In Part 1 of The Ultimate Guide to In-House SEO, we explored who is going in-house and why, how to determine whether bringing SEO In-House is worth the cost, and the advantages and disadvantages of having SEO In-House.
In Part 2 I covered determining how many people you need to hire and where they might live in your organization. Here in Part 3 we’ll take a deep dive into types of SEOs, SEO titles, salaries, and lots of great industry survey data. It’s a long one, so get your caffeine fix and get comfortable, we’re going for a fun, data-delicious ride.
How do I hire someone?
An In House SEO is much more involved in office politics than a contracted SEO, since that’s where they are all the time. The In House SEO needs to be successful at penetrating cross-functional teams, educating those teams, and getting them to buy-in to SEO and fully implement it. Here are some qualities to look for in your In House SEO:
In House SEO Employee Qualities
- Personable. Because they’ll need people on cross-functional teams to like them
- Patient. Because the larger the company and the more moving parts there are, the longer they might have to wait for implementation.
- Inquisitive. Because you want them to ask questions in order to determine the right solutions and you want them to stay on top of industry trends and techniques (you don’t want any know-it-all SEOs).
- Influencer . Because they’ll need people who don’t report into them to do things (listen to them, trust them, implement SEO).
A. For Marketing In House SEOs:
A marketing SEO can potentially take on strategy, and how to work SEO/M into the overall marketing mix. They should be skilled in seeing the big picture and prioritizing. If they are technical enough, they can also conduct competitive audits to determine competitive landscape before building a product. Most marketing SEOs are less skilled on the technical side (and vice versa), but are much better at the big picture, and therefore better strategists.
This person should know how to find SEO opportunity, determine how big or small that opportunity is, be able to prioritize multiple opportunities, and how those opportunities fit into the overall traffic or marketing opportunity for a site.
For example, for a suite of multiple properties (sites), this person can tell you which property has the most opportunity to gain search traffic (and ideally how much it’s worth, if your internal systems are set up correctly to determine this). Then within each property they can tell you where the most opportunity lives, and prioritize which parts of the site would give you the most return in search traffic.
This person may or may not have control over internal and external linking relationships (sometimes this is purely a business development function). It is good for this role to understand the value of a link (internally and externally) for SEO, since it’s more than likely this will come up often, whether biz dev/partnerships is part of their job or not. It is a critical ranking factor and needs to be fully, completely understood anytime there are link exchanges, partnership negotiations, or even for internal linking strategies that can boost search traffic.
Balancing SEO & PPC:
This person should understand how to make SEO decisions based on PPC data, and PPC decisions based on SEO data. This includes being able to make decisions on SEO & PPC actions to take when event spikes happen (there’s a hurricane & we’ve got fresh pics on it – should we buy the terms while we build content around it?), or even for reoccurring or predictable events like holidays, shows, etc. They should also be able to read PPC & SEO data to determine when to start, stop, ramp up, or ramp down any PPC campaigns based on PPC and algo CTR performance.
This person should also understand how search traffic can potentially be integrated with other marketing campaigns. How does SEO/M fit into your overall marketing mix? Be sure to consider both short term & long term. Can you send search traffic via offline advertising? Are you engaging in social media campaigns? If so, how is this affecting search traffic (and/or your branding)? Are you doing affiliate marketing, and if so, what are the considerations to take?
Many SEOs are in marketing at small companies and wear multiple hats. The more they know about marketing outside of SEO, the more opportunities you might have to create visibility beyond an algorithmic search result, since they will be able to see and potentially act on the connections between SEO and other marketing channels.
B. For Engineering/Development In House SEOs
Technical SEOs are usually technically skilled but less adept at figuring out how search traffic fits into an overall property marketing strategy (although it’s not impossible!). But they are good at creating a site that is not just crawlable, but one that will rank highly in search results. A web dev/ engineering SEO can potentially take on everything once you say “go” in the build process. This starts with information architecture, URLs, and wireframing, moving completely through the entire build process, and can also include pre- and post-launch QA.
This person must not be a hothead. You don’t want SEOs who say “just do it because that’s what you’re supposed to do.” You need someone who can sensibly look at all aspects of a problem and decide on the best route to a solution, and sometimes that isn’t the best thing for SEO. Most of the time an engineering SEO will face issues with what’s best for SEO vs. Usability or sometimes SEO vs. Accessibility (although those two usually go hand in hand – but not always – depending on what your SEO is recommending). Objectivity and a maintaining a sense of the overall goals of solving the problem at hand are not only important, but will make for a friendlier and more trusting relationship between your SEO and engineers.
