13 stories of women who are shaping the SEO field
If you’re just starting to pave your way in SEO, read these empowering stories to learn what women love about SEO.
Here are 13 women – bright representatives of the SEO industry – to share their career path and the difficulties and inspirations they found along the way.
What we didn’t expect was that the stories shared would be so personal, honest and inspiring. They all prove that no matter what background you have under your belt (economics, journalism, politics, marketing, veterinary, engineering, hair-dressing, blogging, etc.) there’s always a chance to make a dramatic career turn and become one of the best in your field.
So, if you’re just starting to pave your way in SEO and fighting with self-doubts, read these 13 empowering stories, learn what there is to love about SEO and get the motivation to carry on.
I’d like to thank my friends at SE Ranking for helping me conduct these interviews so I could share these stories. Also to note that there are an incredible number of talented female SEOs, so this list is far from comprehensive — it highlights some familiar faces and those that might not be on your radar quite yet.
Owner of Marie Haynes Consulting Inc. @Marie_Haynes
Years in SEO: 12
Fun fact: If you happen to be a Fortnite fan looking for someone to play with, connect with Marie. She believes that playing Fortnite helps her become a better thinker and get Google out of her mind at least for a while.
I was a veterinarian for almost fourteen years. When I was a practicing vet in Ottawa, Canada, I was one of the veterinarians for our Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s pets. I absolutely loved what I did, but I was also obsessed with anything to do with the internet.
I injured my back in 2008 and had to spend six weeks on bed rest. At that time I bought a laptop and taught myself how to make a website. I created a website where people could ask me veterinary questions – it had great content, but I couldn’t figure out why it was only getting about thirty visitors per day. This is what sparked my interest in SEO.
In looking at office space for my team, my husband and I passed a huge empty office in room 404. I jokingly said, “One day I’ll have that office, but no one would be able to find it.” While my husband didn’t get the SEO joke, he caught the vision and said, “Let’s do it now!” Today we have ten of us in the office and will be hiring a few more soon. We’ve moved on, ironically to room 301. Seriously.
Good SEO work has the potential to make a difference in many people’s lives
I’m really proud of the results that my team and I produce. During the August 1, 2018 Medic update, I was visiting with a client whom we had been working with for quite some time. They started to see a gargantuan amount of traffic that day. And I will never forget what it was like to be in meetings with their team as we watched their traffic skyrocket in real-time. I realized that good SEO work has the potential to make a difference in many people’s lives.
While I miss some aspects of being a veterinarian, especially surgery, I get so much joy out of what I do now. This is definitely the career path that was meant for me.
Here is something that I believe every person, whether male or female, who is considering a career in SEO should know. When you first start out in SEO, it seems that everyone around you is so much smarter than you are. But you’ll get to an amazing moment when it all starts to click.
Managing Director at arrowsup.co.uk @HelenPollitt1
Background: Generalist marketer
Years in SEO: 12
Fun fact: To stay friends with Helen, you need to love handmade presents.
I started in SEO 12 years ago from a background as a generalist marketer. I got a lot of exposure to both online and offline marketing but was really captivated by the mix of technical and strategy that is at the core of SEO.
There is always more to learn
I find the most fascinating thing about SEO to be the breadth of skills it covers. There is always more to learn: coding, how machine learning works, the psychology of intent. It can never fully be mastered. I find that so motivating.
I’m honestly proud of every website migration I’ve carried out (we’re talking at least 50 at this point). A successful website migration involves pulling together stakeholders from all over a company. There are so many moving parts and I feel so accomplished being at the center of that. Every website migration I’ve worked on has led to more refinement of my migration process which has resulted in smoother migrations.
When I’m not working on websites I love to be creative through craft hobbies. Many friends and family members have suffered through my handmade Christmas and birthday presents!
