SEO Salaries Study: The shocking truth!

(including UK marketing salary checker tool)

When it comes to the touchy subject of SEO salaries, the industry we work in can get a little opinionated to say the least. In this article I want to delve into the world of SEO salaries and look at everything with an open mind, as most of the industry have tunnel vision when it comes to SEO salary levels and just say “SEOs are underpaid”.

SEO Salaries

Why I wanted to study SEO salaries

As you may know, I’ve been in this industry for quite a while… Since 2001 and have seen many changes in this time. One such change was when recruiters thought it would be a good idea to rename ‘SEO consultants’ (SEOs with around 2-years’ experience) to ‘SEO executives’ just because the job title sounds more prestigious when in reality in most other industries ‘executive’ level positions are top level, as in Chief Executive Officer and the rest of the C-suite with the addition of top-level Directors.

I tend to see things differently than most people. See things from various sides of the conversation. This stems from me having direct experience over a two-decade timeline working as…

  • Built my own organic driven lead generation / affiliate marketing business (100+ sites)

  • Managing Director of a multi-office SEO agency

  • Head of SEO agency-side

  • Head of SEO in-house

  • Founder & Director of a digital marketing franchise (50+ franchisees)

  • Freelance SEO consultant

  • SEO advisor to agencies and companies

  • SEO trainer & speaker

  • SEO mentor

  • And have even run my own events…

 

I tend to understand the challenges from all sides because I’ve been there and experienced them for myself. I have had many SEOs on ground level message me saying that they need to find extra freelance work above their full-time job as they are struggling to survive. I have on the opposite side of the coin, had challenging conversations with agency directors who are losing team members just because they cannot afford to keep giving pay rises in line with SEO salary growth.

OK, that’s enough about why I wanted to write this article and delve into the emotional world of SEO salaries so let’s get things moving forward.

Honest thoughts regarding SEO salaries from a specialist UK based SEO recruiter

I was approached by Mark, who’s putting together an article on SEO salaries, and he asked for my honest thoughts on the topic. So, I thought, sure, I have some opinions.

Actually, I have many thoughts on SEO salaries, and I can get pretty passionate about the subject.

You asked for it, Mark…

First of all, why is Mark asking me?

Let me introduce myself.

Hello, my name is Josh Peacock.

I own SEO For Hire, a recruitment company specialising solely in SEO. My team and I have been in the trenches of the SEO job market for around a year - although you’d think it’s a lifetime from the number of grey hairs materialising.

We deal with a multitude of SEO candidates. Our clientele is predominantly based here in the UK, but recently, we have taken on a few US and AUS clients.

This was when I noticed the apparent differences between the UK salaries and those in the US or AUS.

So it seems fitting that I should know a little bit about SEO salaries.

What are my thoughts on SEO salaries here in the UK?

How do I put it nicely?

 > Low. 
> Subjacent. 
> Below industry average (for the most part).

 
Before we get into it, let me first give my opinion on entry-level salaries.

We’ve found that many junior SEOs have been in the industry for around a year and are demanding £30k salaries.

Let’s not muck around. It is a candidate-driven market right now. Talented SEOs are in fierce demand and are not the easiest to find.

But £30k for a junior role seems a bit ridiculous - I mean, great for the junior who’s granted a salary like this, but insane, nonetheless.

When we launched SEO For Hire about a year ago, an experienced SEO Manager's salary would’ve been around the £35k-£40k mark.

Are these entry-level salaries justified by the rising cost of living crisis in the UK?

The salary vs experience debate may seem crazy, but it’s happening. Here are some examples:
 
 > We placed an SEO executive with around a year of experience for a £28k starting salary with bonuses. 
 > We placed a Technical SEO Executive with about a year and a half of experience on a £35k salary with bonuses. 

Now it’s time to talk about experienced SEOs.

Let me start by saying that recently, we at SEO For Hire brought a six-figure salary to the UK from one of our US clients. An SEO Growth Consultant for £136k.

I had people in the SEO industry for 20 years reach out, saying they’ve never seen a six-figure salary in the UK before.

We have another US client hiring an SEO Director on a £90k salary. Both high-paying roles are in their final stages, and hopefully, both will get a job offer back this week.

The first thing that comes to mind is that they must be massive global brands with bottomless pockets. Right?

Not particularly!

They’re both impressive SEO agencies. Both don’t blink an eye with salaries like these because they know what ROI’s an incredibly talented SEO can bring.

Now let’s look on the other side of the table, under the grey clouds and consistent rain here in the UK.

We have clients who struggle to wrap their heads around how the salaries increase.

We have a client to whom we presented 3 top SEO Managers. All with around ten years’ experience and a fantastic track record asking for £50-£55k salaries.

After multiple phone calls with this client, they could only justify raising their salary from £35k to £40k. Not because of budgets. Because they couldn’t see the value.

So, they hire anyone willing to accept the $35k salary and then wonder why their recruit isn’t living up to their standards.

If you want the standards, you have to pay the price - otherwise, you really will pay the price.

I see this recurring theme with many agencies here in the UK.

