Where Are All The Women? Footprint Digital on Women in SEO
Where Are All The Women?
If ever there has been a clearer example of just how underrepresented women are in the world of SEO it came with the publication of Search Engine Journal’s Top 140 SEO experts to follow. Amongst those 140 experts there were just 36 females – barely 25 per cent of the 140.
A quick dig in the archives confirms that it’s certainly not an issue of women within SEO failing to reach those dizzying heights, but rather the failure of the SEO industry to attract, support and retain women. The State of SEO 2020 survey spoke to 652 SEOs working in 51 different countries. Just 29.3 per cent of respondents identified as women (compared to 68.4 per cent as men). It would be nice to be able to say that this is an increase on past years but in fact if you look at previous studies it would appear the SEO market for women has stagnated in recent years. Back in 2012, the figure was 22.7 per cent, rising to 28.2 per cent in 2013 and reaching 30.1 per cent in 2015. And there’s not been much movement since.
Missing In Action
So why are women missing from SEO? Since the birth of search, industry experts have been aware just how few women enter the industry, likening it to the technology sector. For whatever reason it’s fair to say that women don’t tend to lean towards technical careers and SEO is often perceived to be a technical role. Yet while the role is technical in nature it can also be seen as another arm of marketing.
According to WISE, in 2018 just 26 per cent of graduates in a core STEM subject were female. It’s an increase from the previous year (25 per cent) but still not enough. So the problem may even stretch back to school years and the need to encourage more women to study those STEM topics. Opening up the industry so that more people understand what it involves will be key to building a more gender-diverse workforce.
Why We Need Women
Diversity – of all types – is what can elevate a company. One study from BCG found that a higher level of diversity on leadership teams led to more innovation, which in turn gives better business outcomes and adds to the bottom line. It calculated that an above-average diversity score led to a 45 per cent average innovation revenue reported by companies. So there’s a strong argument for implementing strategies to encourage more women into the search field.
Selling SEO To Women
Any progress in getting women into SEO seems to have stalled in recent years, so perhaps companies need to take a closer look at how they recruit and retain to bridge the gender gap. Many female SEOs highlight having a mentor as being a key factor in their success so building mentoring programmes with strong female role models will help break down the perception that SEO is a man’s game.
Likewise, demystifying the industry can go a long way. SEO is after all an extension of the marketing industry but somewhere along the way it’s been lumped purely into the technical category. While SEO is technical in nature there is far more to it than that. Raising more awareness of the key focus of the role (driving more traffic to a website by tweaking what you say and how you say it) can help to open it up as a career path for more women, who are already involved in marketing or writing roles.
Companies can also sign up the Tech Talent Charter, an initiative backed by the Government and which asks companies to commit to recruitment and retention practices that actively promote a more diverse workforce.
Meet The Trail Blazers
There are women out there who are making their voices heard in the SEO landscape and who are pioneers for the future of the industry. You may recognize the names of Heather Lloyd-Martin of SuccessWorks who has over 20 years in the industry; Lilach Bullock, founder of Lilach Bullock Limited and a regular on the speaker circuit and Hannah Thorpe who is Head of SEO at Found and was the UK Search Awards’ Young Search Professional of 2017. For some inspiring case studies from women in the industry you can find the career paths of 13 top female SEOs – not all started out with the intention to enter the industry.
At Footprint Digital, we focus on education in order to empower everyone we meet and give them the tools to understand and conduct SEO. We believe in upskilling not only our team, but our clients as well, and actively encourage everyone to take an interest in SEO - regardless of gender. Reassuringly there are others who take our view and there are a number of initiatives out there with the sole aim of promoting women in this area. Women In Tech SEO, SEO Chicks and WeAreTechWomen are just three strong examples. Ultimately, gender is not a handicap to making it in the world of SEO. If you have the right mindset, are hungry for knowledge and willing to work hard you can have a very successful career in SEO.
Author: Hannah Meadows, Head of Client Services at Footprint Digital. Hannah will be giving a seminar on An introduction to Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)