Where Are All the Women SEOs?

by Angie Nikoleychuk (Haggstrom) October 7th, 2009 

Before you read this piece, please note that my intention, here, is not to pit one gender against the other. I know many, many SEOs, both male and female, am honored to call them friends, and have learned tons from both genders. Also, this piece is based on my opinions, observations, and thoughts, none of which are that of Search Engine People, its staff, or anyone else unless otherwise stated. Lastly, I know there are exceptions to every rule, but for the sake of exploring the topic, I have made generalizations, and none of them are intended to have a negative connotation. With that, please read on and share your thoughts.

I'd been discussing the business of SEO with John Chen of lil Engine, when he'd asked the same question I'd asked myself many times: Where are all the women in SEO? And, if there are more than it outwardly appears, where are they, and why are they hiding? (While I'm not technically a practicing SEO, if there's a secret club or something I'm missing out on, I'd love to join up!)

There has to be a number of women SEOs out there somewhere…right? I think there is. They simply aren't as vocal, and in the public eye. In an effort to find out what's going on, I talked to some of the brilliant minds around the web and it seems my thoughts aren't too far off.

Women SEOs on Teams

Donna Fontenot, who has been active in the online community for a number of years, seemed to echo the same thoughts as most the men and women SEOs I had spoken with:

"There are lots more (female SEOs) than most people realize, however, they tend to be less outspoken, less "out there" in the public eye. Maybe that's a function of guys wanting to shake their tail feathers for all to see, and women just get the job done. I'm not sure, but really, there are lots, lots, lots more than most people imagine." ~ Donna Fontenot, DazzlinDonna

In her message, Donna brought up an interesting point: do men simply enjoy being out in the public eye more than women? I'm not so sure, particularly when you consider the amount of time women spend getting ready for a night out on the town, for example.

Maybe women SEOs are just too busy working to be 'out and about'? Well, I don't think this is it either. I think time is a significant factor for both genders.

Fun Tweets About Women SEOs

When I went to Twitter for the answer, I have to admit that we had fun teasing each other back and forth about this whole concept. And, even though we had been cracking jokes back and forth, I don't think women SEOs  work any harder at their jobs than men do. We all want to succeed; some of us work harder than others and we each focus on a different area. There has to be other elements at play here.

The IT/Tech industry has long been male dominated. Are there fewer women in SEO because men like to tinker with gadgets and break things (or fix things, whichever the case may be), and women are more the social / marketing? That definitely seemed to be a common thread:

Ben McKay, JustMeandMy.com:

I say sadly as I think it's a real shame that it seems like a techy, male-orientated industry…there are too many niches that are male / female orientated. So what can we do to sell the idea in more? Do we need to sell the idea to women some more? After all, SEO does rock!

It's techy, it's sociable, it's busy, there's masses of demand, it's booming, it's constantly changing, challenging and hugely rewarding – yeah, it definitely rocks…

The women that I know in Search tend to be PPC / Display / Business Dev / PR / Social Media…not many in SEO though. From the people that I know, maybe 1 in 10 might describe their responsibilities to include SEO

And, the same sentiments were echoed to me and Rishil who innocently retweeted the message and found himself in a firestorm of responses (and, I think anyone who met Rishil on Twitter or SEOmoz prior to his avatar change will know he once played a woman SEO making subject almost ironic). Regardless, I'm sure glad he did; the feedback and opinions received came directly from female SEOs themselves.

Yoshimi Tweets on Women SEOs

The lack of women in IT and many academic fields is no surprise. It's happening across the globe, but in all honesty, I'm not sure why. I thought it was important to note that, while studies show females generally get better grades in school (PDF), they match the boys in terms of IQ. (Multiple studies have shown boys do have the edge over girls in math!) So, do girls generally dislike techie, geeky things? I don't think so…possible, but I wonder if the intimidation level of entering a den of well-educated guys plays a role in what girls admittedly like and dislike.

As Marie-Claire Jenkins, computer science, research loving, yoga surfer and SEO pointed out, there is a significant difference between search and SEO, but her comment also brings up something else I thought was of great importance:

I have met LOADS of women in SEO but a lot fewer women in search. In this case the technical, heavy maths angle does play. Generally women tend to like arts better and computer science has a bad rep is generally uncool in universities. SEO has a lot of women because they come from marketing mostly, which in Unis and in general attracts more of them, and is seen to be cooler I guess.

For women in search there is the Grace Hopper initiative and also Systers which I have blogged about before. Both support women in computing. The ACM has a womens club as well. There is stuff being done about the lack of women in computing, but it isn't easy to attract them to the profession.

This may come across as controversial but for me if you work in SEO you don't exactly work in search, you work in marketing and web dev. If you design information retrieval algorithms and interfaces and so on, then you work in search.

So I conclude:

SEO women = loads

Search women = few

There's a significant difference between the mind of an SEO and a computer (search) scientist. And, having dealt with academics in several fields, I'll admit that I notice a huge difference (sweeping generalization here) in the mindsets of the two.