Talented SEOs are hard to come by. It’s simple supply and demand. It’s about time the salaries started to increase.

Where do I see the SEO salaries going in the UK?

Up.

Despite this looming recession knocking on everyone's door, the ROI of a talented SEO supersedes this.

One thing we’re going to do at SEO For Hire is use our current US clients with big salaries as a case study and plan to bring in many more global clients who offer remote working and humongous salaries.

Airbnb currently has a ‘Senior SEO Strategy Lead’ listed on their site where it says, ‘the starting base pay for this role is between $185,000 and $230,000’.

Yes, whoever fills this role will have to be highly talented and full of experience, but I guarantee there are candidates fit for this role somewhere in the UK, and that's what we plan to do.

If we can do this, it will only have a trickle-down effect on the UK SEO job market.

As the UK SEO industry offers £35K salaries, the talented SEOs can politely decline. Because what’s the point of accepting that when they could earn double/triple the amount overseas?

We have to make this happen.

It’s about time the UK caught up with the global salary expectations.

This leaves us with the final question…

Is the SEO industry dead?

Absolutely not.

It’s going to the moon.

That’s why myself and Craig Dewart came together to create a recruitment company that specialises in only SEO because we see how bright the future is in this industry.


And we genuinely care about the people we work with, clients and candidates, and have a zealousness to get them what they deserve.

How does your salary stack up with others with the same job title within your geographical (UK) area?

Data source: Hays Salary Checker

 
 
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Are you being underpaid and undervalued in your current SEO role?

It is a fact that many SEOs all over the world are still being underpaid and undervalued for the job they are doing. It does not matter what the financial state of the business you are working for is in...

NOBODY should ever be underpaid and undervalued for the job they are doing which is why I created this UK marketing salary checker tool.

If you have just used the marketing salary checker above and it comes back with...

You are being underpaid, based on others doing your job within your geographical area

It means that the company you are working for is not even on the salary scale. It means that they are paying you below the minimum amount of others sharing your job title within your geographical area. It means that you are below the bottom of the barrel when it comes to salary level.

THIS SHOULD NOT HAPPEN!

Agencies and companies should pay people what they are worth, or at least be within the salary bracket somewhere.

If you are underpaid, all I have to say is...

"There are no shortage of agencies and companies looking for good SEO talent who are willing to pay above average for it as they see the value SEO brings to their business."

Natasha Woodford, MD & Director of Recruitment of clockworkTalent adds...

"Industry salary research is important but IMO you'll only be paid as much as you demonstrate in the interview. So be your best self AND negotiate! It's a candidate-driven market (more jobs than people). If you've got good skills & are underpaid, it should be relatively simple to find a "good" SEO job."

Should we actually be basing SEO salary levels on job titles?

I know that I have created the above UK marketing/SEO salary checker tool based on job titles because all the data I could find surrounding SEO salary levels are all worked out that way.

During my research, I had a chat with Dominik Schwarz, Chief Inbound Officer at HomeToGo who was in the same mindset as me when it comes to this very thing...

"SEO on a business card does not mean anything because it can mean everything. We have industry colleagues in tiny start-ups who have little real influence on the companies’ future, who write 'content' all day long and who have almost no revenue they are accountable for. On the other hand, we have industry colleagues who oversee huge teams, are deeply integrated and own multi-million dollar P&Ls. Both of these fictional colleagues might have 'Director of SEO' on their business card."

It is true...

Basing SEO salary levels on job title alone is a broken methodology within our great industry but it seems that this is what we all know.

An SEO Executive will strive to become and SEO Manager, and an SEO Manager will become to strive to be known as the Head of SEO. We keep this model as it is an easy to understand career progression model, but as Dominik quite accurately describes, there are many forms of a Director of SEO / SEO Director and two people sharing this very job title can have totally different actual job roles and responsibilities.

Personally, when it comes to SEO salaries alone, the salary level regardless of job title should be determined by...

1. Actual responsibilities

2. Experience and knowledge (proof you can do this job)

3. How accountable are you going to be?

4. Do you have the right skillset?

5. Can you help us to take our business from where it is now to where it needs to be?

I know that this is already happening in minor cases, especially in high level SEO roles, but it is still not common.

Why?

Simply because, people making the decisions on who to hire and how much to pay mostly do not have the knowledge or experience to be able to come up with a salary level based purely on the above key factors.

What about SEO salary levels in the US and other Countries outside of the UK?

US vs UK SEO Salaries

One big topic of conversation within the SEO industry regarding SEO salary levels is how underpaid UK based SEOs are compared to SEOs doing the same job within the US. You can even go further and say how underpaid SEOs are in India compared to SEOs in the UK.

Dan Rice, Employer Engagement (Apprenticeships) & Marketing Coach touched on a very common point when it comes to US vs UK salary levels...

"In the UK, salaries are so low that marketers in the USA seem to think that even the best salaries are ridiculously low."

This seems to be a repetitive and very common topic of conversation over on SEO Twitter, but is there any actual truth in it? let us first look at this from the US point of view.

