SEO Salaries are a hot topic. In fact it's fair to say that most digital agency salaries are a hot topic!
But salary transparency in agencies is chronically bad. Transparency is not like an on/off switch either. It can be incrementally increased or improved. For example, introducing greater visibility of pay reviews, salary increase roadmaps and average departmental/location salaries. Agencies remain quite traditional when it comes to secrecy around pay.
Thankfully there is better visibility recently to help us find the average SEO marketing salary. According to US research from PayScale, pay (or lack thereof) is still the #1 reason why workers quit their jobs. In reality, pay alone is seldomly the only reason. There are usually several factors responsible, but it's still significant that a quarter of all people planning to quit their current role cite pay as the #1 reason.
We wrote this guide because we believe there is not enough transparency in the digital marketing industry around SEO salaries. There are several benefits of increased transparency for agencies:
- Builds trust and provides a clear signal to employees about their value in the organization commensurate with their skills and experience
- Reduces salary-related churn
- Reduces the salary inequality gap
- Potentially fewer salary negotiations are needed
- Promotes an open/transparent culture
What is the SEO average Salary?
Knowing the average Search Engine Optimizer Salary across the whole industry might not actually not be that helpful since there are many different roles within SEO, different levels of experience and different market rates in practically every country of the world.
Nonetheless, Search Engine Journal conducted an SEO job salary survey in 2021 of over 2,300 SEO professionals and found that the most common annual salary bracket for all respondents was US$50,000 - $74,000. It is worth noting that 61% of these survey respondents were from the US, 12% were from India, 3.8% from the UK, 2.4% from Canada and the remaining 20% were spread across 88 countries.
The US was really over-represented in this survey considering that US-based SEO professionals actually make up only 26% of the global SEO workforce (according to LinkedIn, there are 3.6 million SEO professionals worldwide of which 932K are located in the US).
Real Agency Salaries is a project created by agency staffers Cole Habersham and Rachel Kennedy to collect agency salary data from marketing professionals all over the world in a transparent Google Sheet. Although they have had over 4,800 submissions, only a mere 21 are from SEO professionals. This certainly hides the fact that SEO functions are performed by agency staff who don't explicitly have "SEO"or "Search" in their job title. Roles like Digital Strategist or Digital Specialist are typically generalist roles that invariably include SEO functions as part of their roles.
The average SEO Salary is US$86,636 per year (source: Real Agency Salaries).
This SEO salary is over US$12,000 higher than the most common upper range in Search Engine Journal's findings. What does this tell us? Something that we all anecdotally know:
SEO Professionals in the US earn a higher average salary than the global average.
Factors affecting SEO salaries
There are some pretty big caveats to keep in mind though when analyzing SEO salaries:
Where you are located in the world (country and city) plays a big role in influencing the 'market rate' for local SEO salaries and could be the biggest determining factor of what SEO professionals earn.
2. Agency side or client side
There is some evidence to suggest that SEO salaries are higher on the client side than the agency side. For client side practitioners, factors such as company size, industry and maturity of the SEO function will play a big role in determining pay. On the agency side, size of agency is less of a determining factor - it's more about the direct requirement for SEO services from clients or potential clients.
3. Years of experience
Of course the more experienced someone is, the higher the salary they can demand. Regardless of job title; years of experience + compelling case studies all contribute to a higher than average SEO salary.
4. Role responsibilities
As we saw above, in the Real Agency Salaries, the SEO function is often hidden within other digital generalist roles within agencies. This happens on the brand side too, with SEO duties being performed by Digital Marketing Specialists or indeed Marketing Managers in smaller organizations.
SEO Analyst Salary
What does an SEO Analyst do?
SEO Analysts, also known as SEO Strategists, are responsible for the research, planning, reporting and optimization of an SEO project. In an agency environment, this individual may exist either within the Planning/Strategy team or the Digital team.
