SEO is constantly evolving according to data, consumer behavior, and algorithm trends.
However, when it comes to women being treated as equals, the industry is much less evolved.
SEO is still a male-dominated industry where men outnumber women 2-to-1, according to recent research.
That survey found that:
- Women are far less likely to be technical SEO professionals.
- Women are twice as likely to freelance (see: unstable employment) as their male counterparts.
- Men are more likely to charge monthly retainers; women are more likely to get paid by the hour or project.
- Men’s retainers are 28.6% higher than women’s.
- Men’s project rates were on average 66.7% higher than women’s.
- Median hourly rates for men were 16.8% higher than for women.
And while the sample sizes for various aspects of this research were small, it is also worth noting that the study failed to account for the impact of combined gender and racial bias for Black, Indigenous, and other women of color in SEO (which the study coordinator acknowledges and regrets).
Had that been factored in, we would most likely see even more extreme differences in pay and opportunity for those women.
Despite this, many women continue to be attracted to careers and entrepreneurship in SEO and Digital Marketing.
Our world is fun, challenging, and ever-changing.
And as more women become involved in and grow in the industry, the uphill battle those women face is realized by more and more people.
It can be intimidating to ask for the rates we see in industry benchmarks and to prove our value to the companies or agencies who employ us.
In this column co-authored by Stephanie Gifford, SEO Marketing Manager at Adigma.io, we’ve asked women to share their best advice for peers and things they wish they’d known earlier in their careers.
Check out these tips for knowing your value as digital marketing and SEO professionals, getting paid fairly, and defending the title you’ve earned.
Knowing Your Value As An SEO Professional
Miracle Inameti-Archibong, Head of SEO at Erudite:
“One of the reasons why women fail to ask for their worth is the feeling that they are not good enough. Work on that imposter syndrome. Keep track of your accomplishments both big and small throughout the year. Don’t wait until it’s time for your review.
Don’t forget to value your soft skills as much as your hard skills it all impacts the work you do and it’s so unique to you, you deserve to be paid for it.”
Robyn Johnson, Owner of Marketplace Blueprint:
“If I know that I am good at what I do, and believe that I provide a product that will make a difference to a client, I am doing them a disservice if I don’t assertively make that offer.
I found earlier on that I didn’t want to ‘pressure’ people, and then those same customers would go purchase with someone who had slick marketing or a more aggressive sales process even when they had less experience and expertise. Consider who your customers might go with if you don’t communicate your offer and the value you bring to the table.
You aren’t tooting your own horn to gloat or be prideful; you need to accurately highlight your skills and your value so that your customers or potential employers can determine if your offering will really get the results they need.”
Julia McCoy, Founder of Express Writers and Content Hacker:
“Give yourself an annual task of re-assessing your rates. Every year, without fail, audit what you charge and increase as needed. You should be charging more as your experience, skills, and credibility/tenure grows.
Don’t let imposter syndrome stop you from claiming your rightful place in the market. Back it up by boldly talking about the work you’ve done, and goals you’ve smashed for clients!”
Chelsea Alves, Content Marketing Specialist at Rio SEO:
“As a woman, knowing your professional value not only builds confidence but extends to the work you produce. This in turn leads to higher quality work, increased satisfaction with your job, and likelihood for promotion. Stagnation can be a career killer. Instead, we must strive to push past our comfort zones.
To do this, I encourage women to continue to enhance your skills, broaden your networks, and ask for mentorship when needed to truly leave your mark in the SEO world.”
Navah Hopkins, Director of Paid Media at Justuno:
“On general value: use data! Before you set rates or go into a salary negotiation, look up what others are charging/being paid. Don’t be afraid to have different rates for different projects and always make sure you’re accounting for overhead (taxes, utilities, software, etc.). Here’s to all the amazing power women knowing their value and being paid appropriately for our brilliance!”
Jenise Uehara Henrikson, CEO of Alpha Brand Media, home of Search Engine Journal:
“When in doubt… go for it. Apply for that job, ask for that raise, ask for more $$$ in your proposal. In the workplace, women in general tend to hang back and ask for less. A recent LinkedIn study showed that women apply to 20% fewer jobs than men.
