Q and A: What salary should I expect as an SEO?

Question

Dear Kalena…

What salary would i have if i were to get hired as an SEO or SEM? on average hourly and annual

Cruiz

Hi Cruiz,

A great question – and one often asked by people just entering (or considering joining) the SEO community.  As you’ve probably anticipated, it’s not really possible to provide a definitive answer to this question, as the salary rates you could expect,  depend on a number of variable.  I’ve outlined below some of the most significant factors that are likely to influence SEO or SEM salaries :

  1. Location – you’ve not identified which part of the world you are from, but this can have a significant impact on Salary levels.  Salaries in the US and UK, are typically higher than those in Australia, which are usually higher again than those in India (which has a massive and thriving SEO industry by the way).  Hot Spots within a particular country are also likely to offer higher salaries that are based on the usual factors – such as cost of living, lifestyle, and competition.
  2. Organisation – whether you are working In House,  within a specialist SEO Agency or as a private Consultant , will also influence you salary.
    For In House SEOs, the size of the business, and their awareness/acceptance of the importance of SEO will influence what they are prepared to pay.  Some SMBs are not able (or willing) to justify  a full time SEO role, so Search Engine Optimisation might be seen as something that is done by the Web Developer or Marketer in their spare time.
    The salary for In House SEOs in large organisations (with SEO teams) is broadly comparable to that of the salary for an equivalent role within a specialist SEO Agency (although the Agency SEO is likely to have the opportunity to deal with a broader range of clients and experiences) .
    Salaries for private Consultants can vary dramatically – from the highest salaries for recognised SEO Gurus to the (probably) lowest hourly rates for relatively inexperienced start-up SEOs.

    [Editor Note: You might also want to review the salaries and jobs categories in this blog to get a good idea of the type of salaries that SEO/SEM staff can command. My article 11 Reasons Why You Should Consider a Job in Search Engine Marketing also lists some common salary ranges. Cheers, Kalena]

  3. Role – there  are many different types of roles and activities within the SEO Industry, some people focus on one particular role, others undertake the complete range of activities.  Typically the more experienced you get in a particular area, the more specialised you become, and the higher salary you can expect.  Types of roles include – Strategist, Consultant, Analyst, Researcher, Writer.
  4. Experience – I say experience here rather than qualification, because there is not currently an internationally  recognised  SEO qualification (although given the increasing awareness of the SEO industry – this may change in the future).  SEO Course’s such as those offered by Search Engine College are a fabulous way to gain an understanding of this field, and provide a valuable insight into SEO techniques, strategies and tips.  However, experience – dealing with customers in real world situations is probably the single best way to justify a higher salary.  Being able to demonstrate real success with high profile clients in competitive industries, proves your experience and abilities.
  5. Profile – the better you are at raising your profile in the industry, the higher salary you can expect.   A high profile is usually (but not always) a natural result of experience and confidence.  If you are outspoken in the industry – through blogging, involvement in forums, attendance and presentation at industry events, etc. your reputation will develop. If it is clear that you understand the industry and know what you are talking about; if you offer useful advice and innovative strategies; and if you can demonstrate your ability to achieve real results for your clients, you may be on your way to “SEO Guru” status gathering followers (and an increased salary) along the way.
  6. Supply and Demand – as in all things, supply and demand will influence the level of salary you can expect.  If you have few competitors for a particular role you are likely to be able to demand a higher salary – providing you have suitable experience.  Supply and demand changes from time to time and is influenced by many things including geographic location , unemployment rates, and the financial climate.
    In these days of financial uncertainty, with many businesses tightening up their budgets,  you might speculate that the demand for SEOs would decrease.  However, the reverse seems to be true.  Many SEOs are in fact  experiencing an increase in work levels, as business owners realise that they need to get smarter about how to develop their businesses and spend their marketing budget.

Rand Fishkin of SEOMoz wrote an excellent post on this topic ( see : SEO Salaries – How Much Should You Make) – however this was written in 2006 – and now, 3 years on, the annual salary figures are almost certainly higher.  (how about an update Rand?)

Search Engine Optimisation is a role requiring specialist knowledge and experience, and as such you should expect to achieve a higher salary than a more traditional web or marketing role.  Some of the factors outlined above are outside your control (unless you are willing to move to another part of the world for example), but one factor that you are able to influence is experience.  Getting some good basic SEO Training and undertaking some Search Engine Marketing Courses (through Search Engine College of course) , doing some Research, and gaining Experience (even if it is only on your own/friends websites initially) is the best way for you to improve you salary prospects.

Andy Henderson
WebConsulting Web Optimisation

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