Search Chicks

When I first started attending Search Engine Strategies (SES) back in 2001 or so, search was a total boys’ club. It had little to do with marketing and a lot to do with Web site development’s (even) geekier aspects. That first Boston conference was attended by a few hundred propellerheads, and there was never, ever a wait for a stall in the ladies’ room after a session.

These days, women in search ration their coffee carefully, lest they risk missing an appointment due to the interminable lines in the WC. Gender statistics aren’t available, but look out over the audience here in New York this week and it’s clear the male/female ration of search professionals is at least 50:50, if not skewed slightly in favor of the fairer sex.

Let’s Do Lunch

Yesterday, some 40 women who work in SEM (define) braved a downpour to meet for lunch. We had a blast. In the midst of the bustle and business of SES, a bunch of us chicks took time out for an hour of giggly, gossipy, silly, and sisterly bonding.

Many of us have been friends for years, others were SES newbies. There wasn’t space in the small restaurant for everyone who wanted to tag along to the impromptu event Li Evans e-mailed some friends about a few days before SES kicked off.

The group would have been a lot bigger. Evans had quite thoughtfully selected a not-very-big restaurant to accommodate a single person who keeps kosher. She found herself apologizing for two days to the women who wanted to come but couldn’t. There simply wasn’t enough room.

Communication and Accommodation

Evans’ efforts to be inclusive and accommodating and to communicate to a group are typical of the way women operate. And as more and more women enter search, it could change a lot about how search (and professional search services) are perceived and used among the enormous base of advertisers just dipping a toe into the waters or who are unaware the channel even exists as a marketing medium.

Earlier this week, I spoke with Yahoo’s Rich Riley about his efforts to get small businesses to try search advertising. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Yahoo held a seminar in the city to educate marketers about search. The company has decided to broaden those efforts and is crafting a road show to preach the search gospel to absolute newbies.

A broad, established base of women in the search industry will make that task easier. Not that there aren’t a lot of men up to speed on SEM; they’re certainly in ample supply.

But (and this statement will doubtless generate a dissenting e-mail or two), women will soften and hone and customize this message. Overall, chicks just plain have communications skills men tend to lack. They’re better at tailoring a message to an audience and, in matters technical, at laying off the geek-speak. In short, they’ll be instrumental in making search less scary to all those marketers wary of venturing into yet another unknown channel (and there’s certainly no shortage of those).

Sure, men can be (and often are) brilliant communicators. Yet at this week’s SES keynote, a fictional female, Ms. Dewey, effortlessly upstaged her boss, Microsoft SVP Steven Berkowitz, in terms of energy, messaging, and magnetism.

And Ms. Dewey can’t hold a candle to her real-world sisters in search. An off-the-top-of-my-head, random-order, and wholly incomplete list would include Dana Todd, Anne Kennedy, Sara Holoubek, Jessie Stricchiola, Nan Dawkins, Shari Thurow, Jennifer Laycock, Christine Churchill, Patricia Hursh, Amanda Watlington, Laura Thieme, Jen Slegg, Jill Whalen, Heather Lloyd-Martin, Barbara Coll, Lisa Wehr, Elisabeth Osmeloski — for starters.

A few of the above, along with others, are batting about the idea of starting some sort of formal women in search (or interactive marketing) association. Personally, I’m not convinced that’s necessary. I see those sorts of things as isolationist, and I’m never really certain what their charters are in the first place.

There’s someting much healthier than formal organization going on among the women in the search marketing community: organic optimization.

Well done, ladies.

Meet Rebecca at the ClickZ Specifics: Analytics seminar on May 2 at the Hilton New York in New York City.

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