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Where Do SEO Professionals Spend Time & Budget? [Survey Results]

We are looking at where budgets are being allocated in digital marketing and what tasks in SEO have the most time allocated to them.

Which SEO tasks do you spend the most time working on?

Everyone has their own way of working, but there are core areas of SEO that appear to have more time spent on them than others.

For anyone who controls budgets across digital marketing, where do you think the most money is being spent right now?

As part of our series of reports from Search Engine Journal’s State of SEO survey, we took a look at how SEO professionals allocate their budgets and time across digital marketing and SEO.

Keep reading to learn:

  • Where budgets are being allocated in digital marketing.
  • What tasks in SEO have the most time allocated to them.
  • Where digital marketing attention is shifting away from.

How Do Decision-Makers in SEO Allocate Digital Marketing Budget?

In the last 12 months, 6.2% of SEO professionals said they applied all of their digital marketing budget to content marketing. With a weighted average of 2.98, content marketing has the greatest budget allocation in digital marketing.

Meanwhile, 17.9% of SEO professionals said they didn’t apply any budget to digital PR and 30.4% said they allocated little budget. With a weighted average of 2.55, Digital PR has the least budget allocation in digital marketing.

Where do decision-makers in SEO allocate their budgets for digital marketing?

(We asked: How do you allocate your digital marketing budget? Matrix selection, one per row. Open to all respondents, 2,369 answered.)

Content Marketing is the Dominant Area of Digital Marketing Right Now

When we surveyed our audience about where they applied their budgets for digital marketing, surprisingly, SEO was not the area where most digital marketing spend was applied.

Content marketing was the dominant area of budget allocation.

From the State of SEO survey, content marketing has shown to be dominant across many results and is an area that many SEO professionals are investing in right now.

One thing to take away from this result is that with significant budgets being applied to content, your competitors may be heavily investing here.

Focus Appears to be Shifting Away From Digital PR and Link Building

If we review the results for digital budget allocation above and time allocation below, it shows that digital PR and link building are having the least amount of budget and time spent on them.

Digital PR (as a means to build high-quality links) may well be talked about extensively across social media, but it’s not where decision-makers are allocating their budgets.

This doesn’t definitively say that building links are no longer part of SEO.

But with Google’s shift to brand awareness and page experience, the results do underline a shift away from link building to content and user experience.

This shift of attention is supported by Barry Adams, founder of Polemic Digital.

“Recently Google seems to rely less on off-page ranking signals (i.e., links) and has put more emphasis on relevancy and quality of content,” Adams said.

The web is built on a system of links – and you would expect links to always factor in ranking to a degree, but the recent updates from Google are pushing toward on-page user experience.

This would be the area to focus on right now.

B2B and B2C, Agency and Freelancers Compared

To examine our data in more detail, we filtered results to compare different cohorts to see if there were any statistically significant differences.

The Difference in Budget Allocation Between Agencies and In-House Brands

  • An agency is more likely to spend most of its budget on SEO than an in-house brand at 29% compared to 20%.

The Differences Between B2B and B2C for Digital Marketing Budget Allocation

  • 19% of B2B SEO professionals spend no budget on digital PR, compared to 14% of B2C.
  • 17% of B2C SEO professionals spend most of their budget on digital PR compared to 12% of B2B.
  • 23% of B2C SEO professionals spend most of their budget on social media compared to 18% of B2B.
  • 28% of B2C SEO professionals spend most of their budget SEO compared to 23% of B2B.

When Working on SEO, Where Do We Allocate Our Time to Tasks?

  • 36.3% of SEO professionals say they apply most of their time to keyword research. With a weighted average of 3.28, keyword research has the most time allocated as a task for SEO.
  • Local SEO has 11.4% of SEO professionals applying no time and 7.1% applying all their time. This polarized split of results indicates that local SEO is an area of specialization in SEO.
  • 8.2% of SEO professionals said they apply all their time to analytics and this is the one task that is most likely to have all time allocated in SEO.

When working on SEO, where do we allocate our time to tasks?

(We asked: When working on SEO, how much time do you spend for each of the following activities? Matrix selection, one per row. Open to all respondents, 2,369 answered. )

SEO Professionals Spend Most of Their Time on Keyword Research

From the results of our survey, keyword research is identified as being an important task.

This result is supported by some SEO experts, such as Suganthan Mohanadasan of Snippet Digital.

“Keyword research is the most important SEO task,” Mohanadasan said. “When done right, it can map your content calendar for the next 12-24 months and show gaps and opportunities quickly…. With this information, you can make good data-backed SEO decisions.”

However, Dave Davies, founder of Beanstalk has a different view.

“I personally disagree with a work process that results in [spending the most time on keyword research],” Davies said. “Now, that’s not to say that keyword research isn’t important, it’s very important. But spending most of your time on keyword research seems, to me, a bit like taking the ‘measure twice, cut once’ to a detrimental extreme.”

What both Mohanadasan and Davies do agree on is the importance of focusing time ensuring clients’ sites are technically sound.

“I spend most of my time doing technical research and implementations,” Mohanadasan said. “My main responsibility is to ensure all of our clients’ sites are technically sound and optimized within the limitations of the platform and at times look beyond and find new and alternative ways to overcome limitations.”

What we need to remember with our results in this survey is that they are self-reported by our audience and based on what an individual is best at or specializes in.

What makes SEO so interesting are the differing opinions and constant discussion.


Content marketing is the dominant area of digital marketing right now and an area to spend budgets to keep up with competitors.

The focus appears to be shifting away from digital PR and link building and moving toward content and page experience. Consider how you can improve user experience and create better content experiences.

SEO professionals spend most of their time on keyword research and on-page factors.

If everyone is spending time on keywords, consider how you can take your keyword research to the next level. Think about emerging searches and new opportunities such as niche transactional and locational keywords.

More Resources:

Download your copy of the full report to access all the data from the Search Engine Journal State of SEO survey 2021.

Featured image: Paulo Bobita/SearchEngineJournal
Images created by author, September 2021

Category Careers SEO
SEJ STAFF Shelley Walsh

Shelley Walsh is the SEO Content Strategist at SEJ & produces the Pioneers, a series about the history of SEO ...

Where Do SEO Professionals Spend Time & Budget? [Survey Results]

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