How This Toronto-Based SEO Strategist More Than Quadrupled His Salary by Joining a U.S. Company

"I knew what value I brought to the table. When I had a proven background and results, asking for more compensation became an easier conversation to have."
(Illustration: Ashley Floréal)

Want to make more money at work? Of course you doFor our series The Top Up, Canadians across different industries tell us exactly how much they earn—and how they navigated every raise, promotion and job change to get it. Each month, a different executive shares their journey and their best advice for how you can better negotiate your salary, too. This month, a Toronto-based SEO strategist tells CB how he emigrated to Canada from India and went from making $48,000 to US$200,000 at a tech company in less than six years.

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Current job title: Director of web and digital marketing
Industry: SaaS
Location: Toronto

First full-time job salary: $4,300 in early 2013 as a reporter for a B2B publication in India

I did my bachelor’s degree in commerce, then I did a master’s degree in journalism and communications. Once I graduated, in 2013, I was hired as a reporter by a media-industry publication based in Mumbai to write about things like mergers and acquisitions. I was offered a salary of 264,000 rupees a year, which is the equivalent of about $4,300—that was in line with the average starting salary for journalists in India at the time. So I didn’t negotiate the pay at all; I just wanted to get my foot in the door and learn. The cost of living in India is significantly lower than Canada, so it’s similar to earning a $45,000 entry-level journalism salary. Plus, I living with my parents at the time, which reduced my cost of living.

First raise: $1,070 in mid-2013, bringing salary to $5,400

In India, it’s common to get a raise after your probation period ends. So, after four months, in August 2013, my workplace offered me a $325 raise to $4,600. I felt like that increase was insignificant. I was performing well in my role and thought I deserved more based on the metrics I contributed to, including the increase in page views, new users, newsletter subscribers and time spent on the website. Based on that data, I asked for $5,400 total compensation, and they agreed.

Second raise: $1,400 in 2014 as senior editor, bringing salary to $6,800

The publication’s founder saw potential in me as a leader of an editorial team. So he made me the senior editor of another website at the company which focused on animations, gaming, comics and technology, and I got a pay bump. I interviewed founders about their journeys and learned how they set up their studios, along with creative aspects of the industry, like how visual effects are done in a movie.

Third raise: $5,200 in 2015 as chief editor of content and business development bringing salary to $12,000

I was gaining more experience in my role and my boss wanted to retain me. In 2015, they offered me a raise to $11,700 to take on the role of chief editor of content and business development. I would be responsible for hiring and training journalists as well as sourcing new business deals. I countered with $12,000—a reasonable ask, considering that I was helping generate revenue. I knew the company was profitable. I helped rebrand and overhaul the website, so I had a lot of responsibility.

Second job salary: $16,000 in 2016 as the lead digital strategist for a film production company in India

After working with the same company for three years, I was ready to move on. I had saved up a bit of money, so I resigned without having a new job lined up. Luckily, after a few weeks, someone in my network reached out about an opportunity. He worked for a film production company and they wanted to hire me, but they weren’t sure what the role would be. Initially, they thought head of PR and corporate communications. But I told them that my interests were in expanding their international business development digitally. So we agreed on the title of lead digital strategist. I overhauled their website and managed their social presence. They offered $13,800, but I asked for $16,000. It was a number that I felt was appropriate having three years of work experience, and they agreed.

Related: I Got a Salary Offer That’s Way Too Low. What Can I Do?

Third job salary: $48,000 in 2017 as a contract product marketing coordinator

While I was working with the film production company, I went to a conference in Montreal and I fell in love with the country. I wanted to find a way to move to Canada, so I reached out to people in my network that worked for companies with ties to North America. One of those connections worked out. He was pretty high up at the Canadian office of a company that made graphics cards and semiconductors. He got me an interview with the director of software marketing and I landed a role as a product marketing coordinator, based in Toronto. I arrived in the fall of 2017 to start work. They offered me a salary of $48,000 for a one-year contract and I didn’t negotiate since I wanted to get my foot in the door. I thought it was a decent start for my first role in Canada.

Fourth job salary: $60,000 in 2018 as a senior digital producer for a data encryption company

When my contract was ending, I spoke to my manager about extending it, but he said it wasn’t possible because the project I was hired for had finished. So I began applying for other jobs. Initially, I was declined for a digital producer role at a B2B SaaS data encryption company. But their first candidate backed out at the last minute. Three days after turning me down, they came back and offered me the job. Over the phone, they initially offered a salary of $55,000 but I negotiated up to $60,000. That was in line with the industry standard, based on my research. I countered over the phone, in that same conversation, and they agreed to my ask right away.

My role was creating white papers and hosting webinars for the company to be seen as a thought leader in the industry. Unfortunately, after four months, I was called into HR and laid off. It wasn’t based on my performance; they just said the role was being made redundant and they couldn’t justify my position any longer. They gave me six weeks of severance, but I was still pretty disappointed.

