Tight Rope

The Hard Truth – We Are Women in SEO

Women in SEO wants to thank all our readers. Our extraordinary Top SEO Women list has been one of the most visited posts in the history of Top SEO Women

Our extraordinary Top SEO Women list has been one of the most visited posts in the history of Top SEO Women, with over 2700 unique views. From a marketing standpoint, it’s great publicity for the nominees, wouldn’t you think? I thought so, which is one of the main reasons I started this thing in the first place – to give my fellow SEO women more publicity. Therefore, I must admit my surprise and sadness when a few women asked to be removed from the list.

Believe it or not, I meant the TSW award as a compliment. I still mean it as a compliment. Yet, it’s much more than that…

Not to Go Bra Burnin’, But…

Do you realize, those of you who get all irate about this little award of ours, that women in the U.S. have only had the right to vote for 80 years or so? Do you realize that – internationally – there are still places where women have no rights at all? Do you realize that, in general, women are still paid less than men, even when doing the same jobs?

-And I’m wondering, is me mentioning this going to get negative feedback about being sexist, feminist and so on? These are facts, people; they aren’t opinions. They’re historically and statistically provable.

What’s Acceptable?

Let me get this straight. People’s Sexiest Man and Woman of the Year is acceptable, but Level343’s Top SEO Women of the Year isn’t. So, we can discuss how “hot” a person is, dissect their physical features, what they wear and wonder how much plastic surgery they’ve had or where they work out, but talking about how good a person is at their job is too much?

Or – wait, maybe those of you who are complaining about the Top SEO Women award have the same problem with People. So then, you’ve complained to Enterprising Women Magazine about their Enterprising Women of the Year Award, yes? –And, I should expect to see your reprimanding comments at the end of the CNN Money article, 50 Most Powerful Women In Business, right? I wonder how many women turned down the Enterprising Women of the Year nominations because it had “women” in the title…

I also noticed that there weren’t any negative comments about Dell’s Women’s Entrepreneur Network, or on the article How Women Entrepreneurs Differ from Men. Perhaps something along the lines of AskMen’s Top 99 Women is more appropriate?

It’s How You Play the Game

We’re still learning and growing, building on the original Top SEO Women idea. For instance, one reader mentioned not being able to vote because he didn’t know anything about the women other than the bio we gave. He had a good point, and our think tank is working on the best way to work that in future TSW years.

Why? We’re sharing some new faces that might be missed. We’re working to help women with their marketing efforts. Because the Top SEO Women award isn’t about who wins or loses. It’s not about calling people out and making them feel uncomfortable, but to rejoice in seeing so many given recognition by our very own industry.

When I first started this business, I remember that there were very few Tech women, let alone women in SEO; at least, there were very few that I knew (by the way, Heather Lloyd-Martin wrote a great series: The Women Who Made SEO Great, that’s well worth the read if you don’t know the women mentioned). I’m not saying we’re dinosaurs, but there are so many new guns out there! It’s fantastic, and I want to help celebrate the fact.

Personally, I’d like to see the quality of recognition go a little higher than The Seduction of SEO. It was a nice thought, but it took me saying, “Hey, why aren’t you giving them links to their site?” Let’s face it; as advanced as the world of SEO is, and as many women are in the industry, we still don’t highlight their accomplishments (with the exception of an elite few). If you think we do, take a gander at:

While you’re looking around at the articles, just take a moment to compare the men to women ratio. How many of the people listed are the same as those listed on other links? What’s really the number of women mentioned, when all the articles are combined? What – five? This is equal recognition, is it? Enough said…

High School Popularity Contest?

One of the comments we heard was that some of the women didn’t want to be involved in what they believed was similar to a high school popularity contest. Sure, any poll that allows voting for “the top person” can be viewed as a popularity contest. Yes, you’ll see contenders for the title pimping for votes on Twitter, etc. But we are marketers people! We pimp for votes on a daily basis for all sorts of reasons; products, blog posts, content, etc. It’s this type of “hiding away” that has made it so difficult in the past for women to be seen as viable contenders in the marketplace. We’re all adults now.

If You’re Feeling Threatened…

We received a comment on our last TSW article:

“So if you have boobies and do SEO you get an award? You know half the women on your list don’t do SEO?  They might write about it, but at the end of the day drop code in front of them and they won’t know wtf they are looking at.”

Thanks so much for that lovely, supportive comment that speaks so highly about women. Is the Top SEO Women of the Year award so threatening to you that you need to be insulting?

And women – is it such a horrible thing to you to be a woman that you believe we need to pretend there is no gender? Is being a woman something to despise? I’m proud of who, and what, I am – a woman entrepreneur in a field that requires a high degree of critical thinking.

Although I am sorry that some women didn’t feel comfortable with their nominations, I won’t apologize for starting Level343’s Top SEO Women of the Year, Honoring Women Wednesday, or anything else that supports other women in business. Our intent was not to destroy, embarrass, humiliate or start another war of the sexes. We started TSW because we are excited – no, thrilled – that women are jumping into this field because they know they can do the job. There aren’t any SEO courses per say, therefore, it’s even more reassuring that women are diving into this field.

Break Free

As women, we at Level343 are proud to finally say we are not the only ones screaming ‘give us justice’. We love and support One Billion Rising – Let’s break the rules; break the chain.

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56 Responses

  1. I think when someone doesn’t want to be included they should be able to have a say in the matter. I wish that were true, they don’t, only if the site owner will listen. People have written negative things about me and I’m stuck with it. It’s a choice I made to muster the courage to do what I’ve done in a public manner, with people who I hoped to count on as friends lending me a hand here and there. I got mixed results.

