What It’s like to Be a Female SEO: Women Share Their Experiences

What It’s like to Be a Female SEO: Women Share Their Experiences

What It’s like to Be a Female SEO: Women Share Their Experiences

Women are leaders and innovators in every industry, and search engine optimization is no different.

While the industry was once dominated by men, the gender gap is decreasing.

Female SEOs working every day to improve organic rankings have come forth in this article to candidly share their experiences.

In a spirit of transparency, this article seeks to reveal what it’s like working as a woman in organic search.

Here’s what you can expect to see below:

Women in SEO - Female Sentiment about Search Engine Optimization

The above chart includes results from interviews and polls that didn’t make this article but are nonetheless counted.

Half of the ladies talked to agree: gender does not make a difference in the SEO world.

A small fraction has had a bad experience due to gender.

About a third agree that while gender hasn’t made a difference in how they’re treated, there’s still a gender gap and women are underrepresented in this space.

Let’s do a deep dive and talk to some of these ladies, all doing different tasks at different levels in SEO. These interviews are gathered from around the world, from ladies of all ages, giving a more complete picture of what it’s like to be a female SEO.

Searching the world wide web to have a query answered

Tory Gray – Independent SEO Consultant

Tory Gray, seasoned SEO consultant with her firm Tory Gray LLC, makes a focus on being analytical and data driven as a female SEO.

Tory GrayMy biggest challenges as a female in SEO – which don’t involve any direct sexual harassment, thank goodness – have really been about gaining visibility and respect as a trusted voice in a room often full of men: marketers, product managers, engineers, and executives alike. 

In a world full of loud talkers, interrupters, and “mansplainers,” this is not exactly a new problem, but it’s a problem nonetheless.

Things I’ve found that work best to solve this problem:

(1) If possible, be the technical and/or analytical source of information.

Having an empathic customer-focused “content” background, historically, doesn’t necessarily build the credibility one would want in order to grow and show authority in the SEO field. Put another way, this is the person that the men in the room would talk over.

Having either a technical or analytical / data-driven background can help win more arguments and allow your voice to be heard louder and more frequently – especially when you can bring more of that expertise than the men in the room. They are then forced to listen in a way that they aren’t when you bring the more “touchy feely” user-centric viewpoint to the room.

I’m not saying “touchy feely” isn’t valuable – in fact I’d argue that it’s critical and important to get right when growing a brand – but when this perspective is brought by a woman, it tends to be discounted or ignored more frequently. Fortunately, it seems like the tides are turning on this one.

(2) Back up your perspective with documented examples whenever possible.

If people won’t listen to you, perhaps they’ll listen to other voices and experiences people have had with the problems you are attempting to solve. Bonus points if that resource is a big name in tech, an ivy-league school, or a leader in your industry – right or wrong, these sources tend to get more belief and less questions. If you are the person to find this solution time-and-time again, over time you’ll gain trust as the person who can find the answers.

(3) Don’t make anyone feel dumb – especially your executive team.

Similar to the process of getting more bees with honey than vinegar, people will like you – and will like your suggested solutions – more if they understand how you arrived at your answer. Because the word “genius” isn’t often associated with women, I’d argue that it’s a more critical tactic for women than men, but it’s likely useful for men as well.

To the best of your ability, present your suggestions in a logical order that explains how and why you arrived at your conclusions. Explain each step, if only at a high level. Avoid “leaps of faith” that require team members without your expertise or background to figure out how you got from point A to point B. Nobody likes to feel dumb for not being able to connect the dots (…. especially men), so it’s important to clearly communicate it.

Make things easy and logical for people to follow, so they feel like a part of your plan, and buy-in to how you’ll get there as a team.

Organic traffic analytics

Jesse Gaver – SEO Lead

Jesse Gaver, SEO Lead at enterprise marketing firm, iProspect, shares her experience that there are not enough women in SEO, but that trendsetting companies are now making huge strides.

Jesse GaverI feel like most people have negative memories of their first ‘real job’ after college but I lucked out – my boss was dynamic, inspiring, motivating, and female. We instantly connected on a professional level that allowed us both to develop our strengths, which helped move the department into a better direction. This was where I started getting really interested in SEO; our team expanded to 5 while we remained the only two females on the team. We worked furiously and fiercely to train and onboard our 3 male counterparts and we were off and running.

