront. Even when problems do arise, I believe that people generally try to do the right thing. Most conflict comes from unmet or unspoken expectations. If there’s ever a question about how certain situations are handled, we can reference this document that we both signed on how to handle it the right way. I think it’s always important to have an attorney review agreements like this, although it saves a lot of money if you already have an outline and a template of what you want going in.
Without a written agreement, some things you say verbally or in emails may be misapplied or misinterpreted, resulting in:
- Painfully long arguments that destroy trust (even if you weren’t at fault).
- Being forced into doing work you didn’t want or have to do.
- A disgruntled client writing up bad reviews everywhere.
- Worst case scenario, getting into a legal battle.
Some people mistakenly believe that if they do not have a written contract, they cannot be held liable for anything and cannot be sued. To say that’s risky thinking is an understatement.
Countries and laws will vary, but I know in the United States, in some cases involving contracted work, one does not need a written contract to sue and be sued. So while having a written contract for SEO services doesn’t completely negate the possibility of a dispute, they are arguably less likely to happen since the expectations and deliverables are defined and agreed upon in your contract.
Bottom line: even if you decide to use our template, you should always consult with a legal professional before sending a contract to your clients for your SEO services.
The legal document we use references all our previous conversations with clients and hence we refer to it, not as a contract, but as an agreement we have in place for the work our clients engage us for. Our agreements are all prepared by legal representatives. This is to ensure we not only do the right thing by our clients but also when the time comes, we know what we are dealing with and how the local laws protect us. This agreement has helped us every day.
Our SEO contract template includes 13 key components mined from surveying over 40 SEO professionals and manually reviewing over a dozen real SEO contracts. But a template is a template, meaning that you need to customize it.
So before you send this contract to your clients, let me walk you through each of the 13 components and how you can tailor them.
- Contract Definitions
- Your Responsibilities
- The Client’s Responsibilities
- Force Majeure
- Jurisdiction and Interpretation
1. Contract Definitions
This section includes a definition of what key terms in your contract mean. It may feel silly, but it’s uber important.
For example, when you refer to “SEO” or “SEO work,” what exactly are you referring to? Your client may have one definition in their mind, but you might have a completely different concept of that phrase. This is an excellent place to remove all doubt around phrases, terms, or concepts and allow you to move forward without worrying about misinterpretations.
2. Your Responsibilities
This section should describe what you will do as the SEO contractor, when you will do it, and how. It’s where you want to outline how far your scope of services will go for the client.
Since the SEO services you provide will naturally fluctuate over time due to search engine algorithm updates and client needs, don’t get too specific about the processes you will use. That way, you don’t tie yourself down to any tactic or workflow.
Instead, focus on describing each deliverable that will be beneficial to the client’s overall SEO. So as you customize this section, itemize the basic things you do for SEO to reach each deliverable, such as onsite or on-page SEO.
And for the love of all that is good in SEO, don’t be one of those people who promise a specific metric such as a particular Domain Rating (DR) or ranking #1 on Google!
3. The Client’s Responsibilities
Now we flip the coin to describe the scope of your client’s responsibility—what they’ll do, when, and how.
As you review this section, think of other things you want your client to commit to beyond paying you for your services. For example, you may want to outline how they should contact you for requests. You also want to explain what assets they need to give you for you to do your job properly.
Since SEO is an ongoing process, this section defines how long this agreement will last.
Each professional is different, so you need to tweak this section to accurately define the contract’s duration.
Do you have a mandatory six-month term where you need your client to commit to your services so you can deliver good results? Are your services month-to-month? When does the contract expire? This is a good place to define that.
The payment section of this contract outlines more than just how much you’re going to be charging for SEO work. You’ll notice there are placeholder sections that describe specific penalties for paying late, and then there are clauses that outline how defaults and disputes should be handled. Review these and use them as a guide in determining your contract’s payment clauses.
Your termination clause is super important because it will give you or the client the legal basis to end the agreement amicably. So in this section, you should define what constitutes a breach of contract and how those instances will be handled.
If there is no violation of the contract, can your client terminate the agreement whenever they want? What about if you or your client goes out of business or simply no longer want to work together? Edit the clauses to define precisely when and how the contract can be dissolved.
