The gender gap in SEO publishing
Updated: Nov 17
SEO is all about optimisation. It says so in the name. But when it comes to gender equality, the industry is still a long way off performing effectively.
As with many areas of society, males have dominated the field since its earliest years, often getting the better paid jobs, working for the bigger agencies and filling the speaker line-ups.
Last year I decided I wanted to change that. There are lots of ways people are trying to close the gender gap in SEO. A good example is the Women in Tech SEO community, who run a podcast, mentoring programs, interviews and conferences. There are countless women out there doing incredible things, and even more companies who are lucky to have them on board.
I wanted to amplify all their voices, so I started collecting the best content produced by women in the search marketing industry on a weekly thread using the hashtag #SEOWomen. That’s when I noticed how hard it was to discover content written by women in the industry’s leading publications.
There’s a huge lack of diversity in SEO
Browsing SEO publications every week I found there were the same male faces everywhere I looked. The same names were getting the same coverage, giving them an unfair advantage when it came to exposure, career progression and pay.
This isn’t just an SEO issue - it’s a problem across almost every industry, but SEO is where I work, and where I’ve experienced the issue first-hand.
But why does it matter? Well, featuring in SEO publications can really drive your career. It puts you in front of the right people, gives you credibility and can build a strong network. This, in turn, gives you even more opportunities.
The lack of representation in these publications is one of the reasons women are at a disadvantage in the SEO industry. They’re naturally seen as being less credible, because their voices simply aren’t out there.
I asked other SEOs on Twitter how getting published had affected their careers. The responses I received show how the added visibility has enhanced their careers, and it’s clear that the more people see them, the more they benefit.
Mordy Oberstein, Head of SEO Branding at WIX - “Outside of the obvious exposure writing in SEO publications has given me, it’s also helped me craft a bit of identity around the kind of things I talk about and am known for, allowing me to carve out a little niche for myself.”
Gianluca Fiorelly, SEO Speaker - “Being a columnist for @moz and @stateofdigital, especially when I started to expand myself as an SEO on an international level, was key for achieving the visibility and credibility I have now.”
Matt Tutt, PPC and SEO freelancer - “For me as an independent SEO consultant it's given me direct leads, as some have referenced something I wrote elsewhere.”
Jeremy Moser, Co-founder and CEO at uSERP - “It helped me refine my ideas and bias action over theory, as well as amazing connections and direct client opportunities coming from people reading my articles!”
Study reveals 69% of published SEO authors are male
Looking at the data, I could see that my first impression was right: men get more coverage in SEO publications.
Over the past 12 months, 69% of all published SEO authors in the analysed publications were male and 61% of all articles published in the industry were written by men.
In practice this means that for every three articles written by men, publications only featured two written by women.
But women are actually more prolific writers! During the last year, the average female SEO author has published 4.5 articles on average, compared to the three written by men.
In my weekly roundups I find a lot more content written by women in their personal websites or in smaller sites. The creative drive and content is there, it’s just not being picked up in major publications.
How each SEO publication performs in gender equality
Looking into each major SEO publication, the difference in the amount of articles published by both women and men is clear.
Out of the 7 major publications analysed, five had mostly published articles written by men. Some of them have huge gender gaps, going as far as having 89% of their content written by male authors.
The worst offender is Ahrefs, where 89% of all articles are written by men. This is despite the fact that there are only 17 male writers, compared to 10 females. The split in quantity does not represent the split in availability of the pool of writers.
At first glance it would look like Search Engine Land is not doing much better, but that would not be a fair picture. The large gender gap we see in the data is likely due to the work of Barry Schwartz and his SEO news reporting work. The number of analysed articles is also quite low despite their high output, so there can be a bias in the data collection.
However, there are some titles bucking the trend. Moz has 46 female writers on its books, making up 60% of all articles shared. They are the closest to an even gender split of published articles.
Semrush goes even further with a 65% female weighting. This sets them out as the most inclusive publication in the industry.
The data shows that the expertise is out there. We just need more publications willing to give it a platform.
Do people want more female insight?
Surely, some will argue that women are just not as inclined to share their knowledge. Or worse, that they have not been in the industry for as long and lack the expertise to deliver high quality content. Well, let’s look at the data, shall we?
According to estimated traffic data from Ahrefs, each SEO article can expect to receive around 341 clicks per month. Women writers get 314 clicks, while men get an average of 359. That means that women’s articles get 8% less organic traffic than men’s.
So, are they worse writers? The difference is small and I have not measured its statistic significance, so it’s hard to say that there’s a causal relation there. However, the type of content assigned to women by their editors can make a real difference to its desirability. This is proven in publications that hero their women, such as Semrush, where articles written by female writers generate 44% more traffic.
Women SEO writers aren’t worse than men - they just have fewer opportunities.
A lack of diversity is bad for business
Having more females on your site isn’t just good for society; it’s good for your bank balance. While you might think you’re hiring based on merit, the gender bias is working away in the background.
Science shows that women are less likely to put themselves forward for opportunities, so unless you’re actively thinking about diversity, you’re limiting your options for recruitment or finding female authors.
How to address the gender gap in SEO publishing
Okay, so what now? As a publisher, there are many ways to narrow the gender gap, and even get rid of it all together.
1. Widen your pool of female writers.
Reach out to the SEO community and invite active content creators to contribute to your platform.
2. Connect with more female SEOs
The talent is abundant on social media. Search for them, connect with them, and start conversations.
3. Follow people who promote women’s voices
The Women in Tech SEO community and my own #SEOWomen Twitter threads are both fantastic resources for female talent.
4. Make your pitching process transparent
Show people how to get their content in your publication, and make inclusion a key part of your editorial plan. Your readers are less brand loyal than ever, and increasingly go to brands that match their values.
Closing the gap as a woman
And what can you do as a woman? The best thing you can do for equality in SEO is put yourself forward and lift other women up with you.
Look at the templates, how-tos, dashboards and strategies you’ve built over the last year and pitch them to your favourite publications. Connect with other women in the industry, grow your own community, and shout loud and proud about the successes you achieve.
These are two women showing how it can be done:
Abby Reimer, SEO Manager at Uproer - “Writing for SEO publications grew my confidence in my abilities and motivated me to keep testing and sharing what I learn. That confidence is my best defence against the dreaded imposter syndrome”
Aleyda Solís, International SEO Consultant - “Especially when I was starting to consolidate my SEO career as an independent consultant at an international level, writing at publications helped me to get exposure I didn’t have. It enabled me to establish authority, attract clients and speak at conferences.”
For the industry, these women are out there. Find them, hire them, and pay them what they’re worth.
Gender isn’t the only gap in the SEO industry.
Sexism isn’t the only ‘ism’ holding society back.
In fact, women of colour are even less represented than white women.
There are problems that need solving. Together, we can be the solution.
I've selected the most popular SEO publications in the industry by asking the community on Twitter and Slack channels. I've validated this with engagement data through BuzzSumo and traffic through Ahrefs. The publications I've chosen to analyse are: Semrush, Ahrefs, Moz, Search Engine Journal, Search Engine Land, Search Engine Watch and OnCrawl.
I've crawled all their sites using ScreamingFrog and extracted the publish date and author name in every article. I've determined the gender of the authors through their names, pronouns and pictures.
I've analysed every article published between the 1st of April 2021 and the 31st of March 2020.
I've eliminated some articles that could not be analysed or didn't belong in the study such as articles without an author, articles with more than one author and sponsored content.