While an SEO Analyst may also include some execution tasks, they are usually focused on the strategic aspects of SEO marketing. This involves in-depth research and data processing, identification of insights and distilling data into actionable strategies to drive the project/client business objectives forward. It is uncommon for an SEO Analyst to be the only individual in a team tasked with SEO. They are usually paired with an SEO Specialist or SEO Content Writer who focuses on the execution / content production.
In any given project, many SEO tasks are usually run in parallel, so it is usually up to the SEO Analyst to measure everything and determine what worked well, what didn't work well and what should be adjusted/optimized for future activity.
What are the responsibilities of an SEO Analyst?
- Auditing on-page SEO and making recommendations to improve performance
- Conducting keyword research (optimization and identification of new opportunities)
- Analyzing metrics and SEO performance in Google Analytics, Google Search Console and other SEO tools
- Researching and developing link building strategies
- Evaluating search results and search performance across the major search channels
- Performing competitor analysis to identify content gaps and areas for improvement in website structure & design
- Writing content briefs or making suggestions for search-optimized content creation
- Providing keyword insights and SEO advice for other teams within the organization
- Communicating overall project deliverables, timelines, and results of the project
- Staying up to date with SEO and digital marketing industry trends, tools and practices
What is an SEO Analyst Salary?
The average SEO Analyst Salary is US$54,144 per year in the United States. (source: ZipRecruiter)
Junior SEO Analysts average starting salary is US$23,500 per year. This can also encompass SEO Coordinator roles and other entry-level roles. Senior SEO Analyst salaries can be as high as US$89,500 per year or higher, depending on the organization.
Meet Elvis Tapfumanei, SEO Analyst at SelfCraft Media
Elvis is an SEO Analyst at SelfCraft Media and spends his days browsing various SEO blogs and websites and being creative in SEO practices.
"Initially, I was a little bit skeptical about the industry but I have gained some knowledge that really helps make the job more enjoyable and meaningful. Being an SEO analyst for more than 3 years, I have handled many projects, learned so many things, and never looked back."
Since Elvis began working in SEO, it has become more challenging over the years. He has seen many practitioners struggle and leave the industry. But he says it's a good thing because it's a field for smart individuals - where only the smartest will survive.
SEO Specialist Salary
What does an SEO Specialist do?
An SEO Specialist potentially encompasses all duties of an SEO Analyst PLUS the execution whether that be content production, running link building and ongoing website optimization. Of course it can depend on how many other SEO individuals exist in the team as to whether this role is 'turn-key' or is instead focused on the execution side.
What are the responsibilities of an SEO Specialist?
For SEO Specialists who are the only SEO individual in a team, their responsibilities include everything from the SEO Analyst role above PLUS:
- Executing tests and analyzing results
- Managing full SEO project lifecycles
- Implementing on-page SEO changes to site architecture, internal linking and existing content
- Writing search-optimized content
- Executing link building strategies including outreach, publisher relationship building
- Working with other internal teams to drive SEO priorities in content creation and planning
What is an SEO Specialist Salary?
The average SEO Specialist Salary in the US is US$59,871 per year in the United States. (source: ZipRecruiter)
Junior SEO Specialists average starting salary is US$24,500 per year. Senior SEO Specialist salaries can be as high as US$112,500 per year or higher, depending on the organization.
Meet Jessica Ulloa, SEO Specialist at MyPerfectResume
Jessica Ulloa is the SEO Specialist at MyPerfectResume. Prior to this role, she had little knowledge and experience in SEO and thought she would needs years of experience before landing any job in the SEO field. Fortunately, that was not the case at all.
"I started by taking a course on Technical SEO, On-site SEO, and Off-site SEO and put my knowledge to the test, with practical tasks or quizzes at the end of each module."
Taking a course to develop her knowledge proved to be very valuable during the hiring process and when negotiating her salary. Jessica also tied her experience in Sales & Digital Marketing to the SEO specialist role and managed to negotiate a 15% SEO salary increase above what an average SEO Specialist makes.
