Local Search Industry Survey

Local Search Industry Survey
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. Extent Charts

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

SegmentSalary
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!

Services

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. 

Google My Business Management 101

Local SEO Pricing

The most common ways for local marketers to bill clients

Ways To Bill Clients Chart

Many local marketers charge clients in different ways, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to pricing.

It’s most common to charge a monthly fee based on deliverables (51% of marketers offer this), while 37% charge per project. 

Charging day rates and per lead is less common—though may be offered by some marketers. 

The average hourly rate for local SEO services

1 Annual Salary Of Seos 2021 Chart

A common question we hear is, “How much should I charge for SEO?” With many marketers charging in different (and often multiple) ways, it can be hard to give a clear number or range to set your pricing at, as charging based on deliverables will have a varied value for different industries, locations, and clients. However, we’ve done our best to supply averages to help provide a benchmark on what other marketers are charging. 

The average hourly rate for local SEO differs across countries, with Canadian ($136 CAD) and American ($128 USD) marketers charging more than double the hourly rate in the UK ($60). Even though it’s less common to charge a flat hourly rate, it can be important to have a rate in mind when costing up work.

The average monthly cost per client

2. Monthly Bill Per Client Chart

Monthly rates tend to be a bit more standardized across the three different countries explored in this report. Marketers in the US charge an average of $1,677 per client, while Canadians charge $1,553, and those in the UK £1,338. This combines those that charge monthly rates based on hours with those that charge based on set deliverables. 

Working with Clients

The number of clients 

2. Number Of Clients Chart

The number of clients per agency is high, with 54% having more than 31. This was surprising to me: based on the number of employees in businesses, I expected the number of clients to be far lower. 

When looking at the number of clients personally worked on by each respondent, it’s a little less daunting—with 40% having 10 or fewer, and 20% with less than 6. That said, 29% of local marketers personally work on more than 20 clients, which must make for a very full workload!

Different agencies work in different ways, with some working a small amount of hours but on lots of clients, while others have a laser focus on a handful and hold responsibility for most of the work. 

The average lifespan of a client

2. Average Lifespan Chart

Winning new clients can take up a lot of time, so retention is crucial to getting the best results. 49% of local marketers report that the average lifespan of a client is over 3 years.

We all know that SEO success can’t happen overnight, and it takes time for improvements to take shape, so it’s awesome to see so many long-standing relationships between local marketers and their clients.

As a caveat, the 25% with timeframes under a year with clients may just be starting out as marketers. Alternatively, they could focus more on short-term projects focused on fixing specific problems—rather than ongoing retainers that last over a number of years. 

How clients’ understanding of Google My Business has changed

2. Gmb Understanding Chart

As discussed, there is a disparity between the perceived importance of Google My Business between businesses and marketing consultants, but the fact of the matter is that Google My Business is essential to local SEO success. 

During the pandemic, the Google team rolled out a number of changes aiming to help businesses keep their customers up-to-date on how Covid-19 was impacting the business, as well as measures to make Google My Business more visible for businesses—such as being able to edit GMB information directly from the SERP.

More than half (56%) of local marketers say that their clients’ understanding of Google My Business has improved over the past year. Rather than suggesting that local businesses could take this over themselves, a better understanding of Google My Business by clients should help agencies be able to make changes, and get the information they need to make GMB a business priority. 

Marketing the Marketing Agencies

The most valuable channels for attracting new clients

2. Channels For Winning Clients Chart

N.b. Respondents were asked to share the five most valuable channels for attracting new clients. 

The best channels for winning new local marketing clients

  1. Word of mouth
  2. SEO
  3. Content marketing
  4. Local business groups
  5. Facebook

While they’re obviously focusing on their work or their clients, local marketers also need to make time for marketing their own businesses. 

Word of mouth has historically been the clear front-runner in this question, however, there was a pretty sizeable dip this year (from 63% last year, to 53% now). Recommendations are absolutely crucial for winning new business, whether you’re a marketer or a local business, but with fewer people meeting up and networking in light of the pandemic, perhaps it’s not a shock that word of mouth has experienced a fall from grace. 

The pandemic effect can also be seen in those methods that have grown in popularity, including SEO, content marketing, local business groups, Facebook, LinkedIn, PPC, and PR. It may be worth reassessing where you find your next clients, and seeing if there are any avenues that you’re missing out on.

The effect of the pandemic on local marketers’ businesses

1. Covid 19 Effect Chart

We wanted to reflect on how local marketers have been affected by the impact of the last year. Back in April 2020, we asked our customers about the initial impact of Covid-19 on their workplaces. We wanted to follow this up now that things are going a little more back to normal (fingers crossed!) in many countries. 