    There are those who’ve gone before me in other industries. There will be those who follow in my footsteps in SEO. I chose to stand up and not shy away from harsh criticism, to deal with it on the face and not cower behind “responding is beneath me” when I know people will be coming behind me and I want to lend them a hand. I would never dare ask someone who might be thinking about a transition to do so publicly like I have done.

    I have been vilified online and threatened with violence at conferences. I went anyway. I could never ask someone to go through all that, even if it will get easier and easier as generations move on and youthful attitudes carry the day. There is still sex discrimination among the youth, make no mistake about it. There is violence and shameful acts that I’ve been privy to and the next generation is not entirely free of it.

    To stand and be counted, not only because of your gender, to be proud of that recognition entails more than basking in the pride of the moment. It comes with it a deep responsibility to do right by others, and to lend a hand for those who want to follow. That is the stuff of leadership. Not the crappy paper kind, where pay exceeds 400x the floor employee salary and pensions get robbed to pay it. I’m speaking of profound leadership skills that requires courage to accept broadside attack from haters in order to make way for those who want to follow.

    You do not have to do this. You can ask to be removed for whatever reason. If you want your profile to be removed and the website owner does it, just know that it is not your choice. Facebook keeps your intellectual property too, just like Google, Twitter and all the rest. Old Facebook email you can’t even edit if you wanted to. I could easily have decided to disappear into the ether, to become a country mouse-frau. Colleagues of mine suggested I do exactly that. Are you better off without me? I persist, regardless of opinion so that I might make way for others to feel encouraged whatever they do.

    1. Being properly made fun of, by the way, is totally okay. It’s when it’s improper that I take issue. The thing about it is that I am the only one who gets to decide if something about me is improper. I’m grateful to friends who want to look after my feelings. I have no friends with the right experience to advise me, even among LGBT friends. Hate should be dealt with ‘head-on’ in my world. Period.

      1. Head-on is the only way to go, IMO, Disa, in ANY situation. And as I’m sure you know, tough situations are the ones that show who the true friends are.

        1. Thank you Doc. I am lucky enough to have lived through the situation that helped me sort it. I get to select where and when I participate in a much wiser way than was possible before. Thank you to you, and all allies who do us right, men and women, all who struggle to be counted.

    2. Disa, I can’t even begin to tell you what it means having you pitch in. Look I’m not blinded by the injustices I see all around me. I can’t say I’ve known what you’ve gone through or what you’re going through. We each have our stories to tell. What I can say is, I’ve always admired and respected your courage to face the shit storm that ensues when we decide to let the world inside our most precious self. You, are formidable Disa. I’m looking forward to meeting you soon.

  2. Celebrating success is always a good thing, Gabriella, and I think your list fills a great big gap in the industry. The very fact there is such heated debate on your blog goes to show that you have touched a nerve. Whatever your readers’ views are on the issues, you have got people thinking!
    Many thanks!

    ps – I would love to have been on your list…

    1. Ciao Susan, ahh yes the “get people thinking” routine…sure, that was part of the drive behind this post, speaking out. Something I’ve never shied away from as an adult. As you can see everyone has an opinion, and of course I encourage out of the norm thinking. But I have yet to see anyone devote and put in as many hours (on and off line) to helping women in their various causes. I’m proud and happy to do it, and I will continue to support and share new faces on TSW.

      PS – I’m sure your name is on our future list of SEO women to discover.

  3. I guess, in this modern time, it is now the time to regard men and women as equal in every way. Women as the underdog are long past gone since a lot of women right now are being competitive in any field they get in.

    1. Hello Sarah, sure that’s in an ideal world…However, in the “real” world “equality” is still not even close to where things need to be. I can assure you things have changed since the sixty’s…but we’ve still got a long way to go. 😉

  4. Hi Gabby,

    Thanks for putting this together, I think I’ll just choose to take your list in the manner in which it was intended… as a useful resource meant to introduce me to some potentially knowledgeable I might not have been exposed to otherwise. It takes a lot of work to put these together and it is appreciated.

  5. Hi,
    This is the first time I came across your blog and I must say it is so refreshing!
    I was very happy to read your so sincere post. It is unfortunate to stumble upon these cases which make you realize that our society is on one hand very advanced and on the other hand on certain issues it is very primitive. Keep going with the great work and don’t forget that only by hard work the change will come!
    Ben Oren

  6. Thanks Gabriella for all the efforts you and your team have taken to highlight the work done by women in the field of SEO.

    Sheryl Sandberg gave an encouraging talk at the TED Women Conference some time back in which she he pointed out the main reasons why women lag behind despite qualifications, talent and capabilities and lose out on the much deserved positions as they go up the ladder.

    According to Sandberg “Women systematically underestimate their own abilities,” Sandberg stated men tend to cite themselves as the primary reason for success, while women tend to cite external factors. 57% of men are negotiating their first salary out of college, while only 7% of women do the same.

    We ourselves have to take the initiative to put forward the attitude for demanding what is due to us and also have the courage to reject what does not meet our standards even though that may mean delayed success.

    I think women apart from being good SEOs in this industry, have also trained many other web entrepreneurs and professionals to understand SEO in the right perspective and spread the SEO knowledge.

    Carry on and go ahead Gabriella with all the good work for encouraging and honouring women.

  7. Just to be clear, my refence to maturity and sophistication was in light of the idea in the post that it was a progressive step that women feel okay promoting themselves via social media. I think there are better gauges for women’s progress than that. One would definitely be the end to “sexiest social media women” posts and the like (as you mention).

