In 2016 I wrote the ebook “Local SEO Checklist: 48 Steps to Ignite Your Online Presence”.
It has since been downloaded and read thousands of times and I have received some amazing feedback on it, so I thought it might be time to put together some additional updated resources to answer some common questions about working with local SEO. The following article is an updated companion piece to the ebook that describes everything you need to know before hiring a local SEO, or if you should just do it yourself. I still recommend you download the local SEO checklist and read it too, since it acts as a worksheet that you can check off as you improve your website.
What is local SEO?
Local SEO, or Local Search Engine Optimization is a type of digital marketing that has the goal of generating more visibility on search engines for search queries with local intent. Local SEO utilizes maps, reviews, content, local citations / NAP, schema markup language, and a variety of other local marketing tactics to generate more visibility and drive more leads to a business’s website.
Any business that gets their customers from a specific geographic area can benefit from hiring a local SEO company.
Who should use local SEO?
Any business that gets their customers from a specific geographic area can benefit from hiring a local SEO company. If your customers come to your office / location, or you go to your customer’s homes, then you should have an SEO strategy. Here is a litmus test to see if local SEO is right for you. Take your main service or product and shorten it to a single keyword, then put your city name after it. A local realtor might have something like “real estate austin”. This is a simple way that people search in search engines for local businesses. However, if you sell products online and location isn’t vital to your sales process, then standard SEO might be the best bet for you instead of local SEO. Someone searching “modern paintings” has less local intent and may just want to buy something they find online, not in their immediate geographic area.
How Much Does Local SEO cost?
How much you spend on local SEO can range from a few hundred dollars per month (if you go the DIY route) to tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars per month based on what services you are paying for, as well as how many physical offices or locations you have. For example, a small time car mechanic with one shop could get reasonable local SEO work for $500-$2,000/month from a reputable company, but a large corporate chain of stores like Dominos that has thousands of locations could spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on their local SEO. Since there is such a big range, let’s break it down and look at the options as well as the costs associated with each. Pro tip: generally, you should not trust a company that is charging less than $250 per month for local SEO. As you will see, even with the smallest campaigns, the tools and fees alone would mean that a person charging $250 per month probably not legitimate.
Option 1: DIY
Doing your own local SEO is possible with some basic web design and technical knowledge, but there are more complex areas that “do-it-yourselfers” probably won’t be able to handle like schema markup / JSON-LD, and website speed and design optimization.
Who should do DIY Local SEO?
This option is best for small, established companies with no significant marketing budgets, and those business owners who are technically savvy online.
Who should stay away from the DIY route?
Brand new businesses should avoid DIY, as there is a ton of technical setup for a new company, and to make a mistake in the early stages could really harm your success in the future. Large companies with multiple locations should also avoid DIY, since scaling the work across many locations is not something that is easily done. There have been many times that we have seen companies that thought their tech savvy interns could handle a local SEO project, but more often than not those projects go awry as even small mistakes and inconsistencies in local citations, for example, can mean the failure of local SEO.
DIY local SEO is done mostly by business owners who are strapped for cash, by finding free resources online to help them. By using online resources (like our downloadable local SEO checklist), you can probably get through:
- Setup of Google my Business (for one location)
- Basic on site optimization of content
- Small scale local citation campaigns
- Small scale review generation campaigns
Even DIY local SEO is not free, as you will incur several hard costs:
- Website Hosting: Since having a website is crucial to local SEO, you will have to pay for a company to host the files on their server. Hosting can cost anywhere from a few dollars a month to a few hundred dollars, but you get what you pay for. The faster your hosting is, the better your site will perform in search engines.
- Website Design and Maintenance: If you can build, edit, and update your website yourself, you are good to go here, but if you require someone to design and update your website for you, you will end up paying for it. Well-build websites for local businesses will cost anywhere from $1,000 for pre built templated site, to $25,000 for a fully custom site. Much of the work in local SEO requires making small changes to the website, so if you may be paying someone a few hundred dollars an hour to do these changes and to manage your web design.
- Local Citation Fees: Some local citations and directories like Yahoo require monthly or yearly fees to be listed (see: what are local citations). Depending on which citations you sign up for, you could end up paying a few hundred dollars per month. You can manage all of your local citations yourself, or you could pay a third party vendor like Yext, Moz Local, or Whitespark to do it for you. These vendors typically charge anywhere from $80 a month to a a few hundred, depending on how many locations you have.
- Review Generation Tools: In order to streamline the review generation process, many DIYers choose to use review gen tools like Get Five Stars or Customer Lobby. These tools will help you collect more reviews, which can help your local SEO efforts. These tools usually cost around $50-100 per month.
- SEO Tracking Tools: You will need to utilize some SEO software to track the progress of your work — otherwise you will have no barometer to know if you are being successful in your efforts. You can use tools like Raven, SEMrush, or Bright Local to track your work and see your results. These tools generally cost around $50 / month and up.
