Podcast

EP#2 Brenda Malone - Starting an SEO Career at age 60

Listen to a genuine story of what it is like to navigate a SEO career at age 60 and start new projects. If you are thinking about pivoting your career to do more SEO, like Brenda did, you will be inspired by Brenda.

If you are thirty/forty something like Isaline, the podcast host, you will understand during this podcast what it’s like for Brenda to navigate an industry that is - quite unfairly - rather young. And if you are an HR team, you will hear about what kind of - most needed - balance someone like Brenda can bring to a team.

Brenda Malone is a very active member of the Women in Tech SEO community founded by Areej AbuAli. In the WiTSEO slack channel, Brenda answers questions, mostly technical, on a regular basis. I was impressed by the wide variety of questions Brenda answers - it seems she knows all CMS. I enjoy her answers that are always pragmatic and hands-on. When I see her photo icon in the slack channel, I read her answer, even if I am not the one who asked the question. I love sponging knowledge by reading other people's Q&A.

Did you enjoy this episode? Please, follow, like, rate, share and subscribe to the podcast – everything helps! And if you feel like doing an extra step, send the podcast guest or the podcast host a thank you Tweet or message.

Useful links

Podcast Anchor Page: https://anchor.fm/workinseo

Isaline’s, podcast host, Twitter page: https://twitter.com/isaline_margot

WorkinSEO Twitter page: https://twitter.com/WorkInSEO

Sign up to “WorkinSEO” newsletter: https://www.getrevue.co/profile/workinseo

Getting in touch with Brenda Malone

Twitter: twitter.com/_brendamalone

LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/brendaleemalone

#WorkinSEOPodcast full transcript with Brenda Malone

Isaline: Hey folks, it is Isaline and I'm thrilled to record this work in SEO Podcast, a podcast where we explore the diversity of carrier path leading to working in SEO. We interview amazing people to learn from them and help you find your way in U S U K. Is that in Muelhauser SEO nerds and content strategists, fonder of the SEO consultancy today I'm joined by the brilliant Brenda Malone, SEO technical and web dev specialist at advanced local.

Brenda is one of the most active member of the community. Women in tech SEO. Whenever I see her little photo icon answering questions, I'm like, oh, I have to read this. Hey Brenda. 

Brenda: Hi, thank you for lovely introduction. I never knew that about my face. Thank you. Good, great compliment. Well, you know, when you repeatedly give us some answer, then you get tests and the slack channel, how I just love helping and actually answering the questions and helping others helps me. It's a win-win for everyone. 

Isaline: Thanks so much for the time you're giving to all of us. So this is working as you with Brenda Malone. And today we discussed pivoting to SEO career later in life. During the podcast, I want to do two different things. I'm hoping that people like me, SEO, who are 30, something, 40 something can understand better.

Some of the challenge and how I can support and understand all the other people, because obviously I'm 36 and these might not be some challenge that I experienced today, but I'm working. People who, more experienced than me. And I'm actually very lucky to do so. And also I'm hoping that if you are thinking about pirating, your carer to do more SEO, I'm hoping that will give you some tips in idea, and then your know, and be inspired by Brenda.

Brenda: Absolutely. It's a lovely compliment. So let's start this. Do you remember Brenda, when, when was the first time you heard about search engine optimization? I absolutely do. It was in January of 2016. I had been a WordPress developer for nearly 15, 20 years, but I'd never ran across. S E L it was some mystical term that I'd never heard of, but as we're pressed developer, I joined the I beams software club where they have tons of plugins and you pay one price and you, you get the plugins and you get their training seminars.

So one of their training seminars was with Rebecca Gill and she is this fantastic. SEO guru. And she just week after week, she talked about SEO and how it could improve the bottom line for my clients. And I just was intrigued. And from then on, it was just SEO, SEO, everything for me, I tried to devour everything that was out there.