Both sides frequently find their jobs to be an obsession, but it's the academic who seem to crave the untainted, unshakable, bare-bone facts and using those facts to make 'stuff'. SEOs, on the other hand, seem to crave information and relating that to other situations.

It's much like comparing Wolfram-Alpha to Google, if you think about it. Wolfram gives answers while Google gives information. Academics seem far more comfortable in the lab, testing their own theories than they are in public discussing and chatting about their ideas and findings. (Yes, academics meet to share ideas and concepts, but from the outside, it seems to happen in a more formal, and dare I say it, constructive setting.)

This made me wonder: could it be that, in an effort to achieve gender equality, women have assumed an almost academic approach to SEO. Are they're busy testing theories and hoarding 'facts', rather than outwardly competing with men, where they'd have a risk of 'losing'? Not saying that men don't do the same, but with them still being the dominate gender in many respects, losing would be less of a focus for them.

As for the future of women SEOs, and if we'll see an increase in the number of women in the field, the answer seemed to be a unanimous 'yes'. For most,  the reasons behind it included the increasing importance of social media and the fact that the line between SM and SEO seems to be blurring more and more each day. Others felt there would be an increase in the number of women SEOs, but it was more because of the current economy and the flexibility of work at home jobs.

I think we can all agree that SEO can be a rough road. You get flack from clients, take crap from others in the industry, and maybe even from within the company, if you're part of an in-house team. Have women simply found that their jobs are far easier when they stay out of the lime light? This is, of course, entirely possible, but don't men do the same? I think so, but maybe men choose to fight it out more often because society has taught them to be tough.

After spending a fair amount of time thinking about these concepts, I can agree that there does indeed seem to be a large number of women SEOs. Does an exact count matter? Does it really matter if there's more women than men in the industry? I don't think so. I simply find it fascinating that men and women SEOs seem to play a different 'game'.

I was also quite…proud to discover that both men and women were passionate about admitting there were a number of women SEOs out there. For me, however, I think this is an important indication that there has been a meeting of like minds, the benefit of the Internet's anonymity are becoming more apparent, and a change in how society views working women (i.e it's more accepted).

So, the question remains: Where are the bulk of women SEOs and why do they choose to 'hide'?

Angie Nikoleychuk (Haggstrom) is the Senior Copywriter and Consultant at Angie's Copywriting Services. She loves to create SEO Web copy and other types of online and offline content, but she figures SEO and Social Media is pretty great too. She likes to chat about business and marketing, find great links, and more. Oh, and you can find this copywriter on Twitter too.

Angie Nikoleychuk (Haggstrom)

Angie Haggstrom is the Senior Copywriter and Consultant at Angie's Copywriting Services, specializing in online and offline content including SEO web copy, brochures, and more. A Twitter and blogging fanatic, you'll find she chats about SEO, Social Media, business, marketing, and just about anything else she finds interesting along the way.

Angie's Copywriting

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33 Responses to “Where Are All the Women SEOs?”

  1. Kerry Dye says:

    We are around, are we not? But I find that women in IT generally like to be appreciated for being good at IT, not that they are women in IT. The ultimate expression of feminism is that people don't care what sex you are, just that you are good at what you do.

    • Hi Kerry,

      A pleasure to meet you. I certainly agree with you, and that's why I made the short statement in the beginning and the end of the post. I simply found it interesting that, when I look around at who's posting/discussing industry topics as well as those I've worked with, there seems to be very few women in SEO. However, I'm very pleased that many of you have come out of hiding to make a comment or say hello! I was getting worried there for a bit ;)

  2. We're all over at SEO-Chicks.com ;-D

  3. I know there are lots of SEO Ladies, When I go to any SEO show or seo training, 40% of the participants are ladies.

    • That's very interesting. I mean, it's obvious that there are plenty of them hiding around here somewheres. I should have chatted with you first. That would have been a great bit of info to include in the piece! Thanks for sharing :)

  4. kristinadee says:

    *right here*

    I'm in-house, maybe others are too.

    Maybe that's where we're hiding

    No way I can take time of to attend every conference or event, so you won't see me out and about much.

    • Nope, I agree with you. I think very few people have time to attend the many conferences and such throughout the year. Maybe family obligation adds to this as well?

  5. Justin Parks says:

    Having worked with a woman SEO (http://twitter.com/nvisionstudio) right back in the early days I guess the question itself never really presented itself or even bothered me until you bought it up again Angie.

    Now that I look at it, it is incredibly unrepresentative, for whatever reason, not just in SEO but right through the tech world and I have no idea myself why that is.

    There does appear to be a few quite well known woman in the industry though, and frankly I would be happy if there was not just a few but a lot more to work with for a whole host of different reasons but primarily because the outlook and feedback from a female perspective can be invaluable in the market place and how projects are approached. (of course, most especially when the market/service/product is for females).

    • because the outlook and feedback from a female perspective can be invaluable in the market place and how projects are approached

      I have to admit that this was one concept I hadn't considered. And when you think about it, you're absolutely right. Women are often wired a little differently than men. I smell another blog post ;) Thanks Justin, great input as always.

