Search engine optimization is an essential element of just about every successful digital marketing strategy there is.
Everyone from salons to mechanics and SaaS companies to multi-billion dollar corporations recognizes the importance of SEO for growing traffic and generating sales.
If you’re an SEO professional, you’re in a high-demand industry that has an exceptional annual salary potential with the right skills and experience level.
However, your salary will depend on more than just your skills. Where you live can make a significant difference in your earnings regardless of your role.
It’s important to know where you’re most in demand and what you should expect to earn based on your location. This can help you negotiate your salary or give you insight into potential places to call home.
For this piece, we’ve compiled salary information, experience expectations, and search volume from online resources to bring you the highest-paying cities for SEO professionals.
Top 5 Cities for SEO
The 5 cities that pay the most for SEO services span from $89k to $100k per year and are mostly located near the west coast.
The top-paying cities for SEO in the United States are:
- San Francisco: $99,187
- San Jose: $96,191
- New York City: $91,224
- Los Angeles: $89,684
- Seattle: $88,857
California is clearly the hub of SEO (and other tech jobs, for that matter), owning three out of the top five SEO salaries.
The presence of Silicon Valley, the home of many startups and tech-based businesses in California, likely contributes to increased salaries due to the high demand for local services.
It’s associated with San Jose and influences San Francisco as well, though San Francisco isn’t considered in Silicon Valley.
However, Los Angeles is hours away, and New York and Seattle are far away from Silicon Valley.
So, what contributes to their high salaries? Cost of living.
Each of these five cities is in the top 10 most expensive places to live in the United States.
This means you’ll earn more, but you should also expect a higher cost of living and take that into consideration when choosing where to live and work.
Top 5 Lowest Paying Cities for SEO
The five cities that pay the least for SEO services come in at a 20-30% lower rate than the top-paying cities. These rates span from $68k to $73k and don’t appear to have any significant geographical association.
The lowest-paying cities for SEO in the US are:
- New Orleans: $68,360
- Indianapolis: $70,253
- San Antonio: $71,354
- Nashville: $71,715
- Cincinnati: $72,820
With the exception of New Orleans, the lowest salary states for SEO coincide with lower costs of living. As a result, despite having higher populations and a similar demand to most areas in the United States, local SEO professionals can be paid less while living similar (or better) lifestyles.
Seattle has a cost of living that is approximately 50% higher than the national average. Meanwhile, the first through fourth lowest-paying cities all exist below the national average.
For example, Indianapolis’s cost of living is 7% below the national average. This means that someone working in Indianapolis for $70k per year can live the same lifestyle as someone making over $110k in Seattle, making it technically a better-paying location by almost 25%.
New Orleans is the anomaly here, coming in at over 10% higher than the national average but paying the least in the United States.
According to an article by Bloomberg, New Orleans businesses have had trouble finding high-level SEO professionals in the area, so they’ve outsourced much of the work. This could contribute to the lower earnings due to less overall experience available locally.
Top Cities Based on Position
Cities throughout the United States have different supply and demand when it comes to SEO professionals. As a result, the salary you’ll be able to earn will depend on where you are and the position you’re applying for.
However, San Francisco appears to be the best place to work for any position.
If you’re an SEO Associate, the average SEO associate salary in San Francisco is $70,011. The next highest comes from San Jose, which offers approximately $64,181 per year.
SEO Analysts thrive in San Francisco, with the average SEO analyst salary being $81,112, while Analysts in New York City command $76,594.
Skilled SEO Specialists do very well in San Francisco, earning $82,608 per year. Specialists in Seattle can also earn $78,142.
SEO Managers can earn $103,252 in New York City. Los Angeles and San Francisco aren’t far behind, providing $103.107 and $99,906 respectively.
Director of CEO is generally the highest position available for SEO professionals, earning about $162,236 in Los Angeles, beating out San Francisco’s $146,431 by over 10%. This does not include compensation packages or profit sharing either.
