SEO Salaries & Fees

SEO Fees & Salaries 2022

New research shows SEO continues to create the lion’s share of web traffic for companies of all sizes and that the lion’s share of sales also flows out of search engines.

The overall value of search engine optimization has never been better given search engine usage trends. And this has pushed the average SEO Salary to $70k per year according to one source. In fact, SEJ reports that:

  • 19% of SEOs earn over $100,000 per year.
  • 3.4% SEOs earn over $200,000 per year.
  • 31% of SEOs earn more than $75,000 per year.

These salaries may pale in comparison to Realtors and Silicon Valley execs, but it’s notable that Google traffic is this valuable to some companies.  However, a ballooning in the number of people offering search engine optimization services has helped to reduce pay levels for all SEO pros.

Web design agencies, marketing companies, advertising agencies and IT hosting firms are also selling SEO services. The collective effect of the flood of low quality service providers is dragging down fees and salaries.  The question is, are such pay levels realistic, should you hire cheap, or is there better value with higher end SEO specialists?

As a business owner, you’re wondering what funding to commit to search engine optimization services. Given that some advanced SEO service provider’s deliver additional services such as copywriting, social media posting, and analytics, it adds to the confusion about what to pay.

A good rule of thumb revolves around the concept of value.  If Google referrals are vital, and PPC ad costs, and customer acquisition costs are high in your sector, it would make sense to invest in it.

Another matter for smaller businesses is how much extra funding is needed to allow the SEO pro to perform their job at optimal levels.  There are costs for paid sponsorships, social media software, SEO software, analytics solutions, research subscriptions and more. Without these extra funds, the SEO specialist may not be effective.

Gauging Salaries and Service Fee Value

The SEO service fee might these points into consideration:

  • cost and risk of alternatives such as hiring a marketing agency
  • your cost of acquiring a new customer
  • customer value from each marketing channel
  • projected sales revenue from search engine leads
  • additional services the SEO consultant offers
  • years of experience and industries they’ve worked in
  • sales revenue results you need to achieve
  • industry/sector expertise of the SEO pro
  • long term sustained value of actual content produced
  • research capabilities and ability to innovate in SEO/Content strategy
  • the size of your company/budget vs your competitors
  • how much SEO expertise your competitors possess

Your Industry Competitiveness

These factors above suggest you need to think about how difficult your market is and who can realistically help you compete in it.  Lucrative sectors with high PPC rates suggest SEO value may be very high.

The end value of SEO varies depending on the industry too, so you need to know how your costs and challenges factor in.  Some sectors such as lawyers, travel bookings, entertainment tickets, and IT software are very competitive.  Many companies examine pay per click costs and try to determine how much ad spend they can eliminate using SEO and content marketing.

Yet, Google’s strategy is to diminish SEO and organic exposure as a way of forcing companies to pay more on PPC campaigns. Their monetization strategy has worked brilliantly, creating hundreds of billions in additional advertising revenue. Facebook too has a similar strategy.  If your advertising campaign is creating value, sales, revenue and lasting customers, then you know the real value of traffic and leads. You are able to price SEO consultant fees based on that.

SEO Salary Survey. Screenshot courtesy of Search Engine Journal.

Search is Still King in Lead and Revenue Generation

From experience, I can tell you that whether you’re in San Diego, London UK, Boston or San Francisco, the amount of traffic on Google is staggering and it’s the richest and best channel for revenue.  What is the value of millions of visitors?

Another point to consider is How good your company’s value proposition and ability to convert leads is. If it is strong, then you can afford to spend more to seriously ramp up traffic, leads and long term customer engagement. Google gives you constant access.

Even if your UVP sucks vs competitors, SEO will lead you to better position yours and guide improvements. I will generate insights and ideas.

How much is 500,000 visitors worth? How about 5 million?

Traffic share by Channel. Graphic courtesy of Brightedge.com
Share of Revenue. Graphic courtesy of Brightedge.com

Ahrefs Salary Survey

Ahref’s study sought to discover SEO fee ranges and their SEO pricing models. The pricing models were categorized via hourly rates, monthly retainer fees and per project fees. Breaking it down to hourly wages is perhaps a strategy to cheapen the value and increase competition on a base level. This gambit ends up cheapening value delivered and discourages the SEO specialist from providing greater value. Once clients establish a dollars per hour rate, that valuation almost never changes.

Screen Capture courtesy of Ahrefs.com

Fees and Pricing Models for SEOs

According the Ahrefs report, most SEO consultants (74%) charge a monthly retainer for their services, which almost never exceeds $5000 a month. My note on this is that your fees affect what level of service be can delivered. If the search engine pros fees get limited, it drags down the level of resources they can access. Thus performance fails.  Many resources have a high cost (white hat link building, PR, advertising, high end analytics, research subscriptions, SEO software, professional content marketing design, graphic design, visual content, video).