Jennifer Mathews published a post on LinkedIn titled - Let's talk about salaries for SEOs.

Jennifer strongly believes that SEOs should get paid what they are worth and even gave the SEO salary levels that she believes SEOs in the US should get paid…

 > 0-year experience (entry, intern, etc) - $60k-$75k/yr or $30-$39/hr

 > 1-2 years’ experience (Strategist, Specialist, etc) - $80k-$90k/yr or $40-$45/hr

 > 3-5 years’ experience (Lead, Manager, Sr Manager, Tech SEO, Content SEO, Product SEO Manager, etc) - $90k-$115k/yr or $45-$55/hr

 > 5-10 years’ experience (Sr SEO Manager, Director) - $140k-$185k/yr $65-$90/hr

 > 10-20+ years (Director, VP, Consultant, etc) - $200k-$249k/yr $100-$120/hr (or more)

After a conversation with Jennifer (SEOGoddess) over on Twitter about this, she added…

“I was paid $75k plus bonus and stock as my first in-house role in 2004... so I would say that it's a fair assumption to make for today's standards. Also, $65k-$75k per year is what I start my SEOs out when hiring. I would hope that other companies would follow suit.”

This goes to show that just because the market states the low and high salary bracket of a certain SEO job title, it doesn’t mean that people are not getting paid more.

As an example, the average SEO Manager within the US compared to the UK earn very different salaries.

SEO Manager Salary Levels in the US
SEO Manager Salary Levels in the UK

Now, what if I told you that an average SEO manager in India receives a salary of just ₹30,569 Indian Rupees (£335 GBP per month). Considering that the lowest paid SEO manager within the UK salary is eight times that amount and over eleven times that amount in the US, you could say that SEOs in India are very much underpaid.

Hassan Ahmed Nikz, a growth marketer from Pakistan gave his views on why SEOs are paid less in different Countries…

  1. They are following the old-school SEO which is a lot easier than the current evolving SEO.

  2. They don't understand the ROI of SEO, all they check is traffic but not leads.

  3. They don't understand the quality of the traffic an SEO brings to the website.

  4. The SEO market is saturated; therefore, they don't afraid of losing one as there are many in the line. As I said, they don't know the value of SEO quality.

Now, let me make this perfectly clear. There are fantastic SEOs as well as bad SEOs in every single Country around the world. If SEOs in Countries around the world are using old-school SEO techniques then that is a training and education issue and is not directly aimed at any one Country.

 

You just cannot compare your own SEO salary level based upon what others are getting paid within other Countries as everything is relative and things like location, cost of living, health care and many other things all play a part.

Martin MacDonald, Founder of MOG Media explains this perfectly…

“There are hidden costs to living in the US, that are just not factored into any of these comparisons... Having moved from A to B, for a salary increase, trust me - I was shocked, and for the first two years I was better off in Europe, not the US, despite the higher base.

It’s a false equivalency - I say that having spent at least 2 years in:  Fuengirola, Marbella, London, Inverness, San Francisco and now Barbados - comparing salaries is a single datapoint in a veritable tapestry of other factors that are cumulatively, as important, and oft overlooked.

Great example:  here.

Salaries here are like 25% of the UK... but you can’t compare either the lifestyle or the cost base equivalence.  They are very different economies.  The US is also, very different...”

Taking this even further…

Kristine Schachinger, Digital Strategist & SEO Consultant, Speaker based in Las Vegas, USA made this point…

“Depends on where you live too though $90k a year in SF for a family of 4 is poverty level but in Vegas (until very recently) you could live a very nice life.”

As I mentioned, it is all hyper-relative when it comes to SEO salary levels, and you can only ever base SEO salaries like-for-like.

Remco Tensen, SEO & PPC consultant from the Nederland has very strong opinions when it comes to SEO salaries…

“Besides cost of living there's taxation, insurance, differences in labour markets, even between local ones between big city or small city it can differ hugely (incl the clients you can get), then there's specialties, and languages, and subsidized culture, and local biz economy...

And entry level (which may come with extra cost) vs more senior etc etc. Nearly impossible to compare in an accurate way. Well, you know a lot of this. Including about labour cost to gov differences: here, what people are paid is usually only about 25% of what they actually cost.”

Even within the UK itself, an SEO Manager based in the North West of England receives and average salary of just £42K compared to the London who receives an average of £52K.

Now, I can tell you now that living in the North West of England as I do is far cheaper than living in London. When you actually look at this £10K salary difference, the SEO Manager working in London would actually be worse off due to the cost of living, rent, house prices etc...

You see, everything is relative.

US vs UK SEO salaries gap debate – The logical explanation

I’m not a scientist, nor do I have a degree (apart from a degree of life). What has contributed to my successful SEO career over the past twenty-one years is the fact that, in everything I do when it comes to SEO, I always think logically.

I just wanted to bring a little bit of logical thinking into the US vs UK salary gap debate. Stay with me here before you judge me. I want you to really listen and read to what I’m saying here and if you disagree, I’m totally happy for you to jump on social and start a conversation with me.

