#WTSFest Philadelphia is back September 19th, 2024 - Get your tickets.

Back to Interviews

Interviewing Tory Gray

Welcome to a new Weekly Interviews edition where we interview brilliant women in our industry and share their stories with the world! Anyone is welcome to share their story by simply filling this form, we encourage women from all walks of life in our industry to do so.

Introducing Tory Gray, Founder and Principal SEO Consultant of The Gray Dot Company. Based in Asheville, NC, USA - Tory is a veteran SEO consultant helping technology companies make better, more scalable decisions for SEO and digital marketing. She focuses on technical and strategic SEO, with a strong emphasis on content, and complex business models/tech stacks.

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 lucked into it! I graduated with a degree in Public Relations and sought a marketing job. The job I got happened to be "internet marketing", including SEO, social media marketing, comparison shopping engine optimization (I'm aging myself on that one!), and "PPC."

Fun fact - it was a good week before I realized that "pay per click" wasn't "paper clip." That wasn't embarrassing or anything!

Much like everyone else going "internet marketing" in 2008 I learned everything on the job. I was also fortunate to have a series of epic female bosses mentoring me and framing my perspective of SEO, for which I will always be grateful.

What is your favourite SEO task?

This one is hard to narrow down, if only because I enjoy the sheer diversity of the work, which gives the different parts of my brain a workout.

But if I had to pick one, it would be working with clients to set SEO strategy. I really enjoy the process of understanding a particular business, their customers, their needs, and what they specifically need to do to grow in order to have a meaningful impact on their business. This can often mean eschewing the bigger, flashier keywords and tactics in favor of specific tactics that help that brand stand out from the crowd (to mix analogies here, it's somewhat like focusing on site wellness as a whole, plus a scalpel for detailed work, instead of taking a sledgehammer to the whole thing.)

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

The honest answer here is Search Console. It's not sexy, and it's got a few serious limitations (why oh why can't I filter on more than one variable?) but I spend 50% of my day in there learning all sorts of weird, helpful and ridiculous things about the websites I work on.

A second answer, if I may, is Google search results (or Bing, or Yandex, or whatever search engine it makes sense for you to target.) It's a really underrated tool for understanding the search intent for a particular query, as well as what Google values & currently defines as "quality" (a nebulous and moving target.)

I wish more SEOs spent more time in the weeds of real search results instead of spending so much time in this or that tool. Don't get me wrong, those tools are also (often) fantastic. But the more you are removed from the results themselves, the harder it is to spot when things evolve. Plus it can mean you aren't keeping a close eye on the needs of your users - which is a problem no matter what your business is.

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

I can't seem to find the article everywhere (I keep looking!) that broke down how Google's algorithm worked for a better understanding of why making change A on website X and website Z could have dramatically different effects. It helped me frame, in my own head, how to evaluate the competitive SEO landscape: ensuring that sites aren't actively terrible at anything, while simultaneously being really excellent at some specific things that help them stand out - vs. being only a little good at everything (this is kind of like the model for a T-shaped marketer - except for websites!) Really wish I could find this again, if anyone can point me in the right direction.

In general, I love finding good new ways to communicate ideas effectively -- whether it's a new idea to me, or a new & better way for me to convey critical SEO ideas to clients.

What is your proudest industry achievement?

Sustained growth year, over year, over year, over year for my clients and brands I've worked with. It's not always the sexy work or flashy results that matter; if anything it can start drag as you run out of all your initial great ideas.

That's where the magic really starts - the creativity to always find & execute new ideas, or existing ides more effectively or profitably. You have to stretch your limits and get out of your comfort zone, and really, everyone can benefit from this kind of kick-in-the-butt sometimes.

Example of this:

  • 271% organic traffic growth in year one (1.4mm -> 5.3mm)
  • 2x growth in year 2 (5.3mm -> 12.6mm)
  • 163% growth in years 3 & 4 for new product offerings, plus 4% additional growth in acquisition

Wins like this helped me get a taste for what SEO can mean at scale. Pretty exciting opportunities to be had!

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

First, focus on exploring the different aspects of SEO to understand if you want to be a generalist or a specialist (say, in local SEO, international SEO, technical SEO, content marketing, growth marketing, etc.) Having a decent knowledge base across all specialties will serve you well, even if you don't do this work in your day to day life. If you choose to specialize, I highly recommend the T-shaped marketer model.

I'd also encourage everyone to explore different work environments as early as possible - agency vs. in-house, corporate vs. startup, etc. SEO can be vastly different depending on where you are, and you need to find the fit that works for you. Plus, experience in the other environments will serve you well regardless. I think it's really critical that agency people experience working in-house so they can learn how communication works differently there.

Conversely, it's important for in-house people to work in an agency environment to dive deeply into the depths of SEO at a faster pace. When they go back in-house, they've got that base, plus they are better positioned to leverage agency support effectively.

Mostly I encourage exploration, period. Expand your mind, and meet different people with different motivations and needs. This can help you better develop empathy & understanding of those people - while building those critical bridges to "the other side."

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

Areej AbuAli - Setting up this wonderful community + all the ongoing investment of her time and attention to nurture and grow it. Astounding.

Susan Hallam - Amazing example of a female leader & SEO who has a ton of insights on carving her own path to building an agency.

Roxana Stingu - When it comes to page speed, structured data, regular expressions, and other niche areas of technical SEO, Roxana is an epic resource!

Katherine Ong - Great technical SEO, and great perspectives on how to best serve clients effectively.

Aleyda Solis - She's kind, and the go-to resource for all things international SEO.

Heather (Andrews) Kaeowichien - My first professional boss who laid the groundwork for my learnings and perspective on SEO.

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

Fundamentally, I want to help people - and I want to do so while surrounded by people I like and respect. Life's too short for anything else!


Thanks Tory for a truly insightful interview. You can check Tory's website and connect with her on LinkedIn.

To view more interviews with brilliant women, check out our Interviews page. If you've enjoyed reading this interview, then we'd love for YOU to share your story with the world! Simply fill this form here, we welcome brilliant SEOs from all walks of life! 🙌🏽