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SEO’s Whisper Network Hasn’t Stopped Conference Harassment. What’s Next?



SEO’s Whisper Network Hasn’t Stopped Conference Harassment. What’s Next?

In the spirit of sunlight as the best disinfectant – let’s talk about the news coming out of a Brighton SEO afterparty.

Both Judith and Lidia thanked Brighton SEO and its organizers for quickly intervening, so let’s give that credit where it’s due.

Even so, we have to acknowledge there’s a glaring issue here we still need to work at.

We have a long tradition of sharing names on the whisper network so women and men in SEO know who to avoid in order to stay safe.

We’ve tried to create designated safe spaces and events for women only.

We’ve seen committees and associations and initiatives designed to tackle inequality in SEO come and go.

But we haven’t yet solved the problem.

For those who’ve been on the receiving end of these behaviors and the many who simply no longer attend SEO events as a result, each new report is fresh salt on an old wound.

I’d like to think there will come a day when all people feel welcome and safe at industry events.

Where equality is more than a buzzword and every single participant can be confident that if someone else is out of line, it’ll be handled swiftly and appropriately.

Where people won’t be punished or shunned for calling it out.

So let’s take a look at what we can do next.

Change your mindset. This is not a “women’s issue.”

There are two reasons we need to stop viewing this as a women’s issue.

First, we’re taught that every woman is someone’s daughter, sister, mother and therefore worth protecting.

(This is problematic in itself, as a woman’s value is not dependent on her relation to others. But I digress.)

The thing is — and this is where this issue gets super complicated — every person who makes SEO less safe for others is someone’s brother/sister, dad/mom, son/daughter, etc, as well.

They are someone’s boss.

They’re someone’s friend from college.

They’re someone’s mentor or business partner.

They could be one of our authors.

This is difficult stuff because chances are, those people who know the offender are going to want to give that person the benefit of the doubt.

He’s such a devoted husband/ great boss/ nice man.

How could he possibly be a sexual predator?

This is the cognitive dissonance that causes us to doubt victims as the default reaction.

What you’re saying cannot possibly be true. He’s just not like that.

You’re reading too much into it. She didn’t mean any harm.

You took it the wrong way.

And maybe they’re partly right. Maybe that person is not a predator.

They didn’t intend to cross a line.

And yet their actions resulted in the violation of another person’s space and body.

Both of these things can be true at the same time.

There can be a massive chasm between intention and impact; a complete disconnect between what we meant and how it landed.

And that means it’s up to all of us to be clear and unwavering in recognizing and calling attention to it when it’s happening.

It’s up to all of us to make it clear we see when it’s happening so there’s no ambiguity around what was intended or not.

The second reason this isn’t a women’s issue is that men are victims, too.

Nearly one-quarter (24.8%) of men in the U.S. will experience some form of sexual violence in their lifetime. When you include sexual harassment, that figure rises to 43%.

In Canada, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 8 men have experienced unwanted sexual behavior in public.

And the Crime Survey for England and Wales in 2020 found that although women were four times as likely as men to be sexually assaulted, 155,000 men were still victimized.

Black and Indigenous people (especially women) and LGTBQ2S are at far greater risk, as well.

And although men are statistically more likely the offender, women can harass and assault others, as well. In fact, researchers now suggest that sexual crimes by women are more common than previously thought.

There’s a great deal of shame and embarrassment for victims of sexualized and gender-based violence – women and men alike.

As I said, this is not easy stuff.

We need to come to terms with and accept that:

  • Anyone can be a victim of sexual harassment and violence. No one is immune to this, and there is no stereotypical victim.
  • Anyone can perpetrate sexual harassment and violence. Offenders don’t pop up out of nowhere and disappear again after attacking. There is no Boogeyman here. Aside from serial sex criminals, these are people who live and work among us.

With this in mind, the suggestions ahead are gender-neutral.

It can only benefit us all to be more thoughtful and intentional about how we interact with industry peers.

Implement visible cues at events that enable participants to signal to others their level of comfort with touch.

Interpersonal communications are complicated and have only become more complex since COVID.

We all have different comfort levels with various types of physical social interactions, and they can change at any time.