    I appreciate that this is a positive project – it would be great to see a similar project focus on what people had actually done, with concrete examples, either as SEOs or socially within the industry.

    1. Jane, thanks but after doing TSW for a few years… It’s safe to say I’m doing a lot more than just writing out lists. Please take the time to look at

      Dare I say it’s a hell of a lot more than what most women have done. Again, we can agree to disagree but I did not nominate you, nor did I nominate Rae. As I stated I wanted “other” women to nominate these women. An introduction of sorts. Which in turn when we do have the top three, we will write ANOTHER post and give out a lot more information. But until then, I will continue to stand my ground and enjoy doing TSW.

      1. It would be an interesting topic to think about why we feel the need to make such lists, i.e. what situations exist in the SEO industry that mean we need to draw attention to one particular group, in this case women. I believe there are underlying social problems in our industry (the ridiculous defence I hear against that is that it’s a problem everywhere. Does that mean we should ignore it in our midst? How defeatist is that?) that make you, and others, feel that they need to do this. You seem to be angry about the same things I am. Those problems make me feel like I need to write the things I’ve written. Contrary to what Doc says, I’ve been writing and talking about them since at least 2009 (not sure why I didn’t seem to notice or care before then) and I do feel that at least some people are listening.

        In this post, you point out some very real problems and I expect those problems are part of why you want to make these lists. “Hey, we’re here, no matter what you’ve done to try and silence or humiliate or exclude us. Look at all these great female SEOs.” My point is that I’d rather fight those issues so that we don’t feel the need to make these lists, write these posts or have these problems.

        And due to the negative reaction I personally received after being featured, I wanted to be removed. I want to focus on the why and fix it. I am sorry, Doc, I only have so much patience to go around. If I am a weak wallflower for having privately decided not to be part of this (at first – my name was not just removed, but added to the bottom of the post as a mark that I had once been on it). I have tried very hard to do my part, and I am sorry that you feel I have not done enough. I’ll let the next guy who takes me aside at a conference to belittle or shout at me for my views that in actual fact, I haven’t done nearly enough to warrant it.

        1. Jane, just for the sake of clarity, we mentioned the names of women so people wouldn’t think we were just randomly tossing people off the list. Damned if you do and damned if you don’t…. ~mah.

          I have remedied that post, so we can all move forward. Enjoy your weekend! 🙂

  8. I think it is fantastic that women in industry are getting accolades for their hard work and dedication to their craft. Kudos to you and the rest of the Level343 Team for showcasing some of the brightest women working in and around the various “SEO” disciplines.

  9. Gabriella,

    I speak as someone who asked to be removed from the list. I received several unpleasant messages in light of my inclusion on the list, and to be frank, my experience regarding gender politics in the last 12 months has been negative enough that I do not wish to subject myself to more unpleasant emails for the sake of this list alone. I put myself in a similar situation to begin with 12 months ago, and appear to wilfully put myself in that situation over and over again, but when you’re getting up at 6am to find that stuff, it gets to you. If I’m to experience that, it better be for a very good reason.

    The mindless vitriol against such lists is spewed by unpleasant, nasty people but, in the words of my friend Faruk Ates (@kurafire), one reason we get such negative backlash is because *we are making progress*. I understand that, but at the same time I have had a guts-full of waking up to this stuff. I am willing to help, but I am not willing to put up with it for the sake of just being on a list.

    I disagree with your assessment that the popularity contest element can be viewed as a sign of women’s growth in a market (or a world) where they were expected to be quiet and demure, not asking for votes. I don’t believe that posting “vote for me!” is a sign of maturity and sophistication in marketing, and I saw a lot of posts like that on Facebook and Twitter in the hours / days following this list’s publication. Someone on the list who did no tweeting would receive far fewer votes, meaning that the “winner” would be someone who pushed the promotion harder. Again, I don’t view this as mature or sophisticated. Is this what we want women to be about, or proud of? Their ability to ask for votes? That’s our yard-stick?

    In truth, I don’t like voting lists like this at all, and probably would have asked to have been removed no matter whether this was gender-related or not. I also asked to be removed from a non-gendered UK-based list late last year. Why?

    Because no one voting on this list, besides my closest colleagues and clients, knows the work I do. No one besides consultants and clients I work with knows how well my clients rank. No one besides those people knows my work ethic or levels of intelligence, talent and innovation. This is why I see it as a popularity contest. I know next to nothing about the SEO work of the vast majority people on the list. So what am I voting on? If we are voting on how much they have done to further women’s reach in the industry, we need to say this outright. Cite what they’ve done. Get uncomfortable with the difficult issues they’ve tackled. Interview them about what their experiences have meant. Help make people aware of the things we deal with that are different to the experiences of our peers who are male. The day after I wrote a damning post on sexism in the SEO industry, a friend of mine went to work and asked his female colleagues, “does this really happen?!” They apparently looked at him with a lack of surprise and said, “yes.” Make people ask those questions.

    Compile a list of people who’ll do something about the equality disparity that results in lists like this needing to be created. You clearly feel passionate enough about it to do so.

    I have *always* had an issue with voting on people’s SEO ability when we have never seen an ounce of their work, besides blog posts. Was this list about people’s SEO ability? Well, that’s not really clear. I doubt it really can be, given what we generally know about each other’s work.

    I disagree with Nick’s apparent sentiment that we are all here via an equal meritocracy. We should be treated the same, but our experiences in life (including professional life) are not the same (no saying that in 2013, women and men have it all equal so we should all STFU). Our paths to where we are most certainly are not equal. If you saw the gender-based bother many of us get via email, at conferences and elsewhere, you’d know that if I were James Copland, my journey to where I am would have been much different. It’s really hard to explain this to someone who, with all the best will in the world, has never been subject to it.

    When Faruk said to me that the backlash I witnessed was because we were making progress, that hit home so hard. Those who wish that women (in this case) weren’t gaining power and influence in this field feel threatened by our progress, as you rightly point out. They would not react as strongly as they do if they did not feel threatened, meaning that we’re getting somewhere. But lists like this don’t help. They don’t specify what someone has done to further hers or anyone else’s lot in life. And if she has done nothing in particular besides ask for the most votes on Twitter and Facebook, the award is meaningless.

    I don’t want it to be meaningless. People on this list include some wonderful folks. But what have they done that we are awarding them for, in regards to them being female? The commenter you cite above was not exactly eloquent, but we shouldn’t just give people awards for being “kick ass women.” It doesn’t mean anything.

    A “leading SEO” (one who bills himself as the best in the world, wouldn’t you know) took me aside at BrightonSEO last year to tell me “as a friend” that I was “getting a reputation as a feminist.” Why? In my view, because I insist that no one treat me like a prostitute or a decoration at SEO events, and I’m vocal about it. Honestly? I found that to be more of a compliment than being listed with no real qualifications or endorsements, when it comes to furthering women’s involvement in our industry. He didn’t mean it as one, but it was. It meant I made a difference and he was uncomfortable about it. As he should be.

    This is a tricky subject, but I don’t apologise for wanting to be removed. We can do better. I did my damnedest a year ago, and I’ll carry that shit around with me for as long as I work in SEO. If we want to make a difference, we need to get “bad reputations” for actually making a difference, not for creating a list and subjecting that list to the Twitter popularity vote.

    1. Jane, thanks for your input. I appreciate and respect your position, but I learned a long time ago not everyone is going to like or agree with you. It’s just a fact of life.

      I’m sorry you are hurt, angry and have made up your mind that TSW isn’t “mature or sophisticated”. While I can appreciate and recall reading and commenting to what happened to you, and I’m truly sorry it happened to you, TSW has been a pet project of mine that I’ve been doing with love, appreciation, and respect for years.

      Again, It’s not about winning, losing or votes…it’s about introducing and sharing new faces within our industry. This is why we asked for nominations from others, because we don’t always have first hand knowledge of these extraordinary women’s talents. So the women who made the nominations could give us insights that we might not have. Our hope is that everyone takes the opportunity to look into each of our nominees and learn what and who these women are.

      Granted there is the voting option, but that’s ok, it’s fun, and making it into an award ceremony the likes of a Pulitzer is not what I was aiming for…

    2. Hello, Jane-

      I’m not going to speak to your unwillingness to participate in the TSW list. You have your reasons, and explained them very thoughtfully. I’m going to speak, instead, to your lament on the treatment/acceptance of women in gender-mixed business environments.

      I’m a guy, so I suppose saying “I understand your feelings” wouldn’t ring true. But as a 60 year old guy, I suspect I’m able to come a little closer to doing so than a lot of younger men. So believe it or not, I’m on your side.

      I got the impression from your comment that you had a tad of bitterness. When I got to the bottom, I then went and read your last blog post. “Sweet jumping Jesus” was my first reaction.

      I’ve been around my share of conventions, so it comes as no surprise to me that you ran into a couple of royal asses. They often abound at such gatherings. That kind of behavior is unforgivable, and if I’d been your companion that evening, I’d have undoubtedly ended up in jail. That your BF didn’t, dismays me. Frankly, if I’d been at the table, not even knowing you, I would have probably ended up in a scuffle anyway. Just the way I was brought up.

      Believe me, I know that women, in general, face gender discrimination all the time. Attractive women are often seen as just so much decoration, as your post implied. Smart women are seen as a threat and called “bitch” behind their back. If they achieve success, they’re accused of sleeping their way to the top. If they fail, well, “it’s not her fault… she’s over her head”.

      It bothers me, and when I see it, I speak out. But I’m just one person. Even though I know a lot of guys that would do the same, that’s not enough to solve the problem.

      Now you could go study Tae Kwon Do and stomp a mudhole in the next clown that tries that. I can almost guarantee that’d make you feel a little better… at least for a little while. And knowing that you’ll be out of jail before he’s out of the emergency room can make your step a little lighter, too. 😉

      But in the end, that won’t solve the problem either, will it?

      The sad truth, Jane, is that nothing is likely to solve the problem for you. Things like that take too much time (ask the blacks in the U.S. if they understand long drawn-out processes). The most expeditious way to beat it is education. We teach our sons and daughters what’s right, and the best way to teach kids anything is by example. I don’t know if you have children or siblings, but if so, or if you ever do, take an old man’s advice –

      Stand up to that kind of crap! Hiding or running away from it isn’t even equal to a bandaid. You’re obviously intelligent and sufficiently eloquent to make a clown like that feel like the scum he is, and the example you’d set for your brother or sister, son or daughter, or anyone within earshot, would inspire others to stand up too.

      I know that Gabriella’s motivation when she started this list was just to see some awesome women receive some recognition and publicity for their abilities and have a little fun helping people connect. She does it because she feels strongly about women being just as capable as any man. And I agree with her.