Related: This 20-Something Communications Pro Nearly Tripled Her Salary By Becoming a Consultant

Fifth job salary: $70,000 in 2018 as an SEO and website specialist for a cloud-based learning-management company

After I was let go, I took some time off and went back to India to see my family. I returned to Canada at the end of summer to job hunt again. I decided to pivot to SEO. Given my content background and experience, I thought that positioning myself as an SEO specialist would give me an advantage in the job market; I knew content-led SEO specialists are valuable in the tech market as they work with product and sales teams to bring in new customers.

After rebranding myself, I landed a job as an SEO and website specialist for a start-up in Toronto. They offered $62,500 and I countered with $70,000, based on industry standards for that role, which they agreed to. I used websites like Glassdoor and Payscale, and industry reports from Robert Half International and Randstad, to determine industry rates.

I was part of the company’s website rehaul, and I developed a keyword optimization and content strategy. I worked closely with the product and marketing teams to ensure landing pages for new products would be launched on time, and wrote blogs for the content team.

Sixth job salary: $80,000 as a senior SEO strategist at a B2B SaaS marketing agency

After a year with the start-up, I asked for a promotion and raise, but it never happened. I wanted to become a senior SEO strategist and website manager, with a salary of $90,000 to $100,000. The chief revenue officer said that I had a good business case for a raise based on my contributions, but that he’d have to go through some red tape. He kept delaying the promotion, so, about two years in, I looked at opportunities elsewhere.

I got offered a position as a senior SEO strategist at a marketing agency that worked with high-growth start-ups. They came in at $75,000, but I asked for $80,000 because based on my market research, $80,000 was aligned with the industry rates. I also felt $10,000 was the minimum raise I needed to justify moving to a new company. Part of my interview process included a technical presentation, and since it went well, they agreed to my ask of $80,000.

Seventh job salary: $110,000 in 2021 as the head of SEO for an affiliate marketing agency

I wasn’t looking for another job, but someone from the hiring team of an affiliate-marketing agency reached out to me over LinkedIn. I thought it’d be a good next role for me since I would be moving into a leadership role and managing a team of five. They said their salary range for the position was $90,000 to $120,000. I asked for $110,000. Looking back, I think I had a bit of imposter syndrome. I went back to my current employer with the new job offer to see if they could match it, but they couldn’t. The best they could do was put me on a roadmap to get to $110,000 in six months, which wasn’t guaranteed. I figured it was time to move.

The company does affiliate marketing for crypto, cannabis and sports-betting companies. My team and I managed the technical health of our clients’ websites and determined when new content was required. We’d run A/B tests to figure out how to optimize their sites and improve their ranking in search engines, and we’d analyze their competition to ensure our clients’ would come out on top.

Eighth job salary: US$155,000 plus a $15,000 bonus in 2022 as the organic growth lead for a generative AI SaaS company

After about a year with the affiliate marketing agency, a hiring manager at a generative AI company reached out over LinkedIn for a coffee chat. I was intrigued—liked the idea of going back to the brand side and working for a SaaS company, which I enjoyed in my previous role.

The company was based in the U.S., so the salary they offered was higher since American tech companies typically pay more than Canadian ones. Because they reached out to me, I figured I could leverage their interest. They offered US$150,000 but I negotiated my salary up to US$155,000 plus a US$15,000 bonus based on performance. In my role, I worked closely with the product marketing, sales and customer success teams to create ideal customer profiles, marketing strategies and determine what messaging to use on our website. I optimized pages on the website for specific keywords and ensured they were aligned with product messaging. I also worked with PR agencies to do outreach and sit in on sales calls to understand what content resonated with prospective clients.

First raise: US$10,000 base plus US$20,000 bonus in 2023, bringing base salary to US$165,000 and bonus to US$35,000 as the director of web and digital marketing

I was performing really well in my job. Traffic to our website had doubled in six months. So, about a year into my the role, I was promoted to a leadership position as the director of web and digital marketing. They offered me a raise, bringing my salary to US$165,000. I wanted to earn a total of US$200,000, so I asked for US$175,000 as my base salary with a bonus of US$25,000. We settled on US$165,000 base and US$35,000 bonus. My bonus is based on my team’s performance: I now manage a team of four and I look after the website’s SEO, content and paid search through ads on websites like Google and LinkedIn.

Best negotiation tip: Know what you’re worth

When I was negotiating my salaries and promotions, I knew what value I brought to the table. When I had a proven background and results, asking for more compensation became an easier conversation to have. I would also do market research to see what the salaries were for similar roles. And, if you’re being recruited, use it to your advantage. You have the upper hand since there’s already something about your work experience that the company likes. So be bold and be confident.

As Told To Andrea Yu
As Told To Andrea Yu
Andrea Yu is a freelance journalist based in Toronto. She writes about life, culture, real estate, business and health with a focus on human-interest stories.