I worked there almost two years to the day and left when I felt my SEO knowledge started to outgrow the position. Since then I’ve worked at three different digital marketing agencies and I haven’t had a direct SEO female boss since. I truly attribute my current role in SEO to the encouragement and support that my first boss provided, and it was at that time I didn’t realize how underrepresented women in SEO are. 

I got the chance to attend SEO powerhouse conference, MozCon, in the fall of 2016 with my last company – my boss was well versed in SEO and had more than a decade of experience under his belt so going with him meant meeting industry insiders (Hey Dr. Pete!) as well as fully immersing myself in a few days of SEO, content development, and digital marketing driven data. I had been to other similar events locally, like SEJ Summit, but at MozCon I noticed more and more women speakers each day; Rand literally wore a “Feminist” shirt MCing one day.

I started realizing the norm was male presenters. Moz had made an active push to diversify the SEO industry, highlight powerful, impactful females and represent them equally during the conference, which is extremely important in today’s SEO climate. That was just two years ago, and I think as of late, females are starting to capitalize on the power that they bring not just to the SEO industry, but to every single industry.

Clouds communicating with each other, indicating a content delivery network, or CDN

Vanessa Pino – SEO Manager

Vanessa Pino, SEO Manager at employer regulatory compliance firm, ComplyRight, has had a tough experience, but overall is very positive.

Vanessa PinoBeing a female SEO has had its challenges, but in my experience, I would think it’s not anything that differs from other female employees in their respective roles. Possibly the biggest misconception I’ve encountered is that we, as female SEOs, can be viewed as not knowing our job entirely or simply assuming we only do “content” as opposed to technical SEO and link building.

Truthfully, I had not felt any different in my role as a female until one sales call about 4 years ago. For whatever reason, the individual on the call (who happened to be a male) began asking me questions and eventually felt it appropriate to ask if I “…even knew what the SEO acronym stands for?” Needless to say, the sales call did not last much longer, but I do remember afterwards wondering if I was treated in such a manner because I was a female. Thankfully that was an outlier event.

Web browsers

Christine Kilbride – SEO Associate

Christine Kilbride, an Associate at the agency, Majux Marketing, says women in SEO are underrepresented, yet very welcomed in this industry.

Christine KilbrideI have worked in SEO at two different agencies since graduating from college in 2016. I can say that as a female, it seems our gender is underrepresented in this job category – despite marketing being a popular field of study for women. Digital marketing can be intimidating, as there is a lot of terminology and background knowledge that is required to be successful. Although I have worked for more men than women in SEO, I can say that I’ve always been treated as an equal. I believe more men were interested in SEO early on because of its technical nature and overlap with website development.

From a personal standpoint, I’ve been happy with my journey into SEO. I love how the work utilizes both “left brain” and “right brain” capabilities. Some days I’m incorporating keyword analytics data into copywriting strategy, while others I am optimizing image sizes and adding redirects. In short, I’ve found that I can still gain a better understanding of search engines’ interaction with websites while remaining creative.

I have actually found that I am more often discriminated against because of my age than my gender. Clients can tell that I am in my early 20’s, and occasionally seem skeptical of my skillset.

The best (and worst, depending on the day) of my job is the constant flux of Google’s algorithm, and understanding how that relates to my clients overall. Every day I feel as if I am learning something new. I think that being a woman in SEO has made me feel smarter, more empowered, and has set me apart from the other competitive female candidates in the marketing world.

I do have slight reservations that it may be harder to gain upper management positions as I continue to grow, but the recent wave of feminism from celebrities and the media have inspired me to push forward. SEO may have been a boy’s club in the past, but in my brief experience, I’ve encountered nothing but open arms in the digital marketing workplace.

Upwards analytics on a mobile phone, coming from optimizing for mobile search

Lauren Laftsidis – Legal SEO

Lauren Laftsidis, an SEO for drug law resource, TruLaw, shares three pieces of advice for other female SEOs.

