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Local Search Industry Survey 2021

Local Search Industry Survey 2021
Key Findings
  • The most commonly offered services: 1) GMB optimization, 2) Content creation, 3) SEO audits/analysis, 4) Citation building, 5) On-site optimization
  • The median salary of local marketers in the US, Canada and the UK is $75,000
  • Local marketers working in the UK are paid significantly less on average than those in the US and Canada
  • 59% of respondents say that Google My Business has improved in the last year
  • The metrics most valued by businesses are: 1) Local rankings, 2) Google organic rankings, 3) Phone calls
  • 43% of local marketing agencies and freelancers grew their revenue during the pandemic
  • 59% of local marketers plan to freelance in the future

The local SEO industry is always changing, and in a year of huge global shifts that have had significant impacts on many local businesses, this rate of change seems to have been vastly accelerated. 

While the local SEO community is supportive and keen to share knowledge on tactics, there are some elements of working in the industry that aren’t as frequently discussed. It can be difficult to know what to charge your clients, what services to offer, and what salary to aim for.

This is is why we set out, back in 2011, to benchmark the key statistics that illustrate what it’s really like to work in local SEO. 

The Local Search Industry Survey aims to look at the attitudes, experiences, and finances of people that are working in the world of local SEO. We’ve aimed to provide a useful measure of life as a local marketer year on year, combining the insights of people working in agencies, as freelancers, and in businesses.

Thank you so much to the 550 local marketers who answered this year’s survey. Your insights are very valuable and we are incredibly thankful. 

Publishers are welcome to use the following charts and data, crediting BrightLocal and linking to this URL. If you have any questions about the report, please get in touch with the content team, or leave a comment below. Information about the demographics of the survey can be found at the end of this post. 

The Outlook for 2021

Easier Or Harder For Success Chart

Success in 2021

As we speed into the second half of the year, it seems like many local marketers are hopeful about what 2021 has to hold. 26% believe that it will be easier to achieve local SEO success in 2021—up from 22% last year. However, with fewer people saying it will be neither easier or harder (37%, down from 46%), this also means that, overall, more people are expecting it to be difficult (37%, up from 33%). 

With local SEO, it can be very difficult to predict what’s coming. Algorithm updates can come out of the blue, and Google My Business can often be seen adding or testing new features, each of which add another item to the to-do list.

And, with Google’s Page Experience Update still slowly rolling out at the time of writing, there could still be a lot of changes that could impact how local marketers work. 

The trends affecting local marketing in 2021

2. Services Offered Chart

N.b. Respondents were asked how much they agreed with the above statements.

When this survey was sent out back in May, respondents were far more likely to see the Page Experience update as having a big impact than not. 50% said that they believed it would have a big impact, while 48% said that they felt prepared.

There has been a lot of discussion of what the Page Experience Update will mean for websites, and whether it’s something that will have a major impact on local businesses. Whether or not it has a big impact on rankings, improving the experience for visitors can only be positive! 

59% of respondents say that Google My Business has improved in the last year. During the early stages of the pandemic in the US, Google rolled out a series of changes and improvements to make access to Covid-19 related information simpler.

On top of this, it rolled out a series of new features—from extending the length of Google Posts, to expanded messaging features, and much more! You can keep on top of all the Google My Business changes with Sterling Sky’s very handy Timeline of Local SEO Changes.

But it’s not all been rosy in the world of GMB. 36% say that Google My Business has had more bugs in the last year, while just 25% say they believe GMB support has improved in the last year. Despite Google introducing many new local business features, it’s clear there are many ongoing frustrations for local marketers. 

Local SEO Salaries

The average salaries for local marketers in the USA, UK and Canada

1. Salaries

Salaries for digital marketers can vary pretty drastically, with disparities between countries being particularly notable. The median salary for a local marketer in the UK is £45,000. Comparing to Canada ($107,500 CAD) and the US ($77,000 USD), it’s a lot less fruitful to be an SEO in the UK—with this UK median salary converting to about $62,500 USD in the USA, and $77,000 CAD in Canada. 

So why is there such a big pay disparity? Could it be because local SEO is less of a recognized need in the UK, and therefore the comparative lack of demand is dragging down salaries? We’d love to hear your theories; let us know in the comments

Average salary for local marketers (US, UK and Canada only - in USD)$87,579
Median salary for local marketers (US, UK and Canada only - in USD)$75,000
US average salary$90,664
US median salary$77,000
Canada average salary$107,400
Canada median salary$107,500
UK average salary$45,714
UK median salary$45,000
18-24 average salary (US, UK and Canada only - in USD)$64,125
25-34 average salary (US, UK and Canada only - in USD)$72,033
35-44 average salary (US, UK and Canada only - in USD)$83,472
45-54 average salary (US, UK and Canada only - in USD)$106,364
55+ average salary (US, UK and Canada only - in USD)$98,277
Female average salary (US, UK and Canada only - in USD)$75,315
Male average salary (US, UK and Canada only - in USD)$93,128
Agency average salary (US, UK and Canada only - in USD)$91,468
Freelance average salary (US, UK and Canada only - in USD)$87,320
Business average salary (US, UK and Canada only - in USD)$78,457

N.b. We chose to compare salaries in the USA, Canada, and the UK only as other countries did not have enough survey respondents to create indicative average salaries. Respondents were able to opt out of sharing their salary. 