Here goes… The lightbulb moment!

Maybe, just maybe, SEOs in the USA receive a higher salary than SEOs in the UK because businesses in the US invest over double for SEO services than businesses in the UK.

Why do businesses/companies in the US invest double?

Because the potential ROI is greater due to the target audience sizes being so much larger.

I run the keyword ‘SEO’ through Ahrefs to look at search volume difference between the United States and the United Kingdom and as you can see from the image below, the search volume is 3.8x higher than that in the UK. Go ahead and test any National based keyword using your preferred keyword research tool to see the audience size gap for yourself.

search volume for SEO in US and UK

The target audiences are much smaller in the UK, so the ROI an SEO agency can provide on SEO investment spend will naturally be smaller. This then has a knock-on impact…

SMALLER AUDIENCE SIZE = SMALLER ROI = SMALLER SEO BUDGET = SMALLER SEO SALARIES

All things being logical, wouldn’t you agree with this? After all, it’s not just me saying this…it’s a fact!

With this in mind, I went back to Ahrefs to determine the keyword difficulty score to get the term ‘SEO’ ranking high in both the US and the UK.

Even though the audience sizes are 3.8x different, surprisingly the keyword difficulty score is identical in both the US and the UK. Meaning the exact same amount of effort, time & resource needs to go into achieving the same goal in both Countries.

keyword difficulty for SEO in US and UK

Naturally, SEO agencies in the UK are going to have less profit to give higher salaries than the SEO agencies in the US.

Like I said…

This is me just being me…thinking logically about the US vs UK salary gap debate.

Just charge more, and you will be able to pay your SEOs more

It seems that some people in the SEO industry are in the mindset that there is a very simple solution to the problem of SEOs being undervalued within certain Countries. Every US based SEO I've spoken to really do believe that SEOs in the UK are underpaid. I get comments like...

 > Pay SEOs in the UK and other Countries the same as those in the US.

 > Just charge more and your problem is solved.

 > We start trainee SEOs on $70K in the US which is the same salary as most Head of SEO people get in the UK.

Now, I am not against everyone within the SEO industry being treaded equal, regardless of gender, race, and Country of origin. I'm not against SEOs being paid based purely on their knowledge and skillset. 

Reality though is not like that. An SEO Manager doing exactly the same job with exactly the same skillset in Pakistan, India, Australia, UK and the USA all get paid different amounts. Even SEO managers with the same skillset within the same Country mostly get paid different amounts.

It's a salary game we all play that is led by market demand.

Let us just imagine for one moment that some big global cheese (no, not John Mueller) waves their wand and suddenly there was a global law that stated...

 

From this day, everything in SEO salary world is equal based on skillset alone, regardless of where you live and we deem that everyone should get paid the equivalent to what SEOs get paid in the US.

I bet a lot of you reading this are saying... Hell yeah! Fantastic! I'm going to double my salary. I'm all up for that. Where do I vote?

In fantasy world, imagine this actually happened. My question to you is...

"Where is all this money going to come from?"

Suddenly your agencies or company's wage bill has suddenly doubled overnight but the revenue is still the same.

It is just not possible to just pluck more money out of thin air. Something has to happen first before all SEOs get paid double what they are on now.

There is only one way forward...

The agency you work for will have to turn around to their clients and tell them that the day rate has doubled but you are going to receive the exact same service. Good luck with that especially as we go into a recession.

SEO job ads displaying salary range

I must admit that recruiters get a lot of stick from the SEO industry. Sometimes it seems that whatever they do, there is always something to moan about…

 > That’s not a job spec for an SEO executive, you are after an all-round marketing guru on a junior salary.

 > Why are you not telling us the salary or at least giving us a salary range?

 > That is really a bad salary for that SEO job.

Like I said, recruiters display a salary range, they get accused of underpaying in most cases. They don’t display a salary range and get told that it must be a badly paid position.

Areej AbuAli, SEO Consultant & Founder of Women in Tech SEO took the words right out of my mouth here…

"If we criticise every single salary that is publicly shared in job postings, we'll end up deterring companies from sharing salary ranges. Let's focus on encouraging transparency in job postings please."

I 100% agree with Areej here. The only way forward is full transparency. Displaying a salary or at least a salary range within SEO job ads is a great thing for us all.

 > It allows the SEO to make an instant decision to apply or not.

 > It saves hours of interviews only to find that the salary is below what you are making now when the reason you applied was to get a pay-rise.

Just because a job ad displays a certain salary does not mean that you can’t negotiate if you believe you can add extra value above what they have asked for. The worse they can say is… “Sorry, we just don’t have the budget to pay anymore.”

Specialised SEO recruiters such as SEOjobs.com totally understand that SEOs applying for jobs want to see the salary of the job they are applying for. As such they created a dedicated section on their website titled ‘SEO jobs with salary listed’.

SEO jobs with salaries displayed

Now, if you were looking for a new SEO position and every SEO job listing displayed the salary range, wouldn’t it make the whole process a lot easier and less stressful?