The warranties section is basically a formal promise on the side of both parties to fulfill their end of the bargain and follow some basic rules. It can also protect you from unethical practices such as poaching.
Take a look at our sample SEO contract and add any other “promises” you or your client should be agreeing to. Each region and country is different, so ours includes the basics that will be needed in most situations.
Liability is a big concern for you as the provider of services. While there isn’t any material damage that could be done, your business reputation and money are on the line.
So this section of our example SEO contract basically tells your clients that you have no control over how Google chooses to rank their website. It artfully explains that you cannot be held responsible for undesirable outcomes such as low rankings, leads that do not convert into clients or any other vanity metric beyond your control. Of course, you should hold yourself accountable for the above deliverables that you have agreed to.
Defining clear limits for liability will help tremendously to set reasonable expectations and avoid complaints. So as you review this section, pay extra attention to the liability section of your contract and make sure it works for you! It can save you from a lot of stress later on!
To indemnify means to “secure (someone) against legal liability for their actions” and potentially to “compensate for loss” if they are dragged into a legal dispute.
In other words, the indemnification section of our contract is basically where you both agree not to throw each other under the bus. This protects you from getting sued.
For example, if your client tells you to put something on their website and is then later sued for that, you wouldn’t want them to point the blame at you. This section exists to prevent that and to define what sort of compensation you should receive in the rare event you get dragged into a legal dispute.
Consult with your legal professional to make sure you are fully protected before sending out a contract to be signed.
10. Force Majeure
In a business contract, “force majeure” refers to uncontrollable or unforeseeable events that make it impossible to fulfill the agreement. These include rare events such as a tornado hitting your area, rendering you unable to connect to the internet. It can also include other things such as a global pandemic (not so rare anymore!), war, or a fire.
If other “force majeure” events are common in your area, this is a great place to define what those are.
11. Jurisdiction and Interpretation
The whole point of a contract is for it to be legally binding, right? The jurisdiction clause in a contract states which local court will hold jurisdiction over any disputes. And the interpretation clause gives no room for another party to contradict the clear meaning of the terms used in your contract.
Typically, you’ll want to add your local jurisdiction, so you don’t have to travel too far to get things resolved in the event of a dispute. Double-check with your attorney when customizing this section.
The confidentiality clause will help protect your client and you from the misuse of personal information. When reviewing this section, try to list the private information you will be requesting from your client. That will help them trust you with that information.
When you solemnly agree to protect each other in this clause, both parties will have further incentive to implement preventative measures so that sensitive information such as social security numbers, personal cell phone numbers, among others, are kept confidential.
I don’t think this one needs explaining. It’s common sense to have a section where both parties will sign & date the document.
However, I do have a recommendation regarding the signature section.
Your client likely expects you to be some internet genius, right? So you might look a tad amateur if you send them your SEO contract as a PDF and expect them to find the time in their busy schedule to print it, sign it, scan it, and then email it back to you. What a nightmare.
Plus, clients will often put things off or forget if they feel too many steps will be needed.
So to increase the ‘wow factor,’ I suggest you send the contract to be signed digitally with their finger! There are many e-signature apps out there, but some are unnecessarily complicated and can get pricey. I like to use this one because it is super simple, its audit trails certify your client’s signature as legally binding, and did I mention it’s free?
I’ll even give away 12 seats on my paid Business Plan of the app to those who get the most shares of this article on Twitter and LinkedIn.
It’s super simple: upload your PDF, click where you want them to add their name and signature—and viola! Just send it to your client and you’ll have it signed in under a minute.
If you haven’t been using a contract for your SEO services, we hope this template will give you that competitive edge and inspire more trust when closing new clients.
As you edit the template, remember these two key points:
- Set clear expectations. Don’t be afraid to be detailed in your contract. Clearly outlining from the get-go what will be done, by whom, and when will prevent misunderstandings and will set the stage for a smooth business relationship.
- Consult with your lawyer. I gave you some practical tips and examples, but I am not qualified to give you legal advice. Before sending out a contract, make sure to consult with your attorney.
Let me know via LinkedIn if you have any questions while customizing our template.
Additional thanks go to these folks for their contribution to our research: