Areej is Head of SEO at Papier where she focuses on all things technical and on-site SEO. She is the founder of the Women in Tech SEO community which is a support network aimed for women in the Technical SEO field.
Episode 13 Season 2
Listen // Watch // Download
In this episode we discuss:
- Where the idea for Women in Tech SEO came from
- The stress and joy of hosting a conference (alongside a full time job!)
- Lessons and learnings from the biggest WTSEO event
- The challenges of race in marketing
- Will we ever be ‘done’ with diversity
- Moving from agency to in house SEO
- Running SEO from a big brand in a hyper competitive space
- The challenges of managing SEO for a VC funded start up
- Why the tech rather than marketing team may be the natural home for tech SEO
Areej is Head of SEO at Papier where she focuses on all things technical and on-site SEO.
She is the founder of the Women in Tech SEO community which is a support network aimed for women in the Technical SEO field.
She has been in the industry for the past 8 years and has spoken at conferences such as SMX, BrightonSEO and MozCon.
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Andi Jarvis, Eximo Marketing.
This transcript has been done automagically using Happy Scribe and hasn’t been checked by a real person, so there may be some hilarious mistakes where the AI can’t work out our accents – I’m sure they’re trained on just the American accent.
Hey, and welcome to the Strategy Sessions. My name is Andi Jarvis. I’m the host of the show. And thank you for joining me today. I’m joined by a guest who usually only goes by one name, like certain people. Certain and pop stars like Prince and Elvis are just that famous. They only really go by one name. This is another one of those people. It’s Areej. But if you want a full name, Areej Abu Ali. She is the founder of Women in Tech SEO. She’s the head of SEO for a paper based start up. But we’ll talk about that later. And one of the all around nicest people in SEO anyway. And just generally speaking. So we talk about all sorts that’s going on in her career, going on in her life, and what kind of got her behind building a great community of women in tech SEO. So dive in and listen to that quick bit of housekeeping for you all. If you are a regular listener looking for the next episode, we got a little break because Easter is in the way and nobody listens over Easter. I’ve noticed since I started this.
So the next episode is out on Tuesday, the 26 April. You might want to drop that date in your diary, lock it in, sign up for the email, block out the morning because the guest on that date is Mark Ritson. Yes, the man I’ve been chasing since I launched the podcast. Can I get rid of it on? Yes, I can. So here we go. But before we get into written on the 26th, don’t miss this one. Tell us all about the great things that Women in Tech SEO do and the joys of moving in houses Andi SEO versus working for an agency and why maybe being based in the technical team rather than marketing could be the future of SEO. Anyway, have a listen and let me know what you think on Twitter where I’m at. Andi Jarvis. Eyup, and welcome to the strategy session. Today I’m joined by Areej Abu Ali. Areej, give us a wave.
Hey, Andi thank you so much for inviting me over.
Thank you for being on the podcast. Now, Areej, if you don’t know, founded Women in Tech SEO. And he’s also the head of SEO at Papier. Now we’re going to talk about both of those things. So let’s start with Women in Tech SEO because it’s a fantastic movement that’s doing some wonderful things. So tell us, where did the idea come from?
Yeah. I mean, Women in Tech SEO has been around now for almost three years. It’s going to turn three years soon, which is so exciting. And my very, very honest answer is it came out of selfish reasons. Around three years ago, I was feeling super demotivated. I didn’t know whether I wanted to continue being an SEO. I didn’t feel like I had my network of people I can connect with. I always felt it was very difficult for me to go on Twitter and ask questions, for example, and things like that. I was like, Well, I tried to join a bunch of groups. I tried to do this, I tried to do that. I haven’t really found a place where I feel like I belong. So I think it was like a random evening where I was like, you know what? I’m just going to create this Facebook group and let’s see what happens from there. And I put out a Twitter post and I said something like, oh, women in Texas to rejoice. We now have our own space, a judgement free, safe group where we can kind of ask any questions we want and help one another.
And I think I had like 100 women join that same evening, which was shocking.
