Last year was nothing short of unpredictable. A global pandemic unexpectedly altered every aspect of our lives, protests were more common practice than ever, and long-standing issues became acceptable to debate and discuss. Both good and bad came from a largely tumultuous year, yet as we begin a new year, it’s crucial to continue those tough discussions and bring awareness to them. One of those discussions is women in business, particularly women in SEO, a topic we’ve been interested in tapping deeper into.
This discussion felt even more appropriate to surface given March is Women’s History Month. Women’s History Month “commemorates and encourages the study, observance, and celebration of the vital role of women in American history.” In honor of Women’s History Month, we’ve reached out to influential and successful women who are trailblazers in their careers in digital marketing and SEO.
We asked these women to share their personal stories about:
- How they broke into the digital marketing or SEO industry
- Any challenges they’ve overcome in their career that could serve as growth opportunities for others
- Any advice they have for those looking to start a career in SEO
Each contributor had a different, yet impactful story to share. Here’s what they had to say.
Dayna Lucio, Director of SEO and Content at LSM
Breaking Into The Industry
I started by just having a love for content and was interested in creating content that educates and could drive a user to action. However, many aspects of SEO are about problem-solving and looking for reasons why a site may not be performing, whether it’s broken links, poor user experience, or thin content. By nature, I’m a curious person, so having the opportunity to look under the hood of things and figure out how to solve multiple problems (sometimes simultaneously) is what I enjoy about SEO and what has kept me wanting to move forward in this career path.
I think that the biggest challenge that I’ve overcome has been accepting that sometimes I’m not going to know the answer – because not every situation, website, or industry is the same.
That’s why I’m always working to improve—whether it’s reading about new trends, trying to make sense of algorithm updates and how they impact clients, and putting myself in the position of someone searching for what my clients provide.
- When it comes to SEO, it’s important to take a step back and look at the big picture. There’s so much out there in terms of SEO between technical, content, local listings, etc. Try not to get stuck just looking at one aspect.
- Never stop learning. The search environment is ever-changing, so you have to be adaptable.
- Don’t get discouraged by pushback or if someone doesn’t agree with your ideas or strategy. Sometimes you have to let your work, and your results, speak for themselves.
Joy Hawkins, Owner at Sterling Sky Inc.
I have actually found being a woman made it easier to break into the SEO industry. When I was first starting my career, a lot of conferences were trying to get more women speakers to diversify, so I got my first speaking gig because I was female. I personally have never experienced discrimination that I felt was due to gender.
I remember going to a conference once and realizing I was the only female sitting at the speakers’ table. At first, I thought it might be weird but then realized very quickly that the men at the table were incredibly welcoming and that it was just my nerves getting the better of me.
Kerstin Reichert, SEO Digital Marketing Manager at fintech Tide
Breaking into the industry
I always knew I wanted to work in Digital Marketing, which was fairly new when I was a student. So new, that there wasn’t even a University degree on the topic. So while I studied Business and Finance, after graduating I started working at a tech company and learned about all things Digital Marketing. SEO just happened to be my favorite channel to work on as it covered many different areas from being creative to being very technical.
I never saw it as anything related to gender. It was only later on that I found there was quite a big gap to be filled. Mainly when I started going to conferences looking for peers and speakers I could relate to.
As general advice, I’d say do what you are passionate about and don’t worry about the “norm”.
Things have changed a lot over the past 10 years or so that I’ve been in the industry and I can see event lineups and teams are getting more diverse.
My personal challenge was not feeling amongst my peer group when going to events or participating in conversations online. I often felt like I had to prove myself more and work at least twice as hard to be recognized.
When speaking at conferences I sometimes felt out of place and on a few occasions, it was difficult to ignore inappropriate comments. But likewise, I did encounter a lot of support and encouragement from men and women alike.
And I believe that this is where your opportunity lies. Reach out to people, make connections, friends, and allies, lift each other up. Things are so much easier when you have the support and vice versa support someone else. You will feel empowered and when in doubt you’ll have someone to talk things through.
Personally, I will forever be thankful to Areej AbuAli for starting Women in Tech SEO, an amazing community for women (not only) in SEO. A judgment-free zone where we can learn, teach, mentor, and just generally support each other. I’d highly recommend joining.
The good thing about SEO is, that there isn’t only one way to get there. It touches a broad number of disciplines and many different backgrounds and past experiences are beneficial. I’d say you have to be creative yet analytical and technical, be able to continuously learn and adapt.
Getting started launching your own projects is a great way to learn, from setting up a website to implementing analytics and creating content, trying to get your website to rank, you will learn a lot. There are great resources from Google you can get started with such as any learning material around Google Analytics and Google Search Central as well as the Google Quality Rater Guidelines.
I’d also recommend meeting people in the industry, going to events and building your network, and possibly finding a mentor (for example by joining the Women in Tech SEO group 😊). Workwise specialized agencies tend to be a great place to learn, work on plenty of different projects, and enhance your skills. If you are looking for an in-house role I’d make sure there are other people in the team that can support you and you can learn from.
If you find it hard to get a job in SEO with no prior experience you can always try to volunteer for a charity and get some experience that way and build your portfolio. Ultimately, your motivation and eagerness to keep learning and testing new things will help you reach whatever goal you may have in SEO.
Ameera Muhammad, SEO Specialist at Youtech
I broke into this industry about 3 years ago to nurture my drive for marketing. I have a fascination with creative visionaries, like Steve Jobs, and how he was involved in every aspect of building Apple and its products.
In that time there were a few learning curves to understand what makes a great SEO specialist. On this journey, I have experienced challenges, most definitely because I’m a woman and a woman of color.