Most SEO providers charge per month, due to the need for a persistent effort to climb and dominate the rankings, and minimize clients commitment risk. Per project pricing is rarer (25%), but from experience I know that per project services transition to monthly retainers.

Some will charge hourly rates which usually vary between $75 to $150 per hour. Only 6% charge more than $200 per hour. US SEOs charge between $US 75 and $US 150 per hour (about $4000 to $10,000 per month). Most agencies, according to the report charge $100 to $150 per hour.

In terms of experience, SEJ found that only 4.17% had over 20 years of experience. Founder, director, manager are the job titles that returned the best salary. Freelancers generally had the lowest salary at below $34,000 per year.

According to this we could suggest the more resources the SEO pro controls, the higher the pay. Freelancers typically have the least control over anything and are least likely to be able to raise their income.

Should Small Businesses Still Pursue SEO

Big businesses soar on Google, and pay rates are high within corporations. Small businesses are getting squeezed. However, since it is all digital, a small business with a commensurate budget should be able to do as well as a big business. If branding, promotion, staffing and skill are equal, then small businesses should be able to compete equally.  The difference is the SEO Budget and the skilled talent hired.

Yearly Salaries of SEO Pros from Payscale

Payscale offers yet another look at SEO service fees. These charts show us that entry level pay is high, but doesn’t climb appreciably for lengthy experience.  This says a lot about the work and corporate habits.  For you, hiring a very experienced SEO, if you can find one, represents especially good value since employers won’t pay more for high experience levels. It appears those with 4 to 5 years experience are overrated, perhaps because of HR hiring practices.

If an SEO expert is considered overqualified, it then suggests salaries at lower levels of expertise are too high.

Any entrepreneur who values SEO leads and their own company’s growth outlook, would want the best they can get.  These charts suggests an experienced SEO consultant is the best choice, particularly if they possess additional skills.

In this graphic, we see that companies aren’t willing to pay for experience beyond 5 years. Is it just self deceit that they can acquire experience/talent at a good price, or do they believe there is no value in SEO experience beyond the last 5 years?

Have experienced SEO consultants proven the value to justify a $100,000 salary?  Or does paying the SEO manager more than other employees in the company create tensions?  Certainly, internal politics can be a factor in the SEO salaries you’ll see below.

SEO Specialist Salary. Screenshot courtesy of Payscale.com.
Pay by Experience in Years. Screenshot courtesy of Payscale.com.
Average pay for SEO Analyst. Screenshot courtesy of Payscale.com.
Salary of SEO Analyst by Years of Experience. Screenshot courtesy of Payscale.com.

Another clue to SEO buyers belief is seen in salaries for SEO managers. Here, the SEO manager may be in a senior position in an agency managing other SEO workers.  In this role, senior people with 10 to 20 years experience are receiving the highest salaries in excess of $US 91K per year.

Average salary for SEO Manager. Junior Senior. Screenshot courtesy of Payscale.com.
Average salary for SEO Manager based on years of experience. Junior Senior. Screenshot courtesy of Payscale.com.

SEO Manager Salary Survey at Salary.com

Salary.com’s survey reveals another aspect to hiring full time SEO Managers. There are additional benefits offered such as health coverage and bonuses which can raise the final pay.

SEO Managers Salary. Screenshot courtesy of Salary.com

What Do SEO Agencies/Marketing Agencies Charge?

One study found that SEO agencies charge twice as much as freelance SEO consultants, and up to 4 times as much per project. Of course, agencies often have more resources at their disposal and with 4 times the revenue, they can achieve quite a bit more (and get you in spam trouble).

Experienced, specialized SEOs charge much more because their value proposition is good. Their experience means better focus and results, more efficient process, and less risk for the client. Add in new AI SEO software and the future looks brighter for the skilled specialist.

It was found that local SEOs charge much less, and considering small local businesses have limited budgets, it only makes sense.

Most SEOs in third world countries charge $60 an hour or less.

Consider the Full Delivered Value: Industry Dedication, Content Excellence, and Outreach

If you want to dominate Google rankings to get best performance, you need a dedicated and responsive SEO consultant who knows your industry. Those who know real estate, manufacturing, software development, sport marketing, travel markets, finance and stock markets, and professional services add immense value to your effort.

In any area of business or commerce, you get what you pay for. Today’s SEOs offer more value and services, but the competition bar is set much higher. That of course will raise the price to create the assets, do outreach, and apply search engine optimization well.

You can hire an SEO consultant or a marketing agency. The issues with both is whether they have the talent and the experience in your industry. Most SEO work involves creating effective, credible, authoritative content. This is content that actually creates high rankings and a lot of traffic.

AI Marketers provides unique content, SEO, social media, PPC, and funnel optimization services for software companies, manufacturers, hotels, recruiters, moving companies, publishers, mountain bike manufacturers, sports equipment retailers, building supplies companies, window and door companies, Realtors, investment companies, IT companies, clean energy, consumer products, branding consultants and many more.

Begin your market leader journey with a digital marketing performance review.

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