There were no formal courses. As far as university or college or anything like that for SEL. And I just had to struggle to piece information together. So Rebecca Gill, she did offer courses. So I. Like 12 of her courses, I was on LinkedIn learning, which is up the old lended that calm everything that they offered an SEO.

I just watched voraciously. And I might also add, I was still working full time in a government job. So this was not my full-time job. I still was. Working in something totally unrelated, but I did have freelance clients who I wanted to support with web development. And now this new thing called SEL. And what was it about SEO that, that made you go, oh, this is so interesting.

I want to, I want to dig. I never knew that you could do things to influence. Where your site ranked on search engines up until then? I honestly never even thought that it could be, I don't want to say manipulated, but be stuff you can, there's things that you can do to help your clients be found in search.

I thought that it was just whoever paid Google. Ads. Those are the guys who appeared on the top on page one and two are so naive. I had no idea that there was this, the whole undercurrent ecosystem of methods and peoples and the entire economy totally focused on moving websites up to page one. And how did SEO relate to you technical backgrounds?

Isaline: This is something I've noticed in you answers in the women in tech slack channel is that you seem to have really good knowledge of a great variety of different CMS and different technical solutions. 

Brenda: It's all a function of my career. And by the way, I don't mind telling you I'm 64 years old.

 I've had so many different careers in these many, many years. I've dabbled for a few years. I was an art director for an ad agency. I've owned a printing company before I've worked at a large hospital, the Cleveland clinic, I was in their forms and publications department. So I help doctors do their books.

I learned forms, management, all of those hospital forms that you have to fill out. And that's how I learned about the. Health portability act how you can have to keep everything private self that helped. Then I moved to my final government job. I was really floating from job to job from our first 15 years.

Because I get bored easily after a couple of years in a career. I just have to move or I get stagnant and I just don't like that. However, my daughter was born and I knew that I needed stability and health benefits for her. I went to a governor. Positions because it's going to be there forever.

 They had great benefits hospitalization, but at that agency, they allowed me to morph internally every three years. For the first few years I was in the marketing and communications department working right with the executive director. Then I moved down to the. It information technology department, where I became a DVA sequel and managing the servers and helping with the help desk and developing programs and software applications.

Then the organization morph began. I found myself in the construction department, very weird where I took my it skills sales, and I helped develop systems and processes for their vendors, for the request for proposals, for outside contractors and seeing the whole different world of how everything is built and how.

The purchasing department works. I was a reviewer for people trying to get contracts with the government are reviewed their proposals. I learned a little bit about everything because it was like a little city in the housing department. There was everything that a city would have we had within that department.

So I stayed there for a few years and then I. Too. You won't believe this to the police department. The housing authority has their own separate police department. And that was my final spot there. And at the police department did pretty much everything I helped with their it systems. I was a grant writer.

They turned me into a grant writer. Actually did pretty good there. I think we got like $5 million in grants, I guess that's like 10 pounds, 10, 10 million pounds for you guys. So who knew I could write grants and I help the police department get their systems together and I was their liaison.

Between other police departments and the community. So I would go out and develop programs. And I was also at the decorator. I decorated the entire police department with posters and artwork and things like that. So I see that you have. Very very curious, because it's not only about different set of tasks, but also different environment.

And I suppose also difference how'd you say company culture and exactly it's release department was a culture, was a shock. It's really about being open and aware to completely different type of works and activities. And so it's, it's so versatile. You know what I think I have learned that there's very few positions and jobs.

That you need a background or education. If you have an open mind in the ability to learn and to grow, you can pretty much do anything except for, you know, medicine or lawyer or anything like that. Other than that, I think you learn from your peers. You learn on the job and it's what you bring your character and your enthusiasm, not necessarily what you already know, but what you have the capacity to know and share.

That's what has helped me move from place to place, to place to place. 

Isaline: Would you say that it's really about soft skills and also one's approach and mindset to work rather than hard skills and the ability to use a software or to do calculations or whatever. 