I’ve become fairly practiced at explaining my job to my family now. I had to go through many, many conversations involving “so you work in sales then?”, “you’re one of those people who convince people to buy things they don’t need” and “…people pay you to do that?!” I now ask them how they would look for a new coat to buy online and go from there.
To girls who are intimidated by starting a career in SEO: now is the time. There is so much momentum around encouraging women into STEM careers and those typically dominated by men. There are many people cheering you on to succeed in these roles.
SEO Director at Path Interactive @lilyraynyc
Background: Politics and Spanish
Years in SEO: 10
Fun fact: If you spot a DJ who looks like Lily in one of the NY clubs, that would actually be Lily. Beyond that, she’s also a drummer and a frequent gym-goer.
I was studying Politics and Spanish at NYU, so nothing to do with SEO. But it was during the recession, and many of my newly graduated friends were having trouble finding jobs. I decided to switch gears and apply for a job doing “Social Media Marketing and SEO,” because, having grown up in a tech family, I was decently good with computers. That landed me the job, and I instantly fell in love with SEO as a career. I haven’t looked back since.
2020 is officially my 10th year in SEO. The thing that inspires me most about the profession is the problem-solving aspect. I could spend 6 hours researching why a website is seeing performance declines or solving a technical mystery. That’s the thing I love most about SEO – even a simple switch of some code can earn companies tons of revenue.
I’m very blessed and privileged to feel that being a woman hasn’t particularly held me back in the SEO industry, thanks to caring, respectful and supportive bosses, leaders and clients. I was promoted relatively quickly within my companies, and always listened to and given the support I needed to do a good job. I am extremely thankful for that.
Hone your craft, keep practicing, experiment, have projects going outside of your day job
My advice for girls who are scared of entering professions that are historically dominated by male specialists:
Hone your craft, keep practicing, experiment with things, and have projects going outside of your day job. This will make you a real expert with actual hands-on experience that will be invaluable to your company and your clients. Hopefully, that expertise will equip you with the confidence you need to do well in the workplace and overcome that intimidation. Best of luck!
Senior manager of SEO for Automation Anywhere (technical focused) @Tammy Wood
Background: Tammy started as a part-bartender, part-hairdresser and part-blogger
Years in SEO: 24
Fun fact: When asked about her profession Tammy says that “she works online, from home in her pajamas.” and adds not to worry as “it isn’t porn.” As she’s now a happy grandmother, people tend to believe her.
Back in the 1990s, I was a single mom of 3 sons under the age of 10 writing parenting articles. I had a computer (running DOS) in the corner of my bedroom, a wicked sense of humor, and a great desire to learn how to get traffic to my website to earn more from paid mentions. This desire led me down the SEO track and helped me discover the passion of my life.
SEO is simply the ongoing learning, I know that I won’t come to an end of learning new things
This is my 24th year of navigating the SEO world, and I absolutely love it! I’ve worked with 100’s of brilliant individuals, I’ve made huge mistakes and I’ve made massive improvements in traffic and rankings for clients. It’s exciting to find the next big thing, to be a part of an industry that is always evolving and so welcoming to newcomers. I try to continually get smarter so I can mentor younger SEOs in my current company where we are building SEO automation tools.
My career path wasn’t straightforward. As a working mother I was trying to simultaneously enrich my children’s lives, somehow keep my marriage going and stay involved in the industry. I took opportunities for less money so I could use that time to better my skills and therefore boost my confidence.
Women’s experience in SEO often differs from male peers due to the lack of confidence and time. My advice to women who start paving their way in SEO is to remember that the only limitation in this world is the one we create in our own heads. Write down your dreams, your goals, your fears, your plan, and take every opportunity to develop your own path.
President and chief web traffic controller @Pam Aungst
Background: Building websites
Years in SEO: 15
Fun fact: Pam’s friends have the same problem as Chandler Bing’s friends understanding what he’s doing for a living.
I never intended for SEO to become a career. I just needed to figure out how to drive traffic to an e-commerce site I built for my employer and so I had to understand how SEO works. At first glance, SEO seems very complex and people get overwhelmed by that, but when you break it down in simple terms, you get really excited to work on it.
