Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) has been around since 1997, and it’s grown into an industry that’s worth approximately £63 billion. In today’s crowded, competitive online space, claiming the top spot on Google—and keeping it—is crucial to a brand or business’ success. That’s where SEO agencies come in.
A quick glance at some of the 2023 SEO agency statistics shows just how important SEO is, both in the UK and globally:
- In 2023, the UK market size of the SEO & Internet Marketing Consultants industry was £19.2 billion.
- The most popular specialisms in SEO agencies are SEO audits, on-page and technical optimisation, PPC, web design and development, content marketing, and link building.
- SEO agency pricing varies, with monthly retainers between £500 to £5000, hourly rates between £50 to £300, and project-based rates of £1000 to £30,000.
- According to LinkedIn, there are approximately 207,000 SEO employees globally and 29,000 in the UK.
- There are more than 7,673 digital marketing agencies in the UK.
It’s clear that SEO is big business, and SEO agencies are part of an evolving industry that comprises multiple facets and specialisms. We’ve done a deep dive into 2023’s most notable SEO agency statistics and taken a look at what 2024 may hold, both in the UK and beyond.
The Cost Of SEO
An increase in digital ad spend has contributed to the surge in demand for SEO consultants, and industry revenue reflects this. In the UK, the SEO market’s five-year compound growth rate was 11.2%, and in 2023, the market is worth £19.2 billion. It’s estimated that by 2028, it could reach as high as £25 billion. Globally, the market was worth $68.27 billion in 2022, and it’s expected to grow at a CAGR of 8.7% between 2023 and 2032, when it will be worth $122.11 billion.
For businesses big and small, having an online presence is crucial, and factoring SEO into a marketing budget is no longer a luxury but a necessity.
The average cost of SEO services a month depends on your business, its size and sector, and your target audience’s location. Local SEO benefits regional businesses in a specific location, while global SEO benefits a business or brand that has a national, multi-national or global appeal.
The agency costs also depend on the type of SEO services provided, the expertise of the company, and how long they’ve been established.
- In the UK, the typical average monthly SEO agency costs vary between £1650 and £5500 a month for local SEO services.
- For global SEO services, a national or international campaign requires a minimum budget of $2,500 to $5,000 a month.
With a clear idea of what SEO costs, it’s time to look at the other side of the coin – what SEO agencies are making revenue-wise.
According to a study by Ahrefs, SEO agencies charge more per hour than freelancers, but this is the standard in almost all industries where freelancers and agencies co-exist. For a freelancer to start up their own solo business in the UK, costs are estimated at around £1,500, while start-up costs for an SEO agency can cost anywhere from £5,000 to £50,000.
Of course, overheads like staffing, premises, marketing (yes, SEO agencies need to market too. In fact, this is crucial as it proves their expertise), and other costs can eat into bottom lines. But on average, it’s expected that a good profit margin for an SEO agency is between 11%-20%. Some agencies may push these margins to as high as 50%, but these tend to be agencies with large clients who have a global reach.
Typically, an agency will charge between two and five times what it costs to achieve a business or brand’s goals. However, SEO agencies that focus on different specialisms also have different profit margins.
Some of the profit margin averages in 2023 include:
- PPC Digital Marketing Agency: between 10%-30% of a client’s budget.
- Social Media Marketing Agency: profit margins between 11%-20%.
- Local Lead Generation Agency Model: profit margins between 85%-90%.
If we look at Statista’s report for 2022, it was estimated that digital agency revenue as a whole topped £16.6 billion. This figure has tripled since 2012 and is a clear indication that the advertising industry is focusing on the digital market – with SEO being a key factor.
Although more recent stats have not been made available, data from 2019 shows that Accenture Interactive was the leading digital agency in the UK in terms of revenue. Surpassing IBM iX and Atos Digital, Accenture Interactive made a whopping £370.5 million, while the runners-up made £282 and £251, respectively.
Predominant SEO Agency Specialisms
There are four core pillars of SEO:
- Technical SEO: Optimising a website for search engines and UX.
- Content: Creating content that improves web page rankings.
- On-site SEO: Optimising web pages for search engines.
- Off-site SEO: Optimising a site from external channels, e.g. PPC, social media marketing, link building, and guest blogs.
While some SEO agencies may offer services that encompass all four, others only cover one or two pillars or even a single sub-category of a pillar, such as link building or social media marketing.
Taking a look at the directory listing for 170 SEO agencies in the UK, it’s clear that PPC, web development and design, and SEO management are in-demand specialisms. Content is also in demand, with many SEO agencies focusing on content creation, keyword research, link building and digital marketing campaigns.
Looking further afield, the most common types of SEO specialisms are local SEO, ecommerce SEO and SEO audit services. eCommerce SEO is one of the fastest-growing sectors at present, and it’s estimated that by 2024, more than 21.2% of all retail sales will happen online. This will increase the demand for ecommerce SEO, not just globally but locally, too.