At a glance, if you see a job listing with a $150K salary attached to it, you then also question yourself… “Do I really have the skillset and knowledge to be able to do that job?”


Key takeaway here…


Be transparent but also do not bully anyone who is being transparent when it comes to displaying a salary range. It might just be that the stated salary is all that agency or company can afford to pay whist staying profitable. If you personally think it is too low, don't apply. It's as simple as that.

Has the impact from the pandemic and remote working evened salary levels out across the UK?

SEO salaries in the UK

There is no getting away from it…

The impact from the pandemic (Covid-19) changed the perception of remote working. SEOs who was office based 5-days per week are now working from home or a hybrid working model where they mix their week up from home-based to office-based. I do not personally know of any SEO who is being forced to go back into the office 5-days per week. Obviously, if you just prefer to work from the office full-time, that is perfectly fine.

I’m not getting into the whole debate of which is best – Office or WFH. This debate has been covered many times before. Me personally, I prefer a mixture of both…the hybrid model.

What actually is remote working?

I used the word ‘actually’ as many people still get confused when it comes to remote working, especially within job ads.

Remote SEO job does not mean that just because you can work from home, every single remote job opportunity is available to everyone within the world. Many remote SEO jobs still require you to be based within the Country the business is located in. I have even seen remote jobs advertised that allow you to be based locally but you can work from home but can come into the office if needed for meetings.

What about SEO salaries when it comes to remote jobs?

It is a fact that the SEO job market is no longer geographical based. There was a time that agencies and companies recruited SEOs from within their geographical area. They were seen as employers of local people. That has now changed.

I could very easily get myself a fully remote job sat in my home office in Lancashire working for a London based company or agency on London wages. There is also a trend starting of US based companies and agencies starting to build remote UK based SEO teams on salary levels equivalent to what they would get paid from working within the US based office.

This has forced agency directors and companies to re-evaluate what they pay their SEO teams, which is why things like 4-day work week and unlimited holidays have started to spring up.

Take a look through Remoters at some of the remote SEO jobs available around the world to compare with what you are seeing within your local market. This is a great resource within the industry Co-foundered by Aleyda Solis who you will have already heard of as she does so much to help the industry we all work in.

So, has SEO salaries increased because of remote working opportunities?

Over the past couple of years, I’ve heard of some SEOs being offered over twice market value for the job role and the SEO job market has been a fierce playground. The bubble however is starting to burst due to the uncertainty of the economic recession we are in. SEOs are starting to look at things like stability as well as salary when deciding to jump ship into a new role.

There is no doubt though that SEO salary levels are higher than they was pre-pandemic. Demand as well as working in an under resourced industry naturally pushes salary levels up.

Issues caused by the impact of increased SEO salaries

You might be reading this thinking…

'It all sounds great. As an SEO, I get paid more than I use to. I can work from home and are even given a host of job benefits to boot.'

Let us strip this right back…

Just to be clear, nobody should ever be getting paid below the minimum market level. If this is you, do something about it. Agencies or companies should never take advantage of people.

Now, let us imagine that you are an SEO manager on the average London salary of £52K and you have been approached and offered a job at a VC funded agency with deep pockets. They offer you £62K to jump ship and go and work for them. You then have a chat to your director and tell them…

“I’ve just been offered a job on £10K more than you are paying me.”

Now, watch this video as Simon Schnieders, Founder & CEO of Blue Array SEO explains why it is not that simple as just giving you a £10K pay rise to keep you.

With all the will in the world, especially within agencies, salary levels are determined by profitability. If you are an agency running at 20% profit margin, you are doing very well, but most run between 10% to 15%.

That £10K pay rise you have asked for needs to come from somewhere. There is only two possible ways it can happen…

  1. If your agency reduces their profit margin. There will then become a time where the Directors are working their backsides off for nothing, meaning the agency is no longer profitable.

  2. To increase the rate the agency charges the client. With the world going into a global recession, clients are already starting to ask their agencies to justify what they pay them so telling them that you are increasing your day rate is probably not the best time right now especially if you want to keep those clients.

 

As an SEO on the ground, you might just see this as…

The agency is getting paid £xxx per hour and they are only paying me £xx per hour, so they can just pay me more as I’m the one doing the work.

If only things were that simple. There are things within an agency which are billable and things that are not billable where the business must soak up the cost.

For example…

The time you spend as an SEO on a client campaign is billable, but the time and cost taken to secure that client (salary cost of Business Development Manager, marketing to secure that lead, time to create the proposal etc…) is not billable.

All these non-billable things determine if it is actually possible if you get the pay-rise you want or not…even if you actually do deserve it.

Let's look at some numbers to put this conversation into some sort of perspective.

For this purpose only (not actual figures) let us imagine there is an an SEO agency called 'Mark A Preston SEO Agency' and this agency is based in London and employs ten people, which is classed as a small agency.

Using London industry average salary ranges, let us break some numbers down...

Staff salaries:

 > 6 x SEO executives - £36K each x 6 = £216K)
> 2 x Content marketing executives - (£42K each x 2 = £84K)
> 1 x SEO manager - (£52K)
> 1 x Business Development Manager - (£47K)

That means that the salary bill for these tem people within the agency is...

