BrightLocal Local SEO Industry Survey 2013

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About the BrightLocal Local SEO Industry Survey

The objective of this survey is to gain greater understanding about the health & nature of the local SEO Industry. Through this survey we aim to find out what life is like ‘on the ground’ for those in the local SEO industry and to share those findings publicly to help improve the knowledge and insight within our industry.

BrightLocal Local SEO Industry Survey 2013

This is the 2nd wave of the survey. The 2013 survey was conducted between 20th January – 20th February 2013. 1,409 SEOs completed this survey (up from 1,150 in 2011) and we thank them for giving us their time & information to make this survey possible.

The 1st wave was conducted in July 2011 and the findings can be found here - http://www.brightlocal.com/local-seo-industry-survey-2011

The survey asks questions specific to Local SEO and was promoted to the full BrightLocal user base and our network of SEOs & agencies. The majority of survey respondents are SEO freelancers, small digital agencies and web designers so the results are indicative of this audience.

We opted to update and change some of the questions asked in wave 2 vs. wave 1. There are 17 questions which cover 5 key areas:

  1. Size & Turnover 
  2. Clients & Industries
  3. Marketing & Sales
  4. Services & Tasks
  5. Future Outlook

We have made the following charts available for download as a PDF so that you can use them as a presentation in your reports. Download it here Local SEO Industry Survey 2013.


Size & Turnover

1. How many people in your company are SEOs?

  •  82% of respondents said that they have just 1-5 practicing SEOs in their company

Comment:

As a provider of local SEO tools, the majority of our users are small digital agencies, SEO freelancers and web-designers. Therefore it’s not surprising that 82% of respondents said that they have just 1-5 SEOs in their business.

 


2. What was your turnover in the last 12 months?

  • 34% of SEOs turnover was less than $30,000
  • 17% said that their turnover was above $500,000
SEO/Agency revenue figures - 34% said they earn less than $30,000 -

 

Comment:

It’s interesting to see the spread of revenue which local SEO/agencies earn. At one end of the market some SEOs appear to be struggling with turnover less than $30,000; while at the other end 17% said they earned $500,000 or above. Size of the agency and the quantity of clients handled is obviously a significant factor in turnover so you’d expect smaller agencies to earn less, and vice versa for larger operations. Turnover isn’t necessarily a sign of a successful agency, but we felt that asking for profit numbers would put respondents off answering

There doesn’t appear to be a clear shift in earnings level since 2011 so it’s hard to predict which way the market is headed. There is healthy demand for local SEO services as more & more local businesses turn to online/mobile to reach local consumers. However the competition between SEOs has never been greater as more people enter the industry or expand their services to provide local SEO/marketing.

SEO is a complex, skilled & intellectual profession which is in great demand. Now is the zeitgeist of our industry, so it’s surprising to hear that 34% of SEOs earned less than $30,000 in the last 12 months. It poses a few questions -

  • Are SEOs pricing their services too low?
  • Do SMBs not value or understand the value provided by their SEO/agency?
  • Is excessive competition in the industry forcing SEOs to price themselves low to undercut others?
  • Can SEOs really provide a good quality service while earning $30,000 or less?
  • How many SEOs will still be in business next year if they can’t increase their income?

Note – part time SEOs & ‘newbie’ SEOs would pull this turnover down as they are not operating at full capacity and maximising their revenue potential.


3. What does an average customer pay you each month?

  • 28% of customers pay between $500-$1,000 per month for SEO services
  • 70% of customers pay under $1,000 per month for SEO services
Local-SEO-Survey-10---avg-customer-pay

Comment:

As is the case with agency turnover, the income per customer also varies greatly across the industry. Some clients pay less than $100/month while others pay $5,000 or more. The type of services provided and the depth of service will dictate the price point, as will the size of the customer’s business – the budget & requirements of a small mom & pop business are much smaller than a multi-location franchise business.

If we read between the lines a little, what this data shows is just how broad the nature of service is from SEOs. Some operate on a high volume basis, providing a lightweight or ‘cookie-cut’ service for a very low monthly rate. These businesses typically have higher customer churn and a large, dedicated sales team. Other SEOs offer a much more comprehensive service with a tailored approach for each client and therefore they service a lower number of clients.

As an SEO you can pitch yourself at the point where you operate best, which matches your set-up. There is demand from businesses for services the whole way along this value range; although you can guarantee that every client out there wants more of your time for less of their money.


Clients and Industries

4. How many clients do you personally handle?

  • Most SEOs handle between 6-10 customers
  • 71% of SEOs handle 6 or more customers
  • 23% of SEOs handle 21 or more customers
  • 11% are new to SEO this year

How many clients do you handle?