Another famous study found women feel they need to meet 100% of the job criteria before they will apply… while men usually apply after meeting ~60%.
Women are twice as likely as men to report a total lack of comfort when asking for a raise. We need to ask for more. And when we don’t get it? Instead of giving up, learn to take a different approach, dust yourself off, and try again.
It’s taken me a long time to evolve my reaction to rejection: that it is not a verdict on me and my worth and I should just stop. Rather, I’m learning from failure, so that I can try again, fail better, and eventually… succeed.”
Ivy Boyter, SEO Strategist:
“As someone with HR experience from years ago, your title won’t matter as much as the meat you can put into your resume … the data and results that matter to who is looking to hire someone. Show what you bring to the table by including valuable measurements in your descriptions instead of the day-to-day activities. In general, though, titles can help you research what pay ranges you may expect. There are plenty of websites that will help you discover pay ranges based on position, years of experience, where you live, etc. And I agree with PP … negotiate high (read “Never Split the Difference” if you want to learn serious negotiation skills ). Finally, if you can’t get the $$, benefits like vacation/PTO are sometimes negotiable for the right candidate.”
Negotiating Rates and Raises: Practical Tips from Women in SEO
Motoko Hunt, AJPR, President at Motoko Hunt:
“Show your value in terms of business data, not just because you’ve been there for X number of years or you put X number of hours but because your work grew (contributed to growing) business X% or increased the revenue by $X. Also, always keep paper/digital records of communications, projects, etc.; whatever proves what you did/said.”
Shelly Fagin, Founder, Highly Searched:
“Never be afraid to negotiate if the offer isn’t right for you. I do believe women tend to negotiate less out of fear of being seen as aggressive or demanding. On the flip side, if someone isn’t willing to give you what you deserve don’t be afraid to walk away. If the company or client really understands your value, they’ll work with you. If they don’t, you probably dodged a bullet.”
Anna Crowe, Head of Content & SEO at Leadfeeder:
“Stop giving away your number.
I’ve worked both in-house and in freelance life. Over the past four years, after talking to my friends about their salaries and rates, I realized how underpaid I was. I would get to the negotiation and lowball myself. I was following the motto’s of “Hustle hard” and “Slay your day.” But, in reality, following advice from an Instagram quote doesn’t pay your bills.
I realized it’s all about how you finesse the numbers.
First, I came up with my line in the sand of what I needed to make to survive. Then add a little extra ($10,000-$15,000 per year). When you’re asked for a number, ‘What is your budget?’ or ‘What are your salary requirements?’ Flip the script. Ask your client or potential boss what their budget or salary range is. You might be surprised with the number you get back.
The first time I did this, I was going to quote $3,000 per month. By the end of the conversation, I had more than tripled my money. It’s like poker, don’t show your cards. I had undercut my company, my self-worth, and my time. I was just happy to win a client. Now, I understand my bottom line. And, I’m comfortable saying no, whether it be to clients or a project.”
Robyn Johnson, Owner of Marketplace Blueprint:
“Don’t base your prices on what you are ‘worth.’ I know that sounds counterintuitive but what if you have self-worth issues? That made me tend to underprice my services.
Instead of focusing on ‘What I am worth?’ I now ask myself, ‘How much value will I bring to this client?’ Focusing on the value I bring to the customer allows me to separate my service fees from how I might be feeling about myself on any given day.”
Bibi Raven, founder at Bibibuzz
“I think a lot of women have the notion that negotiation has to be confrontational, so they try to avoid going into it full-heartedly.
They also don’t like putting themselves in the spotlight and feel that talking about their accomplishments is a bad thing.
What I’ve learnt works best is this:
Assess your own worth, and then double that (as you’re probably aiming too low, and the negotiation result might end up lower).
Determine your BATNA: Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement. This is one of the pillars of the Harvard Method. It means that prior to a negotiation, you determine when you will walk away from the table. It’s a great safeguard against agreeing to something you’re not comfortable with.
Don’t take it personally. Separate what you do for work and business from your personal worth. Rejection in a negotiation does not say anything about who you are. Of course, the other party might mean it personally, but you don’t have to play along. Water off a duck’s back.
Be as laidback as possible. The weird thing is, when the other party notices you’re relaxed, they often tend to agree with you. If you don’t know what I mean, watch the movie “Office Space.”
