Inspired by a huge gender-related discussion on Inbound.org this summer, I sought out to interview several mystical, rare creatures: fellow women in SEO.
While this number is staggeringly low, it is pretty par for the course for STEM statistics overall; In 2010, only 15% of all computer science undergraduates at Stanford University were female (TL;DR: We beat Stanford!)
Interested in what SEO and CM industry members had to say, I emailed seven women with personalized questions about their experiences. I am extremely appreciative of these people for their participation and thrilled to share the results with you.
Beth Anderson (@JadeEJF)
Content Specialist at Content Harmony
1. If it’s not on Inbound.org, where do you like to focus your communication efforts when talking about SEO and content marketing (along with other things you “nerd out” about)?
In particular, the Content Strategy Meetup, Distilled Live, and Content Harmony’s events have been great (I know, I’m tooting our own horn, but I really enjoyed our last set of speakers! Cyrus and Isla are wicked smart, and I didn’t even have to leave our building). Online, I spend probably too much time on Twitter, but I also try to set aside time for Max Minzer’s MaxImpact Hangouts, which have been beyond helpful in making me feel less isolated and helping hone my skills simply by listening to a lot of really smart people. I also keep an eye out for Portent’s webinars, because I think they have a lot of fantastic ideas and a really great team.
2. Based on the description of the company, and in your own bio, Content Harmony is clearly focused on achieving a sense of balance. How do you strive to achieve balance in your own life — between personal and professional obligations?
Finding balance is one of the things I struggle with, and have pretty much ever since I had my second daughter – I didn’t find it hard to manage with just one kid, but our kids are only 15 months apart, so I didn’t have much time to adjust to parenting before I was parenting two
With a second kid, it’s almost exponentially harder to do everything – if you’re working, you have twice as little time to do “me” stuff (and twice as many possibilities for being out with a sick kid). I’m an extrovert, so my “me time” usually involves being out of house, which is hard to balance with the needs of the introverted half of my family. And in content marketing, there’s a fair amount of time needed for education and networking at meetups and conferences, which can be tough to find time for! So, trying to balance the needs of my family, my work at Content Harmony, and my “me-time” is always a juggling act.
Fortunately, I’ve managed to work out a position for myself here at Content Harmony where things are pretty flexible, and I really appreciate that Kane’s set up his business in a way that allows me to be able to find that balance, whether it’s working from home when my kid is sick or allowing me to come in a little later than I would if I didn’t have to get two kids fed, dressed and into daycare on the other side of the city! It’s also worth noting that I have to lean pretty hard on my husband from time to time to manage the kids while I’m trying to manage professional obligations (and it can really be a juggling act because we only have one car, so there have been some crazy nights where we’re switching cars downtown while I’m running to get to a Distilled meetup before he needs to pick up the kids before 6 p.m.!).
I also try pretty hard to combine efforts whenever possible – Seattle is a great city for professional education opportunities, and I fully admit to using them to get some of my “me-time.” I do what I can to really make the most of everything. It often feels like burning the candle at both ends, but my perspective really shifted when I read this blog post from Mackenzie Fogelson, and I keep it filed away for days when I feel like I’m going to go crazy. That and a little stand-up paddle yoga from time to time, and I manage most of the time!
3. We at Ghergich & Co. are big fans of infographics done well. You mention a love of the same in your bio — do you have any stories about infographic promotion working out fantastically in your own experience? (Or terribly? Hah.)
Yes!! We have a client who’s a solar panel installer, and while it’s not the most sexy graphic in the world, we created an infographic explaining the tax credits and incentives available to state residents who are looking into purchasing solar – it can be a little hard to navigate. The outreach for that went better than expected, and paved the way for our release of a followup piece of content. Between both campaigns, we made it into several regional newspapers, and GreenTechMedia, which was picked up by the Huffington Post. I was so excited that I called my mom. But she didn’t know what Huffington Post was, so… hopefully you guys will be excited about that for me instead!
Lisa Barone (@LisaBarone)Vice President of Strategy at Overit
1. I have been very intrigued by your passion for helping companies find their voice and their vulnerability. Could you go into a bit of detail on why you feel that this is a crucial part of marketing?
Oh man, this is such a loaded question for someone like me. I don’t think you know the importance of something until you’ve had to live without it. For me, as a stutterer, that was always my voice. When it’s easier to let others silence you or to make assumptions about you, sometimes you do. And you don’t realize what you’ve given up until it’s too late and you’re so far backed into that corner you’re not sure how to get it back.