I’m sure I’ve been guilty myself of invading another’s personal space or giving a hug when it wasn’t appreciated.

We can all learn and evolve in this together.

Using green, yellow, and red lanyards or wrist bands would clearly indicate to others your preference for physical interaction including handshakes, hugs, a pat on the shoulder, etc.

The Professional Convention Management Association wrote about this system as a solution for social distancing preferences and suggests it could help solve challenges in face-to-face networking well after the pandemic, as well.

Of course, green doesn’t mean open season.

It means the wearer is okay with touch and from there, it’s up to you to follow their cues and ask questions, if necessary.

There’s nothing wrong with asking someone, “Could I give you a hug?”

And if they say, “Let’s do a COVID fist bump instead,” and offer you an elbow, that’s okay, too.

The purpose is to get thoughtful about physical interactions in the professional settings we share.

Recognize the obstacles to reporting and defending one’s self or someone else in those moments.

Often, the people I see saying, “Well, did she charge him? He didn’t get a trial; we can’t be the judge,” are the same ones who will insist that the perpetrator losing his job, marriage, or business over the harassment would be too extreme.

In many cases, criminal charges would indeed be going too far.

Let’s be realistic, too, about the likelihood of a report to the police resulting in any sort of justice.

Beyond the fact that sexual harassment has abysmal investigation and conviction rates, the nature of these events is that we’re getting together from all over the world for a brief few days.

If I’m in London for an event and am assaulted by a European, that complaint is going to die on the police officer’s desk the minute I board my plane back to North America.

We need to police ourselves in these spaces.

That leaves us with social and business/financial repercussions.

Yes, I imagine a person is going to be embarrassed when a peer says, “Hey, that’s not cool. She told you to cut it out.”

Or, “That’s the third person I’ve seen you with your arm around tonight. Are you asking and making sure they’re okay with you touching them like that?”

Or, “Listen girl, you’re making people uncomfortable. You need to keep your hands to yourself.”

Their potential embarrassment cannot keep you from intervening. We cannot treat people who harass others as so fragile they can’t handle being made aware they’re doing it.

One victim of sexual harassment in our industry who has chosen to remain anonymous wrote to me, “Everyone has something big to lose by speaking their truth – being blacklisted from conferences and cut off from the speaking circuit, for example.”

“The cost is too high for people to speak up, and no one wants to take that hit,” they wrote. “It is easier to stay out of the controversy than to take a stand and embroil yourself in the middle of it.”

And so we must remember that it can be scary to get involved, too, and to support those we see taking a stand.

The time for sitting on the sidelines and watching to see how it shakes out is over. If you witness an incident of assault or harassment, you’re already involved.

Unfortunately, we know there is a possibility the offender may get angry (especially where alcohol is involved, as it often is at these events).

I cannot speak for men here. But as women, we are raised and conditioned by society to defuse rather than escalate these situations.

Don’t make it worse.

Don’t upset them.

Don’t cause a scene.

If you challenge the person overstepping at that moment, they may escalate. Best to try to brush it off and get out of the situation without further harm.

We often know the perpetrator, too. They are a family member, friend — or boss, colleague, industry acquaintance, etc.

Being on the receiving end of unwanted attention by someone you may have liked and respected up until that very moment is confusing.

Harassment and assault don’t come with a response playbook.

But he looked like he was enjoying himself. He was still smiling.

She didn’t say anything so I figured she was okay with it.

Why didn’t he just tell him to stop?

You never know how you’ll react until it’s happening to you, and the reaction could change given the circumstances and who’s involved.

It’s time for open conversations, in the moment, as these things are happening.

Don’t assume the person being touched is okay with it.

Sure, it could very well be wanted and the attention reciprocal.

You won’t know unless you ask.

Choose not to do business with people who make our world less safe for others.

You can choose not to hire or contract work out to people who harass and assault industry peers.

You don’t need to see criminal charges against the offender to do this, either.

You can see it happening. We can all see it happening.

These are the worst-kept secrets in SEO — we whisper in small groups about who you shouldn’t leave alone with your friend.

We can all do more.