Use “okay, and…” when the other party offers something you don’t want but it’s not quite at BATNA level, create an opening for yourself. Don’t say no right away, but create an opening by countering with a demand that will make theirs acceptable. For instance, when they say: we want you to start working full-time, then you say: Hey cool, but I’d like three months paid leave with that.
If you have this idea stuck in your head that you’re simply not that kind of person to ask for things, pretend you’re someone else that you admire and channel them.”
Why Titles Still Matter in SEO
Libby Stonehawk, Owner & SEO Consultant at Stonehawk Digital:
“I seriously undersold myself at the start by calling myself ‘junior’ in my job title and charged way too little, working myself to a plump while over-delivering.
I soon realised that many so-called experts (usually male) knew about as much as me but would mystify clients with SEO jargon so they would not ask any questions!
When my husband started to freelance with me under the name Stonehawk Digital, during client pitches a lot of the more technical questions were directed to my husband even though I had the formal training.
If I could go back I’d say leave out the ‘Junior’ designation, charge more, and connect with other women in tech earlier for advice and support.”
Navah Hopkins, Director of Paid Media at Justuno:
“Never allow yourself to be called ‘associate’ or ‘junior’ anything. You’re a strategist, consultant, or specialist at entry-level.
If you’re a rockstar individual contributor with no desire to manage people, get a ‘senior’ or ‘team lead’ added to whatever function you perform.
‘Director’ and above tends to be faster to secure at smaller companies, and typically demands you have just as much business strategy at your back as digital marketing.
For agency owners: you’re a CEO unless you’ve handed control to someone else. We all tend to think of CEOs as the boss. President can work, too!”
Rachel Libby, Marketing Director, Salt Lake City:
“I learned early on that if I wanted to quickly progress and grow in my career, I had to be hungry for opportunities and proactively seek out paths that took me where I wanted to be. Those experiences weren’t going to fall in my lap simply by paying my dues and sticking to routine. I had to chase each opportunity, take risks, and pursue the things that ultimately gave me the growth I desired.
I’ve been lucky enough to cross paths with colleagues that saw my talent, ultimately helping me realize my full potential and what I was capable of achieving. That encouragement has always been helpful to me when the road inevitably gets tough.
Ultimately, my advice is to really think about where you’d like to be in ten years. What are you doing? How much money are you making? What does your work/life balance look like? What makes you happy?
Then create a plan that gets you there little by little with small, doable, daily goals. Be flexible with your dreams and patient with yourself and your journey.
Lastly, surround yourself with a supportive network that believes in you and sees your potential. That encouragement will get you through the growing pains that always inevitably come.”
Top Takeaways for Women in SEO
Know Your Value:
- Keep track of your success with measurable data.
- Have confidence and work on combating imposter syndrome.
- Communicate and accurately highlight your skills.
- Review and re-evaluate professional rates and pricing annually.
- Continue to hone your skills and build connections.
How to Negotiate More Successfully:
- Show your growth in experience in skills through data.
- Keep records of results of successful projects and results.
- Don’t be afraid to push back and negotiate more for the right price or walk away if it isn’t right for you.
- Know your bottom line and ask the right questions.
- Focus on the value you bring to clients.
Why Titles Still Matter in SEO:
- Don’t undercut yourself by accepting titles with ‘associate’ or ‘junior’ in it, titles can always be tweaked to not feel like it’s selling yourself short.
- At entry-level, focus on ‘strategist’, ‘specialist’, or ‘consultant.’
- ‘Director’ and above can be more easily attained in smaller companies but requires equal parts technical expertise and business and marketing strategy.
- Envision your ideal career path and take incremental steps to get there.
At the end of the day, we are all in this together.
We need to remember that the value we bring to the companies and clients we work for and with, is different than our value as individuals.
Keeping track of our successes and the results will push us all forward to better advancement and futures to show the value we bring to the table.
It can be challenging to find and link up with other women in the industry, so we would like to provide some additional resources to connect with more women in SEO.
These are among the solid and supportive communities we use to connect with women in SEO:
- Sisters in SEO Facebook Group
- Women in Tech SEO – A community led by Areej AbuAli
- Digital Nomad Girls Community