9 salary negotiation tips for search marketers

Whether you’re working in SEO, PPC or somewhere in between, salaries are always a contentious subject. They can be hard to talk about, challenging to quantify and difficult to change.

There are a lot of guides out there that help with salary negotiations, but in this article, I want to talk specifically about negotiating your marketing salary.

Difficulties with marketing salaries

There are some critical complexities to marketing jobs that make it trickier to benchmark appropriate salaries.

There is no industry standard

Unlike other professions, which have a national body and associated grades, there is no standardization for marketing roles. As such, it can be difficult to attribute salary bands inter-company.

Job titles have little consistency

A VP of marketing in one company could be the junior level account manager, but in another, the most senior marketer. 

Due to the lack of consistency in titling, it can be hard to identify the seniority of roles and, therefore, the rough salary bands that would be appropriate.

Recent years have seen huge fluctuations

During the COVID-19 pandemic, plenty of roles were made redundant.

Events managers, experiential marketers and out-of-home (OOH) advertising executives all saw reduced employment opportunities as countries experienced lockdowns. 

On the other hand, SEOs saw a steep rise in demand for their skillset as more companies explored online trading. 

With lockdowns and restrictions ending, the levels of these roles changed again. As a marketing discipline becomes more or less in demand, salaries will change to compensate. 

Some marketing channels can be misunderstood

Less marketing-savvy companies often advertise one role to cover three or more distinct specializations, all for bottom-of-the-market salaries. 

Even those companies that value the skillsets of marketers more accurately may struggle to understand the sheer complexity and range of knowledge and experience required to excel in a role. This can lead to huge under-valuing of marketers. 

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Knowing that marketing salaries can be hard to navigate from an employer’s perspective, how should you ensure you’re fairly compensated for your knowledge and experience as an employee?

The following nine tips can be loosely categorized as follows:

Know what you bring to the table.

Know what’s realistic.

Identify and demonstrate what’s valuable to the company.

Stick to your boundaries.

Know what you bring to the table

We’ll start with the side of salary negotiations that, for some, can be very difficult – accurately valuing their own skillset.

We can assume that if you are in the position of negotiating a salary, you have either already been offered the job or you work for the company and are hoping to secure a raise. 

In either case, congratulations! The company must already think you are suitable for the role. However, that doesn’t stop them from trying to secure your services at the most economical price.

Knowing what you bring to the table is key to having the bargaining power and confidence to negotiate a fair salary. This doesn’t just mean how much direct experience you have of the role you have landed. 

Tip 1: Demonstrate your experience in the industry

Don’t underestimate how much employers value candidates who have knowledge and experience within their sector. 

You may also find that some industries will struggle to hire marketing professionals, and your willingness to join that industry can command a higher salary. 

If you have worked within notoriously difficult industries like gambling, adult entertainment or pharmaceuticals in the past, you might well be able to demand a higher salary because of it. This can be down to the perception of difficulty in marketing within these industries.  

Tip 2: Promote your prior experience in – and out of – similar roles

Your years of experience in a role might feel like an obvious bargaining chip when negotiating salary. However, don’t forget that an employer might also benefit from the knowledge and experience you gained outside of the role you are applying for.

Just because your prior job titles may not have sounded similar to the role you are negotiating now doesn’t mean the skills you learned there aren’t directly relevant.

Review your CV and compare it to the role you are applying for. Pick out the elements in your work history that match the ad.

Look beyond the obvious and consider transferable skills like communication, problem-solving and stakeholder management.

Dig deeper: 13 essential SEO skills you need to succeed

Tip 3: Highlight extra skills outside of your job specification

Also, think about the skills that you have acquired over the years that might not be listed in the job description, but you imagine will be critical for success in the role anyway.

This can be particularly useful if you are more junior in your career and lack directly relevant experience in similar roles. 

Consider what you learned through volunteering roles or your first weekend and summer jobs.

They might be a million miles away from the marketing industry, but chances are you will have learned lessons through them that can put you in good stead for your current career. 

Know what is realistic

It’s one thing to know your worth in terms of the skills and experience you can bring to a company, it’s another to value that in the employment market accurately. 

Unfortunately, salaries are capped by what employers are willing to pay their staff. 

Tip 4: Be familiar with the industry benchmarks

Do some research when considering your salary. You may have been paid above or below average in the job you are leaving, which could skew your view of an acceptable salary. 

Look at job ads in your geographic area that require similar skills and experience and plot out the bottom and top ranges of salaries. 

Make sure you don’t identify like-for-like roles just on the job title alone. As mentioned earlier, there is often no standardization, and you might be comparing your role with one for a more senior or junior candidate. 

