Yoast CEO Responds to #YoastCon Twitter Controversy, Calls for Change in the SEO Industry

Yoast CEO Marieke van de Rakt published a post yesterday, addressing the controversy that dominated the #YoastCon hashtag on Twitter in the days leading up the the event. Several parties from the SEO industry began circulating old tweets, along unsavory videos depicting Joost de Valk partying with promotional models. de Valk issued a public apology on Twitter before YoastCon officially kicked off.

In her post, titled “Let’s create a more female-friendly world!”, van de Rakt characterized the incident as an attack and cited examples of how Yoast is actively working to improve the position of women:

We were all hurt. We really don’t understand why the company Yoast is being attacked, why the #yoastcon is being used for something the person Joost did 10 years ago. Our company and our company culture is nothing like the tweets imply.

van de Rakt also referenced a post from Gisele Navarro, a woman who has been working in the SEO industry for 10 years.

“I totally agree with Gisele that the SEO industry was not welcoming to women ten years ago,” van de Rakt said. “And although some things may have changed, I still think that the SEO industry has a long way to go. I also think that the problem is much bigger than the SEO industry.”

After the tweets and videos began circulating on the #YoastCon hashtag, the @yoast Twitter account was quietly scrubbed of potentially offensive tweets. The total tweet count for the account was 44.1K on January 31, 2019.

On February 8, 2019, the account’s total tweets were slashed to 10.7K. Approximately 33,000 tweets have been deleted in the wake of this controversy.

Some of the tweets were still available via the Internet Archive Wayback Machine during the height of the controversy and screenshots were shared widely.

One recipient of the tweets, Lisa Barone, dismissed them as “friends being stupid,” but de Valk’s wife, Marieke van de Rakt, admitted in her recent post that the tweets and videos were hurtful to her. Since the tweets were public, many onlookers said they felt uncomfortable reading these types of interactions within a professional context.

Navarro’s post described how the tweets made her feel as an outside onlooker working in the male-dominated SEO industry:

I don’t know the story behind the ‘friendly and consensual sexual banter’ (as someone called it) of those tweets so I’ve got zero context on how the conversations led to Joost saying things like:

‘I bet you’d look good, even when pregnant ;-)’

‘Ahem, why are you not naked indeed?’

‘Nothing beats a yummy young mummy :)’

When I read those tweets, that was all I could think of – Decades of obscenities been pushed on me by men who thought that was normal, acceptable behavior.

I thought about how much it would have crushed me back then if someone I respected were to have said something like that to me. I wondered if I would still be part of the SEO community had that happened.

I imagined how would I have felt if before or after that tweet, I were to have been an attendee at SEOktoberfest surrounded by Playboy escorts who touched themselves looking at the camera while I was having a beer in a corner, trying to network my way to a job interview at an agency I loved.

After the tweets and videos began to get attention on the #YoastCon hashtag, many in the SEO industry dismissed the content as an attack orchestrated by trolls who they alleged are also guilty of harassment. Several spoke out against David Cohen in particular, who had originally started the controversy by unearthing the old content, describing him as the person behind other troll accounts known for sending harassing tweets.

Regardless of how the old content came to light on Twitter, both Joost de Valk and Yoast CEO Marieke van de Rakt have admitted that the tweets and videos are indefensible and not representative of their company’s current push to empower women.

Navarro’s post calls readers to look at the tweets and videos from the perspective of someone working in the SEO industry, wondering if they should attend conferences after seeing leaders and role models behaving this way:

To those of you who are defending the SEO personality that is Joost: remove the so-called SEO trolls and #YoastCon from the picture, go through the tweets and ask yourself how would YOU feel if someone you look up to says those things to you on a public forum. Would you feel comfortable attending a conference knowing this person would be there? Would you want him to be your boss? Would you feel safe around this person? Would you have anybody to talk to about what happened and how you felt? Would you even bring it up?

The #YoastCon Twitter controversy has had the positive effect of highlighting behavior and public communication styles that need to be addressed in order to create a more welcoming and diverse SEO industry. In spite of the recent challenges, van de Rakt said she is hopeful that her company can continue working towards creating “an atmosphere at conferences that is friendly for all people, regardless of their gender.” On this Navarro and van de Rakt both agree – the conditions for women working in the SEO industry are ripe for improvement.


10 responses to “Yoast CEO Responds to #YoastCon Twitter Controversy, Calls for Change in the SEO Industry”

  1. I don’t know the story behind the ‘friendly and consensual sexual banter’ (as someone called it) of those tweets so I’ve got zero context on how the conversations led to Joost saying things like

    Since I was the one who characterized the exchange like that (in earlier comment here on Tavern), I’d like to reiterate that it’s trivial to look up tweets form that time period and see that the other party in conversation was very much shooting naughty tweets back.

    Yeah, it wasn’t wise and mature behavior in public. But it was two consenting adults talking.

    And people went out of their way to imply that it was not and attacked women who disagreed with that narrative.

    I am not harping on this to protect Joost, he doesn’t need my protection in any case, being a powerful figure he would be just fine in any case.

    I just have keen sense of being bullshited and it got pretty clear that attack on event just wasn’t in good faith. Hijacking real and serious issues for personal whatever–that–was is gross.

