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Lisa Ditlefsen - SEO chick

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Key Points

  • Lisa Ditlefsen has been Head of Search for Base One, a specialist search marketing agency in London, for four years and is the recent winner of the Blackberry Woman & Technology Awards 2008 for Best Use of Technology.
  • Lisa AKA 'The Viking' has more attitude than you can shake a stick at. Hailing from Norway it's not her blond locks or her beautiful 'sing-song' accent that make her stand out from the crowd, but her astute approach to search marketing that has led her to blaze a trail for women eager to stamp their stilettos on the SEO world.

Lisa Ditlefsen, the original SEO Chick herself, speaks to Rachelle Money ahead of London's Search Engine Strategies Conference about what it's like to be a woman in SEO, and why she's decided to start up her very own search agency.

Lisa's brainchild, SEO Chicks - the SEO blog with attitude, is a wonderful vehicle for women to discuss aspects of SEO in a supportive environment. Maybe some people reading this article wouldn't think women would need their own site, but Lisa reveals an unpleasant side of the industry which subjected her to gross sexism.

“In early 2007 I met Julie Joyce and Anita Chaperon who were at a London SEO party and we were talking about why there were no female bloggers or high profile women. You would see a few women at conferences but it always seemed to be the old school crew. I was trying to figure out why more young women weren't coming through. It seems like it's more acceptable for women to do PPC or Online PR than SEO.”

Lisa says her looks held her back in many respects and that she was subject to criticisms and harsh words purely because she was Scandinavian, young, blond, attractive and a woman.

She says: “I had one man at a LondonSEO party say "Ok so you have a high profile in the industry, and I have no doubt all the guys in this room want to sleep with you, but do you actually know anything about SEO?" I just said 'No, I haven't got a clue,' and walked off. I don't see why I have to prove to everyone that I actually know anything. The proof is in the pudding not in the way I look.”

It would be unthinkable for a man to be subject to such disrespect, but technical and web-based industries can be guilty of judging the women who work in them purely by their looks. Lisa claims that women in SEO are so fed up of not being taken seriously that many have resorted to changing profile names to male ones. They do this so that when they ask questions on forums or blogs they are more likely to be met with useful suggestions, instead of sexist remarks about their profile photograph or name.

Lisa says she has never resorted to this tactic and is happy to be open about who she is and what she does on and off-line. In fact, she sees some benefits in working in a male-dominated industry.

“The great thing about it is that you don't have any pressure on you because they don't think that you're going to say anything remotely interesting or useful. So when you're at a conference and you're talking you see their faces change and they're like, 'Oh!' and you get a lot of satisfaction from that.

“It's that thing that looks might open doors but it won't keep you in the room.”

To keep herself “in the room” Lisa launched her female-friendly blog 'SEO Chicks' with Julie Joyce and Anita Chaperon. To her surprise the support from their male audience was unmistakable, as 90% of the blog's 5,000 monthly readership are men. The biggest surprise came when she discovered that the negative comments and criticisms of the site came from other women.

This revelation has led Lisa to suggest sexism in technical industries is caused by other women.

“It seems that the people who may prevent equality are actually women. I think that happens in a lot of industries where there aren't many women - maybe we're harsher on each other?”

Despite some women being negative about SEO Chicks, Lisa said that there were many more who had been incredibly supportive.

She says: “What we've managed to create is a great discussion area for things that we think are important and we also look closer at the human side of search which sets us apart. We have earned the respect of other SEOs and built a good name for ourselves.”

As SEO Chicks' reputation grew, Lisa, Julie and Anita were quickly known as the new kids on the block who had something exciting to contribute to the industry. Lisa began receiving invites to speak at major conferences such as SMX and SES London. Lisa said the blog was meant to “be a fun jokey thing and not a feminist statement” but is proud to have encouraged women onto the scene as well as having helped promote women who are already in the industry.

“Without me realizing it, the blog has given me a lot more confidence in the workplace,” explains Lisa. “Now when we have meetings or discussions I feel like I can talk more openly about my ideas and challenge other people's. I knew other people valued my opinions and so I felt I could create a position for myself in the workplace as well as I have online.”

Now Lisa takes on her biggest challenge yet by starting her very own search consultancy in London. Verve Search will be launched at SES London 2009 next week. She admits that her family have called her crazy for starting a new company in the middle of a global economic meltdown, but ever the optimist Lisa thinks her timing is perfect.

“More people are putting their money into online marketing than offline in TV or newspapers. I've heard a lot of people have stopped spending any money on print or are spending very little, and if that's the case I think it's going to be good for me.”

Verve Search will offer strategic consultancy with an emphasis on creating the best strategies to get the most out of SEO, PPC and Online PR campaigns. Lisa has also recently joined Search Cowboys where she is the only female blogger to write about search in European markets. Not happy with running her own company, raising a family and writing blogs, Lisa is also getting married in June, so it seems 2009 is going to be a big year.

“It's a weird excitement I have right now”, gushes Lisa. “It's kind of like I'm on a roller coaster - I'm strapped in and making the big climb. I'm nervous but I can't wait for the roller coaster to get crazy.”

Next week Lisa will feature in two panel discussions at SES London 17-19 February. First she will talk about universal and blended search on Tuesday 17, and then on Thursday Lisa will give her thoughts on Social Media Optimization, or Online PR as she prefers to call it.

“I don't really like calling it SMO because I don't think it captures how big this subject is - that's why I've taken to calling it Online PR,” explains Lisa.

She will use the panel discussion to show how people can integrate social media campaigns into their SEO strategy.

“Social media is about generating and referring traffic, and when you do that you are also generating links. You need to be building a social media strategy based on getting the traffic back and building a reputation and secondly, generating traffic from links and getting links which will give you an advantage in SEO.”

Whether you want to call it SMO or Online Marketing it's clear that it's a very new approach for marketers to get their heads around.

“I find that it's in the buzz word stage and people know about it but they don't know what to do,” says Lisa. “They do everything wrong and they don't think about it, but then that's what happened with search marketing and SEO. People rushed it and didn't think about what they wanted to achieve, who they wanted to target.”

To ensure Online PR campaigns are effective they must first be thoroughly researched and planned out.

“You need to think about the audience you want to target, and that will then depend on what sources you target online. You may target a younger audience through Bebo and Facebook and then Twitter, which is great for reputation and spreading the word.

“I also think that it's worthwhile to write content and then distribute it through carefully researched websites like blogs and news sites. Some people may see this as linkbait but you have to make sure that it's appropriate and relevant content for that site.

“The research is just as important as actually targeting the social media sites. People think that social media is making funny videos or putting a movie on YouTube. If you do it right then it can be incredibly powerful.”

For Lisa Online PR is going to be big business for companies in the near future, and is urging companies to recognize the merits of social media.

“People have to start listening to those who are in their early 20s because they are the next generation, and if they are using these types of media at home and at work then you need to tap into that. It's not that you should allow people to use social media in their PR campaigns - it's a natural thing which people are doing. We Twitter, we instant message, we send texts, we Bebo or go on MySpace; this kind of communication is natural, so we have to learn our audience's language and how they communicate to one another.”

About Rachelle Money

Rachelle Money is a freelance journalist based in Scotland, UK, who worked for Wordtracker from 2007-2009. She wrote extensively about keyword research, search engine optimization and link building

Rachelle is a contributor to The Web Content Recipe book

Nowadays, Rachelle is Communications Manager at Scottish Renewables.

She graduated from the Scottish School of Journalism in 2005 where she was awarded an internship with two national publications - The Sunday Herald newspaper and The Big Issue magazine.