So you found a niche where there’s a demand there. I think SEO previously has had a bit of a diversity problem. Right? The industry was started mainly by men of a certain age who all looked and sounded similar and all had a very similar background. Now, there’s been a lot of work done from what I’ve seen in the last five to ten years to try and change that not always a straight line, but growth really isn’t a straight line. Right. But I think that what women in tech SEO is doing came up just a perfect time where women like yourselves were just needing to cluster around each other because of growth that may be stalled. And I think it needed something to come in and shake it up and go, there’s a need for this. We need to keep pushing forward as an industry so that 100 people joining in one evening must have been like, oh, maybe I’ve hit onto something here.
Yeah. I think it was specifically the niche of it being technical SEO as well. That kind of. I know there’s been tonnes of stuff that happened before around SEO in general, but I think with technical SEO, unfortunately, anytime you involve the word technical, there’s this idea that, oh, no, this is so difficult. There is a lot of barriers to entry. How do you even get started on that? I’m a good SEO, but I don’t know the first thing about tech SEO, so there’s always, like, these ideas around it and I made sure to frame it around. It doesn’t matter if you’re even a tech SEO or not yet. If you have any interest in becoming one, then you’re more than welcome to join Andi was doing the usual, which is going to tonnes of Brighton SEO talks and the likes and so forth. Andi back then, the technical SEO stage, as you said, it always looked exactly the same. It was the same speakers who looked the same way and spoke the same way Andi never saw myself represented. I’ve been doing technical SEO from the very beginning when I started, and it always got me thinking, well, I’m never going to be able to get on stage myself and talk about it because I don’t see myself represented.
So I think it was the fact that it was very specific to tech SEO that probably made it really popular.
How big is the organisation grown to now? Because you’re a few more than 100 women now.
Yeah, we’re almost 4000, I think, which is insane. So we’re on Facebook and we’re on Slack and it remains a free community, which is something that I’m really, really adamant on keeping on because I think it’s really important to be inclusive for people from all around the world. So it’s global. We’ve got people from everywhere Andi think the Facebook group has a little bit over 3000 and the Slack one has a little bit over 1000. So, yeah.
What you’ve grown into as an organisation led to you a couple of weeks ago holding your first conference.
3Rd conference, yes. This is the second time I’ve made an absolute mess of it. In the last podcast that I put out, I said to someone, Are you us only? Right? And she was like, no, Jarvis, I’m going to shoot my researcher.
No, it’s okay. I need a much bigger deal out of this one probably. And our second one was virtual because of COVID. But the first one we literally did a week before lockdown. Like we were so lucky, we managed to just scrape by and then the next week lockdown happened.
I know you did it as well the week before lockdown because Newcastle Search was due to start the week after. And I was looking at the event and who the speakers were because I think one of them was coming to Newcastle Search that I was going to. So I know this.
I’ll also tell you why you knew. You gave me really good advice the first time around. You probably forgot you were speaking in Search lab in October 2019 and you gave me really good advice back then because I was selling tickets for my first conference and you were going on about how the whole idea of putting out the tweets and stuff where we say, oh, less than 50 tickets to go, that type of like marketing. And I was like, oh my God, that’s so smart. Andi started tweeting things along those lines and it really worked and I managed to get my tickets sold. So I always remember that about you.
Yeah. So four more fear of missing out is an interesting thing on it something we’ve touched on a couple of times in the podcast with a few other guests. And it’s an area that over time people are developing more of an interest in as people understand Behavioural economics a bit more. And nudges, as they call the debate about should we be using nudges and trying to get people to take an action that we want? Should we be using them in our marketing activity. Now, I’m quite comfortable as long as you’re being honest and Truthful about things. But it’s really interesting how it sort of fires the brain when you say here’s how many tickets are left. Yeah, I could have gone do something. So that worked.
It worked. And you made me think of the whole concept of making sure I have super early bird, early bird standard, like making my ticketing system in that way. And I was really transparent. So in the Tto integration or whatever, the fixing platform, I was showing how many tickets are remaining out of how many. And it really worked. Andi it’s that last one, like the standard ones, those are the ones that take the longest to sell. But then everything before that, it just goes so quickly.