£399K

However, there are extra costs to the agency for employing people...

 > Employer’s National Insurance Contributions (13.8% of each employees earnings above £169.01 per week) - This means the agency has to find an extra (£399,000 - £87,885.20 x 13.8%) £42,934 above each agreed salary.
 > Workplace Pension Employer’s Contributions (minimum of 3% of earnings above £6,240 per year) - Let us say that the employer decides to keep it at 3%, there total employers contribution above and beyond the agreed salary will be (£399,000 - (£6,240 x 10) x 3%) £10,098.
 > Business costs for Company benefits - Let us put a realistic figure of £10,000 per year towards this.
 > IT equipment for each employee - Let us put a figure of £30,000 towards this.
 > Training allowance (courses + conferences) - Let us say that each employee gets to go to two in-person conferences per year at a total cost of £10,000 (ticket prices + travel & accommodation).

In reality it actually costs the Director of Mark A Preston SEO Agency around £502K per year to employee these ten people.

Now, let us look at other business expenses above salary...

> Office rent
> Accountancy costs
> Insurance
> Marketing costs to secure new clients
> Professional fees
> First aid supplies
> SEO tool subscriptions
> Broadband and telephone rental
> Office furniture

A realistic figure for the above could be around £50,000 per year.

Now the agency MUST find at least £552K+ per year just to break-even, and that is before the Director has paid themself a penny.

Most shareholder Directors actually pay themselves a base salary below what any of their employers get (around £20K per year) as their salary is topped up by Dividends which are paid out based on the profit (revenue minus all expenses) the agency makes.

With this in mind, let us say that this fictitious MUST now find a minimum of £572K+ just to survive.

That is £47,667 every single month.

Now, let us say that the profit margin for the agency is running at 20%, as there is no point in running a business/agency unless it makes profit.

Suddenly the agency Director has to find £686,400 each year to ensure the agency is sustainable.

Billable hours

It is a fact that as an agency owner, we can only bill out around 6 hours per day per person and anymore than that is just not realistic.

Looking at the team above, we have eight billable people and two non-billable people (SEO manager and BDM).

This means every month, the maximum billable hours taking into account holidays (25 days + 8 bank holiday days) are going to be (260 days - 33 days holiday - 10 days for out of office activities x 6 hours per day x 8 billable staff members) - 10,416.

This means that the minimum monthly hour this agency MUST charge is £65 per hour and maintain maximum capacity at all times.

Reality is not as so though. I've never met an agency yet that can run efficiently at maximum capacity which is why this agency here will need to charage their clients around £100 per hour (to keep the maths simple).

Considering that each client is paying £100 per hour and you are running the agency at 80% capacity, the agency revenue per year will be around £937,400.

This means that this agency does indeed have money left in the pot to give you a pay-rise above that of the industry average.

However, that is only if this agency can retain that level of revenue, so it is all down to securing and keeping well-paying clients.

Who pays more – Agency or In-house?

I really do hate to say this, but…

It depends.

The fact is that there are so many differentiators when it comes to SEO salaries within agency or in-house.

 > I know people who work in-house and has the job title of SEO Manager purely because they are the only SEO within the company, and they get paid a £25K to £30K salary.

 > I know of people who work in-house at big well-known brands who have a small in-house SEO team then manage external agency relationships, who get paid a six-figure sum.

 > I’ve heard of SEO executives who are told to manage 30 clients who are on a salary of just £20K.

 > I also know of SEO managers agency side who do a fantastic job of managing their team and get paid a decent salary, around £50K.

 > I also know of a Head of SEO who works in-house for a large company who gets paid a salary equivalent to an SEO manager within an agency.

 

The fact is, there just does not seem to be any real consistency across the industry.

What I do know for sure is that there are a lot of brands who are moving away from working with agencies and starting to build their own in-house SEO team from the top down. They are enticing top level SEOs with a great salary, bonuses and even equity. The downside to this for the actual high-level SEO is they need to get their hands dirty and muck-in whist they structure and build their in-house team.

Agency and in-house business models are very different

There seems to be a bit of a mass exodus of SEOs moving from agency-side to in-house these days as they are just seeing the higher salary being offered, in most cases. They then soon realise that things are very different.

Working in an agency you get to work on a variety of different businesses within different industries, so you tend not to get bored. The agency is usually day-rate driven so salary levels will always have a maximum ceiling they can go to determined by the profitability of the agency.

Working in-house on one single brand, on one single website, in one single industry can get a little repetitive once the excitement has worn off. With working in-house, you also have the ability to really help grow that business. Unlike working within agency, you have the luxury of spending the time needed to achieve the business goals. I see SEO salaries on in-house side as a sliding scale based on SEO ROI. You may not start on a massive salary to start with but once you prove the ROI that your SEO efforts have gained and present that ‘truth’ forward, you have a lot higher chance of securing that pay rise you wanted.