But brands go through this same fight. Whether it’s fighting legal for the right to have a voice at all or balancing the brand’s core tenets with the needs of their audience – brands are in a similar position and it’s just as vital for them. To relate to your audience and to allow them to relate to you, you have to show them who you are. You have to reclaim that voice marketing and PR and legal told you didn’t “work” for the brand. That’s part of what I get to do at Overit – brand messaging – and it’s so exciting for me to give brands back that power they didn’t have before. Because I know how powerful it was for me.
And I’m not going to turn this chat into a Lifetime movie. That’s it. I promise.
2. If you were magically awarded the power to create your dream community for folks in SEO to connect and engage with one another, what would that look like?
Oh gosh, it would probably involve taking us all back to our avatar forms where no one knows one another’s real name, gender, title, employer or any other identifying information. And you wouldn’t be able to vote for content or get “points” for participation. Basically, it’d be a bar where everyone could just share thoughts and experiences and insight without that other context. So, like what happens at conferences after the sessions are over.
I think the hard part about SEO communities is that they’re intimidating to new people because they’re so brand- and name-driven. It silences new voices and supports established voices, regardless of what anyone is actually saying. It’s often not even the fault of the community, it just happens.
3. If you feel comfortable, could you elaborate on your feelings regarding the term ‘Inbound’ and why you dislike it?
A company with a vetted interested created a name for something marketers were already doing and tried to profit off it. That’s my inherent “meh” about the term.
Rhea Drysdale (@Rhea)
CEO of Outspoken Media
1. On the Inbound.org discussion, you mentioned the gendered split on sites like Pinterest/Facebook vs. sites with social voting mechanisms. Why do you think this exists? How can people in our industry pay attention to this gendered aspect?
Rather than speculating, let’s take this to the source. Reddit’s founders are aware of the inappropriate reception women receive on the social voting site. There’s a great interview with the co-founders here. Unfortunately, a single “SRS” (Shit Reddit Says) subreddit where the issue can be brought up doesn’t go far in curing the site of it’s male-dominated, anonymous subculture who regularly contribute comments that range from sexist to blatant sexual harassment. The majority of Reddit users aren’t women, so there isn’t a balance to the conversation. Where the audience of Reddit is 74% men, Pinterest is 72% women (as of June 2012 data), so there’s just as much of an imbalance there.
I have my assumptions about why each gender prefers these sites, but haven’t found much research on the subject outside of usage and demographic data. What’s obvious from a recent study by The Social Habit is that women are more visual and prefer a site where the emphasis is on sharing versus up-voting. Women tend to be aspirational and motivational while men want to simply bookmark something for a very literal interpretation of a pre/post-purchase.
My belief is that women simply don’t want to compete through social media. This doesn’t apply to every woman on the planet, but for the vast majority, I believe they’re more likely to be motivated through a shared appreciation or support for a specific interest. Women want to connect. As an industry, we should be looking for ways to bring women together to support each other. We should be soliciting shared experiences if we want to engage more women through social media. Asking questions about how we survived something (thinking back to my recent new mom experience) and what recommendations others can share versus trying to one-up each other with an impressive new tool or API mashup.
We can learn as much from this “softer” conversation as we can from competing for thought leadership through technical knowledge. While I wasn’t at Mozcon 2013, I heard that Brittan Bright gave a great presentation on this exact subject as it relates to relationship building.
2. This summer, you returned to work after maternity leave. How has the transition been? Any advice or suggestions, whether for future parents OR – perhaps more interesting – for coworkers of those parents?
I’m not going to lie, it was exceptionally difficult. I wrote about the preparation process on the Outspoken Media blog recently and received an incredibly positive response. It was amazing to see the number of emails and personal messages from men and women alike. Everyone saw something in that post that challenged a belief or a process they use today. That was my goal—make this struggle teachable.
Parenthood is difficult and the actual labor and recovery process (for me at least) was the most painful experience of my life; I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. I thought I would bounce back to work in a couple weeks, but it took almost eight weeks before I had the physical, emotional, and mental stamina to sit in an office for eight hours again. I’ve heard from other parents that I had an unusually difficult labor, but that’s the only experience I have, so for now the best advice I can give is that you need to prepare for the worst.
