Roundup: Women in SEO Discuss Diversity and Give Advice

Roundup: Women in SEO Discuss Diversity and Give Advice

I was recently asked why I thought men held higher paid jobs in the digital marketing industry for a roundup on Linkarati. Even though there is a gender gap according to Moz’s industry survey, I’ve never felt my gender affected my career or position at WebpageFX. As a matter of fact, 56% of WebpageFX employees are females, with our leadership team as equally split between genders.

But I know WebpageFX is not the norm, so I took this question to the top.

I asked seven women in digital marketing if they ever felt their gender presented any challenges to their career, as well as what advice they would give to other women in the SEO industry. In addition, these amazing women also shared what sets them apart as one of the top women in SEO.


1) Do you feel your gender has presented any challenges to your career?

My answer to this one probably won’t be popular, but I have no problem speaking my mind. I personally have never once felt that my gender has presented a challenge in my career.

In regard to status, I have never personally felt like being a woman hindered me or my ability to build a reputation. Now, I have seen being a mom put extra challenges on women when it comes to building a reputation within the industry – in regards to some having less ability to travel (and thus speak at conferences, etc.) and less time to spend on building a reputation because they’re also running a household in addition to doing the work from a career standpoint. I’m not saying it can’t be done – I think I’m proof that it can.

But, I was a single mom for many years. I had to make choices and my choices were to travel despite it meaning my kids would be with a sitter while I was gone. In the early days, I averaged 4-5 hours of sleep a night to get it all done. As my income grew, I hired help like house cleaners and 9-5 nanny. I was the sole income – I didn’t really have a choice if I wanted to be financially stable. Not every mom needs or wants to choose the path that I chose – and they’re not “right” or “wrong” for doing so. But as far as “being a woman” in regards to being taken seriously, I’ve never felt my wearing a bra created a negative experience in my career.

In regard to salary – I was an affiliate most of my career. The beauty of being one is that my income didn’t have anything to do with my gender – if I sent traffic and sales, I got paid. But, I also was never shy about asking for higher commissions either. If I sent you a lot of sales, I wanted more money. If you didn’t want to give me more money, I’d send those sales to your competitors who were willing to increase my commissions to have me send them your sales. It was as simple as that.

As an agency owner, I set my pay and I definitely don’t discriminate against myself for being a woman. But I don’t feel being a woman has an effect on what I am able to charge clients either. I know what I do is valuable, and based on conversations I have with my male colleagues, I’m able to set prices that are equal or higher than those charged by agencies led by men. But, I’m confident in my skills. I’m confident in the value my agency provides. And I’m confident in the prices I set. And I have made some sacrifices to build a reputation that backs up my pricing.

Have I ever experienced a chauvinist? Absolutely. But I choose not to work with, involve myself with or define myself by those idiots.

2) What advice would you give to women in SEO?

I’d give them much of the same advice I’d give to men. Learn your trade, learn it well and never stop learning it. Have confidence in yourself – and when you have your moments of doubt, as everyone does, keep it behind closed doors. If you want something – be it a speaking slot or a specific client or a raise at your agency – go after it. Don’t wait for life to hand you things because you’ll be standing around with empty hands. And never, ever let someone else’s opinion of you or treatment of you determine your own self worth or where you can go. Male, female, gay, straight, white black, alien, purple – I’m a firm believer in us being in control of where we end up in life (and thus our career).

3) What do you do that sets you apart as an SEO?

I think that answer has changed a lot over the course of my career. In the early days, I was one of the more vocal women in the industry when the ratio of women to men was much starker than it is these days. Despite being a career affiliate, I’d always been more visible in the SEO community than the affiliate one because SEO was the only way I promoted my affiliate sites. IMHO promoting an affiliate site is a bit more difficult than promoting a brand site when it comes to SEO – and I was one of the earlier advocates for producing affiliate sites that *were* brands as a result. Despite now running an agency, I’m still in the “trenches” and I probably always will be – I still own and promote my own affiliate sites.

I also think my length of time in the industry is an asset that not everyone has. I’ve watched Google – and their algorithm – innovate, change and toughen from the beginning. I think SEOs who’ve had that advantage are somewhat more likely to have more insight onto where Google is going, versus where they are “right now.”