Brenda: Absolutely. You can learn, you can mold yourself into any one's culture.

It is all within yourself. The ability to be resilient, to be willing, to get out of your comfort zone. There are so many things that frightened me that I don't know, didn't know Google became everything to me. Everything. There's nothing that you don't know that you can't solve with a 32nd Google search.

 We didn't have that back in my career when we started, there was no internet, no Google. It was very difficult to source answers, but in this day and age, no one should be afraid of going out where they don't understand, or don't know if you have the personality. You can do it. You can absolutely do it.

 You have to be a voracious learner and reader. Because you never stop learning. So if somebody wants to say, I'm here, I'm in this place, I have this position. This is, and I'm made it for life. I don't think you'll be too successful. Because you always have to constantly learn morph and grow and meet new people like easily.

Isaline: I heard that you are really not afraid of the learning curve because there is a moment. Where one can feel uncomfortable with task and your environment. It could be overwhelming because you lost at the beginning, you don't know. It's like when you learn to swim it's sink or swim and you have to do something. How did you tackle this insecurity?

Brenda: I was afraid. You're absolutely correct. There was a ton of fear. In fact, my first job in SEO, I was retiring from the government. I had been there 20 years and 20 years is all you have to do.

 I got that it's to do something else. Plus my child was grown and she was on her own. I don't mind living on the edge living without things, but it was for her that I took a formal job. Otherwise I'd still be free, but I didn't think that I could do this SEO thing. And I came into this job because Angela Bergman and she's also in women in SEO tech, she is in our WordPress meetup group and she put out a call.

She's like, Hey, anybody that can help our agency needs help anybody that has any WordPress or technical experience we're dying over here, please come help me. So this was like three weeks before my retirement. And I had jitters. I like NG. I can, I'd love to volunteer. I don't know SEO I have no idea if I will be hurting things.

She said, you got this and on that alone, I agree to at least try the position. It was overwhelming at first. I didn't know how to deal with client sites, how to implement I didn't even know what titles and Meadows were, what are these things? I didn't have too great of a trainer at the agency.

He was more focused on. His responsibilities, which he was overworked too. I think he was working like 80, 90 hours a week too. So nobody really had time to train me. So when I would get a task, I would go to Mr. Google type it in, and the answers would come out. It leads you to forums and to groups of people.

Like you guys at the women in tech who are so lovely and so willing to help and to walk you through the process. Yeah, there's a lot of fear. You're correct. 

Isaline: It was basically your first SEO job, like full-time employment. 

Brenda: Exactly. Very odd. 

Isaline: Did you have a formal recruitment process. How was it?

Brenda: No. In fact, I told them, listen, I'm retired. I'm at the end of my career. I don't want to go into a job anymore. I've done this for 40 years. So they totally accomodated me. I work from home. You never have to come into the office. So I've never been into the office so weird. I was onboarded and given the keys to the client websites and given the list of tasks and teamwork and said, they just go for it. And that was it. 

Do you think it was a privilege because you had such a wide experience that you had proven that you can handle new projects 

Brenda: Well, I think one, they were desperate.

They had just pulled in. They were outsourcing all of the technical SEO tasks to another company, to white label company. But that company didn't work out. So they had just pulled everything back in house and they didn't have the personnel. I think that went at the right time. They just wanted a warm body that could learn in that position. And I guess I qualified. 

Isaline: And that was you. Yeah. You were meant to work in SEO, like SEO found you basically. Okay. 

Brenda: That's it that's exactly it. And the more I started doing there, I didn't understand what I was really doing. It was just. Robotic work atmosphere for me for about six months.

It took me about six, the eight months before I really understood how all of the pieces connected, how the content mattered, how the strategist, how the Facebook, how the social. Played in linking at never understood linking. That was like such a mystery to me. So it it's just fascinating, the many different ways that you can take SEO.