      And while I can agree with part of your reasoning for not wanting to participate in TSW, I think that not wanting to do so because you got some unpleasant messages or some jackass accuses you of being a feminist is doing yourself an injustice. You admitted that you consider that accusation a compliment, as you should.

      So TSW list notwithstanding, don’t just sit back in the shadows and keep your head down. That will just make it worse for you, your sister or daughter and any other woman out there that wants to compete on equal footing.

      You also said “If we want to make a difference, we need to get “bad reputations” for actually making a difference.” I couldn’t agree more.

      1. Jesus Christ, where did you get the impression that I want to sit back in the shadows with my head down? I want to be as loud as possible about *things that matter*, not meaningless lists where the voters have no idea my SEO skillset, or where the voting has nothing to do with what I’ve done to help women or anyone else. I said that if I’m going to receive bullshit from people over email or at conferences (and you have NO idea how much I’ve received in the past year, nor will you ever understand what it’s like), it better be for a good reason. TWS is not a good reason. This post is a far better one, because Gabriella actually got pissed off and brought up very good points.

        Regarding the incident at the conference, neither my boyfriend nor I fancied compromising his history of not having a police record for the sake of this asshole. That might sound weak to you, but I’m of the opinion that starting a scuffle would have let this person win. He wanted a reaction, and he likely wanted to fight my boyfriend. He received a stern word to pipe down, but dickheads like that *want* to fight the partners of women they’re hitting on. They want to be hit in the face and then have the guy hauled away. It clearly gave him so satisfaction whatsoever when we rolled our eyes, finished our evening and left. I did, however, send him the post after I wrote it and he was shocked and apologetic. Spelling it out like that for him (what you call education) may not be my duty, but it’s much more effective than turning into a stupid buffoon, shouting at him, being smacked in the face, clocking him one in a restaurant, and ending up with an assault charge. Because that very well could have happened. He is the savage; we are not. But thanks for the commentary on my relationship anyway. Clearly you know far more about it than I do.

        It seriously pisses me off that you think I’ve done nothing and am just keeping my head down. I want people to get the same “bad reputation” that I have. I can’t name an event I went to in 2012 where this wasn’t brought up, and usually not in a good way. I am now “that girl”.

        That same terrible boyfriend you are so disappointed in has had someone call him privately to discuss what a problem I am. The organiser of a conference I call out in my post demanded a debate with me in the conference call at SMX London about my distaste for his use of Playboy playmates as “perks” at his event. Do you think I enjoyed that? What was essentially a surprise shouting match when I’d showed up to help moderate Q&A? I know my lines in this argument well now, and I can stand my ground, but I did NOT enjoy that one bit, and I won’t enjoy the numerous times where it happens again.

        I also assume you don’t follow me on Twitter because I mention these things on there whenever they happen too. A subset of the industry, including some people who are highly regarded and who carry with them a fairly good amount of influence, usually publicly disagree with me when I point out sexist crap. I still do it because someone has to. I’ve been as disappointed as you apparently are with me in the last year, because people will DM me privately and say “good on you for saying that!” and then they’ll kiss up to the offending parties in public. I think, “Christ, am I totally alone in willing to speak?

        I have a reputation that I will never, ever shake. I pipe up every time something bad happens. I give the London Affiliate Conference crap, taking place streets away from my house next week, for its use of nearly-naked girls, and as of today, at least ten women in the SEO world have told me their stories of abuse and / or harassment because the finally feel like they know that someone will listen. Ten might not sound like a lot, but those are a lot of stories to hear if you are the one hearing them. They’re also te too many.

        And yes, I know fear. I wrote the blog post in December 2010 and published it in December 2011, so I’ve been there. Your advice would have been well-received during the year it sat in my drafts, but I do not deserve that anymore.

        So thanks for painting me as a weak wallflower. You’ve completely misread what I meant. I meant that I’m willing to put up with the shit I’ve gone through in the last year, which will also have included more talking behind my back than I’ll ever know, I’m doing something that actually makes a difference. Just listing out women’s names and, as Rae mentioned, often questionable blurbs about their work, does not further dealing with an industry that still has an equality problem. I’m not putting up with more of this shit for no reason. Deal with it head on, dare I say, like I did, and like this follow-up post does. Because right now, I actually feel far more alone in having ever dared to say something (the original post and a year’s worth of blog comments and tweeting) that actually made people really uncomfortable.

        1. … looking through old Facebook posts and messages, and Twitter threads saved to my email, the first time I spoke out about blatant sexism in the SEO industry was September 2009, for which I received my first battering of nasty replies. So there’s that too.

        2. Let me begin with a sincere apology. I obviously misread the situation entirely, and some of that seems to have come through in my comment. For that, I am truly sorry. I’d like to clarify my position a bit – one which isn’t at odds with your own in any way.

          My “advice” about not sitting back in the shadows was poorly worded, in that it was intended more for women in general, rather than for you specifically. I see now that the way it was couched gave the impression that you obviously inferred from it, the blame for which is mine.

          I also didn’t mean to imply that you are a weak wallflower, by any means. And the fact that you and your boyfriend didn’t choose to make a bad situation worse was in no way a judgment on your relationship or your boyfriend. That, aside from being none of my business, is beyond my ken. I was simply saying how “I” would probably have handled it, not that it was the “right” way to handle it. Lord knows, I’ve allowed my emotions to lead me to inappropriate action before.

          You are correct in assuming that I haven’t previously followed you on Twitter. That’s a situation I remedied last night, immediately after reading your comment and blog post. I did so because you obviously have an important message to impart, one of which I am supportive. While I don’t flatter myself to think that my support holds much sway, perhaps one more person shouting it into the ether will help just one individual realize what you and other women have faced.

