SEO Team Enablement

Average SEO Salaries Are Declining, But That’s a Good Thing

We’ve updated our data for SEO jobs and salaries in 2021. See the 2021 Digital Marketing Jobs and Salary Guide.

I had the pleasure of attending and presenting at the SES Chicago search conference earlier this month. One of the panels on which I participated, together with Chris Boggs from Internet Marketing Ninjas and Mark Engelsman of Digital Brand Expressions was a discussion of key findings from SEMPOs recently released SEO salary survey.

SEMPO SEO Salary Survey

At Conductor, we contributed in large part to the data analysis on the survey, and were gratified to see that the trends that emerged from the analysis meshed nicely with our own independent research and our organization’s perception of the direction of the industry.

Below, I share with you what was presented at the session: a mix of key findings from the salary survey, Conductor research, and third party data that added some additional color around the findings.  We welcome your input on interpreting the findings in the comments below.

First, some background on the SEMPO survey details:

  • 2,000 + Respondents
  • Mix of B2B, B2C, and Agencies
  • Mix of SEMPO and Non-SEMPO Respondents

Average SEO Salaries Declining

The first finding seemed like a red flag for the SEO industry. Compared to salaries in 2011, the last time the study was done, average salaries declined, dropping from an average of $75,543 to $68,600.

Chart title: Average SEO salaries declined in 2013

SEMPO's chart showing that average SEO salaries declined in 2013

Digging deeper into the data, however, we find that the average decline may actually be due to people joining the industry at the entry level (whose low starter salaries bring down the average).  This gels with other findings: compared to 2011, respondents with 0-3 years experience grew by 10%.

Decline in salaries is due to the growing rate of entry level SEO employees

Upon further reflection, we think that this influx of entry level Search Professionals is downstream from a number of factors that have coalesced in the industry and ushered new professionals into the fold.

First, increasingly, organizations are recognizing the business opportunities in search.  Some of this is about a Marketing maturation for industries, marked by a general shift into digital, and some of it may be about a circling back to the search channel post placing big bets on the latest and greatest digital technique that didn’t quite pan out to the degree they would have liked.

For example, look at it from a user behavior perspective. According to Forrester Research, search is the number one channel users turn to for finding websites:

More organizations are recognizing how important search is

Looking at it from a traffic perspective, data from Shareaholic shows that organic search is the number one source of website traffic, eclipsing all social networks and direct traffic combined by a healthy margin:

Organic search is almost always one of the top traffic drivers

It’s clear that organic search eclipses all other channels when it comes to traffic, but according to Hubspot, it’s also the best performing when it comes to conversions, outperforming Paid Search two fold and social media by 4X:

Graph showing how SEO outperforms paid

The result of these factors is that the demand for SEO professionals has increased dramatically.

Chart showing the demand for SEO has never been higher

As demand for SEO professionals has increased, supply has risen to meet demand. SEO professionals on Linked-In increased by 286% from 2011 to 2013.

The number of SEO professionals on Linkedin is growing

 This has partially been driven by the low barriers to entry to the field—there is a near endless supply of freely available materials on the web, in all shapes, sizes and forms for someone motivated to learn the industry.

There are low barriers to getting your site found on search engines

The new SEO can also easily set up their own site and use freely available tools to tinker with it, never receiving training or oversight.

There are many ways to teach yourself about SEO, such as with Keyword Tools

Conclusion: Average Salary Decline May Reflect a Migration Move to the Industry

At first glance the SEMPO salary survey seemed to be a dark rain cloud, with the news that digital marketers are making less on average. But deeper analysis shows there might actually be a silver lining.  The average salary decline is likely due to an influx of entry level SEOs entering the industry, bringing down the overall average salary.   This influx is likely driven by increased recognition of search’s value as a sales and marketing channel.

How does that line up with what you are seeing?

We’ve updated our data for SEO jobs and salaries in 2021. See the 2021 Digital Marketing Jobs and Salary Guide.

5 Responses to Average SEO Salaries Are Declining, But That’s a Good Thing

  1. Adam Dince says:

    Great article my friend. My only feedback is around this snippet of text, “The new SEO can also easily set up their own site and use freely available tools to tinker with it, never receiving training or oversight.” SEO ain’t that easy to learn. What might work on a small dinky site with little competition may not work for sites in highly competitive markets. With Panda, Penguin and at the pace Google has been changing, I think the barrier to entry into SEO has gotten harder over time.

    I do agree though that the number of people entering SEO has increased. We’ll see how long the noobs can stick it out through the rough waters we’re all going through these days. Already seeing a lot of them moving over to social media.

    • Nathan Safran says:

      Good point Adam. I should have clarified that what I meant is that it’s theoretically ‘easy’ to get started learning and executing in the industry (as compared to say, woodworking, where you need to shell out big $’s for the proper tools and generally need an apprenticeship to learn etc).

      And, I should have clarified that there is a tremendous difference between getting started in the industry/getting hired at an entry level and really achieving success for a large brand.

      We actually have a follow up post with some more data planned that looks at the possibility that although many are joining the industry, that doesn’t mean they are all knowledgeable and successful.

  2. Spook SEO says:

    Hi Nathan!

    Kudos for this excellent post from you. Thank you very much for sharing what was presented at the session. I have actually learned a lot from it. I was really amazed from what you have presented here that the demand for SEO professionals has increased dramatically. Anyway, I will be sharing this to my friends and I am hoping to read more of your articles.

    • Nathan Safran says:

      Thanks–it is pretty amazing the degree to which demand for SEO professionals has grown.

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