The one thing about me that has stayed constant – and I think one of the larger things that made me unique as an individual in the industry – is that I call it like I see it. I’ve got no problem speaking my mind or being controversial if I think that’s what needs to be done.

Rae Hoffman, AKA Sugarrae, is the CEO of PushFireFind her on Twitter @sugarrae.

1) Do you feel your gender has presented any challenges to your career?

Oh my god! YES!  (Did I just begin a paragraph with “Oh my god”?)

For a website to be successful in the long term, everyone on the team has his/her role. We have to use a common vocabulary to communicate effectively.

Here is how techie guys often treat me: just because I don’t remember a specific server response code does not cancel out my education, experience, and knowledge in SEO and human/computer interfaces.

As I mentioned before, I have an unusual skill set. I have technical skills as well as usability and human factors skills. I served on the Board of Directors of the Information Architecture Institute (IAI) and the User Experience Professionals Association (UXPA). My doctoral work is in human and computer interfaces. I work in academia and the business world.

I dislike when technical people (usually men) “pretend” to know human factors, usability, user experience, or information architecture. I am not likely to sit there with my hands neatly folded across my lap. If you know these topics? I am going to want you to show me and the team what you know.

2) What advice would you give to women in SEO?

I would give the same advice that I have been giving a colleague, Dana Lookadoo, who is healing from a bike accident.

I used to be handicapped due to knee injury. I had to re-learn how to walk 3x. And my motto? Step 1 is better than Step 0.

In this industry, there will be a lot of Step 1s. Take that first step. Don’t let anyone hold you back. Search engine optimization is optimizing digital documents for people who use search engines. It requires so much knowledge: technical and human factors knowledge. Pick the areas that interest you. Then take those first steps…you won’t regret it.

3) What do you do that sets you apart as an SEO?

What sets me apart as an SEO professional is my education, experience, and diversity…particularly my diversity.

I have been a search engine optimization “expert” since 1995. My area of specialty is search-engine friendly website design, since I began my web career as a designer/developer. From the outset, back in 1995, I have designed search-engine friendly websites.

I introduced the concept of Web search usability to the SEO industry. I’d love to say that I introduced SEO to the information architecture industry, but I can’t. Search has been a part of information architecture for quite some time.

I understand the technical side of SEO as well as the human (searcher) side of SEO. Very few SEO professionals have my skill combination: design/development, usability, information architecture, searcher behaviors.

So even if you haven’t heard of me personally, believe me, almost everyone in the SEO industry has been influenced by my research and work since 1995.

Shari Thurow is the Founder and SEO Director of Omni Marketing Interactive and the author of the books Search Engine Visibility and When Search Meets Web Usability. Find her on Twitter @sharithurow.


1) Do you feel your gender has presented any challenges to your career?

I own an agency so certainly no one there is going to be silly enough to treat me poorly because I’m a woman. Like any woman, I’ve had a few instances where I thought that I’d have been treated differently if I were a man but I’m happy to say they are few and far between.

2) What advice would you give to women in SEO?

I’d give them the same advice I’d give males probably, and that’s to learn everything you can, ask questions, and admit when you need help. I do think that society encourages women to have a “go along, get along” mentality more so than men; so for women, I’d say make sure you’re being heard when you need to be.

3) What do you do that sets you apart as an SEO?

While I would hope that everyone would be transparent about what they’re doing for clients, sadly, I know all too well that they aren’t. I make sure that each of my clients knows exactly what’s being done for them and that they’ve been advised of any potential risks. Every single month our clients know exactly what’s been done and how much money it cost them.

Julie Joyce is the Owner and Director of Operations at Link Fish Media and Str0ud. Julie is a co-founder and blogger at SEO Chicks. She is also a columnist at Search Engine Watch and Search Engine Land. Find her on Twitter @juliejoyce.


1) Do you feel your gender has presented any challenges to your career?