Shit happens. Don’t let it catch you unprepared. Fortunately, I had done the work and we have an amazing team in place who tackled the day-to-day. Not only did the company survive my leave, it thrived and it positioned us for an exciting period of growth. Now we just need more team members and I’m happy to give them the support they need when life hits them
3. What have you learned through your experience with Women in Technology International (WITI)?
I joined back in 2009 when we wanted to start the process to become a certified, woman-owned business. I don’t believe that we should land contracts simply because the business is owned by a woman, but I recognize there are benefits to having the certification and finding mentors who have faced similar situations. Generally, I prefer mentors from any background when it comes to business development, organizational development, visioning, management, and the industry, but there are times when you just need a good cup of coffee with another woman in your shoes. Is that sexist? Perhaps, but if the industry embraced connecting with others over the aforementioned technical abilities we seem to put on a pedestal, then maybe we could connect professionally without the gender issue.
1. After looking at the extensive list of ventures you’ve founded/cofounded/owned/etc., I immediately told my boss AJ that I’m never allowed to say I’m “super busy” again. Have you always had an entrepreneurial spirit? (Did you own franchises of lemonade stands as a kid?)
I’ve always liked being in charge. Haha. Joking aside, no, I was never the kid with the lemonade stand. But I was always the kid that had to figure things out on my own and do things myself. I entered the foster care system in my very early teens and left the system right after I turned 17. I’ve been on my own ever since. I think my entrepreneurial spirit comes mostly from the fact that the only way I’ve ever gotten anything in my life is if I went out and got it for myself. When the time came that I had to ensure that not only my wants and needs were covered, but also my son’s (and then my other children) there was no room for fear, excuses or doubt. I had to make the decision to swing for the fences and keep doing so. Turns out being an entrepreneur is something I truly love.
2. Plenty of articles have advised SEO folks to make/stick to an editorial calendar, which seems not to be your style. Do you have another process for generating post ideas, or do they just come to you without much coaxing?
I think an editorial calendar definitely works for a multi author blog and it can also work for individuals, depending on the topic. For me personally, I don’t have the ability to hammer out a really useful post every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday as an individual blogger. I’m busy doing the things that I’m blogging about. I try to only post when I actually have something to say that I think will be helpful to my readers (or because I feel the need to rant about something).
I generate post ideas in various ways – and for various reasons (traffic, revenue, exposure, etc). The rants are never “generated” with any process – they merely happen when something sets me off. I (honestly) review products or services that I know would solve a problem for members of my audience. I use Ubersuggest to find topics people search Google to find information about and provide that information if I think I can in a way that is different or better than has already been done (I discuss that more in depth here.) I love sharing result based posts that discuss various things I’ve done in online marketing (that I know my readers would be interested in) that have been successful in achieving various objectives. My favorite posts to do however are the ones surrounding my experiences as an entrepreneur, but those topics come to me much like those in my rants category (random inspiration).
3. Your up-front, Take Me As I Am (dare I say, “ovaries-out”?) approach is hilarious and inspiring to many people in the industry. Are you ever approached by more timid voices asking for advice on speaking up? Alternately, has it pissed anyone off lately?
Ha. Usually people infer it’s another pair of anatomical items I technically don’t have. I very rarely get timid voices asking me for advice. I can only imagine how people who are more timid in nature view me, but I’d guess it is in a way that would make them wary of approaching me. I’m blunt, speak my mind, don’t take any shit and stand behind my convictions. Some look at those traits and as a woman that makes me a bitch. As a man to those same people that would probably make me a force. For me, I just am who I am. Life is way too short to be who other people want me to be or expect me to be.
I’ve come to accept that my personality is going to piss people off at times. And I have no doubt my candidness has lost me some business over the years. But, I also know it’s earned me business as well (and I believe it to be more than it’s ever lost me). You don’t have to guess whether what I’m saying is what I’m thinking. I’m pretty happy with both of those being one in the same.
1. I freaking LOVE your inbound.org discussion on the women of SEO and sincerely appreciate you posting it. In the time that has passed (after reading many, many thoughtful comments and a couple randoms about scrapbooking), how do you feel about the discussion that occurred, and what do you think the future can hold for gender equality in the SEO industry?
The discussion that happened on Inbound.org was really amazing. I was so happy to see lots of people join in, both men and women. One of the interesting things that came out of that conversation was actually the UI issues that popped up. I had previously mentioned to Ed Fry, the GM of Inbound, that I felt that design was a bit of a blocker for women. That it was a bit too masculine. A number of people said the same thing and they brought up other UX items like navigation, the login button, and general functionality that hindered them from using the site.
The point that stood out the most though, was that many of the women said they simply had too much to do every day, that they didn’t have time to spend more time somewhere else. I can completely understand this, and in fact wondered if that was the case when I first asked the question.