          So please accept my apology for having poorly communicated my thoughts, Jane. As I said earlier, I truly am on your side. I have a wife, daughters and granddaughters that have experienced varying levels of gender prejudice (thankfully nothing approaching what you have) and the thought of any of them, or any other woman, being subjected to the sort of behavior that you and others described on your blog infuriates me.

          You certainly shouldn’t feel more alone than ever. You’re not. Quite the contrary.

          1. Thank you Doc, I understand that intent and meaning aren’t always clear and that if someone didn’t know what I’ve been up to in the last 12 months, they could take my wanting to be off a list like this to be a sign of timidity. In fact, it’s just because I was tired. Given what I’d written in the past, I expected to receive negative reactions as a result and I wasn’t wrong.

            I did try to remove myself quietly (never once mentioned on Twitter before yesterday, never once mentioned on Facebook or elsewhere at all), but this post and my name added (now removed) from the bottom of the other one made that more difficult.

            And I 100% agree with you (clearly!) about sitting back in the shadows! I’m constantly disappointed with people who’ll messaged me privately and say “yes, that needed to be said! That’s so important. That’s happened to me!” but will never in a million years say so in public. I get that not everyone is willing to be so forward though. Still get disappointed.

            Lastly, (not aimed at you, just a point) I am not trying to “attack” anyone here. It’s always pointed in situations like this that “women are attacking women! This isn’t helping!” Michelle Robbins just said as much to me on Twitter an hour ago. I am strongly-worded and passionate about these things and so is Gabriella, but it’s interesting in and of itself that disagreement or debate between women here has automatically been labeled “an attack”.

            I want to make the same difference that Gabriella wants, and I have come up against everything she talks about in *this* post. But I have a very different opinion on how we fix this real problem.

    3. “I disagree with Nick’s apparent sentiment that we are all here via an equal meritocracy. We should be treated the same, but our experiences in life (including professional life) are not the same (no saying that in 2013, women and men have it all equal so we should all STFU). ”

      Well I know and respect you Jane, so if you tell me this is still a problem within the current SEO industry then I’ll accept I’m wrong and apologise. You are right, I do believe in meritocracy and have always tried to apply that to my working life, ignoring the gender issue to look at the skills and abilities of the SEO in question. All but 3 of my current team of 19 have been employed by me – with 11/19 –5/8 of the most senior positions– being women. So maybe my understanding is overly influenced by this environment.

  10. “Or – wait, maybe those of you who are complaining about the Top SEO Women award have the same problem with People.”

    I am one of those who asked to be removed from the list. People doesn’t publish bios next to the people that were submitted by random people who don’t even know them with no fact checking. Your little blurb next to my face said I did PPC… which I do not. My agency does. I don’t touch PPC accounts, never have professionally. I contacted you asking for it to be fixed. You refused to edit what some random, unnamed person said about me that you sat next to my name and picture looking all official.

    So I said if my choice was having non-factual information listed by an anonymous person next to me, then I wanted to be removed all together. But, that reason didn’t seem to make it into your list of potential reasons people “were so upset” about the Top Women of SEO list.

    As for your dramatic inclination that one commenter felt threatened because he, she, whoever, pointed out that “You know half the women on your list don’t do SEO?” – well, you failed to admit and accept the fact that some of the women you listed on a list about “Women in SEO” indeed, do not DO SEO. You should have called it “Women of Online Marketing” if you wanted to include social experts and PPC experts. AND, you should fact check the submissions before you publish them (crazy, I know). I’d be surprised if my bio/blurb was the only one that wasn’t checked for accuracy.

    If you’re going to do something – and expect people to take it seriously, then YOU have to take it seriously. FACT CHECK. If the blurb is a nomination – state so clearly. If that nomination contains NON factual information, edit it.

    “Although I am sorry that some women didn’t feel comfortable with their nominations, I won’t apologize for starting Level 343′s Top SEO Women of the Year, Honoring Women Wednesday, or anything else that supports other women in business.”

    Again, to be clear. My problem wasn’t with your list – frankly, I don’t care about it one way or the other. Had you not had fiction next to my name as if it were a bio, I’d have glanced when I was tweeted the link and never thought twice about it – in a good way or a bad.

    So, if you’re going to do a blog post pointing fingers, you may want to aim at least one at yourself.

    1. To give a further example… want your list to actually look like some time and effort was taken on it?

      “Long-time SEO with on and offline experience.”

      That’s what you boiled down a veteran pioneer like Christine Churchill to. No mention that she was one of the founding board members for SEMPO. Or that she was the Director of Web Development at NetMechanic while SEO was still even starting to be called SEO. No nod for her Masters degree in Business. No mention of the tons of speaking she does or the multitude of publications she writes for. No mention of her severe love of and empathy for horses.

      The hard truth? This list was slapped up. #mytwocents

    2. You’re right, Rae. Your reason for being removed didn’t make it into this post because your particular reason didn’t have anything to do with what this post is about. So, let’s make it clear…Rae’s reason was totally different. Your reasoning was that you were concerned about the bio under your name. Of course, the fact that these weren’t bios at all is another story. These were QUOTES made by the women who so graciously took the time to nominate you and the other nominees. So, no, we were not able to edit the quotes made by the people who nominated you. And FACT CHECK – we made it clear several times that we were listing the reasons our panel of nominators gave for their choices. Examples:

      We’ve asked a handful of our previous winners to pick their three top choices, along with their reasons for choosing these women.

