SEO Salaries - How Much Should You Make
This is going to be a tough and contentious issue and one that isn't easy for me to write about. Along with the obvious internal conflicts of interest in disclosing salary numbers, there's bound to be a lot of companies and individuals who will come away feeling that my numbers are wrong (or that their employers are cheating them). That said, it's a topic that needs to be addressed and if my experience can help (and inspire others to open up with their own data), then the accomplishment is well worthwhile.
Some of these are bound to be rough approximations, as there isn't industry standardization. Hopefully, the descriptions of duties will help identify who in your organization might fit these roles.
VP/Director of Search Marketing:
$100,000 - $350,000+
This individual is ultimately responsible for setting direction and strategies for large companies with earnings from $25MM-$1Bil+. Since this position can create or lose incredible amounts of wealth for a firm, the salaries will often reflect executive-level compensation (just ask Joe Morin, who turned an offer on the high edge of my range).
Director/Manager of Organic Search:
$75,000 - $150,000
This person is responsible for managing a team of SEO personnel in-house and reports to the senior marketing or SEO VP/Director.
$75,000 - $200,000
The "guru" is typically running an SEO team (or possibly operating as an independent) for a small-mid-size firm earning $5-$50MM. They have final authority and responsibility for all of the SEO activities at a company, and for many of those firms who rely on the Internet as a primary sales channel, their decision are make or break propositions.
$55,00 - $100,000
The campaign manager would report to a director, but manages a team focused on specific campaigns for a site, keyword set, content area, etc. The compensation could go into six figures primarily due to bonuses, which are often given to campaign mangers who can churn out consistently excellent results.
SEO Specialist (Links, Content and/or KW Research):
$40,000 - $80,000
An SEO specialist is the true "worker" of the search team - optimizing page content, researching keywords, building links, adding content, etc. The range is very wide due to experience and opportunity - an SEO-newbie just starting out won't have the same independence, reliability and skill as someone who's played in the space for several years and knows the engines.
SEO Agency Employees
I have a slightly better grasp on these, but again, individual companies are bound to fluctuate.
$50,000 - $100,000
The SEO director leads up the SEO team (sometimes several teams), providing strategy, overseeing processes, providing training and occassionally getting their hands down and dirty in the SERPs. If SEOmoz were bigger, someone like Rebecca would be my director, watching over the bulk of the work for clients.
Search Marketing Consultant:
$60,000 - $200,000
A search consultant is a rare breed - these folks work for an SEO agency, but are basically consultants in their own rights. They have the skills, talent and sometimes, reputation to manage a campaign or client independently without outside guidance (they may even be more knowledgable than anyone else on the team). Some marketing agencies have brought folks like this into their fold and its a position I've been offered many times. For those who remember, a good real life example might be when Todd Malicoat (Stuntdubl) worked with Jim Boykin's group (WeBuildPages), though I'm certainly not suggesting that Jim or Todd is smarter/better than the other.
$35,000 - $100,000
The link builder is, in many ways, a mythical being. At the early stages, they follow direction and strategy from a manager or CEO, but later on, if they grow in power and ability, their value can become so high that its tough to retain them (hence the massive salary range). A true link ninja is so invaluable as to virtually name their price - the return on investment makes it worthwhile.
$35,000 - $75,000
A great content writer is a critical part of an SEO firm, particularly with the focus on linkbaiting campaigns. Writers, like link builders, can grow in value over time, but since it requires a much less specialized knowledge, there is far more supply in the marketplae (hence the lower salary ceiling).
$30,000 - $60,000
Researchers pursue data for content writers, keywords for campaigns and may even contribute to link building and/or content building efforts. Web research is a somewhat easier skill to acquire, though certainly the best of these folks (someone like Gary Price might fit that bill) will be found in higher positions in the industry.
Client Relations Coordinator:
$35,000 - $75,000
Often inaccurately dubbed "project managers," a client services coordinator is responsible for maintaining an SEO project's tasks, keeping in communication with clients and keeping the team and mangers informed of progress. Andy Beal described this position to me as someone who serves as the "consultant" for a specific project and though their levels of knowledge may not be at expert, they can refer back to the team or their higher-ups for direction in how to answer questions or handle issues.
Factors that can Create Wide Disparity
The following items have the ability to push the ranges above considerably higher or lower.
In the insular world of SEO, made smaller by blogs, forums & industry events, reputation often preceeds you. Your experiences with a firm, with clients, at conferences, and on the web can create high demand. As an example, I think many folks have recognized the blogging genius that is Lisa Barone of Bruce Clay. If she were to seek work in the SEO field, her compensation would be considerably higher than an entry level content writer. The same goes for someone like Cameron Olthius of acsSEO (the only company more difficult to properly capitalize than SEOmoz), who I suspect would fetch a considerable sum thanks to his abilities to design, market and link-bait.
The salaries above represent what I'd expect to find in Seattle, WA or another similar cost-of-living city. In New York, London, San Francisco, Los Angeles or Tokyo, the salaries should be a good deal higher, while in Tulsa, OK, State College, PA or Ames, IA, it might be somewhat lower.
A new recuit, with no SEO experience should expect to be looking at the lowest ranges of salaries. However, in SEO, experience ramps up quickly. Just two years of involvement will give a considerable leg up and the potential to be in the middle of the pack (if you've been successful). Likewise, those folks who have 4 or more years of experience with high-level results to show can comfortably start near the top of the ranges in the right geography. In SEO, salaries ramp up quickly primarily due to the ability of experienced SEOs to make considerable sums working independently as consultants, freelancers or working on their own sites/projects.
The dot-com collapse was certainly not a one-time event, and Web2.0 shows plenty of bubble-like signs. Even in the interim, there have been small fluctuations (mostly seasonal) that has made SEO more/less in demand by both agencies and firms.