The SEO community is a very close knit one. Although most acquaintances are digital-based, we are an entire industry on a first name basis with prominent thought leaders like Rand, Wil, Eric, and Duane. In order to truly make an impact in this industry individuals have to work to establish a positive professional identity that extends beyond the company they work for.
Especially as a woman in SEO, branding on a personal level is vital. This is an industry that is dominated by men with an estimated 70% of SEOs identifying as male. All of those aforementioned thought leaders we know by first name are men. Women are massively under represented in SEO, especially those with strong authority. There are certainly women who have influenced the SEO industry, but the disparity in male to female thought leaders is palpable.
Your personal brand is synonymous with your resume and reputation and more than that it serves as a form of career insurance. But it’s something we have to work at; it’s not taught in business school and it’s not an easy task.
Whether you’re working for an agency, in-house, or as an independent consultant — people are buying you. They’re not buying the service of Search Engine Optimization — they could get that much cheaper elsewhere. They are signing up to do work with you as an individual. So the question is — how do you make people seek you out and want to do business with you? You have to create a value add for yourself and your projects. This goes beyond merely employers and customers. You need to be a part of the SEO community of peers and influencers to establish leadership.
So how do you build your personal authority? How does one become a thought leader? You just need a bunch of Twitter followers, right? Not exactly…
Google yourself and see what appears on the first page of the SERPs. That is your personal brand.
To really create a personal brand that will benefit you, you need to start by understanding your current brand. What is your professional image and how are you perceived in your company or industry today? From there, define what you want your professional brand to look like. Now, consider how that’s different from your existing personal brand. With these insights you can then build a plan and set goals to reach your ideal personal brand.
Speak to Your Audience
It’s not just about one specific channel. Much like SEO, you have to understand who your audience is and where they are online. Luckily for the SEO sphere Twitter does represent a large audience base. I recommend utilizing a platform to manage Twitter streams like Tweetdeck, or Hootsuite. There are also great resources out there to help you maintain a consistent presence like this article on automating Tweets and tools to help with this like dlvr.it and Buffer.
It can also be beneficial to create public lists. You may follow hundreds or thousands of people on Twitter, but Dunbar’s Number suggests that we’re only able to maintain relationships with no more than 150 people at a time. This translates to our social networks as well. So by creating public lists on Twitter you can easily break through the noise by designating those people that you really want to follow. This also serves as social proof for others who may be looking to you for commentary.
Arguably the most important thing you can do — whether on Twitter or any other social platform — is to interact with other thought leaders. I don’t mean retweet Rand once a day. I mean answer questions, pose questions, react to news, and carry on a conversation as if you know the people you are tweeting at.
This one may seem obvious but the easiest way to find a platform to share your point of view is to build a website. With options like WordPress and SquareSpace it’s easier than ever before to get a site up and running. But just because you build it does not mean the masses will come. You have to market your website as well — optimize your content, build links, share on social platforms, and most importantly, provide valuable content.
Beyond creating awesome content for your own website you should work to build a portfolio of additional assets and involvement. Start dominating the SERPs with a robust LinkedIn profile, a personal website, and comprehensive social profiles on Twitter, Facebook, SlideShare and more. SlideShare is easily one of the most overlooked and underrated social platforms out there. Chances are you’re already creating great presentations and this platform makes it easier for people to track down your decks.
You should also contribute thoughtful articles to industry relevant publications to build your online identity beyond your own site or company blog. Submit for speaking engagements or other opportunities to share your knowledge. Lend a hand with a nonprofit or a board that could benefit from your expertise. Get involved in local organizations in your city like SEMPO or AMA.
Make Your Own Credentials
You don’t have to write a dissertation to be considered an expert. You also don’t have to have a wildly unique point of view to be considered a thought leader. The key is to find inefficiencies — whether that’s in the industry as a whole, specific to SEO specialties or verticals — and be vocal. Use the above outlets like Twitter and your personal website as a platform to voice your opinions and share your ideas. Just remember — innovation is great but it’s not a requirement. A new perspective on something old can be just as valuable as a shiny new idea.
Depth Over Breadth
Not everybody has to be (or can be) an expert on all things SEO. But you can become an expert on a very specific topic or aspect of SEO. You can also work to become the local expert, either in your city/region or even starting within your company. The goal is to be the go to person about a certain topic or facet of the industry. Maybe you want to be the voice of local SEO like Darren or the data scientist like Annie. With this approach you’re creating an angle for your personal brand. Using that angle, you can start small and master your niche, which will then allow you to strategically expand your personal brand.
Defining and building your personal brand isn’t magic. It just feels that way when it works. Creating a clear and impactful presence online that reflects not only what you do, but also what you stand for will allow you to stand out as a true thought leader. Strong personal branding also provides an opportunity for women in SEO to gain valuable support by connecting with other female leaders. The more value you can provide, the stronger your brand will be and the wider your reach can grow.