      Some of our nominees were nominated by more than one person, and they’ll have multiple quotes under their names

      Without further ado, here’s a list of the women nominated for the Top Women of 2013 award, along with the reasons why each was chosen. To keep things fair and avoid any possibility of undo influence, we’re not sharing who nominated whom, or who said what about whom.

      At no point did we say anything about bios, and really, if anyone actually read the quotes, it was obvious that they were personal quotes and not bios. So no, we didn’t “fact check the submissions” because there were no facts to be checked. The reasons for nominations were opinions, not facts. The reasons were heartfelt quotes from women who very kindly wanted to acknowledge women in the industry they admired. That’s a fact. No checking needed.

      Which also leads to the point of your example of the quote for Christine Churchill. The person who nominated Christine gave her reason as “Long-time SEO with on and offline experience.” That’s her quote; that’s her reason for nominating Christine. WE didn’t boil Christine’s experience down to that. WE didn’t write these reasons. Someone nominated Christine and she admires Christine for those reasons.

      A slapped up list? It’s certainly your prerogative to feel that way. We personally don’t. Could we have created bios? I suppose we could have. This annual series is evolving over the years, and we may very well decide that including a lengthy bio next year is a good idea. In fact, it probably is a good idea, so we’ll definitely consider it next year.

      So, ok, you want me to point fingers at myself? I will. I take the blame for not fact-checking opinions that aren’t facts.

      PS Just an FYI here’s the thread if you care to take a look https://twitter.com/SEOcopy/status/290853289073987584

      1. Whether or not I do PPC is not an opinion. It’s a fact. So, let me rephrase, fact check the items other people submit if you’re going to publish them when the statement in question implies a fact.

          1. The same part I just posted. What part of the definition of fact do you not understand? Just because someone else besides you stated it as a fact, and you then published that wrong fact, does not make it an opinion. I’m sorry your list was not well done and people pointed out obvious flaws within it. But, the English language is pretty clear. If person A tells a reporter three people were shot and the reporter prints it even though no one was shot, they don’t get to say “well, that was their opinion.” No, it was a statement they got from someone else they didn’t bother to validate and they reported wrong information. Just like you. Either way, this doesn’t make me money. I’ve said my peace and anyone with English comprehension skills gets the point. 🙂

          2. LOLOL Rae, you just don’t know when to stop. Listen, the day I become a reporter I’ll make sure to ask you what the protocols are, until then it’s safe to say we won’t need to cross paths. In conclusion, my command and comprehension of five languages still does not equate to understanding what you’re trying to say.

  11. Gabriella,

    I am sorry that you have worked so hard on this and some people have behaved in a disrespectful manner, have been unappreciative and do not understand what you were trying to do. Bottom line is there are women and there a men. Men get celebrated often, women not as much. I personally have appreciated this list every year because it introduced me to new people. I don’t know know why every one cannot just appreciate the women on the list, myself excluded 🙂

    Why some men have a problem with this I don’t know or understand. I think that the issues you have brought up here combined with Marty’s post at aimClear Female Online Marketing Speaker Stats: http://www.aimclearblog.com/2013/01/21/female-online-marketing-speakers-counted-12-evangelists-shred-the-data/ indicates that perhaps there are more issues with women in this industry than I had previously believed.

    You are a fantastic person and I appreciate all the work you put into this each year. I say ignore the complainers and let the women continue the fantastic work they do in SEO, social and search marketing.

    1. Melissa, thanks I appreciate you coming by and supporting my small TSW efforts. You are a wonderful example of what I love about this industry. Strong women, having fun, not taking life too seriously, and understanding the value of community. You bella are awesome, no matter what they say about you. 😛

  12. Thank you, thank you, and thank you for this, Gabriella.

    You make your point eloquently and powerfully.

    Isn’t it more “girlish” to shy away from the spotlight, rather than be proud to be a woman recognized for her contribution to a still male-dominated industry?

    And thank you for the mention of the “Women who made SEO Great” post and the hat tip to Heather! It was a fun piece to work on, and well-received…as I see this fantastic post is!

    Well done, and RIGHT ON, SEO Sister!! 🙂

  13. There is a guy who might have well died, or he would have made these lists. This is especially true of the one above purporting to be of influential people. He had a huge influence on SEO but his voice is missing, which is okay, because it’s a woman’s voice now anyway. That guy’s name is: detlev. He used to be me. I’m not dead, certainly not new and definitely not done.

  14. Amazing expression of your thoughts, Gabriella! I was born in a group later labeled “Baby Boomers.” My generation of women were groomed to be housewives, nurses, librarians and teachers. They wouldn’t let me take shop class and forced me to take home economics because I was a girl!

    Throughout my entire adult life, I’ve struggled with the ways that women with talent and ability are diminished in the work place and in the home. While I was an executive in corporate life, I frequently reframed my dissatisfaction in more “socially acceptable” terms so the dominating male environment would not view me as a bra burning lunatic.

    That being said, the truth is the truth. The need that I felt to self-edit so I could move along up the ladder is a sad testimonial to how deeply the culture of suppression was in those companies.

    @Nick, your statement that applying gender to the list of skilled SEOs overlooks their actual accomplishments is sort of the reason that it needs to be done, in my humble opinion. As Gabriella points out, media has sought out and produced many articles about top women in various industries. Why should the industry of SEO be any different?

    So many things that are related to this are now spinnng through my head. I could go on for thousands of words but this is only a comment. 🙂 In closure, let me say that I love this article and thank you very much for what you are doing for the women in the industry, Gabri.

