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Monday, October 23, 2006

SEO Job Search - Finding Search Engine Optimization Positions

Corporate SEO has been moving away from outsourcing SEO to consulting firms over the past year or so as large corporations have started to move toward hiring full time SEO manager(s) and staff for ongoing in-house search engine optimization. Hiring an in-house staff SEO manager offers clear, easily measurable gains in search ranking (often with comparable increases in income) for corporate web properties.

During my own SEO Job search, I've made some interesting observations on what a corporate SEO job entails and noted internal corporate expectations - based on about a dozen interviews and looking over dozens more SEO job descriptions.

SEO Manager Job Responsibilities

My top ranking observation is the varied list of responsibilities among those SEO positions I've reviewed. Just because the job title includes SEO or "Search Marketing" in the job listings, it doesn't mean that is all you'll be responsible for.

Many job descriptions are written by human resources or cobbled together based on existing job postings available online and elsewhere. If the company doesn't currently have an in-house SEO Manager, they may base their job description on that provided by their outsourced SEO vendor.

It is common for responsibilities to include management of both organic and paid search. Larger companies separate those two jobs into SEM manager and SEO manager positions. BUT, don't expect them to be entirely clear on the division of duties or the minutiae of what each position entails.

Some so-called SEO jobs are very heavily biased toward analytics and extensive reporting, while others lean toward content management and CMS duties - including SEO copywriting. Many SEO job descriptions incorporate entirely unrelated duties that they feel are peripherally related to the SEO position. I've seen those duties include odd disconnected things like customer relationship management (CRM), database programming, and even sales related tasks.

Corporate SEO Pay Rates

Many companies that choose to move SEO jobs in-house do so to reduce the costs of outsourcing SEO projects and ongoing maintenance. Their understanding of expected salary ranges for full time SEO managers may be based hearsay and rumor about average pay rates. In some cases, companies that have had one person doing both SEM and SEO and are splitting the jobs into two positions, which has a depressing effect on pay rates at that company.

During a recent interview, when we reached the "What are your salary goals?" question, the interviewer was startled at the yearly income range expected. When I asked what they were willing to pay, I realized that this person had not only written the job description, but had based the pay for this position on their own salary, which was lower than average for SEM positions.

PJ Fusco, in a ClickZ article in March of 2006 mentioned SEM Salary Ranges from $30K yearly for small company positions to as high as $200K for the most experienced SEO manager at large corporations. SEO and SEM positions are comparable in pay rates and clearly depend on experience, the size of the company, and the city they are based in. Pay rates appear to range fairly consistently from:

  • $40K to $60K for less than 2 years experience, or for a smaller company
  • $60K to $75K for 3 to 5 years experience working for larger companies
  • $75K to $120K for above 5 years experience working for major corporations
  • $120K to $200K when managing a team at major corporations

There's an interesting Salary Range site called PayScale, which asks a set of questions including experience, industry, job title, etc. and allows you to see a range of salaries for any job. When applied to "Search Engine Optimization" it shows a range from $70K to $110K for 5 years experience in a couple of major cities. The site requires membership and cookies to work properly - so take a trip over there to enter your relevant experience, location and education data.

Here is a salary range chart for California in a major city, which shows the average income of a corporate SEO manager as about $86K yearly.

SEO Certification Requirements?

Many of the top SEO's who began in the field before 1999 were self-taught by subscribing to the recognized SEO industry newsletters, blogs, discussion lists and forums and reading voraciously. Because search is constantly evolving and algorithms are constantly adjusted, that habit is one that must be firmly entrenched and never ending for the best SEO's.

Due to this constant evolution, search managers often attend multiple search engine related conferences and workshops a year to remain current in their SEO knowledge. When applying to any corporate position, make certain that they expect to send you to at least two or three search related conferences per year to maintain your knowledge of latest developments. Since the search engines rarely give freely of their search algorithm secret sauce, little can be offered beyond those week-long courses or conferences in terms of standard SEO best practices and the continuing evolution and "art" of SEO.

There are currently no educational requirements for SEO managers, but you may see degree requirements in "Related Fields" as in the following from an actual position currently available as of this writing:"A degree in Information Science, Information Architecture, Library Science or related field." Virtually all SEO/SEM positions will require a college degree, regardless of area of study.

Most companies know that there are currently no degrees available in search engine optimization, but employers often want some sort of certification or technical training background in SEO candidates. The Direct Marketing Association just launched and completed their first DMA Search certification training at the DMA conference held in San Francisco this past week.

There were already multiple training programs offered by organizations like Search Engine Workshops and SEO Pros Certification. Do week long courses provide true mastery of search marketing by say, a freshly minted college graduate with no work experience? The short answer is no, but it may make or break a job interview, so if you are light on experience and don't have a substantial client list, the cost of about $2,000 for one of those programs are certainly justifiable for the "cred" they confer. Certification and eventually degree programs will no doubt emerge to help SEO's justify their generally well paid status.

Finding the Best SEO Job for You

The major drawback to relying on any single job board, or even recruiters and headhunters is that each has a limited number of resources to draw from. For example, recruiters will only tell you about those positions they'll get referral fees from, many of the SEO organizations and job boards rely on posts by employers. While employers may use a single recruiter, rely on a single SEO jobs board or simply ask their human resources department to find a suitable SEO job candidate. Each of those have limitations and shortcomings that are dependent on incomplete knowledge and restricted sources.

It can get a bit tedious trawling through each of the major job boards for SEO positions due to their poor internal search engines (ironies abound). So concentrate on the following top standbys for SEO job searches:,, SEMPO's SEO job list, the new vertical search at, Craigslist, (which draws extensively from Craigslist), or you could try the custom Reality SEO Job Search Engine which draws from ALL the above, with backfill from Google web results.

Once you get that interview lined up, you may find my previous article "SEO Job Interview" to be enlightening. Good luck in your SEO job Search!

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Blogger SEM Certification said...

Mike, nice comprehensive look at the seo job world. During my job search I also found that many of the job descriptions were written by those that really didn't understand what true skills sets were needed. As far as certification I agree that it could make a difference when two candidates have near equal experience. With SEMPO jumping into the sem seo training fray, this may be even more relevant.

10:02 PM  
Blogger SEO Wanted said...

hi all, below is my blog which entails exactly what i'm looking for as i'm currently (15th June 2007) lookning to recruit, at first, two SEO specialists.

please read the blog for further details.

P.S. loved the post!

6:05 AM  
Blogger Freddie said...

Thanks for this summary!

4:57 PM  
Blogger Abhishek Sircar said...

Hi Mike
I really enjoyed reading your article. Lots of good info.

3:49 AM  

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