Women in the Search Industry

  |  April 23, 2007   |  Comments

Why search needs more techie females, and more people who can think with both sides of their brain.

Last week at Search Engine Strategies, I had the pleasure of attending the "search chicks" luncheon thrown by my colleague, Li Evans.

As I viewed all the women in the search industry, I couldn't help but be struck by one observation: most of the women I shared lunch with were heavily involved in search engine advertising. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Search engine advertising is a rather challenging and detail-oriented niche. Kudos to my colleagues with the skills and patience to effectively compete in this arena.

Nevertheless, where were the women like me? Where were the techie women?

Right- and left-brain thinking in search

In her Search Chicks column, our illustrious Editor-in-Chief Rebecca Lieb, made this observation:

In 2001, [Search Engine Strategies] had little to do with marketing and a lot to do with Web site development's (even) geekier aspects.

Of course, I disagree, being a geek myself. With the emergence and evolution of technologies such as AJAX, Flash and other animation, Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), content management systems (CMS), and Web audio and video, optimization can be more and more challenging. Even though I stick to optimization principles, as a developer and SEO, I must understand when and how to implement technologies to the best of my abilities and understand how search engines interact with these technologies.

To be a successful search engine optimization professional, one must use both right- and left-brain thinking.

Right-brained people tend to be flexible and creative. The right side of the brain specializes in creative writing, art, shape recognition, and visualizing shapes in space. Engineers, Web developers, information architects, and carpenters tend to utilize right-brain thinking.

Left-brained people tend to have talent in math, science, and verbal ability. The left side of the brain specializes in reasoning, logic, and attention to detail. Programmers tend to think with the left brain.

Truly gifted search professionals use both their right- and left-brains. Search engine optimization experts should have both technical and creative skills, a union of analytical and creative thinking.

Search engine advertising, like optimization, is part art and part science. Search engine advertising requires considerable attention to detail and data analysis, often on a daily basis. It also requires considerable creativity. Landing page designs and effective ads with limited screen real estate certainly require creativity and innovation.

At a previous conference, one attendee labeled me a "bridge" person, someone who understands both the technical and marketing aspects of search. I can go into almost every type of Web site and troubleshoot any problematic code, script, or programming. I can also write content for all sorts of tags. We need more "bridge" people in the search arena, not only women.

Techie Women in Search

Some of my female colleagues discussed whether a formal search organization specifically for women is needed. I say men should be welcome at our informal lunches and meetings, so long as they dress in drag, out of respect.

Joking aside (I did make that statement at lunch), I didn't see many women with considerable technical skills at our lunch engagement. In fact, whenever I train or consult with companies about search usability and search-engine friendly design, I usually meet with IT staff, most of them male.

I've dealt with this throughout my life. I was always skilled at math, science, and language arts. My undergraduate degree is in genetics and developmental biology. I worked in labs for a considerable portion of my life. My favorite job was the medical genetics lab. My supervisor was female. The genetic counselors were female. The lab staff? Mostly male.

Then, I switched gears and studied Japanese literature, religion, and culture. Whoo boy, I selected another male-dominated field. I didn't care. I loved what I did. For those of you who don't know me personally, this is where I really refined my speaking skills, since I taught religion and mythology at two large U.S. universities. You think teaching search-engine friendly design, search usability, and duplicate content is difficult? Try teaching Zen Buddhism.

And here I am today, a techie woman in the search industry, a "bridge" person, utilizing both sides of my brain. Again.

Do we need more women in search? My answer is a resounding, "Yes!" I welcome the day I walk into an IT department where a considerable number of staff are women. I welcome the day when I can discuss the intricacies of artificial intelligence (my new passion, thanks to Google's Dan Crow) and SERP evolution equally with men and women. I welcome the day when I'm not the only female graduate student in my department with technical skills.

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Shari Thurow

Shari Thurow is the founder and SEO director at Omni Marketing Interactive, a full-service search engine marketing, Web, and graphic design firm. Acknowledged as a leading expert on search engine friendly Web sites worldwide, she is the author of the top-selling marketing book, "Search Engine Visibility," published through Peachpit Press. Shari's areas of expertise include site design, search engine optimization, and usability.

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