    1. Marj, we come from the same generation…it’s been a hard journey, and a tough fight. I won’t go into one of my long winded corporate stories, or how alienated I felt growing up as a strong woman in Italy. Mahh… I’m sure all women have their stories to share. What’s devastating is looking at the daily news and realizing it’s still happening every day, globally.

      However, I’ve softened up in my old age, and yes, I do get worked up every so often, especially when I see the comments, actions, reactions, and downright blindness that our society still embraces today. It’s in their every day thinking, speaking, culture dare I say it, DNA?

      Sure some may see this as another rant, but trust me I’m not trying to blow hot air up anyone’s ass backside, I’m simply saying it’s enough already. We need to continue this fight, teach our children well, share awareness, and most importantly educate by speaking up so our children especially the next generation of women, can overcome these chains. I won’t stop till I’ve made sure I’ve reached as many of them as I can.

  15. OMG! What is wrong with people today. So, you want to honor a few lovely people associated with SEO in some way that also happen to be just female. And what do you get….“So if you have boobies and do SEO you get an award?” Well my fine folks out there…I happen to have a great set of ‘girls’…maybe we should award the one with the biggest (LOL)… Oh wait…here is an idea…you should select 12 bright, SEO ladies and do a pinup calendar. They can all send in some lovely photo shots of themselves in front of their computers wearing bikinis…maybe the males (and even some women) will then accept such female SEO acknowledgement. Or, Bobble heads…yep, at my age a bobble head of SEO women sitting on my desk would make a great distraction from all that SEO work I do (oh my, and that does include code work as well) Screw bobble heads, lets make stuffed look-a-like dolls that when you press their belly they say 4 different SEO words of wisdom. Yep, that would be a good one too.

    Ok, so I jest. But it is Friday. This is just a great little contest that you do. And though I may not of heard of some of the women selected, I do enjoy learning about them and I may even gain some new insight from them as well as some hairstyle ideas. Keep you content going!
    TGIF you all!

  16. Rockin’ post, Gabriella! It’s unfortunate, but as a rule, I think people tend to look at others in terms of the labels they assign to them.

    Obama is a black man before all else, Stevie Wonder was a blind man before all else, and a woman SEO is a woman before all else. To look at people that have accomplished something with no such qualifiers seems to be a rare thing.

    Some rabid, raging feminists might complain that to highlight the fact that these are WOMEN somehow lessens their accomplishment and hurts the “Movement”. Bah! There are some awesome professionals listed in your TSW, and many others that aren’t listed this year.

    I just hope I make the list when someone decides to highlight Fat Balding Cantankerous SEO Old Farts. 😉

  17. Preach!

    Seriously, when a really cool woman chooses to honor other really cool women, I don’t understand what the problem is with that. As for the comment about how “there are a huge number of talented women in top SEO and online marketing positions,” that doesn’t stop us from lauding men and women for all sorts of other things (see: Your sexiest man/woman alive example), so why not here?

  18. Nick, I can’t imagine why anyone would think the post focuses on anything but these women’s hard work, skills, and talents. I certainly don’t see it as being anything that sidesteps that. It seems like people sometimes want to see a woman’s success as being “in spite of being a woman” or “because she’s a woman”. But that’s more a problem with people’s attitudes towards women than it is with the actual facts at hand. The facts, as I see them, is that many women work hard and tend to see fewer acknowledgements of that hard work than men often do. When the world has changed enough so that is no longer true, then perhaps there will be no reason to make a special point of acknowledging women’s efforts. That time really isn’t here yet on this lovely planet of ours, so I’m still in favor of acknowledging a woman’s success whenever possible.

  19. Wowza’. I read through the “Top SEO Women of the Year Award” and am even now sifting through it to find skilled industry members to follow. It’s a really good resource, I can’t see why anyone would take issue with it. I guess some people will consider it “band-wagon jumping” – something we’re all constantly accused of in marketing; men and women alike.

    Without getting bogged down by all the ‘whos’ and ‘whys’ of history, there’s one very good reason we should all celebrate women in the workplace: if we deny women this, we handicap the productivity of the human race by over 50%! To me, that seems asinine.

    Additionally I find that work environments where women are de-humanised tend to be tense, abrasive and un-productive. I totally agree with your ‘moral’ points but even were we to disregard them entirely we would still have overwhelming evidence that women make significant contributions to our workplace every day!

    I wouldn’t call myself a feminist, but it’s just my 2-pence as a man with more than the average length of hair on the ol’ noggin.

  20. “Do you realize that – internationally – there are still places where women have no rights at all? Do you realize that, in general, women are still paid less than men, even when doing the same jobs?”

    Well ok yes, but not in SEO. I’ve been in the industry 12+yrs now and there are a huge number of talented women in top SEO and online marketing positions. I could reel off lists to you, but women have played key roles in starting and developing this entire discipline.

    I’m not surprised some of these successful women feel uneasy with this kind of post. By focusing on them collectively as women, you’re side-stepping the fact that they got to their position through their own individual ability, skill and hard work.

  21. Ha! I can’t believe that comment from a clearly threatened male! Like you said, there are many well-established women in SEO and newcomers making an impact that need to be celebrated for their efforts. It’s not about NOT celebrating male SEOs, it’s just about celebrating the female contribution in a niche where they may be overlooked at times by some.. (not all people obviously). We think it’s great to shout about the knowledgeable people in the industry, we did a similar thing in 2011: http://www.webmarketinggroup.co.uk/Blog/top-women-in-seo-1755.aspx

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