Local Search Industry Survey 2020

Local Search Industry Survey 2020
Key Findings
  • The Local Search Industry Survey is an annual look at the business practices, pricing, salary, and services offered by local marketers
  • The most valuable local marketing services for 2020: 1) GMB optimization, 2) On-site optimization, 3) Reputation management, 4) Citation management, 5) Website design
  • The average salary for local marketers is $88,532, up from $81,103 in 2019. A typical freelancer earns $50,661
  • Employees in local marketing agencies work on an average of 17 clients, while a typical freelancer has 8
  • Local marketers aged 55+ work 51 hours a week - 8 more than the average marketer
  • In 2020, agencies bill an average of $127 per hour, compared to $102 for freelancers
  • Agencies with 21+ employees charge the average client more than 5 times what lone working marketers do
  • 61% of local marketers find it difficult to turn work down
  • The metrics that matter most to local businesses: 1) Google rankings, 2) New customers, 3) New leads/inquiries, 4) Organic traffic, 5) Number of reviews
  • 52% of local marketing businesses will hire more SEOs this year, though just 22% of SEOs will look for a new job in 2020

Welcome to the latest Local Search Industry Survey – an annual look into the business practices, pricing, salary, and services offered by local marketers.

The survey looks at the attitudes and experiences of people managing marketing for local or multi-location businesses, as well as freelance and in-agency marketers. Throughout the report, we have segmented answers where useful to help readers understand how their peers are working, as well as giving insights for client-side marketers to help them excel in their business.

A huge thank you to the 475 local marketers who shared their insights to help create this report, and to everyone that shared the survey to help get the word out!

Demographics of the Local Search Industry Survey

So, what does a local marketer look like in 2020?

Respondents of this year’s survey are mainly situated in the USA (69%), UK (7%), Canada (6%), and Australia (4%), with a further 30 countries also seeing responses. For ease of conversion, we have only included responses from people from the above four countries for questions related to pay and pricing.

Business type20202019
Local/Regional agency40%38%
National/International agency20%21%
Freelancer/Marketing consultant11%6%
Local business10%16%
Multi-location business9%4%
Web design agency6%7%

Audience segments remained similar to last year, with the majority of respondents working in agencies offering local SEO services.

Annual revenues for agencies and freelancers

Local SEO agency and freelancer revenue

The average revenue of businesses in this study was $1.28 million – up a little from $1.2 million last year. We did not ask this question to people working in local or multi-location businesses.

As is likely to be the case across local marketing itself, there was an uneven gender split among respondents — 68% are male, and 30% female. This is the first year we’ve reviewed results by gender and, as such, we have included some interesting gender-related findings throughout.

This year, the majority of respondents class themselves as senior (60%) – ranging from sole practitioners to leaders of large businesses. 23% are mid-level (consisting of directors and account leads), and 17% junior (including account managers and junior executives). Female marketers were more likely to class themselves as junior (24%) or mid-level (26%), compared to male respondents (14% junior, 23% mid-level).

The average age of respondents is 42. 30% are aged 18-34, 52% 35-53, and 18% over 55. When looking by seniority, the average junior marketer is aged 36, mid-level marketers at 37, and senior employees aged 46.

The number of years spent in local SEO

Years spent working in local SEO

Most respondents have been working in local search for a while – with 50% working in the industry for longer than 10 years.

While all of the above demographics may be indicative of changing trends in the industry, we would not like to draw any major conclusions based solely on who responded to this year’s survey, compared to those who responded last year. In some cases, the slight changes to the demographics as outlined above may be reasons for changes compared to last year.

Jobs and hiring in local SEO

Number of employees working in local marketing businesses

For the first time this year, we included an option for people working alone. This means that there is a slightly higher proportion of respondents working alone or in small agencies with fewer than five staff than last year.

Few businesses have a great number of SEO professionals. 38% have just the one, with only 10% having more than 10. There are a great many small agencies and SEOs working alone out there, so it’s critical we all stay in touch and work together!

The hiring outlook

Local SEO jobs

52% of respondents say their business will likely hire more team members this year.

Local marketing is only growing in importance, and it seems like even more jobs will need to be created to meet the demand.

Marketers moving jobs

Local SEO new jobs

Yet, it seems like there aren’t many marketers that are looking to move right now. 78% are planning to stay in the same job – which could be bad news for those looking to grow their team.

Working with local business clients

Number of local SEO clients

When compared to 2019, there was a slight dip in marketers with more than 31 clients answering the survey. Small agencies will have a very different experience than their larger counterparts, with smaller budgets and more limited time resources available.

