You probably know the rising SEO star Areej AbuAli from her work as the leader of the Women in Tech SEO (WTS) community, for her presentations at conferences like SMX or BrightonSEO or for her insightful and informative tweets. And now we are very happy to welcome you to the virtual stage of MozCon for the first time!
Before the show, we spoke to Areej about the success of WTS, what moved her to SEO and what viewers can look forward to in her MozCon presentation.
Read the full interview below and don’t forget to grab your ticket to see Areej and our other great speakers at MozCon Virtual 2021:
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Question: 2020 was a good year, what did you do last year? Any surprises or favorite projects you’ve worked on?
Areej: Yes, it was definitely a whole year! I have a lot to thank you for. I am healthy, have a job and am surrounded by people I love. I know others don’t.
Regarding my favorite 2020 project, I managed to host the first full day Women in Tech SEO Festival just before lockdown (I’m very lucky!). It took place in London in honor of International Women’s Day. I spent eight months organizing it from my dining room table and I couldn’t be happier with how it went.
After the lockdown, I focused on our global community and launched a number of community initiatives including WTSWorkshop, WTSPodcast, WTSNewsletter and more. I made the most of the time that I didn’t lose commuting to the office and I’m proud of how much the community has grown during this time.
Question: You have been head of the Women in Tech SEO group for about two years. What inspired you to start this community?
Areej: The honest answer is purely selfish. A few months before I started Women in Tech SEO, I felt really demotivated. I didn’t know if I wanted to continue being an SEO, I always felt judged for asking questions, I thought I wasn’t good enough at what I do. I couldn’t find a safe group or community to belong to. There were many “exclusive” groups that I was told I couldn’t be part of because I hadn’t been in the industry for x years or because I didn’t speak at certain events. So I decided to start my own safe group, one with values that revolve around kindness and is a judgment-free zone where all women are welcome, even if they had just heard of the word SEO the other day.
Question: Was there anything unexpected when you started this community?
Areej: I never thought it would grow so organically. I posted a tweet that said, “Women in tech SEO, rejoice, we now have a safe group …” and over 100 members joined the group on the first day. I also didn’t expect it to attract such a global audience. In the first year I was very focused on events in London, but we still had many members from all over the world joining us. I think I never realized how much it would take until I started doing it. We have over 4K now and we keep growing.
Question: John Mu recently said that you are doing some of the most powerful SEO work right now. How does it feel to know that you are driving real change in an industry that has been male dominated for so long?
Areej: John is very nice and I really appreciate the support he gives to our community and the industry as a whole. It is humbling to have the support of John and many others in my work and it keeps me going. It’s not always rosy, I get a handful of rude comments, I am sometimes told that it’s sexist and illegal to hold events for women only. It’s also a lot of work, time and energy. So when I get these nice comments it keeps me going and helps me stay motivated to work on the next big project.
Question: What specific changes do you hope to influence in the SEO industry in the coming years? How do you hope to inspire the next generation of women in tech?
Areej: I will consider Women in Tech SEO a successful project when the day comes when we no longer need it. There are many challenges women in the industry are currently facing that require communities like the Watchtower to be close by. I hope that the day will come when equality of representation and pay, as well as friendliness and respect, will rule everywhere, so that we no longer need communities like Women in Tech SEO.
Question: Outside of the women in tech community, you are also an accomplished SEO and speaker. How did you start with SEO and where are you today?
Areej: I studied computer engineering at home in Egypt and then moved to the UK to do a postgraduate degree in business informatics. I came across digital marketing and did some internships during my studies that introduced me to the concept of SEO. That was 8 years ago and at the time I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do for a living. I ended up moving to an agency looking for an Arabic spokesperson for some campaigns, and within a month I was transferred to the Tech SEO team. I loved tech SEO because it was that beautiful bridge between computing and marketing. Since then I’ve been involved with SEO, spent about five years on the agency side and then switched to the client side. Currently, I spend my day job running SEO for a global e-commerce company and my evenings and weekends developing Women in Tech SEO.
Question: Can you tell us a little bit about what you will be discussing at MozCon this year?
Areej: I am very happy about my lecture this year because it is as honest as it gets. As tech SEOs, we tend to be fixated on our own metrics; everything from crawlability, indexability, performance, etc. But these metrics do not match the business KPIs and it is difficult for us to get approval from engineers and senior stakeholders for large tech SEO projects. It took me a long time to understand that in my talk I am sharing a case scenario of an auto-aggregator website that has an indexability challenge and how I relate that to business KPIs.
Question: What do you hope our readers will take away from your presentation?
Areej: I hope that everyone who will be attending my talk will be able to link their own technical SEO hurdles to business KPIs and communicate them to stakeholders.
Question: What recommendations do you have for other women looking to improve their personal SEO brand?
Areej: A couple of things come to mind. First, be your authentic self! Work on projects, contribute, and speak in conferences that reflect your values. Talk to people who motivate you and introduce yourself. And above all: don’t be fixated on numbers (number of followers / likes / retweets, etc.). Instead, focus on the quality and value of your interactions with others.
Question: Who in the MozCon line-up are you looking forward to the most this year? What are you still looking forward to?
Areej: Let me start by saying that I absolutely love the variety of the MozCon speaker line-up! With 14 brilliant women (besides me) taking the stage, it’s difficult to pick a specific speaker that I’m most excited about. If you have to, I would like to say greetings to Shannon McGuirk. I made good friends with Shannon at MozCon 2019, she was my buddy in Seattle who made me feel like I was on the MozCon stage for the first time. Her conversations are always very honest and she is a wonderful storyteller.
A big thank you to Areej for her time! To find out more about their upcoming presentation, check out the details of our other speakers and click the link below to purchase your ticket!