Another area that came up was that when we talk about equality in general, it’s really more than just a good gender balance; it’s ensuring that our community is truly diverse. This means working hard to make sure conferences have female speakers, but also non-white speakers, people with disabilities, and folks from different countries. I know it’s difficult, and I’m not a fan of having a “woman speak just to have a woman speak.” You definitely want the best of the best, but sometimes you have to reach out and do the footwork to find those people.
2. I read your “Cover Letter” post. I, too, have been addicted to the web for a long ass time. How does SEO – and working at Moz – play into your web addiction? How have your past web explorations (development, IRC chatting, etc.) shaped this path that brought you to SEO, if at all?
When I went to college, I loved to write and decided to get my degree in Journalism (with an emphasis in Public Relations). But I quickly realized that I didn’t *love* that work, what I really loved was the internet. Whether it was learning how to write HTML code, or chatting with my friends in Mexico and Costa Rica over IRC, or creating my first weblog (remember when they were called that), I loved the “world wide web.” Once I realized this, I was able to find my first full time position as a web developer, and for ten years, that’s the path I went down.
It was weird though, while I loved my job as a developer, it wasn’t necessarily my passion. I loved everything I did, from building a fully dynamic and functional CMS in ColdFusion back in 2002, to training clients, to managing a team of developers, to working with Business Analysts to create amazing products. But there was always something missing, it was the writing aspect.
Falling in love with SEO was quite natural for me, as it’s the perfect combination of my writing and technical skills. Working at Moz has proven to me that you can actually make money from your passion. As my role has changed from SEO Consultant (when I was originally hired) to Community Manager, to my current position of Director of Community (where I manage a team of Community Managers), my passion for the web has continued to increase.
3. How do you find balance between work-life and raising a family? Because it’s based online (and can therefore perhaps be done at home at least on occasion), does SEO become a somewhat easier profession for a working parent?
There’s this expectation that women need to be everything to everyone all the time. I’ve struggled with trying to be “wonder woman,” but it’s really not something any of us can do. Sure, having a job where I can work from home when I need to, is quite helpful. But the only way I can really make it all possible is to 1. have a husband who supports me and my career completely and for the past several years has stayed home with our daughter (she’s now ready for kindergarten, so he’s jumping back into working full time). 2. Work for a company that understands I can’t go to every networking event, or every conference, and I need to leave work at a reasonable hour so I can spend time with my family. Without these two major areas, I’d probably be a complete mess.
It’s tough for some women, because we want to do it all, we don’t want to *have* to rely on others. But the way I see it, it’s perfectly fine to get help from others, it just proves your human like everyone else.
We often see people like Marissa Mayer and Sheryl Sandberg, and think “wow, now those are women that really can do it all.” But they have a lot of help from other people, and they have the money to get the help. I am quite proud of my career and my family, and I work hard at keeping it all in balance (although I’m not sure I ever really find that perfect balance).
Dana DiTomaso (@DanaDiTomaso)
CEO of Kick Point
1. Kick Point uses some sexy parallax scrolling on its website: Do you see this type of design continuing to grow? How will SEO be able to adapt?
As for our website, we basically told Versett, “Make it different than the other websites in our field.” Which is exactly what they did and we think it’s awesome. SEO was certainly a challenge for the site. There isn’t a clear h1 like on most sites and we had to do some thinking on what it would be. I think SEO can keep up – as a field, we need to evolve past the technical concerns and link building into a total marketing plan, and our website is certainly hitting that mark for us.
2. Okay, you’re a woman, a geek, a lesbian, an entrepreneur, a freakin’ CANADIAN, possibly even a fellow FEMINIST… how do you incorporate your personal identities into a “professional” setting?
Oh, I’m definitely a feminist. No question there. I do spend a decent amount of time clarifying that “feminist” doesn’t mean “women are cooler than men” but “we should all be equal”. Some of this is in discussions around feminism and what that means to me, but also pointing out sexism in the industry and calling out women when they’re also being sexist. I’m not perfect but I try to advance equality in my day to day life.
As for the hats, I don’t feel that I wear different hats – there’s just one, the Dana hat. I haven’t had a situation where someone has been openly hostile to who I am, for which I know I’m quite lucky. I think it’s very interesting that more than half of our clients at Kick Point are female. Perhaps we resonate more with female clients? I’m frankly not sure. I’m sure that if a prospective client checked us out and didn’t agree with our politics in some way, they just wouldn’t get in touch, which is why we’re so open about who we are and what we’re like to work with.