Isaline: In women, in tech slack channel, I read, you mentioned that you were facing challenges because you were later in your career. Can you tell me a little bit more about that? Because I can imagine that people can tell you all you offer qualified, which is a way of saying you old and you have too much experience.

Brenda: Exactly. 

Isaline: How does it happen exactly?

Brenda: Actually surprisingly, I guess they were so desperate at this agency that it really didn't matter. I didn't run into it then. And I'll tell you about when I'm running into it now it's because at that point, they were just eager for a semi smart, reasonable, helpful person.

But I will tell you later, a couple of years later, I did find out that the pay scale was a little bit different. They were not paying me what they were paying the other male in my position. I was paid 25% less, which I don't think was right. And I did bring it to my manager and their manager's attention.

And I have not heard back from them yet. And that was two years ago. So I think there is a pay discrimination, not how you think, but I think that they know that we can be paid less and still be okay. So most people would think it's just the opposite that I've priced myself out because that has not been the case.

It's been just the opposite. 

Isaline: I expected exactly the opposite, given that you have a longer career well then that means more experience. 

Brenda: I don't think they want to invest though. I don't think they want to invest a whole lot of money. In time and somebody who obviously won't have a 40 year career with them. So I don't understand their mindsets, but I don't think that the maturity is respected. And I can fast forward to now, now that I have experience in SEO, I've been trying to branch out into move, into grow and to even change companies I've been putting in applications. I just don't hear back. So, you know, I'm sure who wants to invest into somebody to help learn your system and your culture and it's probably going to be for 10 or 15 years max, and every place that I've applied and whenever I searched the internet and I come across an SEO company, the first thing I do is go to their team's page. And it's a little bit depressing. There's never anybody there that looks like me. Nobody looks over the age of 35 and I'm like, I don't, I'm not going to fit in their culture.

There's no way. So I don't even apply. Usually once I look at their teams page and I see that. They're not, they're not going to take me seriously. I'm not going. They don't think that I'm going to be a fit. There's the big, big divide there. Once you get a position as a mature person and an SEO field, you're pretty much there because you're going to be lucky and find one company that will say, Hey, we respect what you know, we respect, what you bring.

Your enthusiasm, your ability to help and grow and have our team learn from your experiences. That's rare, very rare.

Isaline: And do you think it's this way for both a management position as well as executive positions? I would expect that someone more mature would have a management position, sort of a team leader. You know, that you would be able to do this better because of that experience. 

Brenda: That would be true if I had more SEO experience. I don't think with five years that they consider that I'm top level leadership material. If I had maybe 10 even 10 years. I think that would be the case. I would be able to be accepted into a managerial or a higher level position, but I'm at an unfortunate intersection of being young at SEO but old in age. It's, it's a hard balance sometimes. And it's okay. I have nothing against the agencies or the other companies. I totally appreciate it. I used to be a company owner myself, so they have to look at the long picture and maybe they don't want to invest in something that they know has a limited life expectancy with the agency of 10, 15 years.

So I get it, but it's still frustrating.

Isaline: If someone would want to pivot, is that something you would recommend, do you think SEO is, is a good place to pivot?

Brenda: As long as you don't have lofty aspirations of moving up, if you just want to get into SEO as a mature person and go into this one niche and be happy and comfortable there forever. Perfect. Because it's a job that you can do remotely. You don't have to really put up with a lot of stuff in the culture. Cause you know, you, young guys, you have fun at work, have nerfs, you have air, gun battles and water balloon fights. I've done all that. And I don't want to do it anymore, but SEO is perfect for that reason because you can learn and grow, but still for, in your years of experience in managing and delegating, admitting what you don't know and learning from what you don't know and learning from others and respecting your coworkers, some of the troubles that my coworkers have, I've been there, done that. And I can kind of tell them that it does not last forever.

 It goes away. It gets better. It goes up, it goes down. There's that quiet confidence that we bring to the table. We've been through a lot of turmoil, so nothing really upsets us. And with the internet, you can find the answers, just relax and don't be too much of a hurry to get things done. 

