Search engine marketing is such a new field, it’s often hard to know how much to pay a search marketer, or for that matter, how much to ask for when applying for an SEM position. So I figured its time for someone to “blow the lid” off how much SEMs make these days in Silicon Valley.

A few caveats to this overview: this is not based on statistical data (for that, visit PayScale.com), just my anecdotal observations over the last eight years here. And since I’ve been ‘out of the job market’ now for almost a year now, I suppose its possible that salaries have changed considerably since then (though probably not).

Here it is, your guide to Silicon Valley SEM salaries:

Entry Level SEM (SEM Analyst):

  • Zero to one years of experience.
  • Most likely a recent college graduate, and most likely from Stanford or Berkeley!
  • Responsible for daily management of campaigns, basic grunt tasks.
  • No management of others.
  • Compensation: $45K-$55K, annual bonus from $0 to $5K.

Junior SEM (Senior SEM Analyst or SEM Manager):

  • One to three years of experience.
  • Responsible for some client interaction (if at an agency).
  • Some strategic decision making.
  • Possible management of one to three people.
  • Compensation: $55K-$85K, annual bonus from $0 to $15K.

Experienced SEM (Senior SEM Manager or Director of SEM):

  • Two to six years of experience.
  • Day to day management of some or all of an internal SEM team.
  • Responsible for much or all of strategy decision making.
  • Management of from two to 10 people.
  • Compensation: $75K to $130K, annual bonus from $0 to $25K.

Senior SEM (Director of SEM to VP of SEM):

  • Four or more years of experience.
  • Reporting to VP of Marketing or CEO.
  • Management of five or more people.
  • All strategic decisions as well as technical decisions.
  • Compensation: $130K to $250K, annual bonus from $10K to $50K.

So there it is. Let the controversy begin!

5 Comments

  1. Anonymous August 8th, 2008

    I am stil not sure why talented SEO/PPC guys want to work for others when even a VP level pays less than 300k?.

  2. David Rodnitzky August 8th, 2008

    A very valid point. I suppose the benefits, potential stock upside, and stability would all be factors that drive that decision. Also, if you aren’t in the top 5% of SEM/SEO’rs out there, I think it is unreasonable to expect that you could make more than $300K on your own, either through your own sites or consulting.

  3. Anonymous August 8th, 2008

    David, Stability is a good point, but one can leverage high reward short term projects (ppc arbitrage, seo greyhat etc) to finance longterm stable prospects (high quality content sites, type-in domains etc).IMHO, many ppc work-for-the-man guys missed the opportunity in 2005/2006 when they would have made multi-millions with search arbitrage and CPA offers.

  4. Joey Martini August 15th, 2008

    Here is what I think, I think that SEM people who really know SEO (not like these fake kids) should really stop giving away these services and work on there own sites. I understand how money can be lovely, especially fast cash. But if you build your own websites and market them with your knowledge the money you make from them is much more tasteful and constant.

  5. david August 15th, 2008

    Joey, I agree with you that people who know SEO can make a lot more money long-term by building their own SEO sites, but I’m not sure I’d describe these sites as either “tasteful” nor financially more “constant.”

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David Rodnitzky
David Rodnitzky is founder and CEO of 3Q Digital (formerly PPC Associates), a position he has held since the Company's inception in 2008. Prior to 3Q Digital, he held senior marketing roles at several Internet companies, including Rentals.com (2000-2001), FindLaw (2001-2004), Adteractive (2004-2006), and Mercantila (2007-2008). David currently serves on advisory boards for several companies, including Marin Software, MediaBoost, Mediacause, and a stealth travel start-up. David is a regular speaker at major digital marketing conferences and has contributed to numerous influential publications, including Venture Capital Journal, CNN Radio, Newsweek, Advertising Age, and NPR's Marketplace. David has a B.A. with honors from the University of Chicago and a J.D. with honors from the University of Iowa. In his spare time, David enjoys salmon fishing, hiking, spending time with his family, and watching the Iowa Hawkeyes, not necessarily in that order.