None whatsoever. My long term experience and success in providing clean and safe SEO has never deterred me. I have been with the same company,, for the last 13 years and status and salary was never an issue. Of course… everyone wants more money… but I am very happy with my salary, but most of all with the wonderful working relations with Ecombuffet staff. We are a ‘family,’ which makes it so much nicer to do work as we all get along.

2) What advice would you give to women in SEO?

My advice is to keep current with the ever changing world of SEO. Being a woman in the field will not deter you if you remain professional, have a wonderful track record and proof of your work making a difference for your clients. And use humor! Smile every day, and make sure if you’re having a bad hair day, your webcam is off.

3) What do you do that sets you apart as an SEO?

Humor! And lots of it. Clients dealing with SEO are confused enough with what they may read and hear. I do not use techie geeky talk when explaining issues with a client’s site and the SEO process. Good, plain, easy to understand talk is important. Relieve clients of fears and miss-conceptions as well as issues that may have destroyed their site positioning because they hired ‘cheap’, or believed a commercial they saw for fast, cheap, easy websites that promise top listings and they bought into it.

We offer everything a business or small site business needs to compete online. That makes our SEO services all encompassing. We keep communications open, we show them our work, we answer questions quickly for clients. But humor…a must for this business. I have been doing SEO for 15 years, and with all the changes along the way, if you don’t have a sense of humor, you can go batty.

Bonnie Burns is the Director of Search Engine Services at EcomBuffet. Find her on Twitter @Burnsie_SEO.


1) Do you feel your gender has presented any challenges to your career?

I’m asked this question at least once a year for 16+ years. And my answer is always the same: I’ve never faced any challenges. If anything, my male colleagues have always been very kind, generous and respectful. Many of the “old guard” guys in SEO are like my big brothers.

I do know that my situation is not necessarily universal and other women have had different experiences. Maybe it’s because I started my career in the late 90’s, so I’ve “grown up” with the SEO old guard. Maybe I’ve just been lucky. I’m not sure. I do know that I’ve always been able to go for anything I’ve wanted and my gender has never been an issue.

2) What advice would you give to women in SEO?

My advice is to find a mentor. I wish I would have done this early on in my career, but we were all flying by the seat of our pants back then. It’s wonderful to get honest feedback and advice from someone you trust and is focused on your success. Especially when you feel alone, confused and like nobody else is going through the same thing you are (and yes, you will feel this way). It may take some time to find the right person, but the process is well worth it.

3) What do you do that sets you apart as an SEO?

Good question. I’m not even sure how much I’d consider myself an “SEO.” Sure, I have SEO skills – but I focus 100% on SEO content writing and training. So, I look at campaigns through more of a writer’s/marketer’s lens.

My firm’s perspective and unique skill set is actually the big thing that sets us apart. When I train an in-house team, I’m not only teaching them SEO writing skills – but I’m also showing them how to be better web writers. It’s not about “here’s what to do for Google.” It’s “here’s how you can write this in a way that increases your conversion rates and builds trust.”  Or “I know you’re used to writing for print, but here’s what needs to be done for the online reader.” It’s very fun. 🙂

Heather Lloyd-Martin is the founder of SuccessWorks and was voted one of 2012’s Top Women in SEO. Find her on Twitter @heatherlloyd.


1) Do you feel your gender has presented any challenges to your career?

I would say I’ve faced more challenges related to not becoming the office “dumping ground” for miscellaneous tasks. There is an important, though difficult-to-strike, balance between “always willing to help” and “always expected to stay late.” I’m still figuring that one out.

Also, so many studies have shown that women undersell themselves and internalize their accomplishments. Don’t do that to yourself. Practice speaking up about the work you do and keep a “wins” folder where you can easily store and retrieve great things you’ve done for the company.

2) What advice would you give to women in SEO?

If you haven’t already, try your hand at public speaking! It’s a great way to help legitimize yourself in the industry.

If public speaking is not your strong suit, begin small: target those events which speak to your expertise, and begin by appearing on a panel or giving a lightning talk.

3) What do you do that sets you apart as an SEO?

As the SEMrush blog manager, a lot of my job revolves around editing. This includes the body of a post and the all-important headline.

