In this article, I want to provide some thoughts on whether or not SEO is a good career. By the end of this article, you’re going to have a good understanding of what some general comp ranges are for how much SEOs are paid in the general marketplaces, as well as I’ll share my own experiences of hiring for SEOs and whether or not the things that people say they’re paying for and we actually pay for are true.
What is the salary of SEO analysts?
When you first started out in the SEO world, you’re likely going to be starting out at some sort of analyst or associate level. What we’re going to do is we’re going to go on and look at what SEO analysts are typically making. When we go ahead and jump into glassdoor.com, which is a common website for looking up general compensation ranges, you can see that an SEO analyst is typically making about 74 grand in total compensation in a year.
In the case where you’re newer to the job market here’s how you can better understand these two numbers. So the base compensation, which right here is around 62 grand is what you will be getting in every other pay period if you’re receiving your paycheck every two weeks. Whereas the additional pay of around 12 and a half grand are pretty much any potential incentives or variable compensation components that they may be giving you for hitting certain benchmarks, milestones, or just overall the company doing well.
So what this is saying is that over the course of the entire year, on average, taking all those factors into consideration, an SEO analyst has making around 74 grand.
What do SEO associates make?
Now all this being said, sometimes SEO analysts are going to be a step up from an SEO associate. So what we should also do is we should take a look at what SEO associates are making too.
And as you can see here, when you’re an SEO associate, you will typically been making a little bit less anywhere from 10 to 15 grand less. So you can see here, that the average SEO associate is making around 62K in total comp with their base being closer to 48 grand and then their variable comp another 13 and a half grand.
So what this tells you is that in the case where you’re just starting out in your career, you might have to start out on a lower base salary, but over time you will level up into that analyst role and then later on become a manager or a director and whatnot.
Now looking at that, that means that the typical starting SEO job is anywhere between 60 and 75 grand for a solid starter job. And that typically will align more or less with most college graduate jobs in which if you look at the median across the board of most four year degree jobs coming out of school, you won’t typically be looking at the range of anywhere from 60 to 75 pay.
So, what that means is that we’re more or less in line with expectations of what you would get if you were just to get a typical job out of college. But the real question is whether or not this scales as you move up the ladder in terms of your SEO career.
What an SEO manager makes
Let’s take a look at what an SEO manager makes and then take a look at what an SEO director makes to then see whether or not they started scaling disproportionately.
What you can see here is that an SEO manager on average will make around 102 grand a year. And now that being said, there’s obviously always going to be a bell curve. So this is the general median here. However, if you were to look at the low end and the high end, you can see how on the low end, we’re looking at 75K and then on the high end, we’re looking at 138K.
But what this should tell you is that you can notice how as you were moving up from just being an associate or an analyst all the way up to being a manager, you can notice that there’s pretty much a gap of around a bump of 25 grand give or take from the prior position.
And so that makes sense, because as you are becoming an SEO manager, typically what you’ll be doing is managing a few different associates or analysts dealing with different client relationships and having more responsibilities than when you were just an analyst or an associate.
Typically in the case where you’re an analyst or associate, you’re just kind of doing the grunt work and learning more about the foundations of SEO before you are ready to level up and take greater ownership.
What does it look like in terms of becoming an SEO director?
But what does it look like in terms of becoming an SEO director? Well, in that case, what we can do is we can take a look here and here, you can see that the jump between being a manager and being a director is very, very different.
In this situation, SEO director is making on a base standpoint, around 145 grand a year, and they’re getting a variable comp component of around 18 and a half grand. So what this really tells you is that with each progressive step up, you get definitely can get to the point where you’re making a pretty good living in terms of a career in SEO.
Again, when you think about things in relationship to one another, this is on par with some pretty solid jobs in which the median MBA graduate salary is going to be typically around 120 grand with a base component and then some potential variable compensation.
When you think about this 163 grand or so this is a pretty good job because ultimately this is a career that you don’t necessarily need an MBA for whereas if you were to go and pursue a two year MBA, what you might have to do is spend two years of tuition and then come out making 125 grand on a base standpoint along with some variable compensation. And even though you might be able to scale more exponentially, there is a trade off cost of spending those two years in school and so on.
So at a high level, SEO does seem like a pretty promising job in that you can get into it pretty much with very little barriers to entry at the very entry level, but at the same time, it has the ability to scale up which in this case, we can see where the difference between an associate analyst, who a director can sometimes be a matter of a threefold difference in compensation.
