MozCon Virtual 2021 Interview Series: Areej AbuAliYou probably know of rising SEO star Areej AbuAli from her work leading 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're so excited to welcome her to the MozCon Virtual stage for the first time!
Before the show, we talked with Areej about the success of WTS, what drew 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 amazing speakers at MozCon Virtual 2021:
Question: 2020 was quite the year, what were you up to this past year? Any surprises or favorite projects you worked on?
Areej: Yes, it was definitely quite a year! I have a lot to be grateful for. I'm healthy, I have a job, and I'm surrounded by people I love. I know it's not the same for others.
In terms of my favorite 2020 project, I managed to host the first full-day Women in Tech SEO Festival right before lockdown (I'm extremely lucky!). It took place in London in honor of International Women's Day. I spent eight months organizing it from my dining table and I couldn't be happier with how it went.
Post-lockdown, I focused on our global community and I launched a number of community initiatives including WTSWorkshop, WTSPodcast, WTSNewsletter, and more. I made the most out of the time that was no longer lost in commuting to the office and I'm proud of how much the community grew during that period.
Question: You’ve been running the Women in Tech SEO group for about two years now. What inspired you to start this community?
Areej: The honest answer is for purely selfish reasons. A few months before I started Women in Tech SEO, I was feeling really demotivated. I didn't know if I wanted to continue being an SEO, I always felt judged for asking questions, I didn't think I was good enough in what I do. I couldn't find a safe group or community that I could be a part of. There were lots of "exclusive" groups that I was told I couldn't be a part of because I haven't been in the industry for x number of years or because I haven't spoken in specific events. So I decided to start my own safe group, one that has values that revolve around kindness and is a judgment-free zone, one where all women are welcome, even if they've just heard about the word SEO the other day.
Question: Was there anything unexpected that happened as you began this community?
Areej: I never expected it to grow so much organically. I put a tweet out saying "Women in Tech SEO, rejoice, we now have a safe group…" and on the first day, over 100 members joined the group. I also didn't expect it to grab the attention of such a global audience. In the first year, I was very focused on London-based events yet we still kept having lots of members from all around the world join us. I guess I never realized how much it was needed until I started it. There's now over 4K of us and we keep growing.
Question: John Mu recently said that you are doing some of the most impactful work in SEO right now. How does that feel knowing that you are driving real change in an industry that has been male-dominated for so long?
Areej: John is extremely kind and I really appreciate all the support he gives our community and the industry as a whole. It's humbling to get the support of John and many others for the work I do and it keeps me going. It's not always rosy, I get a handful of unkind comments, I'm sometimes told that it's sexist and illegal to host events that are only for women. It's also a lot of work, time, and energy. So when I receive these kind comments, it keeps me going and helps me stay motivated to work on the next big project.
Question: What specific changes are you hoping to influence in the SEO industry in the coming years? In what ways are you hoping to inspire the next generation of women in Tech?
Areej: I'll consider Women in Tech SEO to be a successful project when the day comes that we no longer need it. There are lots of challenges that women in the industry currently face which require communities like WTS to be around. I hope that the day comes where there's equality in representation and pay, as well as kindness and respect all around, for us to 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 first get started in SEO and where you are today?
Areej: I studied Computer Engineering back home in Egypt then moved to the UK to do a post-graduate in Business IT. This is when I came across digital marketing and I did a few internships while studying that introduced me to the concept of SEO. This was 8 years ago and I wasn't really sure what I wanted to do with my career at that point. I ended up joining an agency that was looking for an Arabic speaker for a few campaigns and in a month I got moved to the Tech SEO team. I loved Tech SEO because it was this nice bridge between Computing & Marketing. I've been doing SEO ever since, I spent around five years agency-side then moved onto client-side. Currently, my day job is spent heading up SEO for a global e-commerce company and my evenings and weekends are spent growing Women in Tech SEO.
Question: Could you tell us a little bit about what you’ll be discussing at MozCon this year?
Areej: I'm really excited about my talk this year because it's 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 aren't ones that align with the business KPIs and it's difficult for us to get sign-off from engineers and senior stakeholders for big Tech SEO projects. It took me a long time to understand that so in my talk, I share a case scenario of a car aggregator website that has an indexability challenge and how I tie these to business KPIs.
Question: What do you hope our readers will take away from your presentation?
Areej: I hope that everyone who attends my talk is able to tie their own technical SEO hurdles with business KPIs and communicate those with stakeholders.
Question: What recommendations do you have for other women looking to elevate their personal brand in the SEO space?
Areej: A few things come to mind. Firstly, be your authentic self! Work on projects, write posts, and speak in conferences that align with YOUR values. Reach out to people who motivate you and introduce yourself. And most importantly, 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 most excited to watch this year? Anything else you are looking forward to?
Areej: Let me just start off by saying that I absolutely love how diverse the MozCon speaker line-up is! With 14 brilliant women (other than myself) taking the stage, it's difficult to pick a specific speaker that I'm most excited about. If I absolutely have to, then I'd like to give a shout-out to Shannon McGuirk. I became good friends with Shannon in MozCon 2019, she was my Seattle buddy who made me feel very comfortable about getting on the MozCon stage for the first time ever. Her talks are always extremely honest and she's a wonderful storyteller.
A big thank you to Areej for her time! To learn more about her upcoming presentation, see details on our other speakers, and to purchase your ticket, make sure you click the link below!