- Your Time: While you will not need to pay yourself for your own work, it is important to remember that as a business owner, your time is valuable. You have a company and a staff that depends on you to make the company profitable, so spending your time on SEO is not always the best investment
Results for the DIY method are going to be mixed, depending on your technical skills. The main problem with DIY local SEO is that you don’t have the resources or knowledge needed to troubleshoot common problems. Sure, you might be able to build a Google My Business page your self, but getting it to show in Google for relevant searches is a whole ‘nother beast. The other common problem is lack of access to, or knowledge about editing your website. The way that a website is built and coded is very important to local search engine optimization, and if you cannot edit the html, css, js, and php code, then you may not have great results.
Option 2: Hiring a Local SEO Company
Hiring an SEO company to do your local digital campaigns will to be more expensive than the DIY option, but as the saying goes: “You get what you pay for”. A good SEO company will have experts on staff who understand best practices, can handle web design and development, and can troubleshoot and fix issues as they come up. Another major benefit of hiring a company to do your SEO is that you will only have to pay one monthly service fee, and you can let them eat all of the small costs listed above.
Who should hire a local SEO Company?
This option is best for busy business owners who want to get more leads online, but do not have the time to dedicate towards doing the work themselves. Small to medium sized companies who have the budget to spend on marketing can benefit greatly by investing in a good SEO partner.
Who Shouldn’t Hire a SEO Company?
First of all, if you don’t have the budget to hire an SEO company for an extended term, do not hire one and hope that it will pay for itself right away. Even the best SEO work can take 6 months to a year to show positive ROI, so make sure you have enough money on hand before hiring.
If you hire a reputable SEO company to handle your local campaigns, you should expect them to be doing the some or all of the following things for you:
- Setup and optimization of Google My Business pages (for any number of locations)
- Ongoing content production and optimization
- Full scale local citation campaigns
- Review generation campaigns
- Schema markup
- Local link building and outreach
- Technical SEO: code optimzation, speed optimization, etc
The convenient thing about hiring a local SEO company is that you will only incur the monthly fee for their services. Some companies may charge for add on services or link building budgets, but most will just charge you a monthly fee.
You can expect to see results from hiring a local SEO company, and they should be transparent in discussing those results with you. Success in local SEO can be measured by:
- Increased traffic to your website: This can be seen in Google Analytics reports. If the goal of local SEO is to drive more potential customers to your website, then traffic can be a good measure of success.
- Visibility in map pack: If a local SEO campaign is successful, your website should be showing in the map pack for relevant searches. Since the map pack is the main local area of Google’s search result pages, then local SEO should get you showing there.
- Increased amount of leads: A good local SEO campaign should ultimately drive more business to your company and make you more money. More leads means that your local SEO is paying off.
- Keyword ranking improvements: as a company, we stopped reporting keyword rankings to our clients, but many SEO companies still use keyword reports to show their progress to clients. To see the full explanation of why we don’t like to use keyword reporting, you can read the full article here.
Option 3: Hiring an In-house SEO Specialist
Hiring an in-house SEO specialist is often done by larger companies who have budget for added staff, and looking for the full time dedication of an in-office employee. With that bieng said, I believe that hiring an agency is almost always a better decision than hiring an in-house SEO. I may be biased as I work in an agency, but in-house hires rarely have the experience and knowledge that would equal all of the talent you get from hiring an agency, for the same price. Look at it like this, you can have one in-house person to work on your account for a roughly $60-100K salary per year, OR for the same price you could have an agency team of content writers, web designers, SEOs, and strategists, all to work on your account. The one exception I would make to this rule is for very large corporate companies that have entire SEO teams internally. In those cases, I would say that bringing on an employee that specializes in local SEO would be a smart move to add to your team.
When hiring an in-house local SEO specialist, you’ll get many of the same things that you get by hiring an agency (see above), but with 2 major limitations:
- Limited Resources: there are only so many hours in the day, and for large companies with hundreds or thousands of locations, the workload can be large to manage so many campaigns.
- Lack of Specialization: Local SEO is an expansive industry, and expecting one employee to be a master at all areas of it is unreasonable. If you hire a local SEO specialist that is talented at local citation campaigns, they may not be highly skilled in coding.
An in-house SEO hire can be beneficial to a small or medium sized business if the hire is very talented, but in most cases I would stay away from in-house and go the agency route.
When hiring an in-house specialist, you will be responsible for all of the tools and costs mentioned in the DIY section (SEO software, web design costs, etc), but the major cost to hire an in-house SEO is the employee’s salary. You can expect to pay around a $45,000 salary for an entry level SEO in house, and up to $125,000 for a veteran. Other costs that you will incur like health insurance and other employee benefits can also add up.
If you hire an employee to work in-office on your local SEO, the results will vary greatly depending on their work experience and knowledge. Make sure to use due diligence in vetting out your hire, and make sure to get specific examples of work that they have done. When hiring an agency, it is easy to get work references, but when hiring an in-house employee it can be more difficult.
The one major advantage that in-house SEO teams have over agencies, is access to the day-to-day knowledge and inner workings of the company. SEO can be difficult with limited information from the client, so in-house workers have a big advantage being in the office with their client (the employer) every day.
Local SEO is a valuable service with potential to make loads of money for your business– there are just several different ways to achieve the end result.
There are benefits to each route: DIY, hiring an agency, or hiring an in-house employee, and it all depends on what your needs are as a business. Small companies with small budgets can benefit from DIY until they grow, most companies can benefit by hiring an agency full of experts, and large companies can benefit from bringing local SEO experts into their staff.