Survey Finds Organic Search Delivers The Best ROI For Local Businesses

We at BrightLocal recently conducted a survey that examines the sources of traffic and leads to local businesses.

shutterstock_181375052-trafficWe had 288 SEOs and SMBs complete the survey. Combined, this group claimed to have optimized over 7,000 locations in the last 12 months. (That’s a whopping 24 locations per head — good effort!)

We asked this group five questions about the effort and ROI they have witnessed from the online/digital marketing channels they use.

With imperfect tracking data available for both lead tracking and phone tracking, we know that we’re dealing with anecdotal evidence here; but, the results are still useful for other SEOs/SMBs to use as a benchmark for their own work.

Time & Effort Spent By Channel

As you can see below, organic search outperforms all other channels for local search marketers and SMBs.

Effort allocated to channels


For this data, we asked respondents: In a typical week, how much time/effort do you allocate to the following channels?

Given that the audience comprises local search marketers and SMBs, it’s not surprising how much focus is spent on Local SEO and Google Places.

Much less effort is invested in PPC, email marketing and display advertising. Far fewer SMBs engage in display advertising than in more-targeted search activities, while email marketing is again a channel that is used more sparingly and on a “campaign” basis rather than in regular, daily activity for most small businesses.

ROI By Channel

Per the findings below, organic search delivers the best ROI to local businesses.

ROI by channel


According to the 288 respondents, organic search delivers the best ROI to local businesses. The survey found organic search delivered the most website traffic and phone calls into local businesses, which justifies the effort spent on it.

Google Places/+Local is hot on the heels of organic search and delivers almost the same ROI, despite delivering less website traffic to local businesses.

Google AdWords outperforms the ROI from Bing Ads. Fewer businesses use Bing Ads — but those that do said AdWords is the top dog in the PPC world. Both services require a similar amount of time and effort to set up, but the sheer quantity of traffic going through Google vs. Bing makes the opportunities from this channel that much greater. 

Interestingly, both Facebook and Twitter score badly in terms of ROI and also in the level of traffic and calls they generate. There are additional indirect benefits that these channels provide (e.g., engaging existing customers, potentially boosting search rankings, etc.) that respondents may not be considering here. But certainly, direct lead generation may be too low to justify much effort being spent on social optimization.

Website Traffic By Channel

When analysing the results for this question, we found that not all respondents used every single one of these channels, and some over- or under-estimate the percentage of traffic generated across all channels.

Therefore, we suggest that the results should be considered as approximations and that more attention be placed on the hierarchy of the channels and their relative values to each other.

website traffic to local business


Organic search dominates again, driving the greatest amount of traffic to local websites. Respondents also attributed the greatest volume of “calls” to organic, so it’s no surprise that it showed the best ROI of all channels.

Google Places/+Local came in second, driving 3x more traffic than Bing Local or Yahoo Local, therefore justifying the focus and effort that is lavished on it.

Interestingly, “direct traffic” came in third, behind both organic and local. This shows that many local customers either don’t have a specific business in mind when searching for a local business, or they don’t remember the URL/business details so can’t go directly.

Either way, this stresses the importance of good visibility in both organic and local search — you don’t want your customers finding their way to a competitor just because they can’t find you!

Again, Google AdWords trumps Bing Ads, generating 2.5x more traffic.

Social channels appear to deliver little site traffic, but Facebook does deliver more than Twitter.

The full findings of the “Sources of Clicks & Calls to Local Businesses” survey can be viewed on

Stock image used with permission of 

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Local | Local Search Column


About The Author: is Founder & CEO of BrightLocal provides local SEO tools for local businesses; see their research section for the latest findings about the local search market.

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