This person needs to be inquisitive – needs to have that unending desire to solve any problem – because believe me, this is going to be the foundation of their job. SEO basics are cookie-cutter, but a good SEO can (and will almost always need to) go beyond basics. Once you start building something you’ll be running into issues on how to build it to look and function like you want it to, but to still meet SEO needs. Treatments for pagination, navigation, AJAX & Flash usage, and dynamically created pages or content often require someone to come up with unique solutions for how to successfully deploy these things so everyone is happy.
Technical SEO techniques:
There’s often a fight over who is supposed to write the meta tags. Should it be editors since they usually do all the writing? Should it be marketers since their job is to draw people in? Should it be engineers since they are already working with all of the code? You might have to decide that one for yourself. But more often than not, whoever is writing the tags is deciding what the page titles and meta tags are saying, and what Hx header tags are wrapped around. For this reason, this person should have a keen understanding of how each of those areas work for SEO – how to write unique titles that will get you the best ranking, how to write unique meta descriptions that will get you the most clickthrough, exactly what content on the page should be the H1 header and what that should say in order to be relevant and get you the most search traffic, and what the rules and limitations of each of these are.
If you’re using a content management or publishing system that is hindering your site’s visibility – you’ve got a big problem. Your technical SEO should know how to best choose a publishing system for you, or know what needs to be done to the one you’re using now in order to get the best results. For example, if your current CMS spits out super-long dynamic URLs and doesn’t allow you to overwrite them with search-friendly ones, you’re going to want to fix that.
C. For SEO Copywriters:
SEO copywriters have a very distinct, targeted area of SEO to focus on. Oftentimes SEO copywriters are outsourced contractors, but can also be full-time employees. Writers tend to have more incentive to write in a search-friendly manner that will get you more search traffic when they are paid by performance. Consider doing a rev share – the more money you make from Search off their articles, the more money they make. Otherwise writers tend to be more chic and stylish, ignoring high-volume traffic-driving keywords, linking practices, and other tactics that boost search traffic.
Writing for the Web:
This person must understand the differences between writing for offline (magazines or newspaper for example) and writing for the web. They are different mediums and need to be treated that way to be successful.
There is no shortage of great ideas out there for creating linkbait (see More Resources at the end of this article). This person should have the creative prowess to generate titles that grab attention and content that makes people want to share it, link to it, twitter about it, talk about it, etc. If your SEO copywriter is coming up with drab, lackluster content and meaningless, keyword-less titles, you may have gotten a bad deal, and people just aren’t going to link to it.
This person should know precisely how to manipulate titles, text, and links with just the right keywords to maximize search traffic opportunity for your pages. If the article is about Jennifer Lopez they should know whether to use her whole name or J-Lo (or JLo), how often to use one or all variations, and exactly where to use them.
A major factor in good SEO’d copy is the links within the copy. This person must not only understand what terms to use in the links, but which parts of a sentence or phrase to link and which parts not to, how much is overdoing it, what that link URLs should look like, where they should be linking to, and where the more valuable links are on a page.
Part of the SEO Copywriters job is to become an integral part of a blogging community. By interacting (on- and offline) with other peer bloggers/journalists in the space, you will likely benefit by getting more links to your own content. If a blogger is a loner, they better be a darn good linkbaiter.
D. For Social Media SEOs:
There’s a new breed of SEO in town (well, I guess they’ve been around for a few years). This position could be an SEO position, or could be a separate community manager-type position. Since many social media/community managers were bred from SEO, oftentimes the two overlap. This position also has the most “if’s” since it all depends on what you’re having your SEO/social media/community person do.
Managing social accounts & being personable:
This person needs to be likable, since they will likely be managing accounts in various places in order to build up followers, gain trust, and interact with others in those social spaces. The more smart, friendly, communicative and amicable this person is the more success they will have at getting others to retweet, digg, link to, spread the word, etc.
This person will likely be managing conversations, link negotiations, and social networking accounts in many places, so if multitasking isn’t one of their skills you might be in for a long ride.
This person may or may not have control over internal and external linking relationships (sometimes this is purely a business development or marketing function). It is a critical ranking factor, so if your Social Media SEO is out there building links to your site, it is crucial that they fully understand all aspects of link building. This includes canonical URLs, anchor text, link placement, and relationships between linking pages.
Cross-functional business knowledge:
In larger companies, this role might work more like the middle man, delegating social media actions to be addressed out to various groups within a company such as customer care, brand marketing, or product. For example, if you launch a new product and are monitoring it in social spaces online, your social media SEO (in addition to promoting it in social spaces online) might find people who are talking positively or negatively about the new product and can send that feedback to the Product Manager. In that, they might find a major influencer online trashing the new product, and all of their followers starting to do the same. They might send that feedback over to Customer Care to take action before it escalates. They would also likely touch base with Brand, Product Marketers, PR, and possibly even Business Development. Keep in mind that they should be situated in a part of the org that allows them to effectively reach and work with cross-functional groups.
What are their titles?