Comment: 

SEOs are handling more clients this year than they did last year. 40% of SEOs handle 11 clients or more, with 23% handling 21 or more customers. That mounts up to a lot of audits, research, tasks, reports and client calls each month. Efficiency is the key to working successfully with this many clients; effective SEOs are process-driven creatures who know how to strip away unnecessary tasks and focus on the critical tasks which deliver results for their customers.

Or maybe they just work every hour god gives them! Probably both!


5. Do you serve a particular vertical industry or do your clients come from many different industries?

  • Just 14% of SEOs/agencies target 1 vertical industry
  • 20% of SEOs target 2-3 specific industries

 

Only a few SEO agencies serve a particular vertical industry

Comment: 

The majority of SEOs/agencies don’t target their services at specific industries but take on clients from any sector. There are pros & cons from both approaches -

  • All Industries – this approach keeps your client pool broad allowing you to take on any potential client. It keeps work interesting because you’re learning about different sectors and which tactics work best for different business types. You are exposed to issues & solutions which you can bring to bear on your clients in other industries. It reduces competition between clients because they’re not all in the same sector. You can focus your sales/lead-gen to a tighter geographic area because you won’t exhaust your supply of potential clients too soon.
  • Specific Industries – this allows you to develop a specialism in 1 or 2 industries and build up a reputation as an expert in this sector. You can develop an efficient set of strategies and apply these to all your clients making your work effective and efficient. You can easily target your marketing & sales to reach businesses in these sectors and develop relevant case studies and success stories which gives confidence to owners of similar businesses.  

 

Marketing and Sales

6. Which channels are most effective for attracting new customers to you / your agency?

  • 3 of the most effective channels for attracting new customers are offline channels
  • Word of mouth is the most effective channel – 91% said bought them most leads
  • SEO was the 2nd biggest driver of leads & customers (46%)
  • LinkedIn (18%) is more effective than Facebook (11%) & Twitter (10%)

 

Word of mouth is the most effective way of getting new customers
 *Note - respondents were asked to select max 3 answers 

Comment: 

The results of this question show how important reputation & relationships are when selling & buying SEO services. The 4 most effective sales channels are all driven by trust, reputation & relationships. Local business owners are far more likely to commit their precious (even scarce) marketing budget to someone they know, like and trust; and a big portion of this trust comes through recommendation by others.

A increasing number of our agency customers tell us that LinkedIn is a good driver of new business. SEOs are B2B service providers so LinkedIn is a better fit for networking & lead generation vs. facebook, twitter & pinterest.

It’s also interesting to note that SEO far outstrips PPC as a lead gen channel. The proof is in the pudding for local businesses – “if they can get their own business to rank well in search, then they can do the same for me”.


 

7. How many new leads do you proactively contact each month?

  • 32% of SEOs don’t make out bound sales enquiries (down from 46% in 2012)
  • 11% of SEOs make over 50 sales enquiries each month

 

32% do not proactively contact leads

Comment: 

It appears that SEOs are having to work harder to win new customers. In 2012 46% of respondents didn’t do any outbound sales but that dropped to 33% this year. At the other end of the scale some SEOs are supercharging their outbound sales and hitting more than 50 potential clients each month.

We speak to a large number of SEOs every week and the approach to sales varies greatly. Some agencies are very sales focused with dedicated sales teams and aggressive growth strategies. For freelancers & smaller agencies the job of lead-gen & sales typically falls to the SEO or agency boss; it’s 1 task in a long line of daily tasks and gets done when it gets done. And some, more established agencies, are not interested in growing; instead they want to maintain the current status quo and focus on maintaining their existing customer base.

So there’s no right or wrong approach to sales, and certainly no ‘golden number’ for new customers you should contact each month. It really depends on how you position your business, what your ambitions are and how established your business is.


 

8. What is your success rate at converting leads to customers?

  • 42% is average success rate for converting new leads to customers
  • 29% of SEOs covert more than 70% of leads to customers
  • 17% convert less than 10% of leads

 

Success rate at converting leads to customers

Comment: 

Sales conversion rates vary greatly in the industry. With average conversion at 42% that’s a decent level, however 17% of SEOs say they convert less than 10% of their pitches.

However the chart only shows part of the picture. Conversion rates are a product of a number of factors including method of approach, quantity of leads contacted, sales structure & ability, business reputation, local market competition etc…. I would expect that agencies who take a more considered & tailored approach to pitching will covert more than those with a high-volume, sales-led model.