The median salary for a local marketer working the USA, UK, or Canada in 2021 is $87,579 USD—below last year’s global average of $88,532.

However, looking at salaries as an average rarely shows what’s really happening. Drilling down into different segments, you’ll see a wide variety of salaries—with younger SEOs earning significantly less than more experienced specialists. 

1. Salaries Split By Gender And Business Type

Women working in local SEO receive an average salary of $75,315 USD, compared to $93,128 for male SEOs. The gender pay gap has increased compared to last year’s survey, moving from a difference of 14% to 24% over the course of the year.

While of course, this change could be purely down to different respondents sharing their salaries this year, here is a list of ideas and causes to help promote gender equality in local SEO.

Comparing by business type also makes for interesting analysis. Local marketers working in agencies earn an average of $91,468 per year – around $4,000 than their freelance counterparts. People in charge of marketing in businesses earn an average of $78,457 –  though it’s important to bear in mind that many in-business marketers will have SEO and digital marketing tasks as just one task of many involved in keeping the business running. 

Local marketers’ satisfaction with salaries

2 Satisfaction With Salaries

Despite clear pay disparities, the majority of local marketers are happy with their salaries – with 41% of respondents saying they are “extremely” or “very” satisfied. The highest proportion (43%) are “somewhat” satisfied, which perhaps isn’t surprising; I’m sure most people would always be happy for a little more in their paycheck! 

Looking at respondents in the UK, 50% are “extremely” or “very” satisfied with their salaries, compared to 41% in the US and 39% in Canada. While SEOs in the UK do get paid comparatively less than their North American counterparts, they tend to be happier with their salary. But, with the average salary across all jobs in the UK being £31,461, pay for local marketers tends to be relatively high.

Hiring and Working in Local SEO

Annual revenues of local marketing agencies and freelancers

Annual Salary Of Seos 2021 Chart

Looking at the revenues of agencies and freelancers, there was a dip in the proportion of respondents bringing in less than $100,000 (23% this year, compared to 35% last year). 50% of respondents work in local marketing businesses that earn more than $500,000 per year, up from 37% last year.

Rather than this highlighting a significant revenue change over the past year, though, it’s highly likely that this is a reflection of this year’s respondents. 

The average hours spent on local SEO each week

1. Average Hours Spent On Seo Chart

Survey respondents work an average of 43 hours per week, but naturally very few spend all of it focusing purely on local marketing. Interestingly, respondents from multi-location businesses spend the most hours purely focusing on local marketing, alongside in-agency marketers—with each spending around 25 hours a week on SEO and marketing.

Winning new business, meetings, and admin all take up a sizeable chunk of the working week, so spending all your time on billable work isn’t possible in most companies. 

Local businesses spend the fewest hours focusing on SEO and marketing. It’s important to note that this survey was primarily answered by BrightLocal’s customers, email subscribers and social media followers, and therefore the local businesses answering this survey may be a little more SEO-savvy and willing to spend time on marketing than the norm—many of whom may only spend minutes or hours each week on marketing.

The number of employees in local marketers’ businesses

2. Number Of Employees Chart

The majority of respondents in this year’s survey work in small and medium-sized businesses—with just 12% working in companies that have over 100 employees. 

Working in local SEO can be a lonely job, with 38% of businesses only having one specialist in their company—and 70% having fewer than 6. This is lower than last year’s study, in which 81% had 5 or fewer local marketers; though this could be based on the respondents this year rather than necessarily indicating that businesses and agencies have fewer marketers on the books. 

Building a community of like-minded local SEOs to share ideas and results of tests will be vital for many local marketers to improve their work and learn new ways to improve performance for their clients or businesses. 

Will your business hire more SEO-related staff in 2021?

Hire Seo Staff Chart

Despite the pandemic, it seems that many companies are planning to grow their local SEO workforce, as 51% are likely to hire more local marketers this year. After a year during which many agencies will have paused hiring and lost clients, it’s promising to see the optimism for hiring remaining pretty steady compared with last year’s pre-pandemic report.

For many businesses, digital marketing will have become even more important, and this may have led to an increased need for agencies and freelancers to help get them in front of customers while traditional routes to sales changed. 

The proportion of local marketers moving jobs in 2021

Moving Jobs Chart

There is a disparity between the proportion of companies expecting to hire more SEOs and the proportion of marketers expecting to change role. This puts the power in the hands of marketers, with potentially more jobs to choose from, which could mean that competition could be lower than perhaps expected. This difference between supply and demand could mean marketers are able to request higher salaries and better benefits based on the scarcity of competition. 

25% of local marketers say they have already found a new job, or will look for one this year—up from 22% last year. Perhaps it’s no wonder that more marketers expect to move jobs this year—many may have paused their search for a new role during the uncertainty of the pandemic, while others may be looking for a fully remote role now that many businesses have made this a possibility. 