And it’s not all bad news. 43% of local marketers’ businesses grew their revenue, while 25% won more clients. 17% received more leads, and 14% had to employ staff as a direct result of the pandemic. With many businesses being forced to look at alternative ways of marketing or having to quickly shift sales online, there is likely to have been an increased demand for digital marketing. 

But of course, with many local businesses having to temporarily or permanently close, there was a ripple effect to the businesses of many agencies and freelance marketers. Some of this may have been temporary, but other consequences—such as losing customers, changing focuses, and cutting staff were, unfortunately, longer-lasting. 

Life In-House for Local and Multi-location Business Marketers

Working in the world of local marketing isn’t only for agencies. We asked respondents in charge of local marketing in local and multi-location businesses a range of questions based on their specific experiences – from how much they spend, to what they most value. 

The most commonly used CMS for local business

Cms Chart

Most commonly-used CMS by local businesses

  1. WordPress
  2. Google My Business websites
  3. Wix
  4. GoDaddy
  5. Weebly

There appears to be a lot of variation between the CMS that local businesses use, but WordPress is by far the most popular, with 42% of local businesses in this survey using this.

For tips on improving SEO on your WordPress site, check out this article

Respondents were given the option to write in their CMS – with many using a custom CMS rather than one of the typical website builders. 

How much local businesses spend on local marketing

Local Business Marketing Spend Chart

For the second year running, fewer local businesses are spending more than $5,000 a month on local marketing — down from 38% of respondents in 2019, to 27% this year. It may be plausible for some local businesses to cut back spending during this difficult year, so less budget may be available for tools and external consultants. 

The metrics most valued by local businesses

1. Marketing Metrics

N.b. Respondents were asked to select all of the metrics they believe are important. 

The most valued marketing metrics by local businesses

  1. Google local rankings 
  2. Google organic rankings
  3. Phone calls
  4. New leads/enquiries
  5. Organic traffic

Rankings on Google are local businesses’ most important metrics for marketing success. Whether this is local or organic, there is still significant value in reporting rankings to many businesses. However, Bing, Yahoo! and DuckDuckGo rankings are far less valued, with less than 10% of local businesses seeing these as important. However, as this survey was primarily promoted to the audience of a rank tracking tool, this may well have had an impact on results here. 

Looking beyond rankings, many local businesses want local marketing to deliver further down the funnel—whether that’s calls (51%), new leads (51%), customers (46%), revenue change (22%), or visits to the business (22%). 

With so many different metrics valued by different businesses, agencies should be sure to clarify upfront exactly what their clients are expecting to achieve. If you’re focused on driving rankings and traffic, but they are expecting growth elsewhere, you may have a disharmonious relationship. 

 


About the Respondents

The Local Search Industry Survey is shared with BrightLocal’s audience and customers, but it’s also promoted in other places local marketers frequent in order to try and get as representative a sample as possible. 

In this year’s study, 66% of respondents were from the US, 9% from the UK, 8% from Canada, 4% from Australia, 2% from India, and 11% split across 21 other countries. All results represent all of these countries, with the exception of salary and pricing questions, which only take into account respondents from the US, UK, and Canada for ease of comparison. 

While efforts were made to try and increase the response uptake among non-male respondents, there is an uneven split between the genders. 30% of respondents are female, 68% are male, and 2% declined to share their gender. This split matches the 2020 study. 

27% of respondents are aged 18-34. 58% are aged between 35 and 54, and 15% are over 55. Looking by seniority, 69% class themselves as senior (60% in 2020), and 26% believe they are mid-level (23% last year). 5% describe themselves as junior—significantly down from 17%. The limited representation of marketers in junior roles may have an influence on some of the findings around salaries and services. 

Types of business

Type of business20212020
Agency focusing on local SEO / marketing41%42%
Agency focusing on national SEO / marketing17%21%
Freelancer / sole marketing consultant11%11%
Local business with a single location
13%10%
Multi-location business 10%9%
Web design agency4%6%
Marketing software4%-

There was a broadly similar split between agencies, freelancers, and people working within businesses compared to the 2020 survey. In 2021, we added ‘marketing software’ as an option for the first time. 


Thank you for reading the results of this year’s Local Search Industry Survey. In a year like no other, we hope this helps provide some useful benchmarks for local marketers to understand what their peers are doing. Let us know your thoughts on the results in the comments below!

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

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