Chart 6 above shows how important ‘Reputation’ is to selling SEO services. Having a solid & demonstrable reputation (e.g. client testimonials, success stories, positive online star rating) will considerably improve sales conversion so SEOs/agencies should focus on building a positive reputation and building their sales approach around this. Client testimonials and published success stories are excellent devices for demonstrating your ability & publicizing that hard earned reputation.

 


 Services and Tasks

9. What SEO / online marketing services do you offer?

  • 91% of SEOs offer on-site optimization
  • 86% of SEOs offer Google+ Optimization
  • Only 11% offer affiliate marketing

 

What SEO / online marketing services agencies offer
  *Note - respondents were asked to select max 3 answers


10.  Which service is most in demand from your customers?

  • On-site SEO & Google+ Optimization are most in-demand services.

On-site SEO & Google+ Optimization are most in-demand services.

 *Note - respondents were asked to select max 3 answers 

Comment: 

The services most & least in demand from clients closely mirrors the services which SEO/agencies provide (& don’t provide).

In our regular workshops with our SEO agency customers it’s clear that in most cases the take up of new services by clients is driven by what their agency supplies. Most SMBs aren’t aware of the opportunities presented by video & mobile marketing so they need to be educated by their agencies on the benefits and potential of these channels.

In the local arena, digital marketing is driven by the supply side because knowledge resides firmly in the minds of SEOs & digital marketing professionals. The services offered often dictate what customer’s purchase. It’s simple business practice – develop a new service, learn how to effectively sell it and up sell your customers to grow your revenues.

Interestingly 43% of SEOs offer video marketing & 41% offer mobile marketing services. These percentages are small in comparison  to on-site SEO & Google+ optimization but they are growing. Forward thinking SEOs are embracing these offerings and selling them in to new & existing customers.


11. Which of these online channels is most effective at generating customers for your clients?

  • 82% of SEOs said that ‘General search’ is the most effective channel for generating leads/customers
  • ‘Local search’ is the 2nd most effective channel (62%)
  • PPC is 3rd with 53% and social media 4th with 26%.
  • Only 1% of SEOs said that Daily Deals were effective at generating leads/customers.

 

General search is the most effective channel for generating leads
 *Note - respondents were asked to select max 3 answers

Comment: 

It is clear that the majority of sales come from 3 channels -

  1. General Search
  2. Local Search
  3. PPC

Social media is more effective than local directories and mobile. In future we expect the contribution of social & mobile to grow but directories to drop as audiences find less & less value in using local directories. Why? well…

  • Recommendations from friends carry more weight & significance than simple business listings and reviews by strangers
  • Mobile usage is growing at a staggering rate and is particularly relevant for local businesses

About ‘Daily Deals’ – we would have got a different answer has we asked specifically about ‘sales’ rather than ‘customers’. There is plenty of debate about the long term benefit of Daily Deals for businesses. Yes they generate short term sales (no disputing that) but the jury is out on whether DD is effective at generating genuine, new customers & value long term value for businesses – a criticism often leveled at the likes of Groupon, LivingSocial and others in this space.


 

12. Do you believe that Social Media is an effective marketing channel for local businesses?

  • 82% of SEOs said that social media is an effective channel for local businesses (vs. 76% in 2011)
  • 25% said that social media is ‘very’ powerful, while 57% said it works well for certain business types
  • 18% of SEOs are undecided or felt social media was over-hyped (vs. 24% in 2011)

 

82% of SEOs believe that social media is effective

Comment:

It appears that social media is winning over more local SEOs. 6% more SEOs believe social media is an effective channel year than last year. The majority still believe that social media works for some businesses types but not all, meaning that different businesses will see different levels of return and impact from promoting themselves & engaging their customers on twitter, Facebook etc…

As social shares become an ever more important factor in SEO performance, the impact of social media stretches well beyond direct sales & customer engagement on these platforms. Some SEOs believe that likes, tweets, check-ins, pins etc… will grow to rival links as a critical SEO signal and therefore it will become important for all businesses to engage with social media. Now is the time for business owners who don’t use social media to work out how & when they should use it and get committed to ‘social’.


13. Which of the following SEO & business tasks do you tackle in a typical week?

Agencies tackle multiple SEO and business tasks
  *Note - respondents were asked to select max 3 answers

Comment:

SEOs tackle a wide range of tasks each week, from analytics & auditing through to manual link building to social media to self-marketing.

This is proof of the huge diversity of tasks a modern SEO has to deal with and the range of skills they need to do it well. SEO is such a complex discipline (especially at the freelance/small agency level where specialization is a luxury not many people have) which requires great adaptability and the ability to multi-task at great pace. But it also requires a good analytical brain to process the data we work with, draw conclusions and act on them.