I think my journalism background has served me well in this regard. I’m always the one in the office striking down unnecessary capitalization, rewriting copy, and tweaking content to make it more SEO-friendly. While you want to write for a human audience, it’s amazing how a small change can impact the visibility of a post, and therefore reach your intended readers.

Kathleen Garvin is the Director of Content Development at SEMrush. She also assists with event planning and marketing initiatives. Kathleen is a contributing writer for I Want Her Job, and her writing has appeared in The Huffington Post and Philadelphia Daily News, among others. Find her on Twitter @Kathleen_Garvin and Google+.

Mary Mattar

1) Do you feel your gender has presented any challenges to your career?

I haven’t personally experienced any challenges due to my gender. I’ve been fortunate enough to spend my SEO career thus far in a company with a great culture that respects everyone equally, even other places I’ve worked have been the same way.

While I don’t believe there is a gender bias from my personal experience, if you do feel that way, just remember you are in the position you are because you earned it and you wouldn’t have been hired if your boss(es) didn’t trust you to do your job and/or come up with innovative ideas that drive results.

2) What advice would you give to women in SEO?

My advice to women is to be confident in your knowledge and abilities!

The best thing you can do is continue to read books and articles, stay on top of this ever-evolving industry (because it changes A LOT!) and hone your technical skills. There are tons of great resources you can use to your advantage. Then try new ideas out that you read about and see if they work on your site (or your clients’ sites). The more you educate yourself, the better SEO you are going to be. Also, don’t be afraid to take risks. The more risks you take, the better your results are going to be.

3) What do you do that sets you apart as an SEO?

I’m always willing and never afraid to offer my opinion when I know what I’m talking about and I believe my suggestions are valid. Why would your boss or clients hire you if they didn’t think you could make great decisions and suggestions and implement them well?

When working with my clients, my #1 priority is them. I will do whatever it takes to make sure they know how important they are and how much I value their business. I make every effort to respond as quickly as possible. I have a rule for myself, I don’t leave for the day until any and all client’s emails have been addressed (if nothing else, at least with a response acknowledging I received their email and I am working on their requests).

Strategically, I’d say, while certainly not groundbreaking, it all comes back to content and analytics for me. One of my favorite (there are tons of faves for me!) things to do is review analytics and perform competitor analysis/research to come up with great content ideas whether for blog posts or new webpages that will provide valuable content for my client’s visitors while providing additional SEO benefit. I really try to become their user/customer and determine what I would like to see if I was a potential buyer on their site, along with the data to back it up, and then go from there when developing new page/content ideas.

Mary Mattar is an Internet Marketing Manager at WebpageFX. Find her on Twitter @strawberymary

Thank you to all the women who participated in our roundup! Now we would love to hear your thoughts about diversity in the workplace. Have you come across challenges in the internet marketing industry because of your gender? If so, what did you do? We welcome any and all comments about this topic.

header image via (CC)

  • Bonnie Burns

    Thanks for including me in this fine group of SEO professional women.

  • sharithurow

    Thanks for including me as well. Having a VERY difficult time believing that I am the only person who has faced gender issues. Mental filing under SEO B.S.


  • Nicole Kohler

    Shari, thanks for being part of this roundup! I think that many people within our industry have faced gender-related issues, but they may not necessarily be aware of them, or are reluctant to talk about them. In this case, the women we chose for our roundup have had varied and diverse experiences, and I feel we’re lucky to have them all represented here. Our apologies if you felt this post indicated that there’s no problem, or that you are the only one — that certainly wasn’t (and never will be) our intention, not at all.

    BTW, have you seen this fabulous Moz piece on welcoming women into online marketing? It’s garnered some criticism, and some “why do we need this?” questioning, but it really is, in my opinion, worth a read.

    Thanks again!

  • sharithurow

    The Moz article was okay. Not overly impressed.

    I am a scientist. I am a biologist (specifically microbiology, genetics, an evolutionary biology). I am also a human/computer interaction scientist. I also spent years studying Japanese religion, classical and modern literature, culture, and mythology.

    I experienced extreme gender bias in all of those fields. Had you chosen women with more scientific backgrounds, maybe you’d have different answers.

    No woman should be afraid to tell her truth about gender bias experience.