Ask yourself, are this person’s values and ethics a good reflection of my company?

If not, why are you contributing to their success with your dollar?

We will not give a platform to people who threaten the safety and security of our peers.

Search Engine Journal will add specific language to our contributor requirements to reflect that our code of conduct for authors extends to the real-world spaces we share.

Judith Lewis told me, “I don’t actually want zero tolerance but a 2-strike system where they are told they are being banned for 2-5 years. They can come back and if they violate again, it’s a lifetime ban from everything in the network — like pub watch in the UK.”

This sounds fair, does it not?

“The perpetrator must be told they are being banned for this bad behavior,” she added. “It’s not fair to shadowban someone. Tell them and enable them to change.”

I couldn’t agree more.

We’re not advocating for cancel culture. People must be given an opportunity to change.

They need to be told straight up why the behavior is problematic and what impact it’s having on others.

Sunlight is the best disinfectant.

It’s time to take this out of the whisper network and shine a light on conference harassment, where and when it’s happening.

This isn’t going to be resolved by putting the onus on potential victims to stay safe; to guard one another and always be on the lookout for this person or that.

We don’t need to create safe spaces for women to meet outside of the main event.

We need to collectively ensure safe, equitable access to industry networking and educational opportunities for all who choose to attend.

And it’s on each and every one of us to ensure that’s the only experience on offer.

More resources:

Featured image: Shutterstock/VovanIvanovich

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15 Ecommerce SEO Experts Reveal Top Insights For 2023



15 Ecommerce SEO Experts Reveal Top Insights For 2023

Wondering how to do SEO for ecommerce?

Looking for expert insights on ecommerce SEO?

Uncertain how to make your online store more successful?

From acknowledging that the traditional customer journey is dead, to fast pivoting due to Google’s constant updates, to reassessing benchmarks after the pandemic digital boom and the subsequent fall, experts from award-winning agencies assess what’s next in ecommerce SEO.

We wanted to go beyond unpredictability, so we interviewed 15 digital growth and SEO experts to get their insights, tips, and lessons learned as part of our Ecommerce SEO deep dive.

Ecommerce experts in this article talk about search behaviors, hands-on clients, forecasting for aligning to current trends, and more.

Let’s see what they have to say.

Implement Multi-Touchpoint Customer Journeys As Search Behaviors Change

James Finlayson, Head of SEO at the7stars: “Google’s search volumes aren’t just stagnating – in many cases, they’re reducing. Despite this, consumers are conducting more research prior to purchases than ever – on Amazon and other ‘super-retailers’, on TikTok, large publishers with loyal audiences, Pinterest, YouTube, and Reddit. We recently looked at one market where, we estimated, less than 10% of search activity was actually happening on Google.” Read Finlayson on digital and in-store buying, pushing for larger budgets, and their Sofology success story.

Sara Povoas, Content and SEO Manager at iProspect Portugal:  “We observed a huge increase in shopping, not only for younger audiences but also for older ones, which is new. I think that users are getting more demanding and more informed — if you have a lot of offers, you need to make smart decisions. So people are looking for more. The reviews, opinions, video demonstrations, and price comparisons are getting more popular as people are doing these decision-making searches in order to make a purchase.” Read Povoas on fluctuating stocks, health and cosmetics trends, and client communication.

Luke Carthy, eCommerce SEO & CRO Consultant: “What I’m seeing across my consumer-based clients is that Average Order Value is up, but the number of transactions is probably similar or falling. What I mean by that is they’re spending more per transaction. Rather than someone going to a clothing retailer, maybe once a month or once every couple of weeks, depending on what their previous shopping habits were, they will shop less frequently. And when they shop, they’ll spend more money. I think that happens for a couple of reasons: One is to mitigate the delivery fees and, secondly, to try and get to thresholds to claim rewards, whatever those might be.” Read Carthy on buy-in, shifting strategies, and B2B clients.

Jen Cornwell, Senior Director of Digital Strategy at Ignite Visibility: “The way people shop has changed, as they had converted to online and are now back to this hybrid style again. I think it’s all about expectation setting: Can we ever get back to those traffic levels or those conversion levels online again? What are some creative ways that we can go about if we think that’s the case? User behavior has taken a big shift.

