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HEROES Spotlight: Lily Ray

2021-05-14

Tell us about yourself, Lily. What makes you, uniquely you? Can you tell me a bit about your background, your hobbies, your human experience?

Interesting question! I suppose what’s unique about me is that I’ve always been a combination of an artist (well, a musician) and a nerd. Music has been the driving force throughout my life since I was a little kid. I started playing drums when I was 6, was in various successful bands growing up, and I still feel that rhythm is my greatest passion that guides everything else in my life. I’ve been a DJ for about 8 years now as well, basically for the same reason.

My dad is a software engineer and my mom is more of a creative artist type. I am definitely a combination of both of them, which has really set me up for success with SEO, given that it requires both technical skills and creativity. My brother and I grew up on computers and fully immersed in technology, thanks to our dad (a true Silicon Valley tech OG) - which ultimately shaped both of our careers.

When I’m not doing SEO or music, I’m usually working out, biking around NYC (while listening to music) or hanging out with my friends.

Lily-2020-094-3 Photo Credit: Seze Devres

Born on the West coast, but now rooted on the best coast, how did you land in Brooklyn, New York and what has kept you here?

My parents are actually both from NYC, but moved to California to raise my brother and me in the Bay Area (again - we’re a tech family!). The rest of our family is here in the NYC area.

I decided to go to college at NYU in part to be closer to my family, and I haven’t left ever since. NYC is truly home for me. I love this city with every fiber of my being, even though it can be quite exhausting!

From fitness fanatic, to multi genre DJ, to drummer, to Search Engine Marketer and so forth, you are quite a well rounded individual. How do you find balance in your professional, social and personal life?

Balance has always been really important to me. When I was in high school, I focused intensely on my academics and on getting good grades, then in the evenings I went and played shows with my bands at bars in San Francisco. When I was 18, I actually got a tattoo of the Golden Gate Bridge that was meant to symbolize this very topic - finding balance between my work and creative lives. I drove across the Golden Gate Bridge to get from my home and school life to my band practice and my gigs, so it felt very fitting at the time.

I’m not much different now; I love my job and the work I do, but I always need a release and I definitely can’t stay sitting down for too long. Both fitness and music serve as releases for me - I start feeling pent up if I haven’t moved my body too much, and as a total extrovert, I most definitely feel starved for human connection if it’s been too long without seeing my friends (i.e. much of the pandemic!).

You are an incredibly well known and highly respected thought leader in the Search Marketing and SEO community. You have held quite a few positions at some well known marketing agencies working with some of the worlds most recognizable brands to drive incredible value and an Expert-Authoritative-Trustworthy engagement. Tell us about the importance of experimentation as an SEO. Why is it so critical to increase the skill set and wheelhouse with SEO?

Experimentation - or what I like to call “getting your hands dirty” - is probably the single most important approach that makes good SEOs great. Throughout my career, I never stopped working on side jobs, even with very small businesses, just to stay connected to actually implementing my SEO recommendations and not just talking about them. I’ve found that it’s much easier to communicate strategy and recommendations to clients when you’ve actually done that work yourself and seen the results of your efforts.

When it comes to increasing skills - there are an endless number of skills to learn that can improve your SEO abilities, from web development, to UX, to CRO, to programming, automation and more. That said, I would try to stay focused in two areas: what skills do you enjoy most (you will be most effective this way), and what is truly most impactful for your clients?

Don’t get too distracted or overwhelmed by all the shiny new toys in the SEO industry if they take away from your ability to produce good work (unless, of course, you enjoy honing those skills as a hobby!).

Fun question: What is the story behind your new superhero arm? What inspired the full sleeve and what gave you the courage to go from blank to badass?

So in a past life I was actually married to a tattoo artist and spent many years helping him run his business (especially on the digital side, of course). In the process, I learned a lot about tattoo artists (hello, competitive analysis!) and found one named Roxx, based in California, who specializes in blackwork.

For years, I admired her style and told myself one day I would have a piece by her. Well, when my ex-husband and I split up, it felt like the perfect time to seek out that dream. It was quite literally a pilgrimage to secure an appointment with her and travel across the country for my 4-day tattoo appointment. There are no words for the transformative experience of spending 20+ hours being tattooed by Roxx - she is a goddess among humans and I truly feel blessed to know her and have work done by her.

Lily-2020-260-scaled Photo Credit: Seze Devres

What would you say is the most important skill set you have developed as a world class search marketer? If you could have access to just a single skill set, without the use of tools, analytics, or measurements, what would it be?

That’s the thing about SEO - you can honestly do a good job in many cases without using many tools, because so much of it has to do with connecting with users and understanding their needs and desires.

Aside from the menial task of “doing keyword research,” if you can start by getting a deep understanding of your audience and what their needs are, what they might be searching for even before they know about your brand or your products and services - that alone can guide the strategy that sets you apart from your competitors.

I think the main reason I’ve always loved SEO so much is because I am a lover of the internet, first and foremost, and the way it allows people all over the world to find answers to the questions they have on any number of topics. If you can put yourself in the shoes of the searcher for any variety of clients, it can really set you up for success with SEO. Being able to understand the user’s needs and empathize with their experience searching and using the site are invaluable SEO skills.

As a resident speaker and familiar face on the public industry conference circuit, consistent guest speaker and frequent contributor to the SEO community, what inspires you to keep up with the pace? Even in an abnormal year of 2020, you have been quite busy. What has fueled you for so long?

This is another good question - especially because the industry really can be exhausting. SEO never stops, no matter what you may be dealing with in your personal life - the rules of the job change every day, and clients need you to stay on top of those changes.

I think the main thing that has always inspired me is knowing that the work I do helps other people. When people write me and tell me that my work inspires them, or has helped them solve problems with their own sites or their own clients, that really means a lot to me. I know how much of a mark people like Rand Fishkin, Marie Haynes, and Glenn Gabe have made on me - people who made it central to their work to share their ideas and findings with others. They have shaped so many peoples’ lives and carved out career paths for so many people, including me.

Knowing that I can help serve in that same role has been incredibly motivating and rewarding for me.

Where can people find you or get in touch? How can people get involved in ultimately giving back to things you truly care about? What are some projects, productions and adventures you're really proud of and would like others to know about?

People can find me on Twitter (@lilyraynyc) or Linkedin - or just message me through my personal site or our agency, Amsive Digital.

When it comes to giving to places I care about, it’s always so hard to choose. Please give your support to civil liberties, music and the arts, the rights of people of color and LGBTQIA, animals and the environment, and to victims of abuse and domestic violence.

I have a few upcoming talks and articles coming up, including Mozcon Virtual 2021 and SMX Advanced, with brand new research and discoveries. Please be on the lookout for those!

lily-ray-234-e1525750360634 Photo Credit: Seze Devres