Small SEO Agencies Dominate

Want to know what’s going on with agencies doing local SEO? BrightLocal recently completed a survey, polling about 650 digital agencies, SEO freelancers and in-house marketers from small businesses and enterprises and the results reflect a promising future for small local SEO agencies.

You can view the survey results here: Local Search Industry Survey – BrightLocal

Small Agencies Dominate Local SEO

A majority of local SEO’ers are smaller agencies, with around 53% of firms doing local SEO having ten or fewer clients. It’s not easy to stay connected with what is happening in your market or industry when you are managing a small agency or freelancing, so you’re going to find this survey enlightening, to say the least.

This survey gives insight into what is going on in the market of search marketing – diving into how business practices, prices, services, and salaries are changing year over year. Take a look at these key survey points when benchmarking your agency against other Local SEO's.


  • The average SEO professional earned $81,103, up since 2017
  • Agencies and freelancers are paid an average $1,779 per client each month, up $109 in a year
  • Freelance and Agency SEOs bill their clients an average of $119 per hour
  • 61% of in-house SEOs spend over $1,000 per month on marketing
  • Search marketers work an average of 44 hours per week
  • SEOs' favorite tasks are heavily data-driven (on-site optimization, SEO audit and analysis, and GMB optimization)
  • 93% of marketers feel optimistic that 2019 will be a positive year for SEO
  • Word of mouth is most effective for attracting new clients to search marketers, followed by SEO
  • The services that are most in-demand from clients: web design and development, on-site SEO, and SEO audits

93% of Search Marketers Are Optimistic About What’s Next

This year there was a marked increase in the proportion of people who are very optimistic about the future of the SEO Industry. In the past 18 months, there have been a lot of changes in local SEO with the end of Google+, Facebook revamping reviews to recommendations, the mobile-first index, and the new Google My Business agency dashboard. While so much change presented challenges, people are overwhelmingly more excited about the future of the industry, than discouraged.

The SEO Services Most in Demand from Clients

  1. Website design (#2 last year)
  2. On-site optimization (#1)
  3. SEO audits and analysis (New option)
  4. PPC (#4)
  5. GMB optimization (#3)
  6. Social media (#8)
  7. Reputation management (#9)
  8. Citation management(#6)
  9. Link building and content outreach (#7)
  10. Content creation and optimization (#5)

Not surprisingly, reputation management is ranking higher this year for in-demand services, but the survey also showed that 50% of local marketers don’t have enough time to spend on online reputation management.

Which factors are most important to local businesses in an internet marketing consultant?

  1. Relevant industry experience
  2. Reputation
  3. Guarantees on performance
  4. Low cost
  5. Website ranks well in Google

“Industry experience is the most important factor to businesses, which may account for the dip in people working across a broad range of industries. Guarantees on performance is something that comes up highly time and time again. We asked marketers whether SEOs should guarantee their work, and the answer was ‘No.’ Instead, marketers should educate customers on why success can’t be guaranteed, and instead offer practical targets to measure against.”

SEO Professionals Are Earning More and Landing More Clients

Even though 41% of survey respondents opted not to share salary details, you should still take a look at this data. For the 2019 survey, SEO professionals on average earned $81,103 per year, which is up from $61,711 in previous 2017 survey.

“Over the last few years of the Local Search Industry Survey, we’ve seen continued year-on-year growth in search marketers’ salaries. Now, just 9% earn less than $30,000 – down from 20% of respondents in 2016 and 2017. The biggest growth is in the $45,000-59,999 salary bracket.”

There was also small growth in the number of professionals earning over $150,000 each year, which is where you want to be – one of those six-figure SEO professionals raising the median and adding more clients.

Local SEO Dominate Clients

Source: BrightLocal

Clients are Paying an Average of $1,779 per Month

In this survey, agencies are earning an average $1,779 per client each month, compared to $1,670 in 2017. Not a huge jump, but a bigger change is seen when looking at how 49% receive an average fee of less than $1,000 – down from 57% last year. The biggest growth was in the $2,000-3,499 bracket.

Local SEO Dominate Client Pay

Source: BrightLocal

Upping Minimum Rates on Retainers

While 67% of marketing businesses are charging a retainer minimum of less than $1,000, the median monthly retainer ranges for local marketing services is $500-$699. Minimum monthly retainers actually dropped in the 2017 survey results, but the smart guys over at BrightLocal think this may be due to agencies and freelancers offering new services at lower prices. Now that you have to do less work to convince people of the benefits of your services, the market is ready for more competitive pricing.

SEO Marketers Charge an Average of $119 Per Hour…

Local SEO Dominate Hourly Rate

Source: BrightLocal

… And Marketers are Spending More Hours on SEO

Local SEO Dominate Hours Worked

Source: BrightLocal

The above chart compares the time spent on SEO by respondents from marketing agencies and freelancers, with the number of hours these groups work.

Search marketers work an average of 44 hours each week, which is higher than the average American worker, who works 34.5 hours per week.

Agencies and marketing freelancers spend an average of 26 hours each week on SEO-related tasks which are ten more hours than those in local businesses and brands. The math works out to the average internet marketing consultant spending 59% of their time on SEO-related tasks.

Where You’re At Versus Where You Want to Be

Benchmarking is defined as evaluating or checking something by comparison with a standard. The Local Search Market Survey is a good way to take what you are doing and compare it to the average so you can work on a plan that gets you to extraordinary results.

SEO professionals are growing their client list and earning more money than in past years, and it’s exciting to see how this niche is dominated by smaller boutique agencies. The future is bright for smaller SEO agencies and freelancers!

Other survey results you’ll want to look at include:

What proportion of your work is comprised of projects/retainers?

How many leads do you proactively contact each month?

What is your estimated success rate at converting leads into clients?

How much work do you outsource to third-parties or white label SEO services?

How much local businesses and franchises spend on marketing each month.

Who handles internet marketing for local businesses?


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Nick Ponte

Nick Ponte

Born and raised on Maui, Nick was employed as an automobile mechanic before founding his own local marketing agency. Nick naturally wrestled with the change from tradesman to marketer (not an easy transition) but, like Tom, he wouldn't give up. Through years of commitment, Nick has grown to be a highly skilled web developer and marketing expert with a specialized skill-sets in a variety of fields. He has developed many high-traffic, high-quality websites that incorporate the best practices for today's digital marketing. Today, Nick eagerly shares his experience and knowledge by helping others in cultivating their business.

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