For instance, we had an electronics client who sold computers, both online and brick-and-mortar. We started to see a shift at the beginning of 2022 as they had more foot traffic to their stores – which they’re happy about, but they do not see as many purchases online anymore. Even in the instances where there isn’t a brick-and-mortar component or the product is only available online, the opportunity for somebody to go and buy it in person just pulls them away from coming to the Internet as much as they used to.” Read Cornwell on video content, white goods, and creative page optimization.

Get Creative With Product Reviews, Long-Tail Keywords & Specificity, As Google Algorithm Updates Intensify

James Euinton, Account Director at The SEO Works: “Over the years, as Google improves its handling of language, it’s been more important to focus on the more specific, longer-tail phrases. Sometimes this may mean catering to specific questions and keywords that fall outside standard products and category pages. It’s important that we tailor additional content to these to target the customer at different points in the journey or funnel.” Read Euinton on moving the needle fast, Core Web Vitals, and business contexts.

Radu Marcusu, CEO at Upswing: “The biggest challenge this year was for marketing managers to explain the drops in the market and how to go about it. That’s why I would say it was more about us being proactive in communicating these shifts to our clients. They needed support in understanding the overall market trends and that it was a general change in demand – and, of course, in adapting to it. That also meant new tactics or focusing on specific actions. For instance, if Google now recommends refined searches, we make sure our clients have filters or categories targeting those searches. We also focus on having the right content to answer those searches. Or keep their Google My Business profiles optimized. In a nutshell, we were proactive in adapting strategies, budgets, and also specific actions implying Google changes.” Read Marcusu on differentiating through pitching, video searches, and developing internal tools.

Eli Schwartz, Growth Advisor and SEO Strategic Consultant: “Google and other search engines use deep learning to improve search results for their users continuously. This past year, I have noticed that local results are triggered more often when Google detects a local intent. At the same time, on results where there should not have been local intent, I have seen the local results disappear.”

Forecasts, SEO ROI & Data-Led Decisions Should Be At The Forefront For Ecommerce Businesses

Marc Swann, Director of Search at Glass Digital: “​​There’s no doubt that retailers are feeling the pinch as consumers tighten their belts, and this presents risks for most marketing agencies when it comes to justifying the value of their services. SEO is a channel that is often more at risk when times are hard, and marketing budgets are scrutinized. SEO performance can ultimately be maintained in the short and even medium term without a recurring spend associated with it, unlike something like paid search where once ad spend stops, performance disappears. So certainly, justifying expenditure in SEO is something that we have seen requested more and not seeing it as a luxury in harder times. Ultimately, those that are able to fulfill their SEO strategies through the hard times will be in much stronger positions when the economy eventually turns positive.” Read Swan on multi-lingual sites, sports retailers, and “luxury” channels.

Steve Walker, Technical Director at Journey Further: “Measuring ROI has always been important, but it’s no longer a nice-to-have. Measuring ROI is essential. This is why performance monitoring tools like SEOmonitor are critical to your agency. The amount of in-house teams has also increased dramatically over the past few months. This is a great thing for the SEO industry and a testament to SEO’s importance in digital marketing – but it fundamentally changes how agencies need to operate. We’re no longer just additional resources doing basic SEO activity. We need to act in a similar way to a business consultancy and provide strategic-level support.” Read Walker on new user journeys, measuring impact, and funnel optimization.

Rank Tracker’s Strategy view on, December 202215 Ecommerce SEO Experts Reveal Their Top Insights For A Successful 2023

Ben Austin, Founder & CEO at Absolute Digital Media: “We utilize forecasting for both pitching and upselling to ecommerce clients to showcase our understanding of the industry they compete in and the business. By doing so, we can more effectively dictate what is required to drive continuous growth to the business whilst highlighting the ongoing value our innovative SEO strategies provide. In addition to providing a basic forecast of the brand’s current market position, we supply further insight into the wider business benefits such as returning customers, revenue, and ROI.” Read Austin on business strategies, performing verticals in ecommerce, and dynamic URLs.

