Now Reading
What It’s Like To Be the SEO Lead at Apple: An Interview With Mary Ryu

What It’s Like To Be the SEO Lead at Apple: An Interview With Mary Ryu

Avatar
apple logo with pink background

Mary Ryu has served as the SEO Lead of Media Products at Apple for just over one year. A company who needs no introduction – it’s Ryu’s responsibility to enhance the visibility of its media products (such as Apple TV, Apple Music, App Store, and Apple News) within Google and other search engines.

Ryu’s job is a brand-new role within the company, and “success” requires a herculean level of SEO effort. She is responsible for not only executing on day-to-day SEO tasks, but also developing the sites’ long-term SEO strategies/roadmaps.

Prior to working at Apple, Ryu held senior leadership positions at some of the most recognizable brands/agencies in the US and the UK. Including: The Daily Mail News, NBCUniversal, and Wpromote. Her work has also enabled her to live in some of the most exciting cities in the US. Including: Chicago, New York, and – most recently – San Francisco.

Prior to working at Apple, Ryu has had an impressive track record leading SEO strategy at some of the most recognizable brands/agencies in the US and the UK. Including: The Daily Mail News, NBCUniversal, and Wpromote. 

Given Ryu’s impressive industry career trajectory, AND the fact that she was my first mentor in the SEO space, it seemed only right to ask if she would be willing to be interviewed for my blog. Graciously, she accepted… So last Thursday we met over Zoom to drink wine and chat about SEO.

Read On to Discover:



How Did You Get Your Start in SEO?


“I grew up being a huge dork. And so in the early 2000s, I was building random websites on GeoCities and Angelfire for fun. So I was creating web pages and writing meta descriptions and title tags without really even knowing what purpose they served. [At the time] I was more interested in getting the snowflakes to come down from the top of the screen – ha – but that’s how I got my foundational understanding of web development. 

I grew up being a huge dork. And so in the early 2000s, I was building random websites on Geo cities and Angelfire for fun. So I was creating web pages and writing meta descriptions and title tags without really even knowing what purpose they served.

Mary Ryu, SEO Lead for Apple Media Products

Years later, my first job out of college was at a digital marketing startup. They had me shadow “SEO people” and I was like wait, I know how to do those things.

I started researching more about Google, and what it took to rank. Back then it was all about directories, black hat link buying, and all of that. But yeah, that was kind of my first brush with SEO. [I remember thinking] this is something that has a lot of potential – and ran with it.



What’s It Like Leading SEO Strategy At Apple?


It’s a new position and program within the services side of the Apple, and I’m still in the very early stages. It’s a lot of strategy, especially considering Apple’s services-side presence on the web is relatively new.

As it so often is at any company, I think SEO was a little bit of an afterthought. I think initially there was a little bit of “we don’t really need SEO.” But the internet doesn’t care who you are, you know? With SEO, you need to check that mentality at the door and do what’s right by the web’s guidelines and what serves users best.

As it so often is at any company, I think SEO was a little bit of an afterthought. I think initially there was a little bit of “we don’t really need SEO.” But the internet doesn’t care who you are, you know? With SEO, you need to check that mentality at the door and do what’s right by the web’s guidelines and what serves users best.

Mary Ryu, SEO Lead for Apple Media Products

So now, they’ve gotten me on board to get the SEO program up and running. It’s a mixture of planning ahead and fiscal year planning… but also doing basic low-hanging fruit SEO things that I kind of thought I wouldn’t have to do anymore ( 😉 ).

I’m really proud to work at Apple, not just because it’s such a beloved brand, but because of the company’s integrity and commitment to its values. It has really made me think about what kind of brand or company I want to represent in the future. But more specific to my work, I love working on a side of the business that’s relatively new to people (in terms of the web). Apple has made its foundation – and its success – on building really great products, and it’s exciting to be able to work on things that literally everybody I know uses. The sheer reach of what I do is always very humbling and daunting but exciting.



What About Your Previous Roles?


I started in agency life for SEO. And as everybody knows with agency life: no matter what you do, you’re busy. Right? But that’s just because you have a lot on your plate, you’re being overworked sometimes.

NBC was the first in-house role I ever had, and the first major company that I worked for. [The role] took me from Chicago to New York, and exposed me to a side of SEO that I don’t I don’t think I ever thought I would be in. I always kind of thought I would stick with e-commerce. But once I got into news, I think it gave me a little bit more purpose in what I do… That a little old SEO person like me can impact the way that the public receives national news. [The scope of work] was really inspiring and it encouraged me to work harder.

NBC was the first in-house role I ever had, and the first major company that I worked for. [The role] took me from Chicago to New York, and exposed me to a side of SEO that I don’t I don’t think I ever thought I would be in.

Mary Ryu, SEO Lead for Apple Media Products

In the news industry, you have to be “on” all the time. Working on things where time was of the essence wasn’t something that I was familiar with, having worked primarily on e-commerce websites or B2B websites in the past. It was a lot of pressure to make sure that when a big headline launched, we were there.



Do Your Have Any Mentors? Also, What Advice Can You Give To Other SEOs?


Advice From Mentors

I wouldn’t say a “SEO Mentor”, but my last boss at NBC she was so great. [She] let me know that It’s okay to make mistakes as long as you quickly pick yourself up and learn from them. And also, that what I’m doing is a big deal, no matter how behind the scenes it may seem. The internet is a huge referral source of everything.

