Have you ever found out that someone doing the same SEO job has a better salary?
And how do you know what salary to request in an SEO-related job interview, anyway?
Search Engine Journal has just conducted our first State of SEO survey with over 2,643 respondents largely consisting of seasoned SEO professionals, with 76% having over 2 years of experience.
We’re excited to help inform your understanding of SEO salaries with a sneak peek at our early findings.
We’ll publish the full results in the first week of September. For now, read on to discover:
- Average SEO salary brackets.
- SEO salaries by job title.
- SEO salary by years of experience.
SEO Average Salary Brackets
Benchmarking is part of human nature. Social comparison theory was first developed in 1954 by psychologist Leon Festinger to explain how individuals measure themselves against others to determine their social and personal worth.
In reality, comparing ourselves to others has been going on since humans first became aware of each other — and SEO professionals are no exception.
Comparing SEO salaries for different positions, levels of experience, and specializations can be difficult as many companies are coy and have restrictions about sharing remuneration.
Out of the 2,643 people, 2,393 told us how much salary they earn (250 preferred not to say). So, as a first glimpse at this data, we’re sharing our findings of SEO salaries and how that relates to experience and job titles.
The majority of our demographic range was in the U.S. (61%) and India (12%). The UK contributed 3.8% and Canada made up 2.4%. The remaining respondents (20%) were spread across 88 other countries.
As far as SEO salaries go, we found that:
- 60% of SEO professionals earn the same or more than the U.S. median.
- 40% of SEO professionals earn less than the U.S. median.
- 19% earn over $100,000 per year.
- 3.38% earn over $200,000 per year.
The last reported data from the U.S. Census Bureau showed median earnings of $57,456 for men and $47,299 for women who worked full-time in the U.S.
The majority of those who work in SEO earn at least the same or well over the median U.S. earnings.
In SEO, it’s achievable to reach an above-average salary of up to $149,000, but there’s only a small percentage who can achieve $200,000 and over. That’s most likely to be after 20 years of experience.
The most common salary bracket is $50,000 to $75,000, according to 24% of respondents.
The fact that the SEO industry is still relatively young and SEO started out with a small group of specialists supports this. Out of our respondents, only 4.17% had over 20 years of experience.
On the other side, just over 20% earn less than $35,000 a year, which is way below the U.S. median.
However, we need to consider that our data includes respondents from India and other lower-income countries. Some of the lower-earning respondents may be from developing countries.
SEO Salary by Job Title
Wondering what your SEO peers are paid for various job titles?
- 30% of junior roles start between $35,000 and $49,000.
- 32% of managers earn between $50,000 and $74,000.
- The majority of C-level and Directors can expect a salary greater than $100,000.
- 44% of freelancers earn less than $34,000.
By comparing SEO salary and role, we start to see a clear pattern of salary increase in relation to job title (you can see the same trend below for level of experience).
Junior SEO roles begin at $35,000, and rise to between $100,000 and $149,000 per year for an SEO director.
If we compare our data to other recruitment websites, we can see that there is a clear alignment in SEO salary by job title.
SEO Average Salary Guide By Job Title
|Junior (SEO Specialist)||$35,000-49,000||$46,646||$52,780||$48,000|
|SEO manager salary||$50,000-74,000||$71,085||$78,413||$70,000|
|SEO director salary||$100,000-149,000||$94,451||$105,353||$102,000|
|SEO freelancer salary||<$34,000||n/a||n/a||n/a|
Data from June 2021. It is important to note that while recruitment sites can advertise the remuneration for a job, there is no guarantee that the successful job applicant is paid the advertised amount.
There were two interesting contrasts in this clear linear increase:
First, SEO freelancers had a considerably lower salary than all of the other cohorts.
You would expect that a freelancer would require a certain level of experience. However, we found that a considerably high 14.06% of freelancers had under 2 years of experience in SEO.
The estimated assumption is that the 12% of respondents from India may have contributed to this high level of freelancers with lesser experience.
SEO as an industry has a low barrier to entry with internet access and a reasonable computer being the only requirements.
Portal platforms such as Upwork have made it easy for developing countries such as India to be competitive on a global scale by offering lower hourly rates.
In fact, digital workers from India are now the largest supplier of global labor with 20% of the total share.
The other stand-out result, out of all cohorts, is that founders had the best chance to earn more than $200,000.
There is a 104% increase in salary from C-level and directors to founders.
Want to earn more than $200,000 in SEO?
Start your own business.
Many of the best SEO pros will find opportunities and start their own websites and businesses.
In the early days, those at the top of their game were literally making millions (usually with spam techniques) but this stalled at the end of the ‘00s as Google managed to curtail most of the popular spam techniques.
As online traffic increased, competition increased and opportunities reduced. And then it started to be all about brand building.
There is still plenty of room for good ideas and SEO professionals. As mentioned above, working in SEO has a low barrier to entry, so it’s relatively easy to start a business with little capital and scale quickly to make a considerable profit.
There are some super smart people out there still making a lot of money out of SEO with their own websites.
SEO Salary Compared to Years of Experience
We also found that salaries do increase in line with years of experience:
- 27% of SEO professionals earn between $35,000 to $49,000 after 2-4 years of experience.
- 32% of SEO pros can earn a salary of $50,000 to $74,000 with 5-10 years of experience.
- After 11-20 years of experience, 25% of SEO pros earn $75,000 to $99,000.
- 17% of SEO professionals earning over $200,000 have m0re than 20 years of experience.
Showing the same pattern we see in salary compared to job title data, there’s a clear trend for salary increase in relation to years of experience. SEO pros should find it encouraging and reassuring that:
- You can earn more money as you gain more experience.
- You do need years of experience to earn the top salary.
In the past, SEO has seemed to some an easy game where you can make big gains for little effort.
In the early days, this might have been more relevant but today, it takes genuine knowledge and intelligence to make decent returns.
SEO is a lot harder than it used to be.
To be a good search specialist requires deep knowledge of at least one if not several specialties. The constant evolution and development require constant learning and improvement, which I liken to the medical industry for dedication.
It would be disappointing to see a medical student on the same wage as a neurosurgeon.
Is SEO a Good Career?
Based on the median levels of salary achievable in the industry and the level of progression available, SEO is a very good career choice.
SEO will never die, and it'll continue to evolve.
"It depends" 4ever https://t.co/o70lHYg4kb
— 🍌 John 🍌 (@JohnMu) July 4, 2021
We will be launching more insights and the full State of SEO report at the beginning of September.
Don’t miss out, sign up for our email list to get first access to the report!
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In-article images created by author, July 2021.