One of the fun parts about SEO is that titles can be practically made up. SEO encompasses so many things, can live in multiple areas of an organization, and is different everywhere you go. So what is the first step in determining your SEO’s title? Check out some of the existing titles below (feel free to add more in the comments if you know of any I’ve missed!), and factor in some of the consideration points below as well.
Some existing titles:
- SEO/M Specialist
- SEO/M Manager
- SEO/M Director/ Director of SEO/M
- SEO/M Strategist
- SEO/M Expert
- SEO/M Engineer
- SEO/M Analyst
- SEO/M Program Manager
- SEO/M Technologist
- SEO Architect
- SEO Copywriter
- SEO Editor
- SEO Webmaster
- Search Engine Marketing (Specialist/Guru/Mgr/Director/VP/SVP)
- Search Marketing (Specialist/Guru/Mgr/Director/VP/SVP)
- Internet Marketing (Specialist/Guru/Mgr/Director/VP/SVP)
- Web Marketing (Specialist/Guru/Mgr/Director/VP/SVP)
- Head of SEO/M
- Chief Search Officer
- Technical SEO/M (Specialist/Guru/Mgr/Director/VP/SVP)
- Technical Marketing (Specialist/Guru/Mgr/Director/VP/SVP)
- Traffic Acquisition (Specialist/Guru/Mgr/Director/VP/SVP)
- Search Traffic Acquisition (Specialist/Guru/Mgr/Director/VP/SVP)
- Will the position always live where it is (in engineering/marketing/product/other)?
- Will the title still make sense in 5 years?
- Does the title give the flexibility for slight changes in responsibilities over time?
- Will the title make sense to others?
Personally, I don’t like to call most SEOs SEOs, but of course I do it out of habit (and – what else would you call them)? This is because SEO comes with stigmas: a lot of people think all you do is code tweaks, plus there have been people who have given SEO a bad rep over the years. For these reasons I’d suggest thinking about doing away with “SEO” in titles, and allowing your SEOs to encompass more, functionally and through other people’s eyes.
How much do SEOs get paid?
Ahhh, now the juicy stuff. SEO salaries have historically been fairly high for an industry where most of its professionals have less than 5 years of experience. Although rather than seeing a normal bell curve when looking at SEO salary ranges, we’ve seen somewhat of an inverse bell curve – where the mid-range salaries are actually the dip, and the peaks are in the low $30K-$50K range and the high over $100K range. More and more people have been entering the business recently (word has gotten out about how great this job is!), plus the economy hasn’t helped salaries much, so will this effect SEO salaries now and in the coming years? I’ve dug into some past and current data to try to find the answer.
SEOmoz 2006 SEO Salaries Article
Here is some interesting data from SEOmoz’s 2006 article “SEO Salaries – How Much Should You Make”
- VP/Director of Search Marketing: $100,000 – $350,000+
- Director/Manager of Organic Search: $75,000 – $150,000
- SEO Guru: $75,000 – $200,000
- Campaign Manager: $55,00 – $100,000
The following items have the ability to push the ranges above considerably higher or lower (also from SEOmoz article).
- SEO Specialist (Links, Content and/or KW Research): $40,000 – $80,000 Reputation
Keep in mind that article is from 2006, and now let’s look at a little more recent data.
2008 SEMPO In-House SEM Salaries Survey:
As for positions in the 2008 SEMPO In-House SEM Salaries Survey, most of the respondents (35%) had “other” titles, followed by 26% Managers, 10% Directors and 9% Senior Managers.
On salaries, the bell curve is left-slanted, with the peak towards the lower end and a long downslope going towards the higher end. The peak of the salary bell curve is in the $60,001 – $70,000 range. The bulk of the bell is between $30,000 and $80,000, and each 10K increment in that range was over 10% (ex: $30K was over 10%, $40K was over 10%, $50K was over 10%, etc). There were two emerging peaks on the extended downward slope – one at $100K – $120K and another at $200K – $250K. Again we see a bell curve with peaks in the low range and in the high range.
Here’s testament to how young the industry is: A large majority of the SEMPO respondents were in the biz 0-3 years. These 0-3 year SEMs’ salaries peak at $30K-$40K. This is followed by a good percentage of people with 3-5 years experience, of who likely push up the $60-$70K range. Very few had more than 5 years under their belt, and most of these (oftentimes doing more than just SEO) are creating those smaller peaks in the over $100K range, although there is a peak with the 5-7 year SEMs in the $40-$50K range.
Not surprisingly, there were larger percentages of respondents in metropolitan areas than rural. And the company sizes seem to imitate what I see at In-House sessions at conferences –most (similar percentages (8% difference)) are at companies under 100, or over 1000.
Most managed either $0 – $25K monthly SEM budget or over $200K. And lastly, most did not manage other people.
