SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, is the practice of improving a website’s ranking in search engine results pages to increase its visibility and traffic. But how much money can an SEO specialist make per month? SEO income can vary greatly depending on several factors.Experience Level
The experience level of an SEO plays a significant role in determining potential monthly earnings.
An entry-level SEO with 1-2 years of experience can expect to earn $2,500 – $4,000 per month on average. At this stage, SEOs usually focus on optimizing smaller sites or specific site sections and have a limited number of clients. The income potential is lower but builds a foundation of skills and a portfolio.
A mid-level SEO with 3-5 years of experience typically earns $4,500 – $7,000 per month. At this level, SEOs take on more complex projects, larger clients, and may manage a small team. Expanding skills and proven results command higher income potential.
A senior SEO with at least 5-10 years of experience can expect to earn upwards of $6,500 – $10,000 per month. At the senior level, SEOs oversee complicated projects, multiple clients, and junior team members. Highly specialized expertise results in higher pricing and income potential.
Like other careers, average SEO salaries also vary based on location and the local economy.
U.S. SEO Income
SEOs based in high-cost areas in the U.S. like New York City or San Francisco can expect 10-20% higher pay on average. SEOs in mid-sized metro areas can expect national average pay rates.
International SEO Income
Internationally, SEO pay scales align with cost of living. Western European SEOs make comparable salaries to U.S., while Eastern European and Asian SEOs may make lower local income but have lower costs of living.
Type & Size of Clients
The type and size of clients an SEO takes on also affects monthly earning potential.
SEOs working for a niche digital marketing agency typically earn a bit less but focus on specific industries. Boutique agencies often charge clients higher rates, allowing them to pay SEOs well.
Big Brand Clients
SEOs managing big brand accounts and global websites can command the highest salaries, especially at senior levels. However, these clients are very selective about SEO partners.
Small Business Clients
Most clients fall into the small business category. While monthly retainers may start lower, there is potential to scale up over time by managing lots of these accounts.
The flexibility in SEO allows professionals to shape their career based on preferences for client size, vertical expertise, lifestyle, and of course, income goals.
Employee vs Contractor
Whether an SEO works as an employee or independent contractor also impacts monthly earnings.
In-house SEOs earn a consistent salary from one employer. Salary data sites report salaries averaging $65,000 – $120,000 annually for U.S. in-house SEOs.
- Advantages: Stable income, benefits, set work hours
- Downsides: Capped earning potential, reliance on one employer
Freelance SEOs must secure their own clients and projects month-to-month. However, they can set their own rates and take on as much work as they choose.
- Advantages: Unlimited earning potential, flexible schedule
- Downsides: Unpredictable income streams, no benefits, tax paperwork
The average freelance SEO makes $55 per hour in the U.S. according to Payscale, with top earners charging over $150 per hour. At higher billable hours, freelancers can outearn in-house SEOs.
SEO Services Offered
The types of SEO services an expert provides also contributes to income upside.
Generalist vs Specialist
SEOs who provide a wider range of services across more industries tend to keep a steadier workflow. However, SEOs who specialize in high-value services like link building, conversion rate optimization, and content improvement can charge more.
Global vs Local SEO
SEOs managing global websites and languages tend to earn 10-20% more compared to local market SEOs. However, thriving in enough local markets can stack up revenue.
SEOs with developer-level technical skills also leverage higher income potential, as these skills are rarer but in high demand.
As with any career, pursuing specialized skills in areas of growing demand increases an SEO’s potential to command higher pricing and client budgets. But a generalist approach also has advantages for job stability. Finding the right balance is key.
Work Volume & Efficiency
How many hours an SEO works on client projects or optimizing sites also contributes to monthly earnings.
- At the extreme end, some freelance SEOs work long hours year-round to maximize income.
- Alternatively, SEOs can become highly efficient at core SEO tasks to produce results faster.
Finding ways to get better leverage out of every hour worked is just as important as setting hourly rates when scaling income.
The most successful SEOs continuously refine their processes to balance work volume with work-life quality.
Many freelance SEOs charge performance-based pricing, where a portion of fees come from sharing the extra profits or revenue growth achieved for clients.
- Performance pricing models require proven results to earn fees. But they offer unlimited upside aligned with client success.
- As an SEO becomes more established, performance pricing contributes higher percentages to overall income.
- Top freelance SEOs at leading agencies can earn well into six figures under performance pricing models.
In short, an individual SEO’s monthly income reflects multiple factors:
- Experience level
- Type of clients & projects
- Contractor status
- Services offered
- Efficiency & workload
- Performance-based pricing
Building a smart framework around these factors allows SEOs to scale their income over time to very healthy levels.
