Women in SEO: Surfer's Showstopping SEO Live Panel

SEO, like most of the tech world, is male-dominated. Women, Black and Indigenous communities, Latines and other cultures, and the LGBTQIA+ communities are not often represented in the mainstream and therefore, their invaluable perspectives are lost or minimized.

Understanding the need for diversity and diverse opinions is fundamental to all SEOs. Why? Because language is changing. Culture is evolving. SEO scholars need to adapt because, as we all know, the point of SEO is to be discovered by one's target audience.

To do that, you have to speak their language.

You have to know how Black and indigenous people identify, how to speak to people in a different age group or sexual orientation or folks from other countries. People want to feel seen, heard and understood when you're marketing to them.

When I first started my SEO career, I looked to SEO scholars such as Neil Patel, Matt Diggity, and other websites like MOZ and SEMRush.

Did it worry me that most of the voices represented in these spaces were male? A bit, yes.

I'm fully aware that there are high standards for this field, but I'm unwilling to accept that only white people or men are capable of making a name for themselves based off of their skills in SEO.

Luckily I work for an organization where I can create events that both interest me and uplift communities I care about. Showstopping SEO is a Surfer live panel discussion which brought awareness to the fact that male SEOs outnumber women 2:1....

Sarah Bird from Moz said it best:

"Elevating women’s voices has a positive impact on company performance, company culture, and long-term employee retention overall. Inclusion at every level is good for SEO companies and the tech industry as a whole.

The evidence is clear: Companies that have higher female representation at higher levels of leadership and management show higher returns on equity, higher valuations, and higher payout ratios. Operationalizing gender equality empowers companies to shift policies toward more inclusion and can have a positive impact on sales, as well as opens the door to new markets.

Diversity has also been shown to foster more creativity and innovation."

It simply makes sense.

As a minority woman in SEO, I was honored to focus my attention on creating Showstopping SEO: Women Making Waves because, frankly, I'm not interested in being the exception to the rule.

There's literal excellence all around me, so this panel was not only fun to create, it was also an educational opportunity and a necessary moment of visibility.

SEO Diversity: Meet the Showstopping SEO Panelists

Bibi Raven, professional link builder and founder of BibiBuzz!

Bibi the Link Builder is the crazy founder over at Bibibuzz - where her link slinging Jedi pew-pew powerful backlinks at the websites of her splendid clients. She's infamously known for doling out world-saving link building advice, creative outreach training and expired dad jokes.

What I loved about having Bibi on the panel is her honesty and the levity with which she approaches her craft. She spoke a bit on how to know when it's time to raise your rates as a freelancer, the women-specific hurdles that come with working in this field, and explained what backlinks are and their importance.

Here are a few answers to some of the questions I asked Bibi below:

What is a backlink, and what is its role within SEO? 

A backlink is a link to your site, from another site. It works as a recommendation, whether that’s for products, services, knowledge, entertainment or news around a topic. 

Link placement example

An example is a cyber security site publishing an article around working from home. 

In one of the paragraphs they mention how to create a safe password, and they link out to a piece on your site, where you wrote about the worst ways to create passwords. 

People could click on that link, and visit your site. But Google sees those links as well, and sees how people interact with that link and your article. 

The link effect

The higher people seem to value your article, the higher Google values it = putting it on the search results page. So next time, when someone googles “safe password birthday dog bad?” - Google might show your article in the top results.

If you’re new to starting a blog or website, how do you recommend building /and not building backlinks? There are a lot of scammy, sketchy ways people acquire backlinks. What kinds of things should people look out for? 

It’s all relative

There is a lot of discussion on what determines the quality of a backlink. 

Some people like building links in an automatic, low-effort way. Sometimes this means that the link placements are on low-quality sites, and the link placement doesn’t look relevant.

Others like to create high-value content that’s so compelling it earns links without having to do much else. And others prefer doing outreach to other sites, and persuade site editors to give them a link.

Google say they don’t reward it when you ask people for links, or build them yourself on other sites. But from what I’ve seen ranking in the search results, it’s different for everyone. 

Your links your way

If you’re just starting out - you should pick a link building strategy that’s closest to your personality and business structure. If that strategy doesn’t follow Google’s guidelines, understand that this can be risky.

If Google detects what you’re doing and doesn’t like it, they won’t show your pages in the SERP.

I am risk averse, and I don’t like shit quality content - so I focus on link prospects that clearly care about their site. I think of links as natural, relevant connections between people, companies and their audience that just make sense.

New site old friends

If you have a new website, take a look at your existing network. This can be suppliers, clients, friends and other connections. 
Sticky content

At the same time, start researching content that could attract links, and make outreach for links easier. Here are some great resources for that:
How to Write a Blog Post That Attracts Backlinks by Sam Oh

Honey, I shrunk the content marketing budget by Stacey Macnaught

Your First 100 links by Gael Breton and Mark Webster

Watch what works

You can also vary your backlink strategies, so you’re not putting all your money in one basket. Whichever way you go, you should always keep a close eye on the results, to learn what works for you. 

Want more Bibi? Watch the full replay of the event here!

Kayle Larkin, SEO strategist

Kayle brought her years of experience to the Showstopping SEO panel to remind us that analytics, while intimidating at times, matter. Here's how she got started in SEO:

My origin story, I come from a marketing background, starting with branding, print/billboards. When we were rebranding, we refreshed the website too and a client-owned an SEO company. He gave me an SEO whitepaper. 

And I thought it was amazing! Here was a new medium that really (at that time) leveled the playing field. It wasn’t about how much money a company had, it was whoever had the drive to learn. 

I started extending my knowledge base and teaching what I learned to anyone who would listen. Which has snowballed over the years to now, where I write for SEJ and Ahrefs.

The best way to start seeing immediate results from your SEO strategy is proper research. Kayle goes on to answer the following question:

How long does it take for SEO to get results?

If you have information on what works, on what gets results then you’d factor in the time it takes to analyze those patterns, build the campaign (how much time to write the content, how much time to get the necessary backlinks), and upon deployment, you should see results.

So, a realistic timeline is however long it takes you to do that.

If you take the approach of just looking at keyword volume, it’s going to take a lot longer - if it ever pays off at all.  I am seeing a rise in this large blanket content strategy, which I think is just too costly. It’s too costly to keep throwing noodles against the wall to see what sticks. 

Timeline and return on investment should all be calculated prior to campaign approval. 

I also asked Kayle a pretty tricky question about ads, ethics and the responsibility of SEO scholars and marketers which she handled with ease. Here's how she responded:

How I explained this to my mom is that consumer data is used in more places than just online ads. It’s a lot more common part of our daily life than people think. 

And I use a grocery store as an example. The products that are available within your local grocery store (in the states) are based on consumer data and buying patterns. Where products are placed in the store is based on data. What coupons print on the back of your receipt is based on data. 

Data used to create personalized shopping experiences - or personalized user experiences is not by itself harmful. This leads to your last question...And really the main advice I have to SEOs on using data responsibly would be to make sure your morals and ethics align with the product/service and people that your work is supporting or otherwise benefiting. 

Obviously, there is no SEO law that says: do this, or do that, so using our moral compass is a great place to start!

Want more Kayle? Watch the full replay of the event here!

Julie Adams, Affiliate SEO

Julie was able to quit the agency she used to work at, and start her SEO career as a full-time affiliate. She proudly admits that she makes more from affiliate seo in a month than she did in a year while working at her previous agency. Boss moves!

A lot of her SEO education was learned from doing. I hope this fact inspires all the aspiring affiliates and SEOs out there. May this encourage you to learn as you go, seek opportunities to practice, and may it remind you that titles and certificates are nice to have, but nothing replaces full-on immersion.

Julie started SEO in 2013 working as a content writer for a marketing agency in Orlando, FL. Over the course of 6 years, she worked her way up to SEO department lead, where she was the brains behind hundreds of local SEO campaigns. After building a personal portfolio of websites, Julie quit her job at the agency in 2019 to pursue affiliate SEO full-time.

Want more Julie? Watch the full replay of the event here!

Cassandra Le: CEO & Founder, Brand Strategist & Copywriter

While Cassandra doesn't identify as having an "SEO career" per say, although versed in the fundamentals, they are an accomplished business-owner and strategist focused on building brand identity. I'll let Cassandra introduce themselves:

Hi, I’m Cassandra (she/they)! I’m a first-generation daughter of Vietnamese refugees, a Vietnamese-American, non-gender conforming, immigrant living in Spain. I’m also the CEO & Founder of The Quirky Pineapple Studio, a brand strategy & copywriting studio for BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, and Feminist-run brands and businesses.

My work has been featured in Forbes, Huffpost, TEDx, and other media outlets. My team and I have worked with small businesses around the world in English and Spanish - helping them share their story, connect with their community, and drive sales with content marketing that is enjoyable and with less manipulation.

The highlight of Cassandra's talk for me was the focus on brand identity and the importance of inclusive language within the realm of SEO. Also, anyone who's down to question systemic racism, create a valuable educational opportunity through their copywriting and help diverse groups of writers, entrepreneurs and business owners develop their unique identity is a-ok in my book!

I asked Cassandra the question: What are some examples of inclusive language in copywriting? Why does it matter?

Some examples of inclusive language in copywriting are things like:

  • Removing gender
  • Removing US-centric marketing references
  • Sharing context to a situation

Let’s break down one of the examples I just listed!

Removing gender from copywriting could look like removing words like ladies, manpower, mankind, etc. and replacing them with gender-neutral words and terms.

Let’s say, for example, a client targets women musicians and artists to help them with their album art. When using the term “women musicians and artists”, it creates binary thinking that there are only 2 genders - there aren’t. By removing the word women and replacing it with something more specific about the clients (ie: their values, characteristics, etc.), the copywriting and marketing becomes clearer.

Instead of writing “women musicians and artists”, I would change this to something like “soul musicians and artists, who want groovy and colorful album art”. This type of copywriting is more specific and also shares the value that the person brings to their clients.

Inclusive language in copywriting, in today’s digital and globalized world, is important because we are moving in more “aware” social, economic, and political climates. There is more vocabulary to describe concepts, ideas, identities, and beliefs that we didn’t have previously - this means that our language needs to adapt to these changes. In a more SEO-specific response, writing with inclusive language can help your content rank because it is clear for people who are searching for something very specific.

And in today’s marketing trends, personalization always wins! While SEO optimized content isn’t necessarily “personalized” in the same way that email marketing is, being specific with your language and your copy can help folx find your content more easily and share value to exactly what they’re looking for. 

What are the first steps to developing a brand voice? 

The first step to developing a brand voice, for me, is describing what you want to sound like and what you definitely don’t want to sound like.

Usually, I ask clients to list out a list of adjectives to describe what their brand would sound like online and then list out a list of adjectives to describe what their brand will NEVER sound like.

For example, one client knew that their brand voice would sound friendly, down-to-Earth, and feminine. From there, we then listed out adjectives that the brand voice would NOT sound like, based on the adjectives they used to describe what it would be like.

Their list of what the brand voice ISN’T included adjectives like pretentious, condescending, and a pushover. This helped us figure out some parameters for developing a brand voice that felt good for them!

Want more Cassandra? Watch the full replay of the event here!

Marie Ysais, International SEO Strategist

Marie has been an international SEO strategist for the past 15 years. She entered the SEO field in 2006 and her career then evolved from SEO consulting with local businesses to also include strategizing with SEO agencies across the globe. She has a BBA in Business with a major in management.

In addition to being co-founder of Rule Your Rankings, Marie also owns Ysais Digital Marketing and is currently working with SEO agencies around the world as well as Fortune 500 companies to help them improve their website infrastructure, technical SEO, content strategies and to “unstick” their sites.

Marie has an impressive SEO career that spans 15 years. The highlights of Marie's talk for me were her thoughts on finding your voice, and not being afraid to speak up! That doesn't mean yelling, or being the loudest, but it does mean speaking your truth, not invalidating your experience and not second-guessing your talent.

Marie says that good SEOs usually have some, if not all, of the following traits: tenacity, patience and an insatiable drive for excellence.

Want more Marie? Watch the full replay of the event here!


As a Black person, specifically a Black woman in SEO, I'm grateful to have had a safe space with these incredible professionals to talk about the differences in treatment, pay and ability to scale that many women in SEO face. Creating a diverse environment starts with asking the hard questions, giving people a voice and not limiting learning to the classroom.

Cheers to a nation and population which amplifies a variety of perspectives from numerous groups and cultures!

Cheers to more SEO scholars from diverse backgrounds and groups who are celebrated, not excluded, because of their differences.

Cheers to the next generation that will learn from history to create a a better, more inclusive society for all in the future! May we navigate our wonderful differences with tact, understanding and care.

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