SEO Manager Salary
What does an SEO Manager do?
SEO Managers, or SEO Leads, are either responsible for managing an SEO team of people. In agencies or organizations where they are the sole individual responsible for SEO, they are virtually identical to the SEO Specialist role above however the distinction of "Manager" in the job title implies a greater emphasis on SEO in the organization - and potentially a higher average salary. Furthermore, "Manager" implies a team of people who this individual would be tasked with managing.
What are the responsibilities of an SEO Manager?
For SEO Managers who manage multiple direct reports (ie: SEO Analysts, Content Writers, Outreach Specialists and/or SEO Specialists) their responsibilities are much more focused on people management and overall team direction. This includes:
- Managing the SEO team, including hiring, 1-on-1's and performance reviews
- Defining the overall strategic direction of SEO in the agency
- Managing budgets, timelines, team capacity and team productivity
- Reporting to senior management about team performance
- Managing client relationships, WIPs and quarterly/monthly reviews
- Defining and writing processes, SOPs and agency briefs
- Implementing software, workflow and team collaboration tools
What is the average SEO Manager Salary?
The average SEO Manager Salary in the US is US$69,629 per year in the United States. (source: ZipRecruiter)
Senior SEO Managers manage larger teams and have many years experience. These senior roles are also referred to as SEO Directors / SEO Group Directors on the agency side, or Head of SEO / VP of SEO on the client side. These senior roles average US$112,000 per year but can be as high as US$161,000+ per year.
Meet Nat E. McNeely, SEO Manager at Breadnbeyond
Nat E. McNeely is the SEO Manager at digital marketing firm Breadnbeyond.
"As an SEO manager, I mostly deal a lot with optimizing websites, managing Google Adwords and Analytics accounts, planning ad campaigns– as well as working closely with our marketing and sales team. I believe that whether you’re in-house or working for an agency, those are some of the essential skills you have to master."
With a constant increase in demand for SEO services, Nat sees employment opportunities in the industry also increasing, making SEO roles, in particular, SEO Managers a very competitive and lucrative career path.
SEO Freelancer Salaries
SEO Freelancers are a whole other category. In terms of job titles, these individuals may call themselves SEO Consultants or simply SEO Freelancers. Most appear to operate as a single-person agency. They might work completely alone or pass tasks and responsibilities onto other freelancers or virtual assistants.
Rather than annual salaries, SEO freelancers generally work at hourly rates, day rates or project rates as they typically handle multiple clients and projects with differing project timeframes.
Meet Ali Ali, an SEO Freelancer
Ali Ali is an SEO freelancer who runs his own agency Alisquared.
Ali explains the big difference with working in-house vs working as an SEO freelancer is the constant juggle of client work on top of looking for new work. He says beginner SEO freelancers may earn well below the industry rate ($20,000-30,000 per year) but as you gain SEO skills and improve your marketing, you can command much higher rates.
"I know several skilled SEO freelancers who earn well over $100,000 per year."
Ali says it's common for SEO freelancers to grow their business by hiring outreach VAs (Virtual Assistants) in addition to content writers. Outsourcing these skills can help freelancers take on bigger projects and bigger clients.
How does the rise in Remote Work affect SEO Salaries?
Since the pandemic, organizations of all shapes and sizes have been forced into remote work whether they wanted to or not. In 2021, hybrid work emerged whereby employees had much more flexibility in where and how they work. For example, some days spent in the office and some days spent working remotely.
It is certainly the case that remote and hybrid work has had some negative impacts on SEO salary growth. The high profile example was when Google announced a move to cut salaries of employees who chose to permanently work remotely.
Pre-pandemic, some remote companies like Buffer added location top-ups based on where their employees live to factor in higher cost of living. They grouped cities of all their employees into 4 distinct groups that added an additional location amount to their annual salary package - not that Group D received zero additional in their salary:
Specialist remote work job sites like Remote OK have sprung up to cater for companies and job seekers who both want to work remotely. According to Remote OK's data, the median SEO salary on their platform is US$67,500 per year however from the screenshot below Senior Remote SEO roles can fetch up to $100,000 per year.