But, I’m grateful that there were wonderful people who helped and encouraged me in my career along the way. I’ve had some great leadership/bosses that understood how to effectively lead a team and not judge an employee based on gender or anything else.
Kristina Azarenko, Founder of MarketingSyrup and creator of the SEO Challenge course
Breaking into the industry
I love the SEO industry a lot. Since the first day, I’ve been passionate about helping websites rank, businesses get more traffic and sales, and also about investigating and solving technical SEO issues.
I never thought that I needed permission to do it or to choose the industry where I wanted to work.
So my passion for SEO empowers me to stay in the industry and grow with it. I’ve also met many incredible people in this industry that I’m grateful for!
I think the main challenges for me were:
- Not getting promoted when I knew I deserved it
- Starting my career in SEO from scratch when I moved from Belarus to Canada 3 years ago
- Starting my own SEO consultancy after working full time for about 1.5 years in Canada. I had no connections, no clients. I just knew it’d work. And it did work pretty well. I surpassed my full-time income in the first year in business, started to share my knowledge with others, and even released the SEO Challenge Course.
But I still think that the biggest challenges I’ve faced were inside: doubt, feeling like an imposter, fear. I believe that conquering these feelings was the key to my success.
My tip is easy: just do it! After all, you have nothing to lose. It’s always great to have SEO skills under your belt even if you end up doing something else like copywriting, paid ads, etc.
Lily Ray, SEO Director at Path Interactive
I have been fortunate throughout my career to avoid major discrimination based on my gender, thanks to amazing, open-minded bosses and mentors. I know other women have not been as lucky, which is infuriating, and I’m very happy that the industry is evolving to address this issue head-on.
I remember being in my early 20s sitting in the room with the C-level, usually male executives at my client’s companies. I was terrified, but once I started making specific, data-driven SEO recommendations, they seemed to get over the fact that I was a very young woman. They only cared that I had the skills they needed to get the job done. I honed these skills by having side projects and experiments where I learned how to do SEO from start to finish.
I did the necessary research to learn how to build websites, test various tools and plugins, implement everything myself, monitor the results, etc.
This hands-on experience gave me the knowledge that set me apart, and I think it was what was appealing to my bosses and clients. In SEO, your gender, age, race, or sexuality are not what matters; what matters is getting results.
If you can teach yourself the skills necessary to move the needle, you can put yourself in a stronger position to become an asset to your company. Don’t wait for someone to teach you. Go try things, break things, search for the solution to the problem. Luckily, all of the information you need to succeed in SEO is available for free online.
Sherry Bonnelli, Owner of Early Bird Digital Marketing and Google My Business Gold Product Expert
Breaking into the industry
My “break” into the SEO industry was more unconventional than most. I spent 15+ years in the “traditional” technology publishing industry–working for companies like McGraw-Hill, so I’ve always been fascinated by technology. When the Internet first became popular, the publishers I worked for were among the first to publish books about various topics relating to the Internet, HTML, and creating websites. That’s what really piqued my interest in the Internet.
I really got started in SEO in 1998 after I had my first child. I invented a product and decided to set up a website to sell it. PayPal had just launched, so I was grateful for a way to collect money online. (Even though customers were TERRIFIED to enter their credit card numbers into a computer in those days.) In fact, my very first sale was a physical check that I received in the mail! I realized that I needed to add more products to my e-commerce site’s inventory, so I got a resale license and added more products. My site took off!
Selling pregnancy and baby products, my site was at the top of search engines like Alta Vista, Excite, Lycos, and Infoseek. But I knew that if it dropped in rankings, we would literally be out of business overnight – with a spare bedroom full of inventory.
So I learned everything I could about Search Engine Optimization. It became an obsession of mine. I bought every book I could find on the topic, read every article online, and was probably one of Danny Sullivan’s first dedicated followers. I didn’t actually break into the search industry, I fell into the industry out of necessity–and it became a passion.
Since I’ve been in the industry so long, I’ve never really thought about it being a mostly “men’s” field. The first time that thought even entered my mind was when I came off stage after speaking at Traffic & Conversion Summit the first time.
A woman came up to me and told me that my presentation was the best one that she’d been to so far. And then she said, “I wish there were more women speakers.” That gave me pause. But if anyone knows me, they know my strong will and that I consider myself on an equal playing ground with anyone in the industry. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. Some SEOs are better in some areas than others…and we all learn from each other. That’s the beauty of being an SEO.
The challenge SEOs face is that our industry is always changing and evolving. Nothing ever stays the same. Keeping on top of the algorithm changes, what’s working now and what’s not is crucial to surviving and doing the best work for your clients.
I focus heavily on local SEO, so keeping up with Google My Business and local SEO strategies is particularly important. Becoming a Google My Business Gold Product Expert has really helped me become even more knowledgeable about GMB. I now have a 400+ page GMB “cheat sheet” document that I’m constantly updating for GMB updates, new features, changes to terms of service, adding new screenshots to show examples, etc.
If a gal, or a guy, is interested in SEO, I would say that the best way to get started is to just START. Find a good beginners guide (Moz and Search Engine Land each have one) and dig into them. Go step by step.
Work with a local business that you know or do SEO on your own website and utilize the strategies you learn and see how those tactics help the site bring in more customers, get more calls, increase traffic, improve the time people stay on your site, check rankings, etc. Also, it’s helpful to know a little HTML and the basics of using WordPress.
Unfortunately, few colleges teach SEO courses, and if they do, they teach a lot of theory and not much hands-on work. Search Engine Optimization is down and dirty. It’s all about the details. There are ups and downs. But if you like solving puzzles and an ever-changing environment, SEO is a great career to get into!
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