Stories of Women in STEM: Jenny Hearn, SEO Consultant
I’m delighted to introduce Jenny, an SEO Consultant by trade but also a Tech 4 Good speaker, a Voice of Torchbox and genuinely one of the kindest people I’ve met, who’s always finding ways to do good and care for others.
Some may question whether search engine optimisation (SEO) is a STEM subject/role. Well it is! SEO is a science because it operates according to mathematical laws that are statistical, reliable and predictive of human behavior. So let’s find out more about Jenny, her career and her passions.
With a background in languages, how did you end up as an SEO?
Everyone has that one subject at school that just clicks for them – for me, this was languages. I so enjoyed studying French and Spanish at school and college that I carried them on to university. I chose Leeds because it enabled me to study and travel in South America (and as a bonus I met Leeds-classmate-turned-Torchbox-colleague Natalie!).
After uni I didn’t really know what to do, but I really wanted to live abroad and fancied myself as a writer. I found internships in proofreading and editing publications and websites abroad, in places such as Peru. Part of what I loved about this was learning so much about different topics, from fine art to the menopause!
This experience helped secure my first UK job as a marketing content writer. I joined when the agency was building their first client website and one of the web designers taught me the basics of SEO and on-page optimisation. From there I progressed into an SEO executive, then manager, overseeing new website launches and leading a team of copywriters.
When this job came up at Torchbox I was so excited to be able to use my skills “for good”, to improve SEO for charities and other non-profits.
You’ve now been in SEO for almost 10 years, how has it changed?
Wow, so much. SEO started in the mid-90s alongside search engines, and my first experience of “writing for search engines” was in 2013. I’ve heard horror stories from the early days, like trying to manipulate search results by stuffing keywords into the foot of the page and using white font so that the user can’t see them!
When I started there was some clunkiness to it. Keyword density was a thing, for example in my first web writing job you had to ensure your “key phrase” featured in the text exactly, 1–2% of the time. So if the 300-word blog post was “how to help my mum with her hot flushes”, I would have to try and write this 3–6 times in the article.
I think this has contributed to a long-lasting misconception about SEO – that it’s about “gaming the system” or using keywords for the benefit of search engines, rather than writing for the user.
Now, Google is much more nuanced in the way that it understands your content and interprets users’ search queries – it’s less about keyword stuffing and more about how relevant the information is.
What do you love about your role?
So many things! Obviously I’m passionate about SEO and I really enjoy getting nerdy-excited with the SEO team, and sharing my knowledge either through mentoring or more formal training for colleagues and clients.
And I love working at Torchbox, for many reasons. It’s a company whose values align with mine, especially that we’re an employee owned company. There’s so much scope to contribute to the company culture and values: I’m part of the Wellbeing Voice Group.
Being an SEO can have its challenges and frustrations. We are at the mercy of Google’s changes to their results pages, but this keeps us on our toes and is one of the reasons why SEO will never get boring! Google’s changes are pretty much all made for the benefit of the user – and it’s part and parcel of the job to deliver impact-driven SEO against this backdrop.
Advice for anyone looking to get into SEO?
I believe it’s possible for anyone to get a job in SEO – including those considering a career switch. There’s no official degree course and many people discover SEO through adjacent roles like content writing or digital marketing, or a developer transitioning into a technical SEO role.
My advice for any would-be SEOs is to:
- Keep reading and learning – there are loads of free resources and guides out there to get started and build your knowledge, like this SEO guide for developers and this Ahrefs blog.
- Get involved with the huge SEO community and what they’re talking about. Women in Tech SEO is a really supportive community, and Brighton SEO is a virtual and in-person free conference that has talks for every level.
- Reach out to people already in SEO roles and ask for a chat. No two SEO roles are the same – you could be a generalist, or specialise in technical SEO, content, PR and outreach or strategy. Talking to different SEOs is super useful to help you figure out your career journey.
- Practise where you can – create your own site or help someone you know with their website or online store. Having a site to play around with is useful: you can do your own tests to see what works, iterate on it and watch the rankings and traffic grow!
Has anyone in particular inspired you?
I admire people who are strong and compassionate, who bring their vulnerability and authenticity to work, and who have good boundaries and a good work-life balance. These are behaviours I’d love to shine in me and help me to become a good leader in the future.
I do have one shoutout – this summer I took part in an improv course about ‘Being a Difficult Woman’ by Imogen Palmer, which has been incredibly inspiring! Torchbox has also invested in people and leadership skills training, which is helping me grow from a passionate analyst and practitioner to a consultancy role.
What will we find you doing in your spare time?
I absolutely love a day where I can potter around the house and do whatever I fancy, like gardening, cooking or crafting – currently I’m making a Minecraft outfit out of a big box and origami squares for my friend’s son!
This summer I’m also going on a lot of walks in the countryside – me and my partner Ed have decided we’re going to hike from Bristol to Wells in a day, so we’re currently “in training” so that it will be an enjoyable day!
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