My story with Dave, the kids, Cooper, VW's & rugby

Women in the SEO Industry

So this post isn’t going to be one complaining about how few women there are in SEO, or how hard it is for women to get into the male dominated SEO industry but more of an exploration as to why there aren’t that many women in SEO and is it a bad thing.

For starters I run a very male dominated company. For many years I ran Bronco as the only woman in the SEO team, doing much of the SEO work alongside Dave as well as managing the whole company. The only other woman that worked for Bronco at the time was Janet, part time in accounts. I’m not a girly girl by any stretch of the imagination and really do prefer an office full of guys than an office full of girls believe me! I used to manage a purchasing team, (pre Bronco) that had 10 women and 2 men and believe me it comes with its issues. It was only a few years ago that we employed Zoe who is now a lead SEO and Hannah who is part of our content team. Out of the 19 people that Bronco now employ there are still only a small percentage of women… 4 out of 19, so around 20%.

If you include myself in the SEO team.. as on a day to day basis I run the SEO team, manage all of the 30 or so SEO clients and deal with all the of new SEO enquiries that we get… then out of the 15 staff that work on the SEO there are 3 women (20%). We have tried over the years to rebalance the SEO team, especially with skilled on page and off page female SEO’s but have always struggled. So why is that?

Personally I believe that SEO isn’t a career for everyone, the same way that programming doesn’t fit with everyone. It’s a specific skill set that is required and the SEO work that we get involved with can be pretty technical, dealing with fixing source code and server set up issues. This I feel requires a certain mind-set that woman aren’t necessarily at comfort with, maybe differences in the way our brains are set up or just the lack of encouragement at school level to go into a technical discipline. For me when I went to Uni back in 1993 Google didn’t even exist and the internet was only just in its infancy. I remember the fear when I had to hand my first Uni assignment in as an electronic typed document, double spaced in a specific font and to me who had never done anything with computers or word processing at school this was a daunting task. I never thought at the time while doing my Management degree that I’d end up running a very successful technical company. Many of the best SEO’s are self taught with an interest in coding as the basis and these tend to be the best, the ones with the passion and drive for results. Often the best SEO’s have already run their own websites and got their own rankings so know what is achievable. Many women just don’t get the opportunity or have the desire to do this given their education.

Again personally I love the male dominated industry but would like to know more about the woman out there and their experiences as to how they got started. Where are they all hiding? There are some women SEO’s that I know who have a high profile in the industry, perhaps blog or speak at conferences, but there must be more woman who maybe are inhouse or part of an agency team who just get on with the job and get the same excitement that I do when you look at rankings or check out the latest Google algorithm change. I have often been asked to speak at conferences given my knowledge of SEO and the industry and I’d rather be a bit behind the scenes and let Dave do the speaking, but have recently joined the Advisory board for the iGaming Affiliate Conference which was great to have input in the conference session schedule.

So where are you all hiding? Where are all the low key, seasoned women SEO’s, that don’t speak at conferences, but are busy in their day to day life working on challenging projects battling with the rest of us in the rankings, and maybe like me balancing a career and a family? What percentage of female SEO staff do other agencies have?

13 Comments

  • LordManley

    We have a little over 21% women in my office, (I cannot be bothered to work out the rest of the offices).

    We have 18% with beards
    We have 26% with blonde hair
    only 3% have green eyes.
    less than 1% are French.
    less than 1% are Homosexual.

    None of this has any bearing whatsoever on our hiring – we hire based on ability and propensity to learn – our percentages have been very different at different times and people are hired, trained and encouraged as people.

    We make appropriate adjustments for those with different abilities, I just do not think that any of the attributes described count as disabilities.

    So, I notice a woman who does well in a running race against men, because she is disadvantaged, but a woman SEO? There is no disadvantage there – it’s as relevant as eye colour.

  • Becky

    Thanks LordManley for your comment, and I can assure you that we only hire based on ability and more importantly passion. I knew that however I wrote the post it would spark the normal reaction, which is why at the start I tried to make it clear it wasn’t a “poor women” post. Like I said more of an exploration as I think that there actually quite a lot of woman in this industry but that they are not as vocal or forward facing as the men. This isn’t a men v women thing, just curiousity.
    And yes sometimes there is a need to readdress a balance in an office if the right ability and skill set is available to ensure the team works at its optimum. Sometimes an office full of men can be equally as bad as an office full of women, best to have a good mix.

  • Koozai_Sam

    I was thinking the exact same thing this afternoon, hence searching online to see if anyone had written a post of this nature.

    We have 19 people working at Koozai and 15 of those work in Search. Of that 15 only 3 (including myself) are female, the rest are male. Over the past couple of years we have tried to rebalance the office but the large majority of CVs we receive when recruiting are from males.

    My background was working as a PA for a Marketing Director, which led me into an offline marketing role. Following this, I worked for a finance company running paid search campaigns before moving onto work at Koozai, where I have been for 3 years now.

    I will ask the other girls to add a comment regarding their background as it would be interesting to see the thread on this post grow with other females in the industry adding their feedback.

  • Becky

    Thanks Sam for the comment and some info about how you got started. Interesting that the breakdown at Koozai and Bronco is very similar.

  • Tim Barlow

    This is a topic close to my heart at the moment. We are about to embark on a recruitment round and I would love to be able to address an imbalance. Like you though we will hire on ability.

    We are currently a 12% female team which is down on where it has been in the past and it does change the dynamics.

    I wouldn’t mind trying to encourage more female applicants whilst sticking within the law. When you have sought to address the imbalance in the past, did you do anything different or was it just a hope that you would get lucky and the best person for the job turned out to be a girl?

