Is the SEO/SEM Job Market Growing?

I was instant messaging with a friend the other day and he wrote that he thought the SEO/SEM job market was hot right now i.e. a lot of open positions. Having gone through a job search a couple of times in a little over a year, I had a different take on the situation. I feel that while there are openings, they aren't as numerous as people think and they aren't necessarily increasing by leaps and bounds as some people suggest. Here's why…

Every Departure Creates an Opening

Whenever a search engine marketer from company A leaves for Company B, one job opening closes and another one opens. The number of openings therefore remains constant. However, it feels like there are more openings because the new opening causes a flurry of activity amongst recruiters and job boards. Candidates sense this activity and subconsciously add the new activity with the old opening's activity to come to the conclusion that there are X times as a many jobs available as there were before.

High-Turnover and Poaching

The SEO/SEM world is much like the web development world in that there is high-turnover. Part of this comes about because companies are still failing to provide growth opportunities for those with online marketing skills (SEO, PPC, affiliate). When faced with the prospect of a dead-end job, it's not hard to imagine the motivations behind frequent job switching. In addition, some competing companies are particularly good at finding exceptionally skilled SEOs and SEMs and providing just the right incentive to motivate a job change even when the candidate wasn't actively searching. Both of these situations multiply the number of departures i.e. openings and the overall sense of a growing SEM job market.

Openings Remain Open When Expectations Don't Match

Another issue that candidates must contend with is a mismatch between their salary expectations and the expectations of the hiring companies. When candidates, as a group, want more than is being offered, a job opening remains open. When this happens, more recruiters get in on the effort and post the job to job boards. Because most recruiters don't include the hiring company's name in the job posting, it feels like there are new openings, but in reality, there are just more postings for the same opening.

Sidebar: For those new to the job search game, note that many recruiters love high-turnover. Once a candidate of theirs has made it through the probation period and the recruiter's fee has been paid, there's nothing quite as profitable as being able to place that candidate at another job while ALSO filling the opening the departure would create. It's a short-term approach, but recruiters are often job hoppers and so long-term thinking is of little value to them.

Measuring Job Market Growth

The most statistically valid method for assessing the job marketing is to wait for the various employment agencies to report their numbers. These folks draw from a large data pool so what they report is the best available snapshot of growth. One problem is that the snapshot may be out of date the day it's published. Certain industries seem to go from boom to bust in very short order and if you're relying on 8 month old data, you could be in trouble. Also, aggregate data can hide nuances between markets — a job downturn in Dallas isn't necessarily going to impact people in Manhattan.

I prefer to take a more hands-on approach that has served me well over the years despite the obvious failings when it comes to a statistically relevant sample size. All I do is watch my company's activities. Is my company hiring? Great! Is my company hiring for my team? Even better! I also try to keep in touch with previous co-workers in my industry. A lunch here or a drink there is all that's required to ask a couple of simple questions. I don't ask for specifics, because that would be wrong for my friends to divulge. Instead, all I need are overall trends that will re-enforce or contradict what I'm experiencing first hand. Confirmation provides guidance for determining my next step while contradiction tells me that I need to gather more information.

One thing to be wary of with my approach is to base your decisions on objective measures. It's really easy to convince yourself that the job market is strong when your current job isn't fulfilling as you look for rational reasons to support your decision to move on. So keep a log of job opening changes and only record new jobs when you can confirm they are truly new and not just reposting of previously counted openings.

So what's your take? Is the SEO/SEM job market growing, shrinking, or is it flat?

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22 Comments

  1. One of the biggest challenges I see is the lack of certification in the industry. It's one thing to be certified as an Adwords professional but I rarely hear about being certified in SEO.

    On the topic at hand, salaries tend to fluctuate based on experience. The question is, does your potential candidate know the most recent trends in seo or are they still stuck on "keyword relevancy" as an example. Finding the right person may be more of a challenge than determining how much to pay them.

    • On the topic at hand, salaries tend to fluctuate based on experience. The question is, does your potential candidate know the most recent trends in seo or are they still stuck on "keyword relevancy" as an example. Finding the right person may be more of a challenge than determining how much to pay them.

  2. Hello There,

    I am thinking of hiring an in-house SEO person. I have question for guys out there hopefully someone can answer my question.

    What is starting salary of SEO peron,?
    what is the going salary for SEO person in Los Angeles Area with expreince?

  3. @Athony err big comapny's are very down on having side gigs in the same area you work for them in (you would be lucky not to get a gross misconduct dismissal) and in a lot of countries what you do outside of work is in a lot of cases owned by your employer.

  4. In India, Opportunities are huge but the pay scale is comparatively lower

  5. Great article. Thanks for the information. As a freelancer, I am learning as much as I can.

  6. Marios Alexandrou

    Hi Josh,

    The public perception of a profession is often different than the reality. That's why there are so many lawyer jokes, consultants are accused of being slackers, and SEOs are equated with spam. Didn't mean to offend, but rather offer an observation from my many years of working with recruiters.

    Every job search of mine puts me in touch with dozens of recruiters and every hiring manager/consultant I speak to has horror stories. Admittedly the horror stories are what people remember while quickly forgetting the valuable work that many recruiters do.