Ash New, Senior SEO Manager at Mobile | Virgin Media O2 explains what is happening in the real world…

“Agencies are falling very behind because the price SEO talent the same way they price other channels. This means agencies are losing their best people fast, putting more junior people on accounts and generally struggling to have a good SEO offering when compared to specialists.”

Why are SEO salary levels so varied when it comes to some roles?

Have you ever sat there scrolling through the SEO job listings getting a little frustrated because most of them do not display the salary level or at least a salary range?


I know I do.


Some companies say that they do not advertise a salary level because they want to make sure the salary is discussed directly with the candidate so both parties are in a happy place. Others just come out and say that anyone who does not display the salary on an SEO job advert just wants to pay as little as possible and ashamed to display the salary range in-case they get negative exposure.


I am seeing though when looking through SEO job ads that it is a little disjointed and a jumbled-up mess. Nobody ever follows a set industry pattern because quite simply…there isn’t one.


David Ramos, blogger has noticed this too…


“Would definitely be interested in this too. I regularly see job postings for Technical SEO Specialists that pay double what Director of SEO Content ones do, which seems crazy to me.”


Have you also seen the SEO job ads for an SEO Executive who require them to be a writer, social consultant, designer, etc… Basically everything but what the SEO is actually meant to do?


The actual problem is that SEO job adverts are mainly being written by people who do not have a clue what SEO is, or the actual skillset required. Therefore, there are specialist SEO recruiters such as SEO For Hire, SEOJobs.com and clockworkTalent who are getting all the very best high-level jobs.

SEO salary levels are typically based on job titles

When it comes to SEO job titles, it seems that agencies, companies, brands and even recruiters are a little confused at times with what SEO job title to give someone. During my extensive research into the crazy world of SEO salaries, I came across the following list (although, still not extensive) of specific SEO job titles...

  • Trainee SEO

  • Entry Level SEO

  • SEO Associate

  • SEO Assistant

  • Junior SEO

  • Junior SEO Executive

  • SEO Executive

  • SEO Marketing Executive

  • SEO Content Writer

  • Local SEO Executive

  • Digital Marketing SEO

  • SEO Copywriter

  • SEO Editor

  • SEO Writer

  • Senior SEO

  • Senior SEO Executive

  • SEO Specialist

  • SEO Consultant

  • SEO Analyst

  • SEO Expert

  • SEO Strategist

  • SEO Developer

  • SEO Marketing Specialist

  • SEO Content Strategist

  • Technical SEO

  • Technical SEO Specialist

  • Technical SEO Executive

  • SEO Link Building Specialist

  • SEO Manager

  • Senior SEO Manager

  • Senior SEO Specialist

  • SEO Account Manager

  • SEO Project Manager

  • Technical SEO Manager

  • SEO Professional

  • SEO Marketing Manager

  • SEO Lead

  • SEO Engineer

  • SEO Coordinator

  • SEO Team Lead

  • Senior SEO Strategist

  • Head of SEO

  • Head of Technical SEO

  • SEO Director

  • Director of SEO

 

That is 45 individual job titles I came across, and I imagine there are many more, such as... Head of SEO Content and Strategy or really specific ones, such as... Digital SEO Content Strategist and Analyst.

 

No wonder recruiters not only get slated, but also get a little confused when writing the SEO job descriptions.

Eli Schwartz, author of Product-Led SEO and growth advisor feels strongly that...

"Salaries are based on the level of contribution the organization believes the employee is making for the company. If the company simply thinks the job of the SEO person or team is to fix best practices according to Google then there job will be perceived as something easily replaceable and somewhat unskilled. At the complete opposite end of that extreme, if the business leaders understand that the SEO manager is actually the owner of a complete marketing channel and is directly responsible for all of the revenue that comes from that channel, you can bet that the person is being paid well AND has a seat at the executive table. To that end, Eli advocates for thinking of SEO teams as product teams (even when they are on marketing teams). As a product team they will have both a lot more resources at their disposal and hopefully more visibility. Both of these factors lead to better pay."
 

Below is a typical skillset associated with each SEO job title level. This may vary from agency-to-agency, company-to-company, and may even vary depending on the structure of your job, but it just gives us somewhere to start my next point of topic.


Trainee SEO skillset requirements - £xxK to £xxK


A trainee SEO does not have to have any experience when starting but needs to work towards learning the below SEO activities.


> Keyword research and mapping
> Working through the on-page optimisation checklist on each page
> Understanding of how to perform basic website edits
> Structured data/schema creation (I now personally consider this a basic SEO task)
> Setup of 301 redirect mapping and implementation
> Setup of Google Analytics
> Setup of Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster
> Setup and management of Google Business Profile
> Basic understanding of the preferred SEO tool suite
> Understanding what the data means
> Ability to create SEO reports

 

SEO Executive skillset requirements - £xxK to £xxK


The SEO executive will oversee the work completed by the trainee SEO, help to mentor them and work towards being able to complete all the below SEO focused responsibilities.


