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Interviewing Lily Ray

Date: 27/05/2020

We're excited to launch a new initiative on our website,

Weekly Interviews
where we'll interview brilliant women in our industry and share their stories with the world!

Introducing

Lily Ray
, SEO Director at Path Interactive! Based in Brooklyn, NYC - Lily is SEO by day, DJ by night. We asked her everything from how she first got into SEO to what empowers her to be the brilliant woman she is 💪🏽

How did you get into SEO?

I found a job during college doing social media marketing for a startup company that offered online education courses. I was majoring in politics at the time, but every opportunity in that field was an unpaid internship, and after completing a few of those, I needed to start making money! Well, I completely fell in love with the social media marketing job, which quickly evolved into more of an SEO role, although SEO at the time meant adding meta keywords and building links to your pages on Digg and Tumblr.

After that job I moved into a full-time in-house role for a merchant cash advance company, which gave me the opportunity to develop the SEO strategies, implement them, and even dabble in black/grey hat SEO, which was very effective at the time. It was invaluable to be in a position where I was both coming up with all the SEO ideas, as well as implementing them myself.

What is your favourite SEO task?

Solving mysteries, particularly technical SEO mysteries. There is no better feeling than unearthing a problem that can potentially have a huge SEO impact very quickly, and that usually only happens with technical SEO. For example, discovering that a directive in the robots.txt file is preventing a set of valuable pages from being crawled; or that redirects from an old site migration were never implemented properly - things like that. I live for those discoveries.

Aside from that, I absolutely love assessing the impacts of core updates. I don't think we'll ever fully understand what Google aims to specifically achieve with each update, but I really enjoy looking at how domains were impacted by the updates at scale, and then digging into individual sites to see if I can start to identify patterns about what sites do well or poorly. It's all speculation, but I find it really fascinating, and it helps inform the strategies I use with my own clients, as well as my understanding of what I think Google is aiming to achieve with its search results.

What is your go-to tool or resource that you can't live without?

Sistrix and Sitebulb have been rocking my world lately.

What is something you learned in SEO that made you have an 'AHA' moment?

It's been 10 years of "aha" moments.

For one, you have the SEO-specific discoveries like the differences between robots.txt, noindex, and canonical tags, or crawling vs. indexing. Or something like understanding the difference between the source code and the DOM.

Then at some point in your SEO career, you might learn an Excel function that makes your job infinitely easier and makes you feel silly for not having known how to do it before that. For example, when I was an SEO baby at the beginning of my career, I remember manually matching rows in Excel before anyone ever taught me how to do VLOOKUP. That was certainly an "aha" moment.

There have also been plenty of "aha" moments involving interpersonal dynamics in the workplace, as well as working with clients. For example, I'll never forget the first time I said "I don't know, let me get back to you on that" to a client when I was just a few years into SEO. I distinctly remember being shocked that the client was more than satisfied with that as an answer. That experience sort of began to dictate how I conducted myself professionally from that point forward: knowing that I most likely knew a lot more about SEO than whoever I was speaking with, but I *didn't know everything,* I *still don't know everything,* and *no one in SEO knows everything.* And that's ok.

It's better to be honest and humble about your SEO wisdom than to pretend you know something you do not. Pretending is what gets you in trouble; there is nothing worse than putting your foot in your mouth in an effort to try to come across as an expert. Be honest when you don't know things! Your clients will appreciate it.

What is your proudest industry achievement?

I think it's a tie between getting a link from Google on its article about recovering from core updates, and also having been invited to be on Google Mythbusters. Really just knowing that Google is a fan of my work has been a game-changer for me. The thing about SEO is that, no matter how long you do it, much of your work is theory and speculation - you do what you think is best based on your own experience, and what Google and other SEO experts have recommended. But you never fully know if what you are doing is the right approach. So to have Google vouch for my work is really a dream come true.

What advice would you give women who are starting out in SEO?

I always recommend that new SEOs get their hands dirty with personal projects as much as possible. Gain the experience of launching your own website: buy a domain, set up a CMS or code it from scratch, even if you only know basic HTML, CSS and/or JavaScript. Implement your SEO ideas on your site and monitor what happens. Or do this same thing for a friend or family member's website.

This type of experience is invaluable to ensuring that you will actually know what you are talking about with clients. And that confidence is crucial - especially for women - when it comes to defending your ideas. When you have that experience, it doesn't matter what your gender is. You just know what you're talking about because you've done it.

I find that one of the most common mistakes junior SEOs make is to spend the early stages of their careers simply reading about SEO theory and absorbing SEO beginner guides without actually implementing what they've learned on a project of their own. This becomes evident when the client asks a specific question and the SEO doesn't know how to answer it. While it's ok to say "I don't know," as stated above, a great SEO has the experience to say "I've done that before and this is what I've seen." Try to develop as much of that experience as possible.

Give a shout out to a woman in the industry who inspires you and tell us why

There are so many to choose from - this is not an easy question.

Marie Haynes has been a phenomenal friend and mentor and I have learned so much from her. My favorite thing about Marie is that she sticks to her values and her beliefs and doesn't care what other people think, which is hard to do, but really important - especially for women in SEO - because our industry can be unforgiving in many cases when it comes to publicly sharing your ideas.

I would say the same thing about Dawn Anderson. Dawn's passion for constantly digging deeper and learning more and more about how search works is infectious. When speaking with Dawn, it's like you can feel your mind expanding. Plus, she's an absolute pleasure to hang out with and an extremely supportive and generous friend.

I also have to mention Areej AbuAli, of course, for what she has created with Women in Tech SEO. It's mindblowing to me how much this community has grown and expanded in the past year. WTS truly feels like a safe space for women SEOs to express themselves, network, and exchange ideas, without the all-too-common fear of being made to feel like we are inadequate or not worthy of our jobs. Before this group existed, it was challenging to be able to freely experience those things. So Areej, thank you for the way you've changed the experience of what it is to be a woman in this industry.

Finally, what empowers you to be the brilliant woman you are?

I can't say enough about living a healthy lifestyle. I live for my fitness routine and for eating healthy food. For me, being effective in the workplace comes from being physically strong healthy, and energetic.

I am always happy to share fitness/nutrition advice and/or work out with others, so don't hesitate to contact me about this if it's something you are also passionate about, or if it's something you would like to get more into!

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Thanks Lily for a truly insightful interview! You can check out Lily's website, follow her on Twitter or connect with her on LinkedIn.

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