The average number of clients local marketers manage

Average number of local SEO clients

The average local marketer works on 16 clients, with junior and mid-level marketers both having 20+.

Freelancers and senior marketers have significantly fewer clients. A typical freelancer manages an impressive eight clients.

Hours worked by local marketers

Type of marketerHours worked
Average across all respondents43
Full-time employees only (those working 35+ hours)47
In-business marketer42

SEO can be hard work, and getting the best results for a website often requires you to put the hours in. 46% of marketers work more than 40 hours, though this is down a little from 50% last year.

When looking at only those respondents that work full-time (35+) hours, the average weekly number of hours is 47.

Marketers in senior positions put in the most average hours, followed by people aged 35-54. Of course, these two groups will likely overlap significantly.

Perhaps surprisingly, freelancers have the lowest average hours (40). By no means does this mean that freelancing is the easy life, though this average could be affected by those freelancers that work part-time alongside other commitments.

Average hours spent by marketer type

Hours spent on SEO

When comparing the overall number of hours worked to the number spent focusing on SEO and local marketing activities, there is a clear difference looking at local businesses. The average local business respondent spends 14 hours a week on marketing their business.

Last year, the average local marketer spent 26 hours on local SEO and marketing efforts. This year, that number dropped to just 21.

Salaries for local SEO marketers

Respondents were able to opt-out of sharing salary details, with the following data based on the 34% that did choose to share this information.

Local SEO salaries in agency and freelance

Local marketing can be a lucrative vocation, with 65% of respondents earning more than $60,000 per year. This is up from 48% last year. In fact, on the whole, respondents were much more likely to earn $100,000 than in 2019 – possibly due to our limiting salary data to respondents from the US, UK, Canada, and Australia this year for ease of conversion and comparison.

Average salary for local marketers ($US)$88,532
Full-time employees only $94,960
In-business marketer$84,691

Salary can be a private topic, and thus, it’s a little hard to know if your earnings are in line with your peers. The average salary among respondents has increased compared to last year to $88,532 – up from $81,103 in 2019 and $61,711 in 2017. When removing those who work less than 35 hours a week, this average is $94,960.

But, of course, what you earn differs hugely based on age, role, and location. Senior marketers earn an impressive average of $102,171, while those in junior positions can expect to earn $56,670.

Female marketers earn around 14% less than the males in this survey – though there were fewer women in this survey that defined themselves as “senior”. Are women in SEO getting the opportunities they need to grow into the highest-paying and most senior roles? Areej AbuAli’s Women in Tech SEO network is a great place to share knowledge and find support – check it out!

Freelancers tend to bring in a lower salary than those working in an agency, or in-house for a local or multi-location business. This may well be due to some freelance marketers working fewer hours alongside other commitments, but also due to lower prices.

Satisfaction with salaries

Local SEO salary satisfaction

For the most part, local marketers seem satisfied with their compensation. Freelance marketers are least likely to be happy, with 43% reporting dissatisfaction.

Marketers aged 55+ are also less likely to be satisfied with their salaries – with 32% reporting some level of unhappiness.

So, are local marketers being paid enough? They bring so much value, but there is some clear dissatisfaction among some. But, this could just be human nature, I’m sure we’d all always like a little more money!

Local SEO made simple

Local SEO pricing

One of the questions our wonderful Customer Success team receives most frequently is, “How much should we charge for local marketing?” Of course, as always, the answer is, “It depends”, but we hope the below information helps you benchmark your pricing against others. To note, for all of the financial-related questions, respondents were not required to answer.

Local SEO billing clients

Local marketers are most likely to charge clients through a monthly retainer, with 43% basing this on deliverables, and a further 22% setting the number of hours. Hourly rates and day rates are less common in the local SEO world, though may be a good marker for pricing retainers.

Retainer pricing by business size

Average cost per month for local marketing by business size

It’s important to consider how much pricing varies for different business sizes.

Consultants working alone charge clients an average of $766 per month, while larger agencies with more than 20 employees charging more than five times this.

If you work in a business and want to understand what local marketing assistance costs, it’s important to first consider what you want to achieve. If you require a close relationship with a small team, a smaller agency or freelancer may suit your needs. If, however, your business requires a higher time investment, a larger agency may mean more hours are up for grabs. For more, read our guide, ‘How to Choose a Local SEO Agency or Consultant‘.

Monthly minimum retainers

Local marketing minimum retainer cost

Not every client will be paying the same amount, and it’s likely that many marketers will have a broad range of costs among their clients.

While it can be useful to have a minimum in mind to ensure time is being taken up in the most valuable way, many local business accounts have the potential to grow over time. Starting out with a small budget and then scaling up can be a good way for marketers to grow clients, so be careful not to price potential high-billing clients out with a low minimum retainer.