    • You seem a little ignorant about the entirety of the situation being discussed here. It’s not about old creepy sex Tweets Joost tweeted to women while he was married. It’s not about hiring Playmates at their SEO events. It’s about 10+ years of sexism, abuse, and harassment in the industry that has been enabled and silenced by the most powerful industry leaders. If you care to know more, read this: https://medium.com/@gisele_navarro/dear-seo-industry-we-need-to-talk-about-elitism-and-sexual-harassment-23a338e56e73

      For years, people like Rand Fishkin, who is closely aligned with Joost/Yoast has been writing about the sex abuse, objectification, and harassment of women: https://www.reddit.com/r/bigseo/comments/7g5mpt/howdy_rbigseo_im_rand_fishkin_cofounder_of_moz_ama/dqhbxuk/

      So, anyone who continues to make this about “old tweets”, or “old SEO event videos with Playmates”, or “Dirndls”, or slapping some disingenuous statute of limitations argument against dealing with known and documented abuse issues is being a fraud and intellectually dishonest.

      And beside, what kind of self-proclaimed male feminists would knowingly want this content of theirs all over the internet for anyone to find? Seems idiotic for people who claim to be male feminists and 100% against misogyny and objectification of women to party with Playmates and plaster it all over the internet.

      • You made this about old tweets and videos. You literally spent days spamming event’s hash tag with that and just that.

        So if you want to call yourself a fraud and intellectually dishonest person over them — you are welcome to I suppose.

  2. “partying with promotional models”, at many WordCamps, that are weekend long…the party is on Saturday and not Sunday. Many of those parties (not just WordCamps) are at a local pub/bar or restaurant.

    What is wrong with partying? English is not my first language. For me it’s being at a club, at the VIP table, some going to the dance floor, others in the VIP tables drinking a beer (or whatever alcohol). Countless tech events and seo events have parties.

    • Not sure where or how the idea that “partying” is under attack here or has anything remotely to do with women who have stories and claims of being abused, harassed, and objectified at events and by particular people.

      What is under attack is hypocrisy, secrecy, manipulation, gaslighting, and other forms of abuse to silence women who are victims and to 100% avoid the accountability and responsibility of saying you are one thing but behaving like the opposite.

      If you went to a WordPress, SEO, or tech event that was run by self-proclaimed male feminists and at the after party, a bunch of hired Playmates or strippers rolled into the party, what would you think? Maybe something’s off here?

      And who’s making claims of known abuse or harassment in the industry? Some of the most prominent and well-known leaders of them all: https://www.reddit.com/r/bigseo/comments/7g5mpt/howdy_rbigseo_im_rand_fishkin_cofounder_of_moz_ama/dqhbxuk/

      More from Rand about conference harassment: https://jacobstoops.com/blog/interview-with-rand-fishkin-co-founder-of-moz-and-sparktoro/

      Yes, when the pressure is now on for the same person to speak up and act up, he’s calling it crap: https://pbs.twimg.com/media/Dzt9ZvhX4AAz34r.png:large

      Why in the world would a self-proclaimed male feminist tell a woman and feminist everything she’s saying and doing here is crap? https://medium.com/@gisele_navarro/dear-seo-industry-we-need-to-talk-about-elitism-and-sexual-harassment-23a338e56e73

  3. I’d like to give the guy the benefit of the doubt but a year or two ago JdV blocked me on Facebook for questioning the quality of his SEO plugin’s code. In the wake of a series of WSDs, it was hard to imagine why such honesty would upset him that badly.

    Is he qualified for the position? Probably.

    Does the WP Community deserve better? Yes! Certainly, there’s got to be a better choice somewhere. #YoastCon isn’t his only reputation problem, is it?

    • I’m the director of marketing at a software company. I’ve been a digital marketing director at various tech-related companies since 2009. I’ve also been an account executive and global relationship manager at a large marketing SEO where my largest client was a then Fortune 25 company.

      So as a marketing director and peer to others in my world, especially male leaders, it makes zero sense to keep the Playmate party videos and weird sex tweets to women on Twitter live on the internet for the whole world to see. Not just my opinion – but it also looks really bad when the person deletes all of the content after days of mounting pressure to address it all.

      It also looks like pure hypocrisy to rebrand yourself as a male feminist and leader of women’s rights and empowerment yet have all of this questionable misogynistic and objectification content out there for any woman to see and judge.

      But to continue the lie that this is some attack on YoastCon, Yoast’s CEO, the company, individuals, etc. is fraudulent and PR diversion tactic from the core issues, like those being discussed with intellectual honesty and integrity here: https://medium.com/@gisele_navarro/dear-seo-industry-we-need-to-talk-about-elitism-and-sexual-harassment-23a338e56e73

  4. Am I the only one who finds it shocking that a company scrubs more than 75% of its past tweets?

    That must have been an account with heaps of garbage produced by one JdV.

    Lesson learned: make a new company account instead of borrowing the one of the owner.

    Lesson learned: if it is not worth reading back in 10 years, don’t write about it at all.

    Lesson learned: if you turn your name into your company name, you’d better be 100% sure you have a pristine online past.

    Lesson learned: your past will catch up with you sooner or later


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