Lauren LaftsidisAs a female search engine optimizer who has been in the game for a couple of years, there are a few nuggets of wisdom I’d like to share with any other women who are new to SEO, or any women simply looking to hone their skills.

(1) Pick your teammates and pick them well.

I have been fortunate enough to find a group of people who respect everyone they work with. My boss is a female who has been has been working in SEO for almost a decade. Working alongside her and seeing how much she can accomplish is inspiring. Having people around to look up to is crucial for being in the best position to succeed. There is nothing like asking questions to a team member, man or woman, who has been in the same position hundreds of times and has found solutions to your problems.

(2) Don’t be dismayed that what works in SEO today may not work in SEO tomorrow.

Writing from a personal example, our company was the featured snippet for a set of keywords we really wanted to rank for. It was a great feeling to see all our hard work pay off. It was the snippet for weeks, and then one day, it wasn’t. We didn’t know why. We all thought our page was the best piece of content on the subject. Google, however, is a mysterious machine that doesn’t give you reasons behind a fall. So, we studied the new rankings and kept this in mind as we moved forward.

(3) Bet on your strengths.

As females, we are capable of keeping track of a dozen things at once. In the SEO world, this is an asset because every piece of content needs to be tweaked and optimized in several ways before you to feel good about hitting publish. The way our minds work helps us keep track of what has worked in the past, what hasn’t, and what we need to try next.

It is important for a search engine optimizer to hold onto the tried-and-true: keyword research, keyword placement on the page, strong titles, solid internal links, and above all, valuable pieces of engaging content. It is also equally important to keep space in your mind for new strategies right around the corner because in SEO there will always be a next move to make. I know that female search engine optimizers will always be up for the task.

Money going into a computer screen, indicating an ROI on digital marketing efforts

Samantha Stone Avneri – Marketing Director

Samantha Stone Avneri, Marketing Director at legendary registration and payment company, Regpack, says hard work and knowledge is the true deciding factor in SEO.

Samantha Stone AvneriI have never felt as though my job is gendered, or in any way that I stand out because I’m a woman in the marketing space.

SEO is a tough game – constantly having to keep up with new research, ideas, changes, and best practices. This takes someone, male or female, who is willing to put in the time and energy to learn the game and stay connected to the ever-changing SEO landscape.

I work in a company with 3 partners who are all men, and that look to me as the marketing wizard. My opinion is valued and my knowledge on marketing and best SEO practices is rarely, if ever, questioned. Our company culture is based on value for hard work, contribution, and what you bring to the table, regardless of sex or gender.

A file in a cloud

Lynn Woll – CEO

Lynn Woll, CEO of food marketing firm, Seasoned Influence, shares a negative experience, but overall says gender doesn’t make much of a difference in the search engine optimization industry.

Lynn WollMy worst experience was trusting development teams that didn’t understand technical SEO. Now, I have a very rigorous process with finding development teams, but this experience is probably the only place where being a female played into my SEO role. These particular developers were all male, and clearly communicated to me that I was a traditional marketer and just didn’t understand. I’m not sure this would have been said to me if I was male.

Regardless, I’m still not 100% certain if it makes a difference whether you are female or male, but it is always a challenge to explain your work to others.

There is always the question, “Why aren’t we the first results for {fill in the blank}?” The general public, and often leadership teams at organizations, don’t understand that there is not some magic SEO button that can be pushed.

SEO is a lot of hard work. It is tedious, it is about understanding all of the moving parts, and it is about doing what is right for the user.

My favorite experiences in this space are identifying the low-hanging fruit that can start moving the needle on organic traffic. There’s so many of them that business owners just completely miss.

I love the fast-paced world of SEO, and how there is always new things to learn, making every day a new experience. So happy that this world fell into my lap about twelve years ago – never turning back!

A rocket launching indicating increased organic traffic

Chelsey Moter – Owner & Content Strategist

Chelsey Moter, owner of the cannabis focused SEO marketing firm, Cannack, feels tremendous support as a female SEO.

Chelsey MoterLast year, I decided to start my own SEO company in the cannabis niche. It’s heavily supported by women and the amount of encouragement we have for one another is incomparable to any other industry.