I find it so rewarding to help people understand how SEO works. That’s why I started my own search agency about 9 years ago. Before that I worked with SEO for about 6 years, so I’ve been doing SEO for about 15 years in total. And yet, I have lifelong friends who still don’t understand what I do. They know everything there is to know about me, but feel confused over how I make a living. It really makes me laugh.
SEO takes time but those who stick, get the results that make a difference
What makes me proud are the clients that have truly committed to SEO and have eventually reaped the rewards for their patience. SEO takes time, and many clients don’t have the patience for it, but those who stick, get the results that make a difference.
As a female SEO specialist, I’ve been told I should get back “to the kitchen” and even called some nasty names just for being a woman expressing intelligence in this field, which my male peers found threatening. So you do have to have a bit of thick skin to sustain all the pressure. That being said, the number of men that have treated me that way is a small minority. The majority don’t treat me any differently than their male colleagues, and I appreciate that a lot.
SEO manager at Bigfoot Digital @Jennifer Penaluna
Years in SEO: 3
Fun fact: Lookout for a blonde with a dachshund in one of Barnsley’s dog-friendly drinking establishments.
I originally wanted to be a Journalist and after graduating I was looking for a career in digital marketing for the journalistic / PR element. Bigfoot Digital had an opening for an SEO content writer, so I applied with little knowledge of SEO but a willingness to learn. I quickly developed a lot of love for SEO and found a new nerdy side of me that preferred the data and analytical elements of the role.
SEO is never boring
I have now been in SEO for 3 years, and plan to remain in the industry for a long time. As difficult as it can sometimes be, I love the changing landscape of SEO and how we need to constantly adapt our practices. It means SEO is never boring!
My proudest campaign to date is an eCommerce client who has only been with us for 10 months and has more than doubled their 7-figure organic revenue during that time period. It’s so much ROI that it makes my eyes water when I check their analytics!
I genuinely believe I’m seen as a person in SEO who is developing a career, not specifically a girl in SEO, and I don’t want to be seen that way because I’m just as good as any other person in SEO, regardless of their gender. There are some incredible women in SEO I follow, and some incredible men in SEO I follow too, and I aspire to be like all of them!
Founder and CEO of Lilach Bullock Limited, a professional speaker, lead conversion expert, content marketing and social media specialist @lilachbullock
Background: Content marketing
Years in SEO: 5
Fun fact: Contact Lilach any day but Saturday – this is her official emails-free great-food-filled day to spend quality time with family.
Content marketing has always been a big part of my business so SEO came into the picture in a very organic way. I wouldn’t say it was a dramatic twist – I was always very open to trying out and implementing different marketing strategies and search engine optimization is one of the best of them.
SEO is all about experimenting
I’m in SEO for a good few years now – probably around 5-6 years at this point. The thing that I like the most about SEO is the experimenting: you constantly need to try things out, try different strategies and they’re always changing and evolving. That might sound like a downside to most people but to me, having these experiments prove to be successful is one of the best feelings you can get.
So, girl, don’t be afraid – there are a lot of women in marketing, SEO, content and so on and we are ruling this space. Just check out some of the biggest digital marketing influencers right now: the list is filled with awesome women that constantly changing the rules of the game.
Head of performance marketing at Taxify @karolakarlson
Years in SEO: 5
Fun fact: Prefers literature, art criticism, and culture magazines over Netflix.
I stumbled upon SEO by chance when looking to increase the website traffic for a company I used to work for (project management software company Scoro). I was immediately drawn to content marketing as I love to write. SEO was a great way to measure the success of our content marketing efforts and it’s also addictive to watch the traffic numbers grow week-over-week.
It’s addictive to watch the traffic numbers grow week-over-week
I’m a growth hacker in heart, so I love to test out small tweaks here and there, apply the best practices and hacks, and see the results come in. So for me, the most enchanting thing about SEO is how measurable and hackable it is.