  • Tara West @ Koozai

    I found my way into SEO through specialising in website Usability as part of my degree and then working as an account exec on many web design / development projects where I was ‘self taught’ before coming to Koozai.

    I know this post is not of a girls vs boys nature however I think the reason that there appear to be less female SOEs might be because of the stereotype of the type of person who can be a SEO.

    I am a very ‘girly girl’ and make no attempt to hide it! I have found that people often don’t take me as seriously in my ability to be a great SEO because I don’t fit the stereotype they have in their mind of someone who works in a skilled and technical role. I have often experienced clients being surprised to realise that it is actually me who conducts their SEO work. They seem to assume I just put the reports together and that anything of a technical nature wouldn’t be in my remit. I’ve also had times when people (who also work in the SEO industry) assume I am in SEO sales rather than actually conducting the SEO work. I’m not sure if this happens because of being a woman in a male dominated industry or if this is because I have a ‘girly’ personality and perhaps don’t fit the stereotype of someone who works in a skilled and technical role.

    I’d like to think that the reason there are not as many female SEOs is not because of this kind of attitude, but I can’t help but think that maybe female SEOs aren’t always taken as seriously at first and as a result maybe don’t feel they can be as outspoken within the industry, which leads us to think there aren’t as many female SEOs.

    My comment is only reflective of my own experience, but I’m wondering if anyone else has had similar experiences?

    Great post 🙂

  • Mindy

    I’ve been working in SEO since 2003 first in-house and now managing a team at an agency. We do pretty well in that half the team is female as well as 100% of our paid search team – but I think we’re very unusual.

    We don’t go to a lot of conferences as frankly, we don’t find them very enlightening, and we’re probably not as sociable online as we should be, but we’re very busy looking after our clients – we read a lot, bounce ideas off each other and generally don’t think very hard about gender (unless it’s relevant to a particular account).

    Gender does, however, seem far more relevant when I step into the industry at large – as I’ve seen the behaviors people complain about – and I do think it puts women off, particularly women who aren’t used to being in male-dominated environments. I know some of our younger members of staff have found it a little intimidating.

    I don’t think it’s entirely an issue of sexism, however, but an overall attitude and type of behavior within the industry that implicitly condones the worse elements of the SEO industry.

    Sorry for the shameless plug, but I’ve shared my thoughts on this at http://mmumarketingretail.posterous.com/guest-blog-industry-professionalism – in far more detail than I could here.

  • Carla Marshall

    Don’t forget about me – I was there before Hannah & Zoe!! LOL

  • Sadie

    I was at uni while Internet was in its infancy a few years after Becky, in my a levels I took Maths, English, Biology and Art and an AS in design technology. All subjects I enjoyed and being a geek took extra classes rather than choose one to drop – there was no computer classes back then lol. However my careers advice pushed me towards art and English due to my gender my brother with similar interest pushed towards engineering. Of course things are probably different now but as impressionable teenagers people seem to put stereotypes on us. I found SEO and programming to use the subjects I enjoy but found it by accident obviously no careers advisor could tell me SEO is for me at the time but looking back I did what was expected.
    I think these stereotypes are breaking down and hopefully with role models such as Becky in the industry more women will see there are opportunities and it’s not just men.
    We just have me in our dev and SEO team however all of our content writers are women at the moment.

  • Kath Dawson

    We are a team of 30 based in Bristol, 13 are women which seems a pretty good mix based on other’s experience. Our Sales Director is female and as Client Services Director I manage the SEO and PPC teams. At the most technical end of the team they are all male & so is PPC but on the SEO client facing and support side its probably slightly more female.

    All appointments were based on skills and suitability for the role of course so this is just how its panned out. We do a lot of inhouse training and have a really good inturn programme so people can move from entry level into more senior or dedicated roles depending on how they develop.

    I don’t tend to be as social as I feel I ought to be but I am trying, it just means squeezing more out of the day but now my son is at Uni I can work work work! I’ve been doing this for 8 years and my role is now very much management, resourcing, training, client relationships and creative link building.

    Really interesting post Becky and nice to meet you 🙂

  • Koozai_Sam

    Hi ladies,

    I have just created a meetup group for females in the digital industry. No firm date for first meetup as yet as wanting to get an idea of numbers.

    Sign up if your interested – http://www.meetup.com/Digital-Industry-Females/

    Sam

  • Photobrook

    I’ve worked at an SEO agency for nearly three years, when i first started it was VERY male dominated, there was literally only a handful of us girlies. Oh how the times have changed and think it’s pretty even now between the guys and girls.

  • Emma Drury

    There may not be the same levels of women within the industry but why should that matter, the ones that are I’m hoping are enjoying it and making impact. To quote your article ‘Many women just don’t get the opportunity or have the desire to do this given their education.’ Can’t be that passionate about even getting into SEO in the first place!

    We only have to look at this blog post from last year to see that there are many influential women who have fantastic impact within SEO http://www.seocopywriting.com/content-marketing/the-women-who-made-seo-great/

    We have our own community SEO Chicks, and many of the best SEO bloggers are Mummy/beauty and fashion bloggers and you know what they are self-taught and know a fair whack about SEO.

    I have only been within the industry for 3 years and in that short time have seen the numbers of women increase significantly at conferences within that time, I’ve also seen increasingly more women applying for SEO roles within my company.

    I came from a web development background after studying marketing, and had no career advice at all from school/college/uni so I don’t buy the whole ‘I wasn’t pushed by my careers department argument’ If you want a career in something you’re interested in you push yourself.

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