The proportion of local marketers planning to freelance in the future

2. Freelance Plan Chart

For the first time, we asked respondents whether they planned to freelance in the future. While 40% already freelance either full or part-time, a further 19% plan to take on their own clients in the short or long-term. Only 31% of respondents said that they wouldn’t. 

Of course, freelancing isn’t for everyone, and the stability and security of working for someone else is what many workers desire. However, digital marketing can be a great career to pick up extra work on the side, which may be why so many marketers are planning to make the leap over the next few years. We’ll be interested to monitor this in the coming years. 

How many years respondents have worked in local marketing

2. How Many Years Have You Worked In Seo Local Marketing Chart

Despite there being fewer respondents classing themselves as junior, there was actually an increase in the proportion of respondents that have worked in local marketing for a short amount of time. 13% have worked in the field for less than 2 years, up from 7% last year. A further 23% have worked in local marketing between two and five years—up from 17% last year. 

Level of local SEO knowledge

2. How Would You Rate Your Level Of Local Seo Knowledge Chart

Perhaps it’s no surprise that so many marketers are looking to go it alone in the future with such a high level of local SEO knowledge. 68% see their local SEO knowledge as being excellent or very good. 

But as we all know, local SEO can change quickly, and staying on top of the latest news and trends can take time. We want to enable every local marketer to be brilliant at local SEO, and have spent countless hours working on BrightLocal Academy: a set of in-depth video courses aimed at helping local marketers improve their knowledge. Check it out!


The most common services offered by local marketers

2. Services Offered Chart

N.b. In 2021’s survey, ‘Technical SEO’ was added as a standalone service for the first time.

The most common services offered by local marketers

  1. GMB optimization and management
  2. Content creation and optimization
  3. SEO audits and analysis
  4. Citation building and cleanup 
  5. On-site optimization

Local marketing can be a very varied job with a lot to learn—with local SEO alone having multiple factors to focus on.

Not every agency or freelancer will be able to, or even want to, offer every service to clients, which means that local businesses wanting to choose a consultant need to think carefully about which specialties they really desire. 

Google My Business optimization is the most commonly offered service. Being that this is the biggest factor affecting local rankings, it’s no shock that most local marketers are offering this to clients. In fact, it’s a bigger surprise that nearly 10% aren’t!

Content creation and optimization has become more widely offered over the last year, with 83% of marketers offering this to their clients. This could be a result of the pandemic, where businesses needed to connect with their customers in different ways while footfall fell and businesses closed. 

Local Services Ads also seem to be growing, with 56% of marketers now offering this service. Google rolled these out to more countries and niches over the last year, so it’s only natural that more marketers are choosing to offer this to clients. 

Notable drops compared to 2020 are in on-site optimization, reporting, Google Posts, link building, and video marketing. It feels unlikely that some of these SEO services are becoming less valuable, so this could highlight marketers tightening their focus to spend time on their preferred specialties rather than trying to do it all. 

The most valuable services for local marketing success

2. Most Valuable Services 2021 Vs 2020 Copy

The most valuable local marketing services

  1. GMB optimization and management
  2. Content creation and optimization
  3. On-site optimization
  4. Citation building and cleanup
  5. Website design

Local marketers were asked to share which five services they believe are most valuable for local marketing success. Again, Google My Business optimization comes out on top—outpacing other services by far. 

Content creation has nearly doubled in importance among respondents compared to last year. With so many more marketers in this year’s survey offering this as a service,  this could explain why there has been such a leap—but what came first: the value, or offering it as a service? 

Citation building and cleanup remains a very valuable service, with 40% of respondents placing this among their most valuable service offerings. This may have been particularly important over the last year where many interactions with consumers have shifted online, meaning the accuracy of the information about businesses is more important than ever to avoid confusing or frustrating potential customers. 

Spam fighting has seen notable change this year, with 17% of respondents naming this as one of the most valuable services to offer. Tackling the abundance of spam in local search results can have a big impact on local rankings success, and it’s great to see more local marketers identifying this as valuable. 

Local businesses vs local marketers’ perceptions of valuable local marketing services

2. Most Valuable Services Agency Vs Business

As well as looking at what specialists in local marketing see as the most valuable services, it’s interesting to compare how the opinions of people working in businesses differ. While I wouldn’t want to downplay anyone’s knowledge, it’s important to understand that there could be a significant difference between what local marketers see as successful and worthy tactics, and what businesses may desire. A combination of compromise and education may be required for a harmonious ongoing relationship! 

Optimization of Google My Business is less valued among businesses—with only 53% placing this in their top 5 most valuable services, compared to 80% of those in agencies or freelancing. This disparity between the perceived importance of Google My Business is a little concerning, and suggests that businesses may be underestimating the power that GMB holds for rankings and conversions. 


According to local businesses, the most valuable services for local marketing success are:

  1. GMB optimization
  2. On-site optimization
  3. Citation building
  4. Content creation
  5. Competitor research.

Social media is also more valuable to businesses than it is to marketers—meaning they may expect an agency to offer this on top of other local marketing specialisms. 


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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