The new SEMPO 2013 Salary Survey, in partnership with ClickZ, showed that the average salary for search professionals decreased from $75,543 to $68,600.
This year, there was a marked increase in entry-level SEO professionals, along with a decrease in people with three to five years experience. In all, 27 percent of survey respondents said they've been in search from zero to three years, and the majority of their salaries were in the $0 to $30,000 range.
Although there was a bit of a decrease in compensation for execs at the top, it's likely that the influx of new, lower-salaried employees lowered the average, according to Nathan Safran, director of research for Conductor. Safran thinks this influx stems from the increasing awareness and legitimacy of search engine marketing (SEM).
"SEO started out with web developers in the basement; it's evolved into a legitimate marketing channel and an awareness that half of all website traffic comes from organic search. There's a demand for folks that have that skill set," he said.
This gain in entry-level positions could also be due to the expanding roles that these pros play within a company. SEMPO identified a trend it calls "holistic search," that is, having the same staff managing search, as well as other channels. Survey respondents said that they handle not only organic and paid search, but also social media.
Holistic search marketing grew by 11 percent, while those who said they spent most of their time on organic search marketing or managing pay-per-click advertising decreased. More than 70 percent of respondents reported that they also work in social networks. At the same time, they were increasingly tasked with email marketing (15 percent) and online media (9 percent), as well as a variety of other marketing efforts.
It's noteworthy, though, that the amount of time these search professionals spent on many of the digital marketing categories remained flat. Safran said this may show that marketers have realized they need to narrow their focus to ranking higher in search engine results, instead of being distracted by the plethora of other channels.
"Last year, the thing was to make sure you're visible on YouTube," he said. "You can't be everywhere and do everything. Just because Vine is the latest thing, it doesn't mean you need a Vine strategy and should take focus away from [the basics]."
Another thing drawing new blood into SEM is the relatively low barrier to entry, according to Safran.
"A lot of folks who are successful were self-taught and there's so much information out there," he said. He believes that the majority of search pros are self-taught.
Relatively small companies abound, with 23 percent of respondents working for a shop with 11 to 50 employees. This could indicate that smaller companies are beginning to pay more attention to search engine marketing and organic search.
There has also been an increase in the percentage of search marketing budgets in the under $150,000 per month range. (Budgets over $150,000 per month were static or decreased.) This possibly is also the result of smaller companies getting in the game, Safran said.
"As the awareness of search and the value of search grows, smaller companies are realizing they should start testing and looking at this," Safran said.
In addition, more companies realize that consumer's online research process starts with organic search, so it's not enough to just buy some AdWords, he thinks.