Due to the size and robust nature of the SEO industry, there's enough demand for SEO professionals to keep salaries relatively high (at least above median salaries) regardless of whether the roles are remote, hybrid or 100% co-located. So while there has been some negative salary growth due to the hybridization of how we work, the SEO industry still remains strong with profitable long-term career prospects.
SEO Salaries outside the United States
Below are the average SEO salary ranges per year in some key countries with proportionately higher numbers of SEO professionals. All annual salaries are quoted in each local currency:
- Australia: AU$83,985 per year ranging from AU$66,447 to AU$109,508 (source: Indeed)
- Brazil: R$81.100 per year ranging from R$59.370 to R$100.364 (source: SalaryExpert)
- Canada: CA$48,800 per year ranging from CA$46,847 to CA$76,766 (source: Indeed)
- France: €39,000 per year ranging from €22,000 to €57,000 (source: Glassdoor)
- India: ₹2,66,000 per year ranging from ₹1,40,000 to ₹15,00,000 (source: IIDE)
- Pakistan: Rs 415,252 per year ranging from Rs 103,000 to Rs 3,000,000 (source: PayScale)
- Philippines: ₱302,000 per year ranging from ₱143,000 to ₱1,000,000 (source: PayScale)
- Singapore: SG$35,375 per year ranging from SG$23,000 to SG$90,000 (source: PayScale)
- Spain: €29,000 per year ranging from €22,000 to €52,000 (source: Glassdoor)
- United Kingdom: £42,500 per year ranging from £32,500 to £60,000 (source: CWJobs)
SEO Salary Infographic
How do other Digital Marketing salaries compare?
This article has focused solely on SEO salaries and covered the 3 main SEO roles: Analyst, Specialist and Manager. But how do these salaries compare to other digital agency salaries? Agencies are multi-disciplinary organizations usually containing a mix of junior, mid-level and senior staff with vastly different skill sets. Thanks to Real Agency Salaries, let's take a look at some average digital marketing salaries as a comparison to SEO salaries in the United States:
- Average SEO Analyst salary: US$54,144 per year
- Average SEO Specialist salary: US$59,871 per year
- Average SEO Manager salary: US$69,629 per year
- Average SEO Director salary: US$112,000 per year
- Average of all SEO roles: US$86,636 per year
- Average Account Executive salary: US$56,851 per year
- Average Account Manager salary: US$69,644 per year
- Average Account Director salary: US$131,455 per year
- Average Group Account Director salary: US$182,428 per year
- Average Art Director salary: US$76,838 per year
- Average Copywriter salary: US$88,105 per year
- Average Creative Director salary: US$157,286 per year
- Average Executive Creative Director salary: US$264,642 per year
- Average HR Manager salary: US$93,857 per year
- Average Business Development Manager salary: US$125,444 per year
- Average CEO salary: US$255,000 per year
- Average Media Planner / Buyer salary: US$60,732 per year
- Average Digital Strategist salary: US$102,262 per year
- Average Head of Digital salary: US$241,176 per year
- Average Social Media Manager: US$64,700 per year
- Average Community Manager: US$66,692 per year
- Average Social Media Director: US$139,666 per year
- Average Web Developer salary: US$84,583 per year
- Average Digital Project Manager salary: US$90,336 per year
AVERAGE OF ALL DIGITAL AGENCY ROLES: US$102,107 per year
We hope this guide helped increase transparency around SEO salaries. We believe in open transparency and encourage all agencies to publish salary ranges when hiring.
For agency employees, consider submitting your salary details anonymously to Real Agency Salaries' database of over 4,800 submissions. This helps increase transparency so the whole industry can understand where the market is at and agency folk can earn what they deserve.
Let us know your thoughts on salary transparency - tweet to us @seoptimer.