At BrightLocal, we’ve recently published the annual update to our Local SEO Industry Survey, a report that looks closely at the local search industry — the people and companies that operate in it, the services they offer, what they charge and their outlook for the 12 months ahead.
The aim of the survey is to gain a better understanding about life on the ground for those working in the local search industry and to learn about the various local search marketing services that are offered from year to year. We then share the results with the wider community so that we can all benefit from the findings.
The survey is now in its fourth year, having been previously published in 2011, 2013 and 2014.
In November and December 2015, we put 20 questions to 1,973 respondents, a mix of SEO freelancers, in-house SEOs and SEOs from local to international agencies.
Here, we’ve picked out some key data points and charts that answer key industry questions.
Note: We added “More than $1 million” as a new answer for 2015 due to the high number of “$500,000–$1 million” responses last year. Therefore, there is no year-on-year comparison.
*We calculated the average revenue using the mean value in each revenue bracket, e.g., $200,000 is the mean between $150,000 and $250,000.
The median company income is $150,000–$250,000 per year, whilst the average company revenue is $363,110 per year.
In this year’s survey, we had a higher number of respondents from local agencies (34 percent vs. 31 percent) and national/international agencies (21 percent vs. 16 percent) and a drop in the number of freelance SEOs taking part (27 percent to 16 percent). Therefore, I expect this to be reflected in the results, and I take it into account throughout the analysis.
Company revenue figures took a big jump from 2014 to 2015 (with more agencies taking part, this is to be expected). Thirty-two percent of respondents said revenue was over $500K (vs. 15 percent in 2014), with 23 percent of those reporting revenues of more than $1 million/year.
Additionally, there were fewer SEOs who reported company earnings below $50,000 (24 percent vs. 31 percent). It all points to a more profitable 2015 for the many businesses that operate in local search.
There’s a wide range of income levels reported by local SEOs in 2015. The average annual income is $70,000 per annum, whilst the median is $50,000–$60,000 per annum. This is in line with similar industry research conducted by Moz, where the median SEO’s income was calculated at $60,215.
Entry-level earnings appear to be less than $30K, although we can assume that there are some part-time workers and freelancers within this bracket, which would inflate this figure.
We are doing some further analysis to compare results based on business type (e.g., freelancers, local agencies). We’ll make this analysis available for download via the BrightLocal blog in January.
Significantly, the SEO industry remains open as a career opportunity to many people. Whilst there are some industry standard qualifications, they are not a requirement for entry level, and it remains an open career path to many young professionals interested in online marketing, social media, PR and content marketing. Because of this, there are many SEOs operating at vastly different levels of experience, skills and income.
However, for any aspiring SEOs looking at the industry from the outside, there is obviously a chance to earn significant income, with 29 percent of local SEOs reporting annual income of more than $75K.
And more good news for aspiring SEOs: Elsewhere in the survey, we found that 72 percent of agencies were planning to recruit more staff in 2016, suggesting plenty of opportunity for newbies to kick start their career in SEO.
In any competitive B2B industry, it’s rare that a business can afford to be too selective about the sectors their customers operate in. This is also the case for local SEO, despite the obvious benefits of being able to demonstrate expertise in any one area.
The number of practitioners who work within just three or fewer vertical industries has gone down year on year (37 percent vs. 40 percent in 2014). Some of this decline may be due to the changing mix of respondents to the survey, with the increase in agencies meaning less industry specialization and a broader client base.
More positive signs for the local search industry with more customers paying more than $1,000 per month year on year (38 percent vs. 32 percent in 2014), and fewer customers paying less than $500 per month (36 percent vs. 40 percent in 2014).
The average customer pays $1,389, and the median value is $500–$1,000 per month.
It’s good to see SEOs/agencies reporting higher revenues, which can in some part be put down to an increase in client fees. What’s more, Local SEOs are earning more individually year on year. These are all positive metrics for our industry.
Now more than ever, as local or multi-location businesses start up and grow, they require a well-optimized web presence and the ability for local customers to find them online. With frequent and often complicated changes from Google, businesses require local search experts to help them achieve this — so the industry continues to flourish.
Despite the positive results of the previous charts (see above), there is a certain amount of trepidation in the industry.
Seventy-eight percent of local SEOs believe that it is going to be a “great” or “good” year, which in itself is an encouraging stat. However, this optimism has decreased by five percent since 2014 and six percent since 2013.
Has the topsy-turvy nature of local search beaten back some of the positive outlook?
There’s little doubt that 2015 was another good year for the local search industry, and the outlook for 2016 is very positive.
All of this comes just one year after Google’s Pigeon Update, a local search algorithm that shook up the local results in 2014.
So, whilst all signs point to positivity, growth and a prosperous future (at least in the short term) for those in local SEO, there are also signs of doubt, with many SEOs anticipating further changes throughout 2016.
To view the full findings of the Local SEO Industry Survey 2015, head over to BrightLocal.com.
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