Similarly, keep an eye on the industry these jobs are for. You are unlikely to see charity roles paying the same as ones in tech or finance.

Have a look at salary benchmarking reports like the following. 

2023 Salary & Career guide: How much search marketers make

PPC salaries 2023: How much do in-house, self-employed, and agency search marketers make

These can give you an objective view of your market. Remember that different countries will have vastly different salaries, so don’t compare U.S. with UK salaries, for instance. 

Tip 5: Find out the internal salary ranges

During the process of applying for a role, it is always helpful to find out the salary range being offered. This isn’t always possible. 

Some companies will wait for the candidate to make the first move concerning salary and won’t want to tip their hand for fear of offering more than they could have gotten away with. 

This is why it’s important to consider Tip 4 first, so you know what your skills and experience are worth in the open market.  

Some companies will operate with banding for roles. For example, a senior SEO specialist might be a level 4 on the company’s career level chart and a junior SEO, a level 2.

You could ask the recruiter for that information if they are unwilling to divulge the exact salary band. This might give you some insight into where the role fits within the operational hierarchy of the company and, therefore, what ceiling the salary might have. 

If you can find out the salary range, try to identify what makes the top of the band achievable.

Is the company seeking additional “nice to haves” to award the top salary? Perhaps it is reserved for people with experience in their particular industry. 

Once you know what skills command the higher salary, you can highlight them in your CV and interviews. 

Identify and demonstrate the values of the company

As many of us know from job interviews, sometimes what a company really wants isn’t explicitly detailed in the job ad or early conversations with recruiters. 

Unfortunately, hiring managers won’t always know what they want from a successful candidate until they have interviewed a few people to compare with. 

This can mean that you are left not knowing what is important to a company in regard to the role and, therefore, will struggle to highlight your suitability for it and why you deserve the salary you are requesting. 

Interviews can be a good opportunity to explore these values more. 

Ask the interviewers what “successful” looks like in the role or even the characteristics of their top-performing colleagues. 

This will give you the necessary insight into the traits and behaviors that the company appreciates.  

Tip 6: Demonstrate how you live up to those values

Once you know what is valuable to a company, you must identify how to add that through the role. 

For example, perhaps “initiative” is something that the company holds in high regard. You could use the interview process to highlight how you use your initiative throughout your work. 

Use examples from previous work experience to demonstrate how you embody the company’s values. Give evidence of projects or situations where you showed those values. 

For example, if “transparency” is important to the company, you can talk about a time when you owned up to a mistake you made. 

Your compatibility with the company, not just the job proficiency, will make you an even more attractive candidate. With that comes the opportunity to be awarded a higher salary. 

Stick to your boundaries

When negotiating your salary, you must know what your absolute minimum is. This isn’t just the lowest salary you can afford to take.

It means identifying what is important to you in a role to feel respected and valued and what the remuneration package would need to be to assist with that. 

If you go into negotiations knowing your boundaries, it will make saying “no” to a job easier. 

Tip 7: Consider other benefits that will make up for a lower salary

There may be good reason to take a lower salary in some circumstances. 

You may be moving into a slightly different role where you have less experience and, therefore, are starting at a more junior level. The opportunity to grow in new skills may warrant a reduction in your salary.

There could be other tangible benefits, like great health coverage, more paid holidays, shorter working hours or gym membership, that you feel are a good trade-off for taking a lower salary.

Tip 8: Identify other good points about the company that allows for a lower salary

You may be moving to an industry you are passionate about. Perhaps you are joining a charity and feel that the satisfaction from helping the cause is enough to make up for lower pay. 

Make sure that you factor this into your salary expectations when considering your boundaries. 

Tip 9: Decide how little is enough for you to walk away

Having worked through the above tips, you should now understand how much you are willing to take – or remain in – a job for.  

Remember this during the negotiating process. You may feel pressure to not lose the role due to asking for more money. You might not want to appear too financially motivated.

Joining a company and immediately feeling like you should be asking for a pay raise will not work, nor will it help you positively embed yourself in the company. However, working and feeling underpaid will not be sustainable for you either.

You will likely be better off turning down a role that cannot close the gap between their offer and your minimum salary expectations.

Empower yourself in marketing salary talks

You deserve to be paid what you are worth.

Use the above tips to identify what that is, to factor in any mitigating circumstances and to arrive at a figure you are willing to take a job for. 

Once you know what that number is, negotiating for it is a case of demonstrating why you add value to the company above other candidates and how you working there will be greatly impactful. 

If there is too big a divide between what the company is willing to pay and what you feel your skills and experience are worth in that role, you may be better off walking away from it. 

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