It’s clear that the overwhelming demand in Silicon Valley and adjacent cities drives earnings higher than other cities. In fact, the difference between San Francisco and its competition is generally between 5-10%.
However, New York City offers the highest rate for SEO Managers, slightly overtaking San Francisco. Los Angeles is also the better destination for those with the most experience by a significant margin.
It’s likely that the candidates for high-experience positions are less plentiful in New York or Los Angeles due to fewer college graduates and lower-level professionals rising in the ranks locally.
This trend could be due to the higher salaries offered in San Francisco for less-experienced SEO professionals, helping to keep them local instead of working elsewhere. Still there seems to be a high demand for SEO experts in these locations.
Average Pay in Various Cities Across All Positions
|New York City||$91,224|
SEO Manager Average Pay in Various Cities
|City||SEO Manager Average Pay|
|New York City||$103,252|
|Salt Lake City||$79,119|
SEO Specialist Average Pay in Various Cities
|City||SEO Specialist Average Pay|
|New York City||$72,379|
SEO Analyst Average Pay in Various Cities
|City||SEO Analyst Average Pay|
|New York City||$76,594|
SEO Associate Average Pay in Various Cities
|City||SEO Associate Average Pay|
|New York City||$57,034|
Lowest Paying Cities Based on Position
Whether it’s due to an oversaturation of candidates, a lack of job openings, or low costs of living, some cities offer significantly lower salaries for certain positions.
Houston appears to be the worst place to be an SEO professional with less than four years of experience.
SEO Associates in Houston make $48,364, approximately 25% less than those in San Francisco.
SEO Analysts in Houston also earn the least in the nation, generating $62,618 per year, also approximately 25% less than in San Francisco.
The trend continues, with SEO Specialists earning $58,370 in Houston compared to $82,608 in San Francisco.
Fortunately for Houstonians with more SEO experience, Orlando is the lowest-paying city for SEO Managers at $73,582.
Finally, Cincinnati Directors of SEO earn $112,573 per year, almost 28% less than those in Los Angeles.
Despite having three out of five of the lowest position-based salaries, Houston’s SEO Manager and Director of SEO salaries are much higher relative to the rest of the nation. This shows a lack of experienced candidates for high-level positions, requiring companies to pay more.
Alternatively, Cincinnati and Orlando pay much less for high-level positions but more for lower-level positions, which likely means there’s a higher demand for seasoned professionals overall but fewer companies that require high-level staff.
The Average Years of Experience For Each Position
When it comes to your earnings, experience is key for SEO professionals. The more experience you have, the higher the position you can hold and the more you earn in most cases.
Approximately 64% of SEO Associate job positions are looking for 0-1 years of experience in SEO. This position is the starting point for most companies and, therefore, doesn’t require much experience.
SEO Specialists and SEO Analysts are positions of similar experience level but different focuses. As a result, 60% of employers expect 2-4 years of SEO experience, with levels slightly skewing towards 2-3 years as Associates begin to choose their path.
SEO Manager positions demand 2-4 years of experience 64% of the time, with 3-4 years being preferable due to the greater responsibilities associated with the role of managing other staff.
Directors of SEO vary the most in terms of experience required due to it being one of the highest-ranking positions available. 49% of companies expect 5-7 years of experience, with many seeking more experience to offer more value in directing the company’s efforts.
The Transition From Associate to Specialist and Beyond
The SEO industry is a competitive industry where experience is essential. Each client and campaign is unique, so you need to be able to be adaptable, have extensive SEO tools and strategies you can use, and put everything together to drive results.
This means having a strong knowledge of on-page SEO, link building, industry trends, industry knowledge, and technical SEO.
The more situations you’ve seen, the better you’re able to prove that you can handle the complexities of SEO – and the better you’ll be paid.
You’ll start out as an SEO Associate, working to gain more experience and learn from those who have more experience than you. You might work under an SEO Manager at a company or as part of a freelancing agency to build your skills until you’re able to perform tasks with minimal oversight.
After a year or two, you can begin to transition to a Junior SEO position like a Specialist or Analyst, reaping the rewards that come with it.
