Google Women in Search finals

Emily McLaren started as the only woman in the SEO team. Two years later, she's now leading a female-strong SEO team & is a Google Women in Search finalist.

For many years, the search industry has been under-represented by women – particularly within search engine optimisation (SEO). When I first joined Equator, I was the only woman in the SEO team and over the past three years, the male to female ratio has dramatically shifted. Our team is now 60% male, 40% women – and as time goes on, I envisage that the team will continue to grow and we’ll attract even more hard-working and talented women.

As well as working in a growing, female-strong SEO team, this year I was shortlisted for the Women in Search 2016 initiative. Having only been in the search industry full-time since 2014, I thought I’d share my story of how I came to work in SEO and what being a Women in Search finalist has meant for me.

Although my passions growing up were singing and art, somehow my university application ended up being for neither. Instead I ended up opting for a Media and Communications degree. Now came my next challenge – with courses ranging from radio and TV to public relations and marketing – which subjects were going to be my focus? As you could imagine, the options could lead you down very different career paths.

After much deliberation, I decided to concentrate on PR and marketing. Fast forward four years and I had successfully graduated from university – gone are the days of noisy lectures, lengthy essays and never-ending dissertations. So what’s next?

Adopting the 9-5 life and living for the weekend!

As many fellow graduates would no doubt agree, having an Honours degree under the belt isn’t a pass allowing instant entry to your dream job. But that’s no reason to be defeatist. A relevant degree plus relevant work experience can often be the golden ticket.

I applied for an enormous amount of internships and eventually ended up landing two – one working for an established PR agency in Edinburgh and one working for a digital automotive start-up in Glasgow. If I could have gained even more experience through interning, I would have but between finishing up my degree and working another job, it proved to be challenging.

It was at the automotive start-up that I first heard the three letter acronym that has now become part of my daily vocabulary: S E O. I was tasked with creating and implementing their SEO strategy – a very daunting thought! Fearing that I’d fall at the first hurdle, I dived into this head-first and started reading as much literature on the subject as I could find. Three months later, I was 100% more clued up on the subject than I had been 12 weeks prior.

SEO felt like the perfect fit for me. The constant change within the SEO industry is something I relish. Having grown up overseas – in various countries – and loved it, I welcome change. And if there’s one undeniable truth about SEO, it’s that it’s forever changing! A perfect illustration of this is that since my internship ended in 2012, there have been 58 major algorithm changes. Google really does love to keep us on our toes!

It was this experience that fuelled my enthusiasm and desire to work in search. And after a year-long stint in Australia, I decided to ditch the bananas (yes, I genuinely worked on a banana farm) in favour of a life in search.

I first joined Equator (who were recently awarded the top Scottish Digital Agency Award) as an SEO Executive in 2014 and by late 2015, I had risen to the position of SEO Team Leader. I now manage SEO accounts for blue-chip clients across a range of sectors including hotels and finance, as well as leading an SEO team and supporting their professional development.

At Equator, professional development is greatly supported and encouraged. So when the business nominated me as their candidate for Google and The Drum’s 2016 Women in Search initiative, I warmly welcomed the opportunity. The goal of the initiative is to “highlight the shocking gender imbalance in the search marketing industry and to showcase and celebrate the opportunity for women in the sector”.

After Equator submitted an application on my behalf, explaining my background and listing my successes over the previous 12 months, I received an email confirming that I had been shortlisted. The full list of nominees could be found on The Drum’s website and voting was then open to the public for four days.

Prior to submissions, it had been revealed that the top three most voted-for women would have to pitch Dragon’s Den-style to the judging panel of The Women in Search Awards in a closed-door session. Although I unfortunately didn’t get this far, I was still proud to be a part of this wonderful initiative and to receive this recognition. The finalists were Lauren Rogers, associate director from iProspect, Melissa-Jane Daniel, digital marketing manager from Timico and Sophia Glennon, PPC manager from – who deservedly scooped up the winning award.

A real highlight of the past few months was visiting Google’s head office in London to network with fellow Women in Search finalists. Google is every SEO’s best friend and so receiving an invitation to enter the fabled headquarters was a very exciting prospect for me! The room was filled with talented women working in search who had travelled from far and wide to attend the event. Drinks were flowing, canapés were enjoyed and there was a lot of stimulating conversation – from industry talk to career progression and personal interests.

As well as brushing shoulders with Google and the search industry’s finest, I’ve also been asked to speak at next year’s BrightonSEO which I’m absolutely thrilled about. I’ll be delivering a talk that reveals the secrets to a successful site migration that will provide significant bottom line improvement. If you’re interested in attending the event, it takes place on 7th April and you can find the full list of speakers here.

The Women in Search initiative has been successfully operating for two years – and as a result, many inspirational women have been receiving the recognition that they deserve. If you have the opportunity to be a part of this initiative in the future, I’d whole-heartedly recommend getting involved.

There’s never been a better time to be a woman in search – and this initiative is part of that change.

By Emily McLaren, SEO Team Leader.

Intrigued by search marketing? Check out Equator’s current vacancies or drop us a line with your CV.