Average local SEO costs per hour

Billable cost per hour for local SEO

While those who bill solely on the hour are rarer, most marketers will have an hourly cost in mind when pricing client work.

Agency marketers charge an average of $127 per hour, with freelancers charging closer to $100 per hour.

However, it’s important to note that these aren’t viewed as conclusive hourly rates that every local marketer should now charge. Many components affect pricing, including location, services offered, and experience – and these should all be factored into competitive costing.

Local SEO hourly rate ranges

When comparing the data to 2019’s results, there has been a notable increase in respondents who charge between $50 and $99 an hour.

At the other end of the scale, there was a slight increase in marketers charging more than $200 an hour – which could be reflected in the increased number of senior respondents this year.

The cost of reputation management

Average cost for reputation management services

Reputation management is an ever-growing facet of local marketing, but with this change comes the need for local marketers to upskill.

Respondents were asked for their monthly charge for reputation management – but, of course, this charge can come in many forms. Some will manage online reviews as an inclusive part of a wider retainer. Others may offer vastly different services that increase costs for clients, such as monitoring reviews across sites, responding to businesses’ customers, and generating more online reviews.

Likewise, different business sizes will require a vastly different approach to online reputation management – with a busy restaurant or hotel far more likely to require time-intensive reviews management than businesses with fewer customers.

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to reputation management pricing. The first step should be looking at the business: which review sites are important for them and their competitors? How much work will be required to achieve a high star rating? And, is the business set up to generate a steady stream of reviews?

The cost of citation management

Average cost for citation management services

Respondents also shared how much they charge for citations. This was measured based on the charge for a new client as, for many, building and managing citations is a step to fix for a new client, and will not require much ongoing investment once key citations have been claimed.

The average charge for initial citation claiming and fixing is $389, with the median cost sitting at $200. Citations remain a key part of local SEO success, with 80% of consumers saying they would lose trust in local businesses if they saw incorrect or inconsistent names or contact details online.

Like with reputation management, the costs for citations can vary significantly based on the business’s needs. Some industries have more directory sites than others, while some businesses may already have built accurate citations in the places that matter. First and foremost, it’s important for local businesses to have the same citations as competitors to ensure the business is seen by potential customers in every place they may be searching.

Services offered by agencies and freelancers

Services offered by local marketing agencies and freelancers

Most Frequently Offered Services by Local Marketers

  1. GMB optimization
  2. SEO audits/analysis
  3. On-site optimization
  4. Reporting/analytics
  5. Citation management

In last year’s report, there were a great many services that were offered by most marketers. This year, there was a far lower rate of services offered, which should be attributed to respondents’ behavior answering this slightly amended question rather than a change in services offered.

Google My Business optimization remains important to local marketers (as it should be!) According to Moz’s Local Ranking Factors Survey, Google My Business signals make up 25% of local finder ranking factors. GMB is a key point of contact for many customers searching for nearby businesses – with 64% of consumers using Google My Business to find business addresses or phone numbers.

SEO audits, reporting, and on-site optimization remain critical to local marketing success. These core services were closely followed by citation building and NAP clean up, with 82% of local marketers offering this service.

While links are incredibly important to SEO success, only half of local marketers are offering link building as a service. Perhaps even more shocking for those that follow local marketing discussions closely, just 33% of marketers are offering Google spam fighting. Investing in these less-used (but time-intensive) tactics could really help move the needle for local businesses.

Common services offered by local marketing agencies and freelancers

There are many factors that help improve a local business’s online presence, but marketers don’t necessarily need to be providing every service for clients.

Agencies and freelancers tend to offer different services, with freelancers less likely to offer a broad range. Freelancers are far less likely to offer PPC, website design, and link building – perhaps preferring instead to focus and specialize on core services.

The most valuable local SEO services

Most valued local search tactics

Respondents were asked to share up to five tactics that they believe are the most valuable.

We know that local marketers and their clients can sometimes be at odds on which tactics are most valuable. Both marketers and businesses agree that Google My Business is incredibly valuable, while on-site optimization is also key.

Despite reviews managements only being offered by 2/3 local marketing agencies, it’s highly valued by both in-house local marketers, and external consultants. Maintaining a strong online review presence can be a big job, but can also be instrumental in affecting consumer behavior.

Interestingly, social media is far more esteemed among those working within businesses. It’s often expected for a business to have a social media presence, though, of course, some industries have more to gain here than others.

At this stage, it’s important to note that the respondents from local and multi-location businesses may be more likely to have good local marketing knowledge than the average local business marketer due to the skew of BrightLocal users taking part in the survey.