- Entry-level SEOs can expect to earn $2,500 – $4,000 per month, mid-level SEOs $4,500 -$7,000 per month, and senior SEOs over $6,500+ per month on average.
- Location, client type, contractor vs employee status, services offered, and performance pricing influence monthly income upside.
- With the right specialization and efficiency frameworks, six figure SEO incomes are achievable for contractors.
- In-house SEOs earn steady salaries but have more capped upside compared to freelance income potential.
- Demand for skilled SEOs continues to grow, supporting higher wages industry-wide.
While SEO incomes vary widely in the short term, the earning potential over an SEO career trajectory is very strong.
Both in-house and freelance SEOs can expect to start around $50k-$65k per year as entry level practitioners.
Within 5 years, six figure incomes become very feasible, especially for freelancers capturing the value they drive for clients.
Some of the highest paid digital marketing experts globally come from an SEO background given the comprehensive skillset required.
But ultimately, income should come second to loving the fast paced, always evolving world of optimizing websites for people and search engines.
SEO as a career offers smart creatives the opportunity to blend technical and business skills with writing, marketing, and psychology.
Finding your niche within that mix opens up many possibilities to pursue your version of career and income success.
Q: How much do rookie SEOs make?
A: Entry-level SEOs can expect to earn between $2,500 – $4,000 per month on average.
Q: Is it possible to make 6 figures in SEO?
A: Yes, it’s definitely possible for freelance SEOs to earn six figure incomes after reaching senior levels of experience, efficiency, and performance based pricing.
Q: How long does it take to make good money in SEO?
A: It typically takes 3-5 years for SEOs to reach mid-level status where incomes start averaging between $55k-$85k annually. High five figure monthly income potential opens up after about 7-10 years experience.
Q: Is SEO a good career?
A: Yes, SEO is a great career choice. SEO skills are in growing demand, offer lots of income upside, and open up opportunities across tech, marketing, content, and business roles.
Q: Is it better to be an SEO freelancer or work in-house?
A: Both freelance and in-house SEOs can do very well. Freelancers have more upside but unpredictable income streams. In-house SEOs make reliable salaries with a capped trajectory. Personal preferences determine best fit.
Q: How many clients do freelance SEOs need to make 6 figures?
A: To make over $100k per year, most freelance SEOs need around 15-20 consistent client retainers and/or supplementary project work. Each client pays between $3k-$10k monthly.
Q: Do I need coding skills to become an SEO?
Q: What city pays SEOs the most in the U.S.?
A: The highest paying metro areas for SEO salaries are the San Francisco Bay Area and New York City. However, the cost of living is extremely high. Adjusted incomes may be comparable nationally.
Q: Should my first SEO job be at an agency or in-house?
A: Most experts recommend getting initial experience at an SEO agency. Agencies expose new SEOs to more sites, clients, and types of projects to build skills faster.
Q: How difficult is it for new SEOs to get clients?
A: It can be challenging for new freelance SEOs to land initial clients without portfolio examples. Many start by offering discounted services or free audits to secure authority building proof-of-concept wins.
Q: Can just one year of SEO experience command a good salary?
A: Generally at least 3 years experience is expected for strong SEO salaries. However showcasing unique expertise through thought leadership content and optimizations can accelerate trajectory.
Q: What is the easiest SEO specialization to start with?
A: Local SEO and content improvement are more straight forward starting points to gain experience optimizing real sites before advancing to more complex technical and international SEO projects.
Q: Is there a ceiling for SEO salaries?
A: Not necessarily, as performance pricing models reward results without cap. Additionally, taking on CRO and lead gen management roles can keep increasing income from holistic digital growth skills.
Q: Should I learn Google Ads in addition to SEO skills?
A: Yes, having both organic and paid search skills makes an SEO professional significantly more valuable as both work very closely together for comprehensive search growth.
Q: Will most SEO tasks eventually be replaced by AI?
A: While some technical SEO work will be automated by AI, human creativity, strategy, content, and emotional intelligence will remain vital. AI will augment SEOs more than replace them.
Q: Do developers or SEO experts make more money?
A: On average developers make 20-30% higher salaries than SEOs. However experienced SEOs at agencies often make more than in-house developers. Both careers come with high income potential.
Q: How long will SEO be a viable career?
A: SEO as a necessary skillset will continue growing over the next decade at least. As search engines and voice assistants become primary customer acquisition channels, optimizing for them will only become more vital.