  6. Angie, what a great post! I've actually been impressed at how many women SEOs there are. However, I do see that more women have entered SEO due to the communications and "social harmony" aspect Edward Lewis alluded to. My 1st SES was in 2004 with a dominate male attendance. However, look at the conferences now. Women abound! But, there are more male speakers. Maybe Donna is right, men like to show their plumage more!

    Marie Claire-Jenkins identified some differences with SEO & search – super. Interestingly, the industry is a combination of mathematics and semantics, so it does take both sides of the brain. Women tend to work both sides of the brain better, so you are right, where are we? :-)

    Women SEOs have an opportunity here, to reach out to the universities. http://www.cc.gatech.edu/~women/newsarchive.shtml is a program at Georgia Tech that encourages women in computer sciences. However, look at their website. They need us!

    Thanks, Angie, for a thought-provoking post!

    • Hey Dana,

      That looks like an excellent program (and you're right. It's no wonder the IT industry doesn't attract a large amount of women. You have to find those programs first ;) )

  7. I can only name 2 women SEOs – Jill Whalen and Megan Fox. :D

  8. I've covered this topic myself, as has Li Evans and some male SEO's. It inspired a Women in SEO luncheon at SES conferences for a year or so, started by Li, that was packed. Even Danny Sullivan covered this topic.

    Many of the leaders in SEO are women. They are now the book authors and educators, board members and organizers. In cases like me, our seo skills are quite exact and branded because our methods are based on over 15 yrs of testing and application. We have proprietary approaches that blend different skill sets with seo, like usability for example.

    I think men are the hunter gatherers who go out and get the work and the women are in the office doing the work, while also raising the kids, making dinner and cleaning the bathroom. Who the hell has time to go to conferences to be counted? :) (Some SEO men are raising kids and wash windows.)

    Trust me. There are plenty of women in SEO. Though we do look around for others of our species because frankly, the men do out number us.

    • Hey Kim,

      You bring up a very good point about how leading female SEOs have moved more into an educational role. Makes sense when you think about it. As for your personal SEO style, you've worked hard enough to develop it that it only makes sense that you'd continue to practice…it's what sets you apart from others, and that's important. Not everyone can say that.

      Thanks so much for your input. It's greatly appreciated.

  9. Rae says:

    Every time I see a post like this, I want to bash my head into a freaking wall.

  10. I am a woman business owner that taught myself SEO and have successfully used it for my own sites with success. Maybe that makes me an SEO woman?

  11. Hello Ladies (oops AND gents)

    Well here we all are! Who'd of thought!?!

  12. We are here and have been doing for our clients for many years as a part of their website design package. It has only been recently (in the last few months) that we have decided to separately market that side of our business.

    Our female President, Heather Montgomery and myself handle all the social media and marketing – so we are out here!

    Great topic!

    Catherine Hughes
    Client Support Services
    Forward Motion Studios

    • Hi Catherine — Yes, there seems to be tons of women SEOs out there, and I'm so glad that my post has managed to bring you all out of hiding! It's so wonderful to meet you.

  13. [...] Where Are All the Women SEOs?, Search Engine People [...]

  14. ciaoenrico says:

    Thanks for this great post. I've wondered the same thing for some time, and my conclusion was the point you made about showing off vs. getting it done. It may not be a matter of what women or men enjoy doing in tech fields, as much as our (male) need to show how we've conquered something.

    Actually, the more I think about it, why are most of the star chefs men? Is it because more men are interested in cooking, or because more male chefs need to be stars? I'm sure there's something similar going on here.

    • Hey ciaoenrico — That's a good point you bring up about chefs. The other thought I have is that cooking is traditionally a women's job, so maybe men get into it for the pure passion of it, and therefore do better (in general, of course).

  15. tv says:

    In all fairness, isn't there a shortage of women in all internet-related careers, and not just SEO?

    Maybe they're all so busy and successful that they don't need to spend time talking about themselves and drumming up clients…..they're all implementing real work on their own projects. :)

    • Hi TV — You know, come to think of it, outside of data-entry, I think you're right. Copywriting, web design, development…they all outwardly appear to be male dominated.

  16. Andre Colt says:

    Most of SEO are IT and most of IT are men.They're just hiding!!lolz.My last girlfriend is an SEO one of the traits that I admire to her is being passionate and that is the thing that I learn from her.I think there has no real issue about the population of SEO women.The importance is they can be also a good SEO

  17. [...] Where are all the women SEOs? – is the title of our very own Angie the copywriter! This one actually started as a discussion on the boards then evolved to Twitter and eventually this post. A great topic that certainly had legs. [...]

  18. HemlataThak says:

    Hey Angie,

    I really appreciate your post. If you see around, you will find that women are doing multitasking, they are doing their jobs sincerely in every field. Women are managing office and home at a time so my point is that they are participating less in forums and discussions and spending more time on their assigned tasks, this doesn't mean that women are not updating theirselves with search engine trends.

    Secondly, women are always like to have privacy. That is why they are hiding themselves.

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