> Staying up to date with the latest SEO news and trends
> Understanding HTML & CSS enough to be able to implement SEO tweaks on websites
> Performing SEO crawl audits with the aid of various tools, such as Google Search Console, ScreamingFrog, Ahrefs Audit & Sitebulb
> Ability to fix all non-development crawl issues
> Full understanding of internal linking
> Understanding of Core Web Vitals and how to perform non-development speed optimisation on various CMS platforms (Wix, WordPress and custom)
> Full understanding of Google Analytics, Search Console & Data Studio
> Ability to create custom reports via Data Studio
> Ability to action tasks within a custom SEO strategy that align with the individual business goals
> Ability to solve specific SEO problems
> Ability to present SEO driven reports to the wider team
> Be an ROI focused SEO
> Understanding of your core SEO responsibilities (local SEO, National content driven SEO & Ecommerce SEO)
> Ability to generate quality backlinks from websites that share the same target audience
> Ability to understand what SEO tasks will generate the biggest impact
> Ability to communicate with your designated clients
> Ability to really listen to what others are saying

 

SEO Manager skillset requirements - £xxK to £xxK


The SEO Manager must understand how to perform all the SEO tasks that a Senior SEO Executive needs to understand, plus work towards gaining a full understanding and track record of the below.


> To create SEO driven training material for the wider group
> Ability to create tailored SEO strategy plans which are realistic and in-line with resource constraints
> To build and maintain the internal culture
> Ability to motivate, train and manage a team
> Streamline SEO specific processes
> Quality sense checking of all output from the SEO team
> Keeping up to date with the latest SEO news and understanding if and how new techniques will impact the business
> Improve productivity of the team
> Ensure SEO targets are being achieved
> Documenting the ROI of the team
> Understanding and a track record of building positive brand awareness
> To keep an overview of any SEO problems which may have a negative impact on each individual business

 

Head of SEO skillset requirements - £xxK to £xxxK


The role of the Head of SEO is to work with the various other internal teams to make sure SEO is streamlined into internal business processes and to ensure the specific SEO business goals and targets are achieved.


> To take complete accountability of the SEO business goals
> To ensure monthly/quarterly targets are exceeded
> To help to increase the quality of new business generated through organic activities
> To ensure that the whole SEO team have the skills and tools they need to do their jobs efficiently
> To mentor the whole SEO team
> To ensure on-going training is provided to the whole team
> To ensure the whole SEO team are in a happy place
> To be able to present to board level
> To host training to the wider departments within the business so they understand how SEO impacts what they are doing
> Create new SEO strategies that enable the business to outperform the industry leader’s whist sticking to your budget restraints
> To maintain and keep track of the annual SEO budget
> To ensure all SEO processes are scalable
> To constantly research what your competition are doing
> To acquire the skills to effectively pitch to the board for increased budget

 

Just imagine if every single agency and company provided such a document with the related skillset tailored to their individual business to each SEO employee!


It would mean that the employee (the SEO) would have a very clear understanding of what they need to do in order for them to progress up the ladder and secure that much wanted pay-rise. It would take away all those “Sorry, I just don’t think you are ready for the SEO manager role yet” conversations.

So, what’s an SEO got to do to get a pay-rise?

This is a question I get asked a lot myself. I am going to be very honest with you here…


In 80% of these conversations I have, when I start asking questions – The SEO themselves realises that they are not as good as they actually think they are. All I do is ask them...

"Please tell me 'why' you deserve that pay rise and what proof do you have?"


I know it sounds a little harsh, but it is reality.


A lot of SEOs just do not understand what they are actually worth. They do not understand how to value themselves.


It comes down to two things really…


1. Are you just an SEO robot? Do you just sit there working through the same checklist of tasks site after site? Can you be easily replaced?
2. Are you an SEO marketer? Do you enjoy SEO problem solving? Do you look understand what the business goals and challenges are? Can you demonstrate and document the value ‘you’ bring to the business? Would the business find it difficult to replace you if you decided to jump ship?

 

Turn yourself from an SEO robot into an SEO problem solving marketer and only then will you have true justification to push forward for a well-deserved pay-rise. Otherwise, you will only ever have a maximum salary ceiling as far as the business directors are concerned.


Eli Schwartz, Growth Advisor and Consultant puts it simply…


“I think many SEO's are underpaid because the people that set their pay don't understand the contribution they make. I always encourage anyone I coach on how to get a better salary/offer in-house to calculate the total value of organic revenue. If that revenue number is in the 7 or 8 figures it will feel insane to pay the person who has a strong hand in driving it a low salary.”

This SEO salaries article will be ever changing

If you have any comments, questions, or facts that you would like to discuss with me relating to this very SEO salaries article, feel free to catch me on Twitter or if you prefer, just get in touch on this very website. If I find your contribution of value, I will have no issues with including it above.


All that is left to say is…


When it comes to SEO salaries… It depends…

Oh yes! One last thing...

If you have found this SEO salaries of value or you have found it highly interesting, please do me a huge favour/favor and tell others about it by helping me to spread the word. The more the subject of SEO salaries is discussed, the more change we all have of changing SEO salary levels in the right direction.