Best channels for winning new clients

Marketing channels to win new local SEO clients

Respondents could choose up to three options.

When it comes to getting more customers, word of mouth remains the outright leader. It’s clear that local marketers can spend as much as they like on promoting their business, but the best form of marketing is a happy customer.

Curiously, both SEO and PPC have dropped in importance among local marketers as a method for attracting new customers. This year, fewer respondents chose three options – could it be that word of mouth is all some marketers need to reach client capacity?

We’d love to hear how you connect with new clients – let us know in the comments below!

Beyond the billable

Easiest and hardest local SEO tasks

But, local marketing isn’t all building links and fighting spam, so we wanted to know which non-SEO tasks cause the biggest headaches.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, freelance and agency marketers’ most difficult task is turning work down. When building up your marketing business, it can be hard to say no to potential customers, even if it leads to sleepless nights. Getting new customers is also seen as difficult for 38% of marketers, so turning warm leads down can feel painful (though perhaps necessary for your own health!)

Additionally, 41% of marketers find building their own profile hard. If you’d like a little help, why not join our networking list of local marketers on Twitter?

It’s fantastic to see that retaining customers is one of the easiest among the above tasks. Great service and proven results will keep customers coming back for more, and hopefully, also recommending your services to their peers.

Staying on top of trends and educating customers seems to be a key challenge. Local marketing is changing all the time, and with so many different sources of local SEO knowledge out there, it can be incredibly difficult to stay on top.

Keeping on top of changes

Local SEO learning

Across agencies, freelancers, and local business marketers, the most common way to keep up with industry changes is through articles from local marketing tools and services providers, and in broad local search press. Check out our annually updated top blogs list for ideas on what publications to follow.

Testing is a critical way for SEO marketers to learn, with 57% in agencies, 48% of freelancers, and 42% of in-business marketers using this for their learning. The best marketers are continually trying out new things, and using insights from the industry to inform what they choose to try out for their businesses.

Local marketers use a great many different ways to keep up – from webinars, to local SEO forums, and real-life conferences such as LocalU.

Become a Local SEO Superstar ⭐

Life in-house for local and multi-location businesses

86% of this year’s respondents from businesses handle marketing in-house, with a further 13% using an agency, and 1% using a freelancer.

Monthly local business spend on marketing

Fewer people in this year’s cohort are spending more than $5,000 a month on marketing their business, with the median business spending between $1,000 and $4,999 each month. External consultants, services, and tools can be costly for smaller businesses, so it remains crucial for marketers to be able to demonstrate the worth of their services to customers.

The metrics that matter to local businesses

Businesses most valued local search tactics

Top local marketing metrics

  1. Google rankings
  2. New customers
  3. New leads/inquiries
  4. Organic traffic
  5. Number of new reviews

Reporting back to customers is a crucial part of being a consultant, but it can be difficult to know which metrics will matter. Local and organic rankings on Google are by far the most important metrics that marketers in local businesses care about, so this should form a key part of marketers’ reporting. Rankings on Bing, Yahoo!, and Duck Duck Go are far less valued by local businesses.

But upwards keyword movement shouldn’t be the only measure of success. Monitoring how ranking improvements relate to traffic increases can be far more valuable, as changing SERP features and increasing ads can affect how far down local businesses’ rankings appear.

It’s great to see so many local businesses caring about marketing’s impact on new leads and customers. This can be far harder to prove, but proper attribution helps keep customers invested in the value of local marketing.

Success in 2020

Local SEO success

2019 came with its fair share of challenges. Spam continued to frustrate local marketers, and algorithm and SERP updates rocked our very foundations.

This year, 61% are expecting success to be more difficult – up from 56% last year. In contrast, just 21% think it’ll be easier.

We’ve still got a fair few challenges to overcome this year, on Google and beyond. Get a headstart, and take a look at predictions from 20 leading local SEO experts to see what might be next for local search.

And finally, we asked respondents to share one word that explains their feelings, hopes, or expectations for the local search industry in 2020 (and cut out the rude bits!)

Spam, transparency, and change were on the lips of many marketers. But overall, local marketers seem to be optimistic about this year, and focusing on driving growth for their businesses and clients.

Thanks for reading the results of this year’s Local Search Industry Survey! We hope this information helps you to benchmark your performance against competitors, and to provide the best possible service to clients. Let us know your thoughts on the findings in the comments below!

Rosie Murphy
About the author
Rosie managed BrightLocal's delivery of research and survey pieces. She headed up data-driven content such as regular polls, webinars and whitepapers, including the Local Consumer Review Survey.


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