Charlie Norledge, Head of SEO Performance at Impression: “The pitches are much more competitive now because there are probably fewer clients going to market as things started to slow down a bit. We’ve had to make sure that we include innovative tactics in there. Like talking about how to utilize social media trends in organic when we talk about tech SEO, not just putting a list of fixes, making sure we have priority behind things and just giving them as much detail as possible.

Forecasting is another important piece. When we go to a competitive pitch, forecasting is, I’d say, required. If we didn’t do it, we could miss out. We were in pitches against other agencies, and because we had forecasts in place, we ended up winning the work.” Read Norledge on GPT-3 efficiency, reporting, and client expectations.

Kevin Gibbons, Founder and CEO at Re:signal: “For us, it’s important to have strong communication with our clients about where the priorities are and make sure that we know not just where the search demand is, but also the supply. Knowing what clients are focusing on – both in terms of seasonality and where the priorities could be and could be shifting because of those issues – helps us re-address what we’re doing.

I think everyone’s just probably a bit more price-conscious and cautious right now in terms of what they’re doing. So, again, that’s why ecommerce is such a strong sector for us. For the reason that you can track organic revenue performance. Everyone wants to make sure they’re maximizing their ROI.” Read Gibbons on internationalization and their ASICS success story.

15 Ecommerce SEO Experts Reveal Their Top Insights For A Successful 2023SEO Forecast by SEOmonitor, December 202215 Ecommerce SEO Experts Reveal Their Top Insights For A Successful 2023

Leverage Integrated Campaigns To Build More Growth Opportunities

It’s not just about one channel or one tactic, but ecommerce digital experts are looking more and more into how they can optimize the full user experience, coordinate PR and SEO efforts, and make sense of the whole industry landscape and where the opportunity lies:

Petar Jovetic, Organic Director at Impression: “Everything we do has to show value and be targeted. We’re baking innovation more and more into our proposition. It’s been quite compelling to leverage AI to handle higher workloads and then do it more efficiently. One other thing I’m keen to explore is using our CRO department, especially at the bottom of the funnel where every user counts, to grow acquisition strategically with more A/B testing, multivariate testing, etc. We’re looking into how CRO and SEO can complement each other more. I think that is really appealing in the current economic climate. So we’re not just throwing additional users but nurturing them through the funnel to conversion.” Read Jovetic on SEO maturity frameworks and the State of Retail.

Charlie Clark, Account Director & Founder at Minty Digital: “I noticed more clients are looking to build their brand through digital PR, and we build their brand name rather than just focus on sales. Some of the bigger companies we work with used to allocate a separate budget to SEO, and that used to be the entire thing. Now they’re allocating separate budgets within their departments, one for SEO and one for PR. They’ll have their traditional PR, the standard press releases, but then they’ll also be tying in the digital aspect to that, which is something that’s been quite interesting to know.” Read Clark on entering new markets and campaign KPIs.

Heemesh Vara, Head of SEO at Semetrical: “Our keyword research process focuses on exploring the whole industry. That’s something different from other agencies. Where they might take a category-by-category approach and do it month by month, we do it the other way around. It’s a lot of work for us at the beginning, but it does provide the client and us with a complete picture of their entire industry. For example, we worked with a vintage furniture client with multiple types of products and categories, from sofas, stools, chairs, side tables, etc. So we had to research the entire industry all at once. And this is one of our unique selling propositions that we always put in the proposal as well.” Read Vara on SEO data analysis and baselines, stakeholder management, and securing budgets.

In the end, as our 15 interviews have shown, both ecommerce clients and markets continue to shift, so it’s critical to showcase sustainable results.

With all these challenges SEO experts face in mind, we continue to develop SEOmonitor so it helps you:

  • Prove the value of SEO with a forecast solution that allows you to connect desired ranking targets to non-brand organic traffic growth potential.
  • Bring session, conversions, and revenue data back into keywords with our solution to the (not provided), so you know what the performing keywords are.
  • Keep track of demand with daily ranks for desktop and mobile as standard, search volumes and year-over-year trends across the platform, and automatic seasonality alerts.
  • And so much more.

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