How lucrative is local search?

As online marketing for local businesses has grown ever more sophisticated and complex, the need for external, experienced professionals to provide it as a service has also developed. Of course, local marketing requirements of different business types can vary massively: a restaurant chain is unlikely to have to deal with Google My Business spam, just as a single-location retail store has far more control over its online reputation than businesses with multiple locations.

Marketing agencies and freelancers, in particular, have had to adapt their services and their marketing messaging to ensure they’re capturing the right kinds of leads suited to their expertise, without inadvertently closing doors that could lead to fruitful partnerships.

This dynamism and variety inherent in local business marketing mean that we can’t always know exactly what we mean when we talk about it, but my company BrightLocal tries to resolve this every year with a comprehensive survey taking a bird’s eye view of what’s going on, called the Local Search Industry Survey. This survey was open worldwide, but the vast majority of respondents were based in the U.S.

This report looks at the tasks performed, salaries earned, revenue generated, clients served (and much more) of people working in local search, but exclusive to this column I’d like to present data on how these data points differ when split down lines of seniority. As you’ll see below, the experiences of Junior, Mid-level, and Senior SEOs don’t differ quite as much as you think (except for where it really matters, of course: the wallet).

On average, senior SEO professionals earn more than twice that of their junior counterparts

The local search industry follows the worldwide trend of senior executive (founder/C-suite) pay vastly outstripping the pay of, well, pretty much everyone else. They earn nearly $50k more than their mid-level (director/lead) equivalents and more than twice their juniors (account managers/project manager), while mid-level SEOs earn just above the 2017 median US household income every year. Although this question was only asked to people working in agencies, the differentiation is likely fairly representative of the industry as a whole, although the salary might not be.

This would suggest that mobility between ranks in marketing agencies is far easier from Junior to Mid-level than from Mid-level to Senior. In many cases, to be in the Senior level at an agency, you’d need to have found it in the first case. This is true of smaller agencies, though the larger size of C-suite in more prominent agencies is bound to come with more potential from promotion within.

If you’re not already at a Senior level, you’ll be wanting to move up in the world, but what skill will you need to develop to do that? Let’s take a look at the kinds of tasks each of these three levels of employee/employer get up to.

Which core tasks does the local search industry perform?

While this chart certainly gives us some idea of which tasks are more commonly requested by clients, the seniority split gives us a clear picture of which services are inescapable, no matter your pay grade, and which are more niche. Respondents were asked to tick all that applied to their role.

Top Five Tasks for Junior SEOs

  1. SEO audits/analysis (95 percent of junior SEOs said they performed this task)
  2. Citation management (95 percent
  3. Reporting/analytics (95 percent)
  4. Google My Business optimization
  5. Content creation

Top Five Tasks for Mid-level SEOs

  1. Reporting/analytics (96 percent)
  2. Competitor research (96 percent)
  3. Content creation (93 percent)
  4. Reputation management (93 percent)
  5. On-site optimization (93 percent)

Top Five Tasks for Senior SEOs

  1. New business development (97 percent)
  2. Client management (96 percent)
  3. On-site optimization (96 percent)
  4. SEO audits/analysis (95 percent)
  5. Reporting/analytics (94 percent)

As you can see, performing and understanding SEO audits remains a key skill the further up the SEO ladder you climb, while some less complex tasks citation management are naturally the sole preserve of SEO juniors.

Are you struggling to break through to the C-suite in your current company, or looking to move up a rung in a different business? The results suggest that strong client management and business development skills are crucial. Once you have the full gamut of SEO skills under your belt, you will of course then be more suited to selling the benefits of this work to potential clients.

Meanwhile, junior SEOs would be wise to start brushing up on their reputation management and competitor research skills if they’re looking for that promotion. The former, in particular, is of growing importance to local marketing and so developing this discipline is a wise move for anyone working with local businesses.

Senior SEOs do far less SEO than their staff

It’s the age-old situation: the baker who starts a bread company probably never needs to bake bread again. And so it is with local SEO, though not quite at such a severe degree. As you can see, junior SEOs spend the lion’s share of their time each week on day-to-day SEO, while more senior staff spend significantly less.

However, it’s worth noting that this is still a high level of SEO work from the senior level. It just goes to show that it doesn’t pay to get left behind in local SEO, so even those at the top have to get their hands dirty to keep their skills sharp and run successful agencies and businesses.

Junior local SEO staff handle an average of 23 clients

What this tells us is that the less complex or less risky SEO tasks performed by junior-level SEO staff can be performed en masse for a large selection of clients, while the kind of work performed at the C-suite level requires the sort of attention that can’t be split across dozens of clients.

If you’re a junior or mid-level SEO, you can look forward to your future career involving more client management work but for fewer clients. As we’ve seen above, new business development is a big part of the senior SEO’s day, so it’s only natural for the continued relationship management to site predominantly with them.

This is actually really good to see, as many local businesses worry that, when working with agencies, they get the white-glove treatment from CEOs and sales teams, only to be handed to a junior member of staff and never spoken to by the top brass again. Client relationships and client success is still clearly a huge priority for SEOs across the board.


What this data provides is a picture of incredibly hard-working junior SEO staff, who perform some of the more mundane SEO tasks regularly, and for a far larger selection of clients than their superiors.

At the other end, seniors focus more on building the business, generating new leads and developing client relationships than getting their hands dirty, though they still definitely keep practicing SEO to keep from getting rusty. This is particularly important in local SEO, as with its reliance on Google My Business, it’s slightly more at the immediate whim of Google than other forms of website-oriented SEO.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

About The Author

Jamie Pitman is Head of Content at local SEO tool provider BrightLocal. He’s been working in Digital Marketing for nearly ten years and has specialized in SEO, content marketing and social media, managing successful marketing projects for clients and employers alike. Over this time he’s blogged his heart out, writing over 300 posts on a wide variety of digital marketing topics for various businesses and publications.

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