Isaline: It's true. That's when you experienced something for the first time, you tend to be in the experience and not have the distance to understand what is going on. Especially when there's a team conflicts, for instance, or discussions. Sometimes people tend to get heated up. And I suppose at some point you are able to recognize the situation for what it is and, just sort of see it's happening. 

Brenda: Funny. You say that, one of my most favorite songs albums and I played on Spotify all day is from Michael Franks. And the song is 'I'd rather be happy than right'. Seriously. It's not worth arguing. It's not worth forcing your point of view because at this age and stage, we've got nothing else to prove. I just want to be happy. I want to help people. I'm not a career snatcher. We're not cut throat. We're not out to you get some coworkers who will sabotage fellow coworkers and try not to help them succeed and grow, but more mature people: been there done that. We are over it. So I wish that employers would understand how helpful we could be. We are so non-threatening, but a very eager, very capable. And we would bring such a calming atmosphere to the work environment, but I don't, that's not the case in real life. 

Isaline: It's something I haven't, I haven't seen yet. In the tech companies I've worked for. I've seen that when I was working for a construction company and as there I could see the different level of seniority and one of the person. The book of the company, he was the dictionary because he had been there for every project. So he didn't even have to look up for the information because he had them and that was so convenient. 

Brenda: He was not threat. He was not threatening. to you was, he?

Isaline: He was not, he was great, he knew, everything, but he was not threatening. And, and now that you've said that, I realize. This, this is an atmosphere I haven't felt in, the latest companies I've worked for, where it was more well, you know, this tech industry that is very exciting and very new, and we learn know at the time, but it's true. Then I haven't had this sort of comfortable, familial atmosphere. 

Brenda: Busy. It's always busy and people are stepping over each other to get to the top and not truly helping each other. I mean, this is not every company don't get it wrong, but in general, younger people, in fact, they've got to learn, they've got to grow and they think that the answer to their growth is somebody else going down.

And they just don't understand that yet. So I understand why you haven't found that environment yet because tech tech can be hard, especially with startups. And I think SEO how long has it been around 15 years or so it's not that old of a career. So it's, it's a challenge. But we're not threatening. We don't want your jobs.

We just want to learn and grow and help you because we've been there. We've seen things and we can help. We can bring new outlooks to problems. We problem solve a lot differently. We have experienced behind solving problems. That I don't know, the younger people just on the we'd had to do with less make do with less.

We've had none of the conveniences, so we know how to, I don't know put things together and scratch and scrape. Learn new things and grow 

Isaline: Sort of being agile without the tag of agility.

Brenda: Exactly. 

Isaline: Now what would be the next step you wish? Is there another area of SEO you want to specify or another type of industry you want to work with or another type of website?

Brenda: Actually, I am pretty saturated with websites at this point. I do want to go higher into SEO. I want to get deep, deep, deep into the analytics, the data management, the data, handling the data reporting doing more high level A/B testing and looking at the data formulating. Theories and testing theories.

And for me, I know that my future won't be with another agency because there's too many obstacles. I can't change everybody's mind in a year or two, so I know that I'll have to be independent. So that's what I'm doing now. I am in like five different classes right now. With deep into the analytics, deep into Excel, mastering, Excel, and learning everything I can about every asset aspect of SEO.

I've taken a lot of Christina Azarachick courses, to try to learn everything that she does a really good job of. An overview of everything SEO. So I'm accumulating all that I can in the little time that I have, because don't forget, I still have a full-time SEO job. And after work after five o'clock when I'm off my SEO job, I have to put on my web dev cap for the same agency.

And I have to go maintain a couple hundred websites. I have to do their updates. I'm the only person who does their updating. So that's scary. Oh wow. These are sites that we have not built. We've just acquired sites. The web dev team they're hosting them. So we don't really know what the technology is, how they're put together.