  7. "Sidebar: For those new to the job search game, note that many recruiters love high-turnover. Once a candidate of theirs has made it through the probation period and the recruiter's fee has been paid, there's nothing quite as profitable as being able to place that candidate at another job while ALSO filling the opening the departure would create. It's a short-term approach, but recruiters are often job hoppers and so long-term thinking is of little value to them."

    Wow, as a recruiter I take offense to this part. As with every industry, sure, there's going to be unethical people. But this practice you talk about here is certainly the exception and not the norm. I've been in the recruiting business for 8 years and have only witnessed one instance of this. My corporate clients have found me to be a valuable resource and partner in their talent acquisition strategy. They would not let me represent their company if I didn't represent them in a professional manner. But then again, I'm CLIENT focused, not CANDIDATE focused. I work for the company, not the candidate. Other recruiters focus on the latter.

    • I agree with you. I too take offense at such a generalistic comment about recruiters. Talk about shallow!
      I have never experienced this happening in the 17 years I've been in staffing or executive search. I don't know who upset the writer of this article - but don't ruin the experience for everyone because someone burnt you.

      • Marios Alexandrou

        The statements I made are true, but they don't apply to all recruiters. I don't think I said every recruiter is bad.

        As for your argument that in 17 years you've never encountered what I described, that's about as strong a statement as me saying that in my 17 years of searching for jobs I've never gone back on a deal and therefore no candidates have ever gone back on a deal. I'm sure you have some good stories about bad candidates...

        Finally, I hardly think I'm ruining anything for anyone. Every industry has its bad apples. The SEO industry is no different. Bad apples shouldn't persuade someone from engaging with that industry, but they'll do better knowing that they should pull back the curtain now and again.

  8. @ Bogdan - what's so funny? Do tell.

  9. Personally in Central Florida there are few SEO jobs. I think where the bigger Agencies are located the more need for SEO personnel.

  10. Search Engine College? I laughed a bit.

    Here, in Europe, jobs are starting to increase for the SEO/SEM/SMO field. Still, there are a few competent people that are up for the task. I think many could stay home and easily earn from freelancing.

    Also, when companies will be open to working remotely, the candidates might be more keen to apply.

  11. I can insert a bit of my experience to the discussion here. I've been practicing and perpetually learning about SEO for just about two years now. I started out at a very low pay grade since I didn't have years of experience or a great portfolio under my belt. Things have changed. In the last few months I've turned down several offers for SEO positions at agencies other than the one I'm working for now. Those agencies keep coming back - and their HR managers have been frank in telling me they just can't seem to find enough competent people to do the work. One company contacted me three times last year asking me to come back and consider the job.

    The bottom line: I see a ton of opportunity in the SEO/M market right now. I think I have a strong skill set, but I'm not so conceited as to imagine that this high level of interest is unique to my case.

    I'd also point to the continued injection of VC money into the SEO/M sphere as an indication of growth. Whether that growth will be sustainable in this economy (or the one we'll have in six months) is another question.

  12. Marios Alexandrou

    @Kalena - Being wrong in this case would be alright with me! :-)

  13. Hey Marios - I have to agree with your friend. The SEO/SEM job market is booming! We get requests on a daily basis for graduates of Search Engine College and there are so many job postings in the industry that we can barely keep up on the jobs board. The demand is strong and growing, while the supply is lagging far, far behind.

  14. Jaan, I have to disagree with you. The reason some SEO Pros choose to work in-house vs. for an agency is that most agencies have a problem with SEO's doing outside consulting as it is a perceived conflict of interest, whereas when you are employed by a company, you would only be precluded from working with companies that directly compete with your employer.

    Marios, as far as the market, currently I see more opportunities for entry to mid level SEO jobs and those continue to grow due to more companies going in-house. Once you are at a senior to management level, I agree you might see more "transfers" than actual growth in opportunities. The geographic location also has a lot to do with what is available. I relocated last year from the DC Metro area, and it seems that the SEO job market there is decent, whereas here in Phoenix it is a bit grim.

  15. I personally think any SEO/SEM worth a grain of salt would not be working in house. Now dont jump on me and say I hate in-house SEO's or working in-house stinks. That is not true, it is just not for me. I think some companies need that type of employee and cant work properly with someone remotely. For me getting dragged into 4-5 hours worth of meetings a day is not a productive way to work.

  16. Marios Alexandrou

    @Joel What geographic markets are you referring to?

    @Francis Thanks for the link. If you move up the baseline to last May, the story isn't as good. Flat for flat for SEO and down for SEM. Interesting...

  17. Hi Marios,
    I’d recommend Simply Hired’s free Employment Trends tool. It uses 80M jobs to help identify areas of growth and decline in the US employment market.

    SEO and SEM Trends: http://www.simplyhired.com/a/jobtrends/trend/q-SEO%2C+SEM

    Since July 2006:
    * SEO jobs increased 8%
    * SEM jobs decreased 27%

    Best regards,
    Francis

  18. Things took a dip in December, but the number of job postings for SEOs has remained in growth mode for years now and is bouncing back from the recent holiday downturn.

  19. The situation here in EU is a little bit different. As a SEM agency owner I can say it's pretty hard to find someone with enough skills, experience and dedication for this kind of job.

    Of course, the industry in this part of Europe has yet to mature.

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