Transition, Rebranding, and Leadership in SEO: A Q&A with Rachel Heseltine

Diversity, equity and inclusion are key priorities for organizations in 2022.

But DEI has to be more than just a hype term — and it has to happen at every level of an organization, starting at the top.

McKinsey found that those companies in the top quartile for gender diversity in executive teams are 25% more likely to achieve above-average profitability.

The impact is greater for organizations led by ethnically diverse professionals; They are more likely to financially outperform companies that are less diversified by 36%.

What does it look like in practice to be truly inclusive, and support diversity and equity in real ways, in the workplace?

I reached out to Rachel Heseltine, VP of Customer Growth at Trader Interactive, to ask about her recent experience with colleagues (and the world).

In this interview, Rachel shares what she learned about leadership during her transition, how her colleagues supported her and her company, tips for underrepresented professionals in SEO, and what it takes to grow into an executive role.

Checkout in SEO

What were the greatest challenges you faced in moving from Simon, a well known male SEO professional and speaker/author, to Rachel?

Rachel Heseltine: “When I announced my move at TI, I wrote a note to be read on my team and shared across the organization.

Here is a quote from that note:

I know this might sound like a big deal to some, but it’s not to me. This is who I am, but basically I haven’t changed. The only thing that has changed is that I will now be wearing clothes that don’t have enough pockets.

The greatest challenges were pretty much in my head. “What will people say?” “How will they react?” “Will I accept or renounce?” – They are all valid questions, but all the things that have held me back.

I told CMO in November 2019 about my situation but asked her to keep it to herself until I was ready.

I didn’t start telling friends until late 2020 and didn’t talk to others at TI about it until August 2021.

After that, the full announcement of the company was made in early January.

I’ve had a lot of lovely feedback from people all over the company, and I didn’t even know a few of them.

Regarding changing my personal brand, I had to change my Twitter username, which means I lost my verified status instantly. Apparently, Twitter thinks I’m a different person.

Then it was just my name change in different places (as well as legally through the court system).

I did not return to places where I had previously written or spoken, and asked them to retroactively change references to me. That’s the name I went by then, that’s my name now.

Of course, my old 301 domain is on rachelheseltine.com. I wouldn’t be an SEO expert if I didn’t do it.”

Were there any welcome surprises along the way?

Rachel Heseltine: “There were a few friends I was very reluctant to tell, not sure how accepting they would be.

Each of them showed nothing but support and positivity.

Since I’ve become public on Twitter and LinkedIn, many other people from the SEO community have contacted me to offer their support.”

Learning leadership with empathy

What new perspectives have you gained on life and leadership during your transition?

Rachel Heseltine: “Well, with so much of my transitional journey completed against the backdrop of a global pandemic, and so many companies shifting to remote work, I think we’ve all gained new perspectives on life and leadership in this new world.

We use a tool called Insights that measures personality traits, and we use it informatively to determine the best way for people to work and work together.

I re-taken this last month, having last taken it in May 2018.

My biggest difference is that I’m now driving empathy, rather than the 2018 drive (although that’s not far behind).

But given how remote life and a more distributed workforce shifted more toward introversion than pre-pandemic, in the office, this makes sense.

When you can’t do a “fast drive” from someone’s desk, you really need to pay more attention to the different signs.

We also use a tool called Ring / Allie; Ring to celebrate victories, Allie for anonymous comments – we pay close attention to both.

Every quarter the entire company skips meetings at a level (we pioneer this in the marketing department).

It’s another great, regular base of contact with employees you may not meet regularly, to get their opinions on how things are going, any issues they have, the opportunities they see, the tools they want, and how happy they are with their career orientation (which, in the age of the “Great Resignation”, is essential See if you want to try to save someone before it’s too late).

DEI support in real terms

What advice would you give to underrepresented SEO professionals – those who might be discriminated against or fear reprisals if they appear for who they are?

Rachel Heseltine: “Find your supporters – people you can count on, people you can reach, people who will connect with you.

you are not alone.

There are others in the SEO industry who are in the same boat as you.

For example, there is the LGBTQ + SEO group that I was a member of two years ago.

Find a therapist you can talk to who is experienced in your situation. They will know what are the appropriate steps and how quickly to take, based on your situation, as well as have a good working knowledge of your state’s protections.

Look at your company, what initiatives do they have?

After the summer of 2020, Transparency International formally formed the Council for Diversity, Equality and Inclusion (DEI).

This, and the work they have done through this board, has shown me that my company will work with me in a positive and supportive way during my transition, once they are informed. And they did.

Growth in leadership in search engine optimization

What path has brought you into the vice president role and what advice would you give to SEOs looking to lead?

Rachel Heseltine: “I am the Vice President of Consumer Growth, which integrates SEO & SEM for our marketplace sites (RVTrader, CycleTrader, etc), merchant sites, content marketing, public relations, corporate communications, and social marketing.

Basically, if it’s about getting consumer eyeballs on websites, this is my area.

I joined Trader Interactive (TI) nearly four years ago, after leaving a similar position at a previous sister company.

Prior to that, I worked at HPE and was a Senior Manager managing SEO for 135 (at one point) AOL O&O sites like TechCrunch, Engadget, Huffington Post, etc.

I had a few other roles before that, and in my previous life before SEO (pre-2005), I was a developer for Smalltalk.

Don’t be afraid to take a step back in your career to get the right opportunity.

I went from a manager at a boutique agency to a senior director of SEO at AOL, with a 20% drop in salary.

I did this because the opportunity I had at AOL – to work with large, well-known publishing sites and a great SEO team – was something I knew would help me grow as an SEO.

Within two years, I was promoted to Director of Audience Increase, and after three years, I became Senior Director.”

What’s in Your SEO Toolkit?

What cool new SEO/AI tools are you using or are you excited to try?

Rachel Heseltine: “Day after day we use the usual suspects for crawling, competitive analysis and so on.

But on the new tools side, Ryan Jones, author of SEO & SEJ, recently updated some of his tools, and I love his free Ngram tool.

I have been using this to help identify areas for improvement to our sites.

All you do is take your keyword list, say the keywords other tools show you your Page 2 ranking for, plug them into that tool, and find out what they have in common.

Next, go back to your spreadsheet to find those specific keyword combinations, and then move on to strategizing.”

What’s Next for Rachel in SEO?

You have great achievements in SEO under your belt. Is there anything else you want to achieve in your career?

Rachel Heseltine: “I have been fortunate enough to have won awards over the years, and at TI we have been named Best Indoor Team at the 2020 World Research Awards, as well as winning two other teams at the 2020 American Research Awards.

But it’s not just me; It’s not even just my team. It is always the whole organization; It really takes a village to build, support, and develop an SEO team.

For my future, I just want to continue improving TI’s digital presence and growing my team members.

What I would like is for those people who have worked with me to see that I have a positive impact on their careers, and that they, themselves, do so to move forward for the next generation that they run.”

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Featured image: Courtesy of Rachel Heseltine / Trader Interactive

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