So how do these compensation ranges generally relate to what I’ve seen and what I’ve paid for? It’s actually pretty in line. In general, in the past, I’ve paid anywhere from 65 to 85 grand for an analyst associate. And then, on the side of a manager, it’s typically in that 85 to 110 to 15K range.
Obviously, all things are kind of in motion right now with inflation being crazy. But overall, what that should tell you is that what you see in this data here, more or less reflects the experiences of somebody who has been in small medium-sized businesses. And what you can imagine is that if you go to larger organizations, for example, like a big tech company, those compensation packages are going to be even better.
And so ultimately, it is something that does hold true to form when it comes to compensation. If that’s something that you care about, well, you can definitely get paid for your SEO efforts.
Alternative to doing SEO job
But what if you didn’t want to potentially work in an SEO job? What could you also do? Well, you could take those skills in terms of you know, on-page SEO, off page SEO and so on, and you can actually just open up your own shop. And so I think the best way to look at that is to take a look at a site like Clutch, where they list out all the different SEO firms out there. And we can take a look at what people are charging for their SEO services.
And then from here, what you can see is that there’s actually close to 39,000 SEO firms just on this site alone. And what we can do is we can actually look at the client budget or the hourly rate to get an understanding of what people typically charge for SEO services.
If I go ahead and take a look at this drop-down for the hourly rate, you can see how it really ranges, where if you imagine a bell curve here, it typically comes out to about a hundred, to $149 an hour. And these are all usually pretty US-based firms for reference. But essentially what that tells you is that you can actually make a pretty good living doing SEO-related work purely SEO for different, small businesses, medium-sized businesses, and so on.
And so as you take a look on this left-hand side, you can see how this kind of scales over time. As you work with bigger agencies, they may charge more per hour just because they have more payroll and people to ultimately take care of and their salaries. But generally what you can see is that these folks are coming in anywhere from the low end 50 to a hundred dollars to a hundred to $150 and even sometimes higher.
So for example, you can see Directive here which does performance marketing for software companies. And so in this situation, they’re charging around $300 or more per hour.
Is SEO worth it as a career?
Here’s what I think you can take away from this, though. You can see that there are thousands of SEO firms that are all still alive and well in terms of running their businesses and they are doing well in terms of the rates that they are charging.
If you want to ever calculate your quick annual compensation equivalent, you can pretty much just double your hourly rate and then add a few zeros at the end. So for example, in the case where you are charging $50 an hour for SEO, what that means is that you can double that and then add three zeros and that’s essentially what you’ve got. And so in this case, you would be making around a hundred thousand dollars a year if you were to charge $50 an hour and have a steady 40 hour a week work.
Now, obviously, this is all contingent on you having a successful agency, and that takes a lot of time to build and whatnot. But overall, what this should tell you is that there’s the opportunity for you to do this either as a side hustle or as a full-time gig. There’s flexibility in this career space for sure.
And just to really hammer this point home, the last thing I want to go over, just the plethora of opportunities that are out there in the case where you are thinking about going into general marketing or SEO-related work, something that I’ve regularly turned to is the Y Combinator job board.
What you can do is you can take a look at what some of the top emerging companies are hiring for and what you will find on their job boards are tons of things. For different SEO-related things. So the last thing we want to talk about for today’s video is what are some considerations you may want to keep in mind when evaluating whether or not SEO is a good career?
Other benefits of working in the SEO industry
We focused a lot of today’s conversation on the comp side of things, but another side of things that is really beneficial about SEO is that a lot of SEO jobs are also flexible and remote. So in the case where you value that flexibility, that might be really great for you. And also it’s going to be a case in which it’s a job that will constantly be challenging you in terms of deploying different strategies and deploying those strategies in a number of different ways on either the individual company you’re working on or in the case where you find yourself in an agency on the variety of clients that you’re servicing.
And so it can be really good if you’re looking for the sort of work that will constantly be changing depending on the needs of the businesses that you are primarily serving. However, in the case where you do prefer a lot of client interactions, well, in that situation, you have to potentially look for SEO jobs that have that sort of focus but sometimes you will find that you won’t actually need to talk to all that many humans in order to do an SEO job.
So that’s something to keep in mind in which if you really value the relationship-driven side of things, you either want to be some sort of client manager on the SEO side or something that specifically has that sort of thing that meets that need of yours.
But in the case where you’re just looking to do some of the backend work and stuff like that, you might look for an off page SEO role or something in which it’s more technical and on the backend.
Last thing I’ll mention is that if you’re looking to learn some foundational SEO skills, it is always useful to check things out on YouTube, as well as some top SEO blogs such as the Backlinko blog, Ahrefs, and SEMRush.
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