I’m able to be completely transparent, provide the right services, work with a solid team and acquire clients through referrals. I can pick and choose who I want to work with and best of all, there’s no one telling me no!

Folders in an FTP client; the contents are networking with each other

Rebecca Caldwell – SEO Strategist

Rebecca Caldwell, SEO Strategist at the Perth, Australia, based firm, Mash Media Marketing, shares great positivity and a welcoming non-exclusionary attitude.

Rebecca CaldwellAll in all, my experiences have been really positive – I’ve never been the subject of sexist comments or exclusionary treatment.

For many years, SEO professionals in my home town were hard to find, so my outgoing nature won me clients and my results spoke for themselves. I think the most amusing thing to happen was while working at a client’s office one day, in my hoodie and leather boots- he quipped that I was like ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.’

Back in the day, when I was just starting out at a boutique agency, my boss there was very careful to over explain certain software and theories to me, thinking my comprehension wouldn’t be as advanced as it was. I don’t blame him – I’ve trained people before and sometimes you have to go simple, but once he realized I could learn this myself faster than he could teach it, we were good.

I actually got into SEO by accident. At my training company, one of my first tasks was updating and marketing the company website. This shocked me, seeing as I had no experience with HTML or databases at all. The owner of the company silently went to his filing cabinet and took out my resume and said, “Oh you’re right, it was that other girl that had the experience… Hmm.” He didn’t care that I had no experience, he put me into training courses and allowed me to learn at my own pace- and before I knew it, I was specializing in SEO.

A fast loading speed for a website

Kari DePhillips – Owner and Producer

Kari DePhillips, owner of the renowned Content Factory, shares her experiences and thoughts on how SEO is a very friendly industry for women. She also recommends joining the Sisters in SEO Facebook group, providing support and empowerment for SEO women of all skill levels.

Kari DePhillipsThe SEO industry is a great place for women who want to dodge glass ceilings. More women should know they can develop real careers while wearing yoga pants!

I’ve been working in SEO for over a decade, and my favorite thing about the industry is how it levels the playing field for everyone – not just clients, but actual SEO practitioners themselves. Prior to working in SEO, I was in the advertising space, and I’m glad I decided to change careers when I did.

One of the best aspects is having the freedom to work from home. When I worked in an office downtown during my days in advertising, I would spend at least an hour and a half getting ready, then commuting to and from the office every day. I tallied it all up, and it worked out to over 500 hours of lost productivity each year. I now have those 500 hours back, and I also give them back to my employees.

Seeing the results roll in is also a very rewarding experience – it’s always awesome when we’re able to take smaller clients’ web traffic and develop it to be on par with their larger competitors. The emails we receive when the leads start rolling in as a result of our campaigns are the talk of our company’s “Wins” Slack channel.

This is also how I grew my business to what it is today – I started The Content Factory in 2010 with $500 and enough SEO knowledge to execute a content strategy that started driving targeted leads to our website. Now, I have ten employees in six states and national brands as clients (they found us via Google search!).

The Future of SEO Is Female!

Before concluding, I’d like to share the very welcoming agency I’m part of. If you’re looking for SEO services, check us out. We have clients all through the Americas and Europe and are based out of NYC. We work with many enterprise companies, and also with small-to-midsize businesses. Some of our clients can be found here.

Conclusion

The future of SEO is female!

While this industry may have been male dominated at its outset, now it’s very friendly to both genders.

Nearly every woman talked to here speaks positively about their experiences being a professional search engine optimizer – and as a female SEO myself, I have to say, I agree.

Doing SEO as a woman has been nothing but rewarding and positive for me, and I’m grateful to have been given the opportunity by so many people – both women and men.

Like so many others, I hope to see more women emerge in this space, and I cannot wait for what the future holds.

If there’s ever been a time to start practicing SEO, the time is now!

Nicole Bermack

Nicole Bermack

Nicole Bermack is editor at Edwardsturm.com and SEO Manager at Sturm Media LLC. In her spare time she teaches hot yoga, travels, watches Casey Neistat, and studies new digital marketing techniques.
Nicole Bermack