3. You are working on an all-female team at Kick Point. Was that intentional in any way, in order to balance out the otherwise male-dominated industry?
I didn’t think “I’ll just have women at Kick Point!”, no. We joke that eventually we’ll embrace diversity and hire a man. It’s a concern that I want to make sure to have a balanced and diverse team – that means hiring men but also more people of colour. We just hired an Account Coordinator and out of 40 applications for the position, only 4 were from men. I wonder if men are hesitating to apply since we are all women.
Lauren Hall-Stigerts (@hallstigerts)
Marketing Consultant at Marketing Gal
1. I’ve noticed that SEO folks have come from a variety of different educational backgrounds. Did the business programs you attended provide you with adequate guidance for joining the working world? Was SEO covered in your classes at the time, or did you primarily learn it through hands-on experience outside of school?
Just to clarify where I’m coming from: my skills are in marketing communications. I know just enough SEO to be dangerous but I’ve never been an SEO.
I graduated from the University of Washington Bothell with my B.A. in Business Administration. That program was supportive of an aggressive career in corporate leadership–we were treated as though we would go on to receive our MBA although that was never my goal. We read so many Harvard Business Case Studies, ran so many business simulations, and delivered so many presentations that I was sure I was ready for anything.
Retrospectively, my education was steeped in academia that was building the neural pathways for critical business thinking but wasn’t necessarily tactical, hit-the-ground-running type stuff. I could sling general business lingo but my writing was stuck in long-form essay mode for a few years. I’ve had to break years of habits that worked great in a classroom setting but not in the online business world.
Listen, I know it’s cool right now in the startup world to knock the pursuit of a formal degree. And us college graduates might not have received a highly actionable online marketing education. But the education gave me the long-term mental tools to think critically, conduct research, and see things from multiple angles. I don’t regret it.
2. If I’m not mistaken, you started Marketing Gal Consulting by yourself in 2012 after years of working for other companies. How was the transition, and do you have any advice for other women who want to branch off on their own?
Oh hey, I conveniently have a slide deck all about this: Confessions of a Marketing Consultant.
I love being an independent online marketing consultant because of the variety of projects, the diversity of tasks, the rush of ultimate responsibility, and the flexibility.
I think the two biggest keys to my success so far have been:
- The relationships I’ve developed when I worked as an in-house marketer.
- My support network. I’m so lucky to have two fantastic mentors and a variety of talented friends from whom I can ask questions. I’ve never owned my own marketing business nor have I worked at an agency, so it’s been a steep and exciting learning curve.
Many people ask me how I did it because they want it for themselves. What’s stopping them: the fear of taking the leap.
You would be surprised at how many opportunities there are out there for people who aren’t afraid to try. And you know what? It’s okay to try it and decide it’s not for you. Just by the virtue that you started your own consulting gig will open so many new doors. The risk is far more minimal than you would expect.
The best piece of advice I can offer for those who want to be independent online marketers: start building and nurturing your network now. Not just potential clients – other online marketers, friends in complementary disciplines, people you respect. Offer to help them. They will never forget you.
3. In one of your comments on the Inbound.org discussion about women in SEO, you mentioned the need for women to step out of the “support” role and become more of a “leader”: What do you think can foster this transition, and do you actively try to consider yourself a leader or expert in the field?
A video of PR pro Sarah Evans inspired this comment. She mentioned in an interview how few women self-identify as experts in their field. It’s true – many women are comfortable in supporting roles instead of positioning themselves as leaders.
There’s nothing wrong with preferring a support role; you should go where your skills and passions take you. However, many of these women are smart leaders but don’t let others know it. There’s a line between confidence and cockiness. I’d like to see more women understand where that line is and step up to the plate – they deserve it!
Now is the time for me to take my own medicine. Although I’ve won a Toastmasters competition and I was known to give rousing business presentations in college, I’ve shied away from the stage and screen in my day job.
Part of it is because I’ve been busy just getting things done. (We’re all so damn busy, you know?) I’ve been thinking a lot about it the last several months: putting your voice out there needs to be prioritized – not relegated to the “when I have free time in six months” pile.
I’ve given a few presentations at local “unconferences” and had a few opportunities to do some impromptu speaking on Max Impact Hangouts (thank you, Max Minzer). I’ll be branching out and presenting to the University of Washington Web Council next month, and I most definitely need to be blogging more.
But self-identifying as an expert doesn’t mean you need to give presentations and write blog posts. You can do it within your one-on-one conversations – it’s all in how you present yourself and exhibit your skills.
*Illustration by Ghergich & Co.