One of my favorite projects was growing the organic blog traffic for Scoro. We went from 1.6k to 31k monthly blog visitors in 20 months. I’m also proud of my personal blog that has grown to 60k monthly readers, most of whom find me when searching specific marketing-related keywords on Google. I’m a believer in the skyscraper technique and have been able to rank as #1 result for high-competition keywords by creating content that’s 10x more insightful than other articles on the topic.
My recommendation to all the girls thinking of starting a career in SEO is to do high-quality work and make sure it gets noticed and rewarded.
E-commerce and technical SEO consultant and founder of MarketingSyrup.com @Kristina Azarenko
Years in SEO: 10
Fun fact: When she puts away her ‘SEO Kristina’ hat, she goes dancing classes, enjoys long walks with her dog or watches horror movies.
About ten years ago I was working at a job I didn’t really enjoy and looking for something new. I had no idea what a website was, let alone its optimization and technical parts. But then I accidentally found an SEO course, got so excited that I took a vacation at my job to start mastering SEO and was only moving forward ever since.
Curiously, a whole decade later, my parents still have no idea what exactly I’m doing. They just know that ‘it’s something with computers’. So I occasionally get messages from them asking to fix their wi-fi or download a certain program. I think it’s cute.
Doing SEO means feeling you’re an investigator
The best thing about being an SEO is feeling as if you’re an investigator: you go through the data and you know how to find the ‘clues’ of unhealthy crawling, indexing, content, etc.
I’m proud of what I’m doing for all the companies I’ve worked with. Once I worked for a medium-sized eCommerce store creating a clear structure for adding new products, describing them, naming images, etc. All these minor things are often overlooked, but they helped us rank the pages and generate revenue pretty quickly. Then there was this rather complex website migration project. I worked closely with a client dev team, created user stories and as a result, the transition went smoothly with no decrease in organic search traffic.
For some reason, most women (including myself) are afraid ‘to be in the spotlight’ so they devalue their accomplishments. If you are like me, my advice is to believe in yourself and not let anybody decide where your place should be. We, the women, are 100% capable of anything.
SEO-specialist at SE Ranking @DariaKhmelnitskaya
Years in SEO: 6
Fun fact: Daria is fond of chess and also an ardent poker player.
I’ve been doing SEO since 2014. I just read somewhere that SEO specialists “make stuff that helps websites get found in Google”, which I found interesting. So I decided to learn more about how things work in SEO and try it out myself.
It keeps me agile and motivates me to grow my expertise
I like that the industry is very dynamic, that you need to always stay on top of all the changes and adapt to them. It keeps me agile and motivates me to grow my expertise.
Every SEO project is unique, and you have to approach it in a different way. You cannot come up with a single template and use it for every website you work with.
SE Ranking, for example, is an SEO and marketing product. Thus, you have to deal with really professional and inventive competitors. In this industry, you won’t make it to the top by simply finetuning the website’s technical SEO. You’ll have to go beyond SEO and improve the product itself to truly make it stand out from the crowd.
I don’t think SEO is a male profession – there are many women working in the industry. Generally speaking, I don’t really think female experience in SEO is in any way different from that of our male colleagues. After all, Google Guidelines say nothing about favoring websites optimized by male specialists over websites optimized by female SEOs.
The owner at SeoSmarty.com @seosmarty
Years in SEO: 15
Fun fact: SEO may be a hard concept to grasp for family members. Ann believes hers either pretend to know or have given up hope to understand by now. But she doesn’t really care as long as they are there to cover her back.
SEO was not initially a part of my life plan. In my final year in college, I found a part-time job in customer support, and in a blink of an eye I was promoted to a marketing position where my task was to learn “SEO.” It took me a few failed attempts and a couple of social media bans before I started working on my actual personal brand and started really enjoying it.