One area that doesn’t yet feature as a popular specialism is voice search. However, with 4.2 billion voice assistants already in use in 2023 and this number expected to reach 8.4 billion by 2024, voice search SEO is certainly going to be something that agencies are going to need to focus on. Especially when you consider that there are already over 1 billion voice searches a month!
SEO Agency Employee Numbers
In previous research that we conducted into the number of people working in SEO in the UK, we found that there were 29,000 LinkedIn users with SEO in their title. When we expanded this search to go global, our results showed 207,000 people.
IBISWorld, however, recorded 80,8058 employees in the UK who work in the SEO and internet marketing consultant industry. This is nearly three times the number we found on LinkedIn.
According to Statista, the number of advertising and media agency employees in the UK has grown dramatically from 2007 to 2022. This is in line with industry growth and reflects the increasing demand for digital marketing services. In 2007, there were 19,000 employees; by 2017, there were 25,000 and by 2022, there were just short of 30,000 employees.
The industry experienced a small dip in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic, but it has since recovered to record its highest numbers. While these statistics also include traditional forms of marketing, they provide a good overview of the growth in agency employment across the UK.
SEO Employment Opportunities
Globally, SEO job searches have risen from 3,600 in 2016 to 14,800 in 2023. As global marketing investment is set to increase by 8.2% in 2024, there are plenty of opportunities for those looking for work in the SEO sector.
Due to the fact that there are multiple pillars of SEO, there are also various options for employment, and some of the most common SEO jobs include:
- Social Media Manager
- Digital Marketer
- SEO Specialist
- Account Manager
- Marketing Consultant
- UX Designer
- Web Designer
- Web Developer
- SEO Manager
Because SEO is constantly evolving, many employees are relatively new to the field or have between one and five years of experience. However, SEO experts with five or more years of experience are more sought-after for top roles.
According to Indeed, there are currently 2,591 SEO jobs in the UK. Of these, 796 were hybrid remote, and only 76 were fully remote.
When looking at job locations in the UK, these were the top five:
- London (767)
- England (139)
- Manchester (91)
- Leeds (67)
- Birmingham (58)
It’s evident that as the SEO industry grows, so too do job opportunities and earning potential.
The average salary for an SEO specialist is £33,030 a year. Most SEO salaries on Indeed are listed as £25,000+, with the top earnings of £50,000. However, some agencies may pay more, depending on an SEO’s skills, expertise, and experience.
2024 Trends SEO Agencies Need To Focus On
SEO is an ever-evolving industry, and the agencies that stay on top of the latest trends are the ones that will attract a greater number of clients.
With that in mind, these are the trends that we can expect to see SEO agencies focus on in 2024:
We mentioned how fast voice search was growing previously, and this is an area that’s prime for growth. SEO agencies that can offer voice search SEO are going to get ahead of those that don’t and will create an entirely new marketing niche.
AI and Automation:
2023 has seen AI grow in leaps and bounds, and while many SEO agencies have used AI tools for years to automate data analysis, pinpoint user behaviour and trends, and do keyword research, 2024 will see the use of AI skyrocket. Hubspot’s 2023 AI report confirms this, as 75% of SEO professionals and bloggers agree that AI tools will have the ability to complete most SEO-related tasks by 2024.
While there’s no denying that the use of AI to create content has been controversial, there is a place for it in SEO. Programs like Bard or ChatGPT can assist with content ideation and other tasks that are otherwise time-consuming and resource-intensive. Working with AI rather than against or without it is the future.
User Experience (UX) Optimisation:
Google is increasingly prioritising websites that offer a smooth and seamless user experience. From mobile optimisation to page loading speeds, meeting Google’s E-E-A-T Guidelines and focusing on accessibility, good UX can enhance a site’s SERPs (search engine results pages).
In 2024, SEO agencies that can offer UX services to clients will stand out from the rest. UX designers are becoming an integral part of SEO and marketing, and agencies will likely shift from using freelancers and contractors to offering full-time employment as this trend continues to grow.
Local SEO may have its origins in 2003-2005, but it has only really taken off in the last few years, and it keeps on growing. In the UK, local SEO remains a significant trend as consumers search for businesses and products close to their locations.
SEO agencies that offer local SEO services will appeal to smaller businesses or local branches of larger enterprises that want to target the surrounding areas. Google My Business profile management, updating local business listings and directories and encouraging reviews across multiple platforms will all be services that likely come to the fore in smaller or more localised agencies.
Video content is fast becoming the preferred form of online content, with online videos having an audience reach of 92% worldwide. Video content that ranks in search results now plays an integral part in SEO, and agencies are taking note. From offering video content creation services to YouTube and social media channel management, video content is set to become even more important in 2024.
The Future Of SEO
With 68% of online experiences starting with a search engine and 92.96% of global traffic coming from Google, it’s clear that SEO is essential for every business, and SEO agencies are primed to assist.
From ongoing global and local growth to an uptick in SEO agency revenue and employment opportunities, SEO agencies are playing a crucial role in the marketing world, and they’re a worthwhile investment for driving growth, encouraging engagement and improving brand visibility.