Long live SEOs! – multi-tasking superheros of the modern business world (IMHO anyway)


 

14. Which of the following SEO & business tasks do you find to be the most time-consuming and tedious?

  • 55% of SEOs say they find link building the most time consuming/tedious task they do
  • 15% of SEOs say that content writing is the most time consuming/tedious task they do

 

Link building is the most tedious SEO task

Comment:

Who’d have thought it?! Most SEOs find link building boring – go figure?!

Disclaimer – I’m a little biased because I’m impatient and don’t have the meticulous & persistent nature that good link builders have. In fact I would say that I suck at link building because I just don’t draw any satisfaction from it, but i respect those that do it well


Future Outlook

15. Do you expect to grow your business in 2013?

  • 93% of respondents said Yes (vs. 82% in 2011)

90% expect their businesses to grown in 2013


16. Are you planning to recruit more staff in 2013?

  • 82% of respondents say they will recruit more staff this year
82% will recruit more staff this year

17. Which of these phrases best describes your hopes & expectations for 2013?

  •  84% of respondents are confident that 2013 will a good or great year for their business
  • Just 4% said that it’s going to be a difficult year
Which-of-these-phrases-best-describes-your-hopes-and-expectations-for-2013

Comment:

Confidence is running high in the SEO industry. There can’t be many industries in the current economy that can boast such a positive outlook.

Agencies are looking to grow in 2013 and recruit staff to help drive & fulfill that growth.

The only blot on the horizon for the Local SEO industry is the nearly perpetual change it goes through. Our industry is very dynamic & innovative but this constant change makes life uncertain for SEOs and means we need to be ready to adapt our services and approach at all times. This can be frustrating and difficult as we need to keep clients abreast of these changes; this in turn frustrates them and makes SEO an even more impenetrable subject.

What this industry is desperately in need of is simplification and consistency with fewer options and less change. This may sound like a negative view but we need to increase understanding of SEO/social among business owners and give them confidence in the services we provide so that they keep investing and keep transferring the budget from other channels to digital channels.

Myles Anderson Myles Anderson

About the Author

In my capacity as CEO, i get involved in all areas of the business but my 2 biggest passions are our 'Tools' and our 'Customers'. It's my job to ensure that we continue to extend and improve our tool-set to meet our customers ever-changing needs. But it's just as important that we deliver excellent customer service to match our tools - one without the other just doesn't cut it!

32 Responses to “BrightLocal Local SEO Industry Survey 2013”

  1. Ben Wright

    Really great survey Myles! This really gives great insight to up and coming SEOs on how to best grow their business. Will definitely share this with my peers!

    In regards to the turnover question, I think a lot of SEOs really aren’t charging enough for their services. There are a lot of businesses’ out there that are getting a heck of a deal on SEO because the freelancer/company performing the services isn’t charging enough. It’s difficult to find that happy medium, but many seem to as they begin to get more work from word of mouth.

  2. Michael

    Great survey, and very interesting! I am in the majority for quite a few of these categories.

  3. Nick Rink

    Great stuff Myles, really interesting insight. As an industry I can only see it continuing to grow as more and more SME’s get educated on how local SEO can benefit their business. That may lead to additional competition and subsequent price pressure, but I think there’s enough potential out there for everyone.

  4. Adrian Bold

    Thanks for compiling this data Myles. Always fascinating to see surveys such as this for SEO and the wide spread of results.

  5. Nigel Kay

    Good survey Myles. I liked the graphs of average prices charged for SEO services and the most demanded services from clients. We are also adding staff and think its going to be a great year for us.

  6. Raleigh Leslie

    Great survey thanks BL!

    I found the graphic for ‘which tasks do you find most time consuming/tedious’ very interesting that Link building is overwhelmingly the most time consuming and tedious for SEOs. There are so many great companies that specialize in link building I think SEOs just need to start embracing those who specialize by outsourcing to them with the time consuming tasks and free up their time for overall strategy management/deployment/analysis.

    Also good to see confidence so high across the industry when it seems like most who are uneducated about SEO often times think it is a dying breed of marketing. Really I think SEO is just evolving putting a focus on a more holistic approach where the SEO is responsible for more than just simply on-page, off-page and link building. This hits on Ben’s point above that as this transition happens SEOs are going to be charging more but also responsible for more at the same time.

  7. Eric Marshall

    Very useful data, thank you. It’s good to see where we stand and where we might need to change/improve our services, prices, etc.

  8. Mark Walters

    Thanks for putting in the time and effort to conduct this research and for sharing the results. I found the data on how much people are charging clients to be especially interesting. Not sure how some can charge less than $100 a month. I think I might start pricing my own services differently as a result of your data.