There’s a very tight excited community in SEO which is something no other niche can hope to have
I like knowing people and being known as well. We have a very tight excited community in our industry and this is the most exciting part of having this profession. Beyond that, there’s something for everyone in SEO, be it branding, writing or technical stuff, so many people find it hard quitting it :)
I’ve been in the industry for 15 years now, and I still love what I do. However, I sometimes miss that feeling you get when for the first time your project turns out to be a success. For me, MyBlogGuest project will forever and always remain my biggest pride. Back then, we managed to build an awesome community united by a beautiful idea, i.e. inviting guests to their home blogs. It was so new and fresh, and it felt like family.
I never thought of my gender when starting, so I wasn’t afraid then. There may be nothing to be afraid of, but you never know until you try!
I do believe women feel quite comfortable in the SEO industry. Just be ready to speak more at conferences because organizers “need more women”. You may even end up being approved for 4 (!) panels), but why would you mind being in such great demand?
Head of SEO at Found and UK Search Awards’ Young Search Professional of 2017 @hannahjthorpe
Background: Politics & Economics
Years in SEO: 6
Fun fact: Hannah’s mom thought that websites in the SERP are ranked alphabetically and couldn’t understand first, how exactly her daughter was going to change this order.
SEO was definitely not the plan for me; I studied Politics & Economics so I always thought that my career would go in that direction. However, I started working in SEO as an intern whilst I was still studying and instantly loved it. I get bored very easily and the way SEO is continually changing keeps me engaged and working hard to stay ahead.
People in SEO are eager to share their expertise and willing to support one another
I find it inspiring how willing people in SEO are to share their expertise and how open the industry is when it comes to supporting one another. When I first started in SEO, I learned the most from conferences and meeting senior SEOs at events. Currently, I’ve got a group of very close friends who also work in the industry which is a blessing and a curse! We try to have some dedicated ‘no talking about work’ time to get a mental break, but sometimes we end up discussing SEO anyway.
Speaking of women in SEO, I’d like to say that gender doesn’t matter but I think that would be naïve to say. There have been events I’ve presented at where I’ve felt unsafe, there are individuals in the industry who have said or done things that have made me very uncomfortable. But it’s not SEO-specific. Ultimately the problems women in SEO face aren’t significantly different from the problems that women, in general, will face in their careers.
I think my best advice would be don’t be scared. When I got my first role I didn’t actually know how male-dominated the technical SEO space was, but having no concerns of this sort I still was able to progress quickly. If you concentrate on building strong SEO skills then the results will speak for themselves.
Digital marketing consultant, speaker, and founder of online digital marketing event DigitalOlympus.net @alexandratachalova
Years in SEO: 6
Fun fact: Alexandra is a happy owner of a race-winning horse who adores galloping across green fields.
I heard about SEO more than ten years ago when working as a Salesforce analyst. A few years later, I joined SEMrush, and that’s where SEO became my best friend. The funny thing is that I’ve never been involved in running a full-cycle SEO campaign during my career path. Previously, I was heavily geared towards content marketing, then digital PR, and finally, I have ended up working exclusively with link building.
Since we only build links, I have trouble explaining what I do even to my friends who are not that familiar with SEO. I try to use the analogy of recommendations when I talk about it — that links are like recommending someone. The more trustworthy the source of a recommendation, the more people will take it into consideration. For example, we’ve built more than 50 quality referring domains back to an email outreach guide, and it was promoted by Google on the first page of SERPs and even outranked Neil Patel’s site. This is something I am really proud of.
It’s fascinating, rewarding work
I don’t think gender matters in SEO or any part of digital marketing, but I realize that a lot of hiring still favors men. However, there are tons of very supportive SEO women who are ready to give you a hand. Personally, I am very mindful of the importance of supporting women when I hire for our team, as my chance to help our industry gain more gender diversity. I would tell young women to set their fears aside and go for it — it’s fascinating, rewarding work.
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