As you can see from our results above, the salary increase from an SEO Associate to a Specialist or Analyst is significant despite only requiring 1-3 more years of experience.
We’ve calculated the average SEO Associate salary to be around $57k, while the average SEO Specialist salary, the lower-paying role between Specialists and Analysts, is $69k. That’s about a 20% salary increase, which spans between 10% and 30%, depending on where you’re located.
The change is even more drastic for SEO Managers who earn an average of over $78k – over 30% more than Associates – with just a few more years (2-4 on average) of experience.
Finally, for those with the most experience, Directors of SEO average a whopping $111k – about double an SEO Associate’s salary – with 5-10 years of experience under their belt.
The Rise of Remote Work for Digital Marketing
Workforces around the world are more digital than ever.
While many freelancers and digital marketing professionals were already involved with remote work, procedural changes resulting from social distancing acted as a catalyst for mainstream adoption in traditional businesses.
The rise of Zoom and other collaborative programs demonstrated just how accessible the Internet made staffing for all kinds of businesses. Instead of requiring digital marketing team members to come to the office, they could simply hop on a quick call for meetings.
In the age of remote work, many companies no longer need to hire locally. This is especially true for conventional marketing agencies who have since begun looking outward when hiring instead of sticking to local candidates.
As a result, companies and SEO agencies in areas with higher costs of living can save on wages while SEO professionals in other areas can enjoy a higher wage than their location would provide otherwise – a win-win.
Even post-pandemic, remote jobs make up approximately 27% of digital marketing jobs, proving that the opportunity is there for SEO professionals and the interest is there for companies.
Where People Are Searching for SEO Positions
It’s clear that location plays a huge role in your job prospects and earning potential.
Another important factor is competition. If more candidates are searching in your area, you’re likely to earn less and have a harder time finding the right position for you.
According to our research, here are the five states with the highest competition for SEO professionals of all levels:
- California – 390
- New York – 320
- Texas – 210
- Florida – 170
- Illinois – 140
California and New York are not surprising to see at the top of the list due to the significantly higher job salaries offered in places like San Francisco and New York City.
They’re also home to major universities that have a high concentration of marketing and computer science graduates looking to enter the workforce. Plus, they have some of the highest populations in the country, so competition can be fierce.
Florida has the 3rd highest population in the country at 22 million, lower taxes, and a more reasonable cost of living than places like California or New York, making it more attractive for businesses and SEO professionals alike.
Illinois is home to Chicago, which has been recognized as one of the top five cities for digital marketing careers. It’s also one of the largest cities in the country, so the demand for SEO professionals and the supply of businesses looking to hire is higher than elsewhere.
Finding the Right SEO Position
SEO is an in-demand, dynamic, and exciting career to have, but not all positions are created equal.
There are a variety of factors that will contribute to your earning potential at each rank and position within SEO.
Location is a key determining factor in your salary. Certain areas like Silicon Valley and New York City will pay you more than other areas.
However, higher salaries don’t always mean you can afford more. The cost of living where you are has to be considered when deciding where to be an SEO professional.
Your experience will make a huge difference in your earnings throughout your career path.
You’ll earn anywhere between a 10-40% pay increase within four years of starting your career in SEO when you advance from an SEO Associate to a Specialist, Analyst, or Manager. SEO Directors can even double the salaries of Associates, so advancement is crucial to maximizing your earnings.
Supply and demand are the final contributing factors to your earnings.
If there are more people in the state, you’ll have a harder time finding open positions unless your location has a very high demand for SEO professionals. The same is true for remote positions hosted in high-earning areas.
If there’s a shortage of qualified staff, you’ll be able to earn more because they have fewer career options to choose from and negotiate with. It’s often higher-level positions that have a supply issue due to the higher qualifications required, so outsourcing to remote workers is common.
Overall, finding the right SEO position comes down to your location and experience level. Being open to remote positions can help you earn a higher average SEO salary with lower living expenses, especially for high-level positions that offer an even more significant earnings increase in high-paying areas.