So it's very scary not knowing that if you update this one woo commerce, you're going to break the site. It's a multiply that times 200, every it's very scary. And what has happened is that I've actually broken two or three sets. In the, you know what the world keeps spinning, you call the tech guy and he brings it back online and it's okay to fail. 

Isaline: And we're not doing brain surgery.

Brenda: Exactly, exactly. I used to think that, you know, that would be Armageddon. If a website went down. It's happened. And these are major sites. One was a giant hospital site crash. I don't know what to update it. And it was a conflict and it went down. It was down for like 30 minutes, but it was fine. It was fine.

I, I didn't get fired. They just said things happen. That would make me go and I'll go and do more research the next day to try to see how not to do that again. So it's all a learning experience.

Isaline: I see the next step would be, as you say, being self-employed. 

Brenda: Exactly. That's really the only path I see. And it's okay. I like freedom too. I don't like being stuck in one place for so long. 

Isaline: It's like the next step after being allowed to work from home and having this flexibility, then choosing new clients. 

Brenda: Exactly. I love analytics. I love databases. I tried to learn Python. I just couldn't get into Python. I'm sure I'll have to. Now with the going deep into analytics, plus, it's going to be interesting with the Google cookies dying out. It's going to be a whole new brand new world in a couple of years. So I want to get on the forefront of that. So I can offer expertise because it's going to look a lot different.

What would apple shutting down the. Cookies, and then Google's going to shut it down. I wonder what shape our analytics will turn into. When we all have careers, we don't know SEO, go away. We don't know. Yeah. John Mueller says it. Won't.

Isaline: All of us having to be curious and optimistic about the future. I see that time is is running and it's been so interesting that it just flew by. 

Brenda: It did, I'm a talker. . I talk long.

Isaline: I love listening to stories and, and understanding what's happened and there's always something to learn from them.

And I think there's one thing that I would like to do before we close this interview is And this is something I would like to do to every podcast. Is, is there a shout out to someone I should interview next or someone you find very inspiring you would like to share? So it's the moments where you can talk about somebody else to give a little bit of visibility and share the love.

Brenda: Absolutely. And I'm going to actually stay within the women in tech SEO community. I think I find Jasmita D'Souza. She's at the different spectrum she's new into SEO extremely enthusiastic. She was thinking of taking a new job and she queried all of the. Team members, can I do it? Can I do it?

And she went out on faith and she's in this new SEO position and she's thriving. And I think she'd be interesting to listen, to, to see how she has conquered it from the other side, from someone new and young, the challenges that she's facing. I'd love to hear her story. 

Isaline: That's a wonderful, wonderful idea. I really liked that you brought up the beginner and just Jasmita is lovely. And she's always saying, oh, I'm doing my little bit, even though it's only just a tiny, tiny bit, and I love this approach. So 

Brenda: I love her, her enthusiasm. She is the sharingest person. I think she would be extremely interesting to look at her challenges and see how she's managed.

Isaline: Thanks a lot for the interview and thanks a lot for your time, because I know that we, we are all very busy and so it's lovely to have the opportunity to talk to you directly and not writing for once. 

Brenda: A lot of great experience. I could talk to you for hours and hours easily. The next time I'm in Switzerland, I'll come and look you up.

Isaline: Sure. If you would like to get in touch with you to follow the conversation, is there any particular channel they can contact you 

Brenda: Specifically Twitter? And my handle is underscore Brenda Malone. That's it all. One word underscore Brenda Malone as an agency. I can't. Really advertise myself until I leave the agency and then I can open up other channels.

I'm also on LinkedIn, it's on the Brendan Malone at LinkedIn, but I'm mostly, I love Twitter. 

Isaline: And make sure also to share the link in the description of the podcast. 

Brenda: Thank you. 

Isaline: This was Work in SEO podcast with Brenda Malone. I hope you have enjoyed it as much as I did, and I'm hoping to see you soon. Bye. 

Brenda: Thank you. Bye-bye.