  9. Myles Anderson

    @All – thanks for your positive feedback & comments. It’s great to know that this research is useful and enables you to benchmark your business against others in the industry. Hopefully this will enable you to make informed decisions about the direction of your agencies and improve service & profitability – that would be good for you and for the industry at large.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment.

    Myles

  10. Linda Buquet

    Yes great stuff Myles!

    Colan linked to your post at the Local Search Forum Friday while I was away, but I just bumped it and tweeted it today, to bring more attention to this very helpful info.

    Thanks so much for sharing the results of your survey!

  11. Myles Anderson

    HI Helen, we don’t have specific data available for different countries right now. 85% of respondents were US based and the other 15% were split across UK, Canada & Australia. We had a few respondents in other countries (detected through IP location) but very few. So 4-5% were based in Canada – i wish we’d had more respondents from other countries but our network/customer base is skewed heavily to the US right now.

  12. Nikita - Design Junction

    Hi Myles, Thanks that is one awesome survey. You mentioned that very few respondents were in other countries and the results are skewed heavily to the US right now. There has been an expression of interest in getting these similar figures for Australia (where our network/customer base is), would you be interested in collaborating or sharing your experience with us, so we can conduct a similar survey here in Australia?

  13. Tony Wright

    Great survey – It’s interesting to see what others in the industry are seeing in regards to clients and growth. Personally, we’ve raised our prices and remain steady, if not a little down this year. One question – could you shed some light on the geography of the sample? I’d be interested to know how many of the respondents were US, UK or other. Frankly, any demographic data would be helpful.

  14. Charles Crawford

    Wow. This survey was amazing. Thanks for the valuable content Myles! I totally agree with all the stats. Long live SEOs!

  15. SCORPI

    Companies scaling on SEM too.

    Great article and survey!!!
    Greets
    Rave Marketing

  16. Myles Anderson

    Hi Tony,
    Thanks for your comment, please see my reply to Helen’s question with regard to geography. Other than country I am afraid we didn’t ask for any demographic info.
    Myles

  17. Myles Anderson

    Hi Nikita,
    I would definitely be interested in collaborating with you to do something similar in Australia. Why don’t you email me at myles(a)brightlocal.com
    Myles

  18. kellylunttu

    Really appreciable, This survey 2013 help companies to build a new seo strategy for their upcoming seo operation.

  19. Alice California

    Great statistics collected. It’s interesting to see how much the clients are interested in Google+ optimization and how social media demand is growing.

  20. Marcus

    Hey Myles

    One issue we find with smaller companies is that they have a negative perception of SEO. Sometimes this is due a bad experience with no results and other times due to a spike and then loss of traffic. What we see more and more though is folks have paid for SEO and been sold links and some dreadful on site work when some simple local SEO would have worked wonders for them.

    Often, building confidence and actively pushing that we work with, not against the search engines has proven successful. Likewise, we are often referring to our local services as local search marketing and explaining it almost as the Google yellow pages and again, giving folks something to hook into that they can understand, rather than the SEO black box has proven successful in turning leads into business.

    Great data though, very interesting.

    Marcus

  21. Manny Zarate

    Myles,

    Do you have data on which industries:

    Paid the most for SEO services?
    Are willing to hire SEO services ?

    I remember seeing a list a while ago and it was right on but I can’t remember where I saw that and would like to know if you have done any research of information on it.

    Thanks for the data, for sure helps us :)

    Manny

  22. sophie kemp sophie kemp

    Hi Manny,

    I am afraid we don’t have any data on which industries paid the most or are willing to hire SEO services, however we are about to do a survey on SMBs and their attitudes to internet marketing and how they purchase services from consultants and agencies so this should bring up some data that you might be interested in.

    Regards

    Sophie

  23. Justin

    This is very insightful and tells me one thing. I’m under charging for my local SEO services. May have to review my pricing which I tend to keep at around the €300/month mark.

  24. check

    An outstanding share! I have just forwarded this onto a friend who had been conducting a little research on this.
    And he in fact ordered me lunch due to the fact
    that I found it for him… lol. So let me reword this….
    Thanks for the meal!! But yeah, thanx for spending the time to discuss this subject here on your web page.

  25. Robert Jones

    It’s good to see that SEO companies are still hiring or at least planning on doing. I’m quite shocked by the turnover figures, I always thought the majority of SEO companies were turning over at least 500k PA. Thanks for the information.

    Robert Jones

  26. Vikash

    Ohh this is very useful information to identify the SEO business trends. Waiting for this year survey results….

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