Survey: Local SEO an ‘artisanal’ discipline dominated by small agencies

February 4, 2019

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A new survey from BrightLocal offers a window into the state of agencies doing local SEO. The survey polled roughly 650 digital agencies, SEO freelancers and in-house marketers from small businesses and enterprises. The results overall describe a market segment that faces challenges but is upbeat — a reflection of the dynamic and constantly changing nature of organic search.

Agency size and revenues. A majority (54 percent) of those doing local SEO are smaller agencies and small businesses themselves. However, the number of large agencies involved with local SEO grew somewhat compared with two years ago.

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The majority of respondents had fewer than 20 SEO clients, with 53 percent having fewer than 10. The largest group (65 percent) were making less than $1 million annually from their SEO customers (some much less); roughly 18 percent were making between $1 million and $5 million and 6 percent were making more than $5 million annually. And 18 percent said they didn’t know how much they were making from local SEO clients.

Monthly retainer amounts were all over the place, but the bulk (59 percent) were in the $100 to $1,000 range. In terms of hourly rates, 30 percent of respondents were charging between $50 and $100, and 34 percent charged between $100 and $150, with 28 percent charging more than that. The vast majority of practitioners (83 percent) were making $100,000 or less in salary, with 17 percent earning over that amount.

Results hard to deliver. A majority (56 percent) said it will be more challenging to deliver local SEO results for clients this year, but that number is actually down from 2017. In other words, more SEOs are upbeat about potential performance. Indeed, 93 percent of the marketers surveyed said they are “fairly optimistic” or “very optimistic” about the outlook for the SEO industry overall.

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The local search marketing services most in demand from clients were:

  1. Web design.
  2. On-site optimization.
  3. SEO audits and analysis.
  4. PPC.
  5. GMB optimization.
  6. Social media.
  7. Reputation management.
  8. Citation management.
  9. Link building and content outreach.
  10. Content creation and optimization.

Asked about how they got new clients, practitioners responded that word of mouth was the leading source, followed by SEO itself. Content marketing was number three, local business groups was next, followed by PPC advertising, then conferences and Facebook. The latter dropped as a source of new business from number three last year to number seven this year.

Why you should care. Far from being dead, SEO business appears to be growing for the agencies participating in the survey. However, local SEO is a sub-segment that, for the moment, is dominated by smaller firms and smaller dollars.

Many people in the industry treat local SEO as a niche or see it purely as a concern for small business. However, the truth is the opposite; it’s something that every business or brand that sells through physical stores or service outlets should be focused on.

You can see the full results of the BrightLocal survey here. And for comparison and context, see Marketing Land’s new digital agency survey for larger agency trends.

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