SEO mentoring: mentors, mentees and the Mentoring Digital Minds project

SEO mentoring: mentors, mentees and the Mentoring Digital Minds project

3rd August 2011

My personal interest in mentors and mentoring was sparked a few years ago when a casual interest in SEO that I’d harboured for years turned into something else, an all consuming passion bordering on obsession.

At the time I was employed as a generalist marketing manager for a small business, lived in wildest westest Wales (still do) and was desperately looking for the training and learning infrastructure that I was sure would be provided had I been able to be a part of an SEO agency, or had there been a long established vocational path for aspirant SEOs.


In the absence of either of these things and after gorging myself silly on SEO blogs I found myself casting around, looking for a guide, someone who could help me manage my own learning to maximise my potential, a trusted adviser, someone who had ‘been there and done that’…. Hell, I was looking for someone who could answer the questions that I couldn’t find the answers to online.

It would appear to me, as a relative newbie to SEO, that things have changed in the ‘how to learn SEO’ arena.  Back in the days of Odysseus and Telemachus (OK, not really, but probably about 5 years ago) forums were the place to sup from the SEO fountain of knowledge.  This was a place where the forum moderators and participants laboured endlessly to support, nurture and inspire the young and formative minds of tomorrow’s SEOs.  Some suggest that that the skilled generous SEOs willing to share their expertise no longer exist, and others that they still do, you just need to look for them elsewhere.

Desparately seeking Mr or Mrs Clever

Now, it appears that the ecosystem has changed with the arrival of blogging, Twitter and Facebook.  Whereas before perhaps just a few influential forums were hosting the conversations, debate and mentoring of the SEO community, the platforms are now multiple and varied, and the conversations as a result are much more fragmented.

So, it was to Twitter that I turned, engaging in conversations with people that I respected, and people that I grew to like.  Now came the difficult part: how could I find someone that would be willing to act as a mentor to me, that would be generous enough with their time to take time out of their no doubt horrifically busy day to answer my questions? Eeek!

I was lucky enough to find a gifted and generous individual who would do just that.  In the absence of any formal framework for mentorship (is that a word?  It should be) we found our own way; first answering questions on Twitter, then to emailing and sharing useful blog posts and reports, through to Skype chats on a monthly basis.  Here we could talk through the vagaries of SEO, but also ‘managing client expectations’ and conducting virtual walk-throughs of the latest SEO tools and reporting software.

Given what I perceive to be the need for more formal and accessible mentoring for those in digital marketing, I was really interested to find out more about the ‘Mentoring Digital Minds’ project, founded by Amanda Davie, the Managing Director of Reform.  Currently in beta stage, Mentoring Digital Minds exists to ‘help women in digital industries achieve their ambitions, exceed their aspirations and get where they want to go’ 🙂

Amanda Davie kindly agreed to be interviewed on the subject of mentoring in digital, and on the new project:

Where does your interest in the mentoring process come from?  Were mentors important to you in your own professional development?

“My interest is part commercial, and part emotional.  In the industry there is not enough talent to go around, and finding the necessary blend of technical and ‘softer’ skills in one person is often a tall order.  For example, an SEO might be expected to have well developed technical skills, but will also be expected to excel client side, to have strong communication skills, people skills and client handling skills.  There is a deficit of these skilled individuals industry wide, which in part is due to the exponential growth of the industry over such a short period of time.  The very nature of the industry means we need to be dynamic, but this has in many cases led to the focus being taken off of the nurturing of digital talent.

“The growth of, and opportunities in, digital and SEO in particular have attracted innovation and entrepreneurs.  A focus on quick and easy wins has meant that in many cases investment has gone into sales and marketing, rather than in people development.  As a knowledge based industry, it always needs to come back to investing in the people.

The emotional part comes from my own experience.  I’ve worked for employers who have invested in me as a talent, but I have also been in situations where my own requirements for personal development have not been met.”

Etymologically inclined individuals will be interested to note that the word 'mentor' stems from greek mythology. Toga wearing in modern mentoring practise is optional.

In many organisations and agencies mentors can be found in house.  If one is practising outside of these types of structures, how would you recommend going about finding a mentor?

“I’d recommend what you have done!  Honestly, start with your developing your own network.  Be open and honest about your learning objectives – with yourself and with your potential mentors.  People are often very flattered when you ask them for help or advice, it’s a natural human reaction.  Once you have identified your learning objectives, think laterally – ‘who have I come across that might be able to help me in this area’?

“Invariably you won’t find a mentor with your first strike.  The mentor / mentee relationship is a very personal one and it will most likely take a while to find one with the right attributes and traits.

“Sometimes it can be important to have maintain a ‘distance’, being mentored by someone within the same organisation can sometimes be less fruitful, or less rewarding.”

What can and should you expect from a mentor, and as a mentee what can you do to add value to the relationship?

“As a mentee you can expect time, this is the biggest commitment from the mentor.  A mentor is not a coach; mentoring is much more about counselling and listening.  But again, it comes back to your learning objectives, and what it is, as a mentee, that you are hoping to get out of the relationship.

“A mentor and a mentee need to establish a framework for their relationship upon the first meeting, so that they are both clear on what can, and can’t, be achieved.  This is like their ‘contract’ and definitely needs establishing and agreeing upon in the very early stages.

“The mentoring process itself, by its very nature, is often the reward in itself for the mentor; in many cases they want to ‘give something back’, and they do this by giving their time, sharing their knowledge, experience and offering guidance to the mentee.”

Briefly, what makes a good mentor and what makes a good mentee?

“A good mentor is a great listener, is good at asking questions, is knowledgeable and experienced in their field, and in many cases is well connected.  A good mentee is self aware, open minded and willing to learn and change.  Both parties need to be respectful and committed to growing  the relationship and need to keep to their contract regarding timings and appointments.”

Can you tell me about the Mentoring Digital Minds project?

“Of course! In 2010, I was frustrated by the lack of formal career development support offered to women in the digital industry, so I gathered together 30 industry peers for a chinwag about mentoring. From this idea sprung Mentoring digital Minds, and the rest will hopefully be a glittering history of digital industry talent, growth and women business leaders! We match digital industry talent with experienced business mentors so that they can receive coaching, support and practical guidance along the path to achieving their career ambitions.”

How can people find out more about the project, if they’d like to get involved as a mentee or a mentor?

“The project is still very much in beta at the moment, and we’ll be launching officially at the end of this year – so watch this space!  In the meantime, please go ahead and join the Mentoring Digital Minds LinkedIn group, follow us on Twitter (@digital_mentors), or email me [email protected].”

Thanks very much to Amanda for her time, and looking forward to hearing more about the project as it grows and develops.


Written By
Claire Carlile is a Chartered Marketer with an MSc in Marketing, living and working in Pembrokeshire, West Wales. As a self confessed ‘non technical’ SEO, Claire takes a holistic and marketing led approach to SEO. She is self-employed.
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