Here’s some really interesting (some of it borderline shocking) data from straight from the press release on that survey, on SEM’s managing budgets:
- Of those managing budgets greater than $200,000/month, 42.3% are managers, and within that group, 27% report salary ranges in excess of $100,000/year.
- 39.4% of respondents managing monthly SEM budgets in excess of $200,000 report having 3 years of experience or less. 34.2% have between 3 and 5 years experience, and those with 5+ years of experience totaled 26.4%.
- 42.6% of those managing budgets larger than $200,000/month do not manage staff. 92.9% are part of a dedicated “in-house” SEM team and 77.4% of those “teams” are considered to be part of their company’s Marketing departments.
From this data, it’s relatively safe to assume that the Director level or people manager SEO/M, with more years of experience (and possibly larger SEM budget management) are likely in the $100K plus range, where the people they manage are in the $30 to $80K range. I don’t know the stats for salary by location, but because a large number of respondents were from metropolitan areas, I think we can be fairly confident that they are also driving the bell curve outlier peaks at $100K – $120K and possibly some of the $200 – $250K salaries, where SEMs in rural areas and with less experience are good contenders for driving the $30K side of the curve.
SEOmoz 2008 SEO Industry Survey
All of this jives nicely with the salary data from the SEOmoz 2008 SEO Industry Survey, which shows a salary peak at $30K, and a downslope from there, with the exception another peak in the $75K – $100K range. I’m inclined to think that SEOmoz survey participants might err on the side of learning stage and developer-oriented, where SEMPO participants might err on the side of slightly more experienced marketing professionals. If that is the case, I would expect SEMPO data to skew higher. And in fact, the highest percentage of SEOmoz survey respondents (21%) were SEO specialists, followed by 12% web developers, 9% President/CEOs and 8% marketing managers.
There’s also some other interesting collections of SEO salary data that, happily, also fall in line with what we’ve seen so far from SEMPO and SEOmoz.
Here’s some information that seems to suggest a downtrend in SEO and Search Marketing salaries. When I checked Director of SEO jobs on SimplyHired in March (when I started this blog post) the average was $98,000. Checking it now two and a half months later in May, the average salary for the same title is down 25% at $73,000. Interestingly enough, Director of SEO in San Francisco is a bit higher at $98,000 (the previous average), but was $104,000 in March. Search Marketing titles that were in the $80K range in March are now averaging out at $64,000.
You can create your own related job search with the SimplyHired tool.
As for salary trends, word on the street is that SEO salaries (and agency fees) are hitting a tipping point. Whether it’s an effect of the recession, the industry peaking, or both I’m not sure. But if that is true, then we’re coming to a point where really only the best of the best with proven performance track records can rightly ask for a high salary, not just anyone who says they “do SEO”.
Here is some more data that suggests a downtrend – below is an Indeed.com graph that shows a decent sized dip in the SEO salary index from October 2008 to Jan/Feb 2009. There is a slight rise in April (were people getting the drift that SEO/M is more targeted and cost-effective in a down economy?), but the rise doesn’t bring the salaries back to where they were in 2008 (yet).
Although the index is lower in January 2009, it’s nothing compared to summer of 2007 on this chart (actually low salaries or lack of positions to create the data)? SEM salaries don’t show the same trend – they’re all over the place. SEO Directors and SEO Specialists are also on a rollercoaster ride (although comparable trends to simply “SEO”), and SEO Managers better start looking for a new job (or at least a new title) by the looks of this chart.
It is refreshing to see SEO/M salaries normalizing, making employers much more comfortable with that aspect of hiring an SEO, and SEO/M’s beginning to realize their worth.
The most important thing to remember is that no two SEOs are the same. There are multiple facets to SEO/M and each person has their special interests, talents and work ethics. Think about what your needs are when you’re hiring. If you’re looking for pure technical on-site implementation, you’ll be fine with a technical, web-dev background SEO. If you’re in an industry with a lot of competition online, you might lean more towards an SEO who can provide you with marketing and competitive strategy insights, and use an agency or hire an additional SEO for the technical on-site implementation. If you’re really lucky, you’ll find one of those rare species of SEO who is master of both domains.
If you’re still not sure about what kind of SEO to hire, where to find them, or what questions to ask, send us a note. We can do the entire hiring process for you to find the right kind of person to fit your needs.
Have insight on SEO types, titles, salaries and trends that I missed? Add your thoughts in the comments below!
Related articles & sites:
- Job Titles through the ages
- 101 Link Building Tips to Market Your Website
- Andy Hagans’ Ultimate Guide to Linkbaiting and SMM
- SEOmoz 2008 SEO Industry Survey
- SEO: The True Cost of Doing It Wrong
- Reality Check: In-House Search Marketing Pays Well, But Not Dot Com Hype Levels
- SEMPO Research articles
SEO/M Jobs & People for hire: