Oh, SEO. I love you so. As a complex field requiring a wide set of skills combined with the challenge of constantly changing search algorithms, being an SEO professional makes my heart sing. What’s terrifying to many makes me roll up my sleeves with a grin on my face.

Unfortunately, being a young woman in SEO comes with a few unique challenges beyond the usual ones Google throws at us. 

From technical expertise being pushed aside to added difficulties in communication and networking, here are some of the challenges I’ve experienced as a 20-something female SEO specialist and the impact they’ve had on my career so far.

Your Technical Skills Are Overlooked

Certainly not unique to SEO, the technical skills involved in the job are often overlooked for content-oriented ones. Believe it or not, I can do so much more than just copywriting and content creation.

When you think of a woman working in a marketing agency, what role do you envision them as? Probably a copywriter, doing social media, working on the accounts team or in an administrative role. 

When you picture someone creating a landing page, digging through code, mapping out site migrations and troubleshooting technical errors, who comes to mind? It’s probably a man, isn’t it?

The amount of technical skills required in an SEO role varies greatly depending on the specific position. That being said, it’s hard to get far in the industry without at least some technical knowledge and/or hands-on web skills. 

Despite what some people think, I am capable of so much more than blogging and writing. I may not be a developer, but it’s actually my combination of skills in both content and technical SEO that makes me so great at what I do (if I do say so myself!).

Content may be king, but if it’s built on a poor technical foundation then it can only go so far. It’s time we recognize the technical skills that women bring to the table so they can be used to their full extent. And it’s definitely time we stop mansplaining basic technical concepts to them because it’s just a waste of everybody’s time. 

Finally, let’s be real. Technical skills = $$$. When technical skills are overlooked in female SEO specialists, that means they make less money and may have fewer opportunities for promotions and future opportunities.

Lack of Visible Female Role Models

Try a few informational searches related to SEO or look up any content published by Google’s search team and you’ll realize what a male-dominated industry this is. Similar to the visibility of women in other STEM and male-dominated industries, it’s not surprising that SEO isn’t a career many women initially see for themselves because they don’t see themselves reflected in it.

There’s no doubt that there are many incredible female SEO professionals doing phenomenal things at all levels in the industry. I was fortunate enough to be introduced to SEO by an amazing female professor and I’m extremely grateful to have recently joined the Women in Tech SEO community. 

We’re out there. We just lack that visibility at many of the highest levels, events and companies. This is not the post to dig into the reasons why, but visibility can go a long way in bringing women into the SEO industry and helping them move up the ladder.

The Uncertainty of SEO Can Come Across as Incompetence

It’s a bit like how a man being assertive is interpreted as confidence, while a woman being assertive is seen as being too aggressive or unlikeable. 

Anybody in SEO knows the standard answer to a question is “It depends!”. Unfortunately, when we look at how language is interpreted in different ways depending on gender, this can really backfire against women. 

Hearing “It depends.” coming from a woman can be seen as incompetence or a lack of confidence in her response. The same response from a man can be interpreted as “Oh, well that’s just SEO!”. 

Communicating complex SEO ideas can be difficult on the best of days. It’s become exponentially more difficult thanks to changes from COVID-19, as the data we used to rely on can no longer be trusted and the future is so uncertain.

I’m not really sure what the answer to this one is other than it sucks. Especially because if we change our communication too much, it can easily be seen as overconfidence and arrogance. Unfortunately (as my father told me many times as a child and in adulthood, too) we can only control ourselves, we can’t control other people. 

Being Young Makes You Stick Out Even More

I’m only just starting to really branch out to get involved in the SEO as well as WordPress communities, but I’ve definitely noticed that I’m typically the youngest in the room. If there are other twenty-somethings in the room, they’re usually male. 

Part of this is probably the path that leads to becoming an SEO professional, it’s not something you really go to school for! I’m a bit of an anomaly in that I had the chance to take a formal course in it during my post-grad. Given that most people develop the skills over time and stumble into the specialization, it makes sense that there’s not a lot of young guns like me. 

That being said, what are we doing to ensure young people are discovering SEO? How are we mentoring them? What are we doing to ensure the SEO industry doesn’t continue to be male-dominated?

It can be hard to speak up when you’re one of the only women and also the same age as the children of many people in the room. It can be uncomfortable, bring out the imposter syndrome and make it more challenging to make connections while networking. 

Getting over the fear has always been worth it, whether it’s giving a talk in the front of a lecture hall or answering an SEO question in a meetup, but it can be a scary step to take when you feel like you’re doing it alone. 

I love being an SEO professional. It’s definitely top-3 in the extensive list of things I can’t help but nerd out about. I am so lucky to have fallen into this field and to have been given some amazing, early-career opportunities that are often hard to come by.

SEO is a challenging, exciting field and I am proud to be a professional within this dynamic industry. Despite that pride, embracing the role of being a female SEO professional has come with its challenges, particularly getting recognition for my technical capabilities. 

Despite the challenges, with communities like Women in Tech SEO providing amazing support and resources, along with other female SEO professionals and allies, I hope that the path for those coming up behind me will be a little bit easier as time goes one. This was a challenging and slightly scary piece to write, but I hope by being honest about experiences I can help bring these challenges out into the open to improve the experience for all SEO and marketing professionals.

Are you a young woman in SEO? What challenges have you faced in your career and how have you overcome them? Leave a comment or send me a tweet @natasha_bd, I’d love to hear!