Joy Hawkins: My SEO Career Journey

Hi! 👋  We’re so glad to feature you on Please introduce yourself to our site’s readers.

Hi, I’m Joy Hawkins (Twitter | Linkedin). I live in a small town outside of Toronto, Canada called Uxbridge. I’ve been working in the SEO industry since 2006 and self-taught myself SEO before deciding to niche down into Local SEO.

Please share with us your current SEO role and for what company you work for:

I started Sterling Sky back in 2017 and operate as the CEO of the company (although I never use that title).  I’m mainly responsible for the company’s vision, structure, and organization. I also spend over half my time working on SEO strategies for clients and coming up with processes for my colleagues to implement.


Can you share with us how you entered the SEO industry?

I went to school for advertising and got a summer job as a telemarketer for a company that sold Google Ads. When Google Places first came into existence, my clients, who were all insurance agents at the time, were obsessed with how they could get their business to show up in that section. I made it my mission to figure it out and told my boss I wanted to learn SEO. My boss at the time wanted me to stay in sales (I was 100% commission based) but I was so interested in SEO that I taught myself. I started working on Local SEO for clients who weren’t even paying for it (I was selling them ads) because it was what drew them in and sold them. Since there was no one to teach me SEO, I learned most of what I knew from online forums and blogs and through just testing things myself.


How did you start to learn SEO? What are you currently doing to keep up with the ever-changing SEO industry?

As described above, I originally learned mainly through forums. Currently, we do a ton of testing to see what impacts ranking. I prioritize testing + experience over things I read online. I am obsessive about measuring the impact of everything we do here.


As an owner of your own agency, you have quite a bit of hiring experience. Can you share with us any patterns you see in applicants that tend to cause red flags? Alternatively, what are some common traits of those who crush it?

Employees that don’t have references should be a big red flag. I would also say employees that only have experience managing or consulting on things – I have found that they don’t always have the actual experience to do the things they were managing or offering advice on. 

Some of the common traits I see from people who are amazing employees are people that spend their spare time on social media or other platforms learning about the industry. This is exactly what I used to do when I was first learning. I loved the industry so much that I wanted to spend time on it even outside work hours.  Also, if people are amazing employees, their coworkers know it. Some of the best hires I’ve made here were people that my existing employees basically told me I had to hire (because they were that good).


What recommendations would you give to someone who is looking to join the SEO industry and get their first full-time SEO position?

Be honest with the person who is interviewing you. Never claim to know more than you actually know and don’t try to overexaggerate your experience or expertise to land a job.  Make sure the position is one that you’re qualified for.  Some of the best ways to get experience is to have a test site that you can experiment on and see if you can increase ranking for.