My last boss at NBC she was so great. [She] let me know that It’s okay to make mistakes as long as you quickly pick yourself up and learn from them. And also, that what I’m doing is a big deal, no matter how behind the scenes it may seem. The internet is a huge referral source of everything.

Mary Ryu, SEO Lead for Apple Media Products
[My mentor] also helped me build up confidence to speak to Executives and C-level people. [She] ingrained in my head, “Hey, I’m the subject matter expert. No matter who is in the room, they defer to me to know my craft.” It made me feel more empowered to make decisions.

It can be hard to tell C-level Executives, “No, that’s against the Google guidelines. We can’t do that.” But you have to, because nobody else knows. And I think [my mentor] helped me get past that barrier of, “Hey, I know my craft, there’s a not a lot of people in this industry, and you hired me to do this job. I’m going to do right by the laws of SEO.”

 [A specific example] I remember was when we were covering something the former president had said. The quote was, “Shit Hole Nations”, and from a publishing perspective, I had to say, “No, we can’t do asterisk*, asterisk*, asterisk*. We literally have to spell out “shit hole” – ha.


Ryu’s Own Advice for SEOs

You have to have stock in what you’re doing. Because [any SEO can figure out] how to optimize for a topic, but the extra difference is when you care about what it is that you’re optimizing and you’re able to put some passion and thought behind it.

You have to have stock in what you’re doing. Because [any SEO can figure out] how to optimize for a topic, but the extra difference is when you care about what it is that you’re optimizing and you’re able to put some passion and thought behind it.

Mary Ryu, SEO Lead for Apple Media Products

I’ve always found that my best work is when I can get behind the message – be it national news or influencing how the public listens to music.



You’re Super Ambitious. What’s Next For You Professionally?


When I started doing SEO, even from the beginning people said, “SEO is going to die.” And when I was doing it, there were articles saying that SEO is dead. I don’t necessarily [agree], because of my understanding of the internet. We just evolved with it, right? It used to be the search bar on Google. Now, we have Siri and Alexa, and SEO is thought of as more of a site experience optimization than just some referral channel in a search bar.

See Also

SEO is such a powerful referral source. I think the industry is going to continue to evolve and that I’ll always have more to learn.

Mary Ryu, SEO Lead for Apple Media Products

SEO is such a powerful referral source. I think the industry is going to continue to evolve and that I’ll always have more to learn. [For instance] I could certainly know more about how voice search works and how to best optimize for that. I could also certainly know more about the shopping Carousel. It’s all these things.

To be honest with you, I have this weird feeling that something really disruptive is going to come and change the course of SEO as we know it. I don’t have any rhyme or reason as to why I think that, but I think it’s due time.

In the [further out] future, I’d potentially be interested in stepping into a role where I have more of a direct impact. I’ve always followed this safe, “big name” dream. Maybe once in my life, I’d like to take a huge leap of faith at a start-up where I really really feel passionate about the cause or something.



Final Thoughts: Is There Anything Else You Want To Touch On?


Thoughts On People “Not Getting” SEO

You either get SEO, or you don’t. You either understand the way that users search and and find things, or you think it’s some big black magic.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve like worked with somebody and they’re like, “Yeah, I used to do SEO at my last job”. I’m like, “what do you mean, you used to do SEO?” And they’re like, “Yeah, I’d go on Google Trends.” And I’m like, “Oh, sweetie”.

Some people think they know SEO because they understand that keywords are important. They don’t realize that there’s a whole technical element of it, and that SEO touches like every element of the tech stack.

A lot of people think they know SEO because they understand that keywords are important. They don’t realize that there’s a whole technical element of it, and that SEO touches like every element of the tech stack.

Mary Ryu, SEO Lead for Apple Media Products
[On the other hand] there are many technical SEOs who blow me out of the water with their understanding of, like, the servers and apis and all of that stuff. But SEO, they say, is this weird intersection of art and science, so you can’t just be good at the tech part either. You have to be able to speak to it. I think that’s that’s where I’ve been able to carve a little nook or piece of the pie for myself. [Being able to do both].


Thoughts On SEO Sitting Within the Marketing Department Instead of Product

Every place I’ve worked at, I’ve been part of a group where SEO supports marketing – paid ads, email, and whatever – which are well and good. But considering what we [as SEOs] have to do, and the people that we work with on the daily, i think that you can’t always call SEO a “digital marketing tactic.” Which is why, I don’t always agree that SEO should sit within the marketing department.

It’s like, [SEOs] can’t rely fully on product managers or project managers the same way you can with other marketing disciplines – where the product manager can take your request and just runs with it. There are so many intricacies of SEO, that we’re this weird one-stop shop. We have to both build our own roadmaps and execute on them, which is tough. But it’s also rewarding.



Wrapping Up


Ryu has worked in-house as an SEO at some of the most notable brands in the US and the UK – including Apple, NBCUniversal, and The Daily Mail. She’s had a wild ride the last 8 years – living in Chicago, New York, and San Francisco – and has learned a lot about the industry along the way. She believes that the SEO industry will continue to evolve over time, and that there will always be more for SEOs to learn across the different search ecosystems.

Like this post? Explore additional career profiles here.

Scroll To Top