And that’s the thing, especially with events Andi don’t know how it works virtually when people know that the capacity is slightly different, pricing works differently, but certainly in person, you look at the event and sometimes it’s so far away.
There’s so many other pressing things between now and this event in nine months time. Right. So showing that actually that ticket count Andi going down.
Don’t have to say anything Andi use the example in the search of presentation. This isn’t new. So years and years and years ago when you used to have to ring up to book flights, this is what they used to do. They didn’t tell you there was only so many seats left. But when you rang up to book a flight, you could say, I want two tickets from Heathrow to JFK in New York. And even if the person was looking at a blank screen of nobody had booked this flight at all, the first thing they would say is, let me cheque that for you. And just by using that and type in on the computer Andi then they go, right, so it’s just two tickets you need. And they had it scripted. So they never lied, but they just had it scripted so that you would create a doubt in your mind and go, this flight must be busy. And that would force you to book at the price they gave you rather than haggle down. Because if they went, oh, the place is empty, you’d be haggling on price, you’d be like, there’s no need to book.
So using those techniques and this is 30, 40 years old and it goes on even older than that.
Yes. And it helps now. So with the third one, it was as simple as just bringing up the historical data Andi saying our first conference sold out in a month. So you need to get in there quick. And the third one sold out in like two weeks, which was crazy, but it’s because people knew like, oh no, we totally missed out the first time around. So we want to make sure we attend this time. It’s probably going to sell out just as quick Andi quicker Andi so, yeah, but no, I always remember that advice from you really help me.
Brilliant. Well, listen, it’s nice to know that occasionally some things I say to people, that’s great to know. So this third conference wasn’t your biggest conference because I saw some of the pictures and it looked immense.
Yeah. So to be honest, I always kept it at 300 Max. I think there’s just something really intimate about it being and it makes it really special because it makes it much easier for people to network with one another. Another idea I got from SearchLove as well, because I always liked how it was in such a massive, massive crowd. So, yeah, I have a lot of people who are very upset afterwards and say, oh, can’t you just fit us in? And I’m like, I’m really sorry, we literally do not have capacity, but yeah, it was around 300 people and our first one was only around 220, so it was definitely bigger. Our virtual one, of course, was much bigger because we could allow for that. But yeah, I thought it went really well. Huge thanks to the speakers. I always say this Andi think speakers make or break any conference and when you have brilliant speakers on board and that’s it, that’s literally all you need to get sign off from attendees and audience to have a really good experience.
Yeah, I was watching it on Twitter, which is a really obvious thing to say, but obviously it makes no sense sometimes. I was watching it on Twitter because I know a lot of people who are attending on speaking there and I was watching it in full and just sort of felt this. I have no involvement in this, but such an overwhelming self pride about how the event was just coming to life. The speakers, the vibe that was coming out, the positivity of the tweets that were coming out, it just looked like a great thing. And I was sat there going, I want to be there, but knowing full well that’s not the bike, that’s not what it just seemed like such an amazing event. So Congratulations on football.
No plans to take over an arena in Brighton, for example, there.
I’m so stressed about putting 300 people together. I cannot even imagine doing something bigger than that. I definitely want to take it to more than one city, though. I have these big, ambitious plans of taking it to the US next year somehow, so that we start having a UK edition and US edition. We’ve had some US folks, like, literally fly over to attend it, which I love them so much for that. But then at the same time it’s like, no, I say minimum 40% of our global members are from the US, so we definitely have a lot of people over there that we can go to. But I think in terms of number, I can definitely see myself kind of keeping it that number, because I think it is part of what makes it really special.
Yeah, brilliant. I was saying earlier, just before we started this, that I saw a brilliant post on LinkedIn over the weekend about what Salesforce have done to celebrate a number of black women in leadership positions. They’re all sort of director of VP and above, and it looked like just this amazing event that they put on to celebrate that group of people made the mistake. Lesson number one of the internet is never going to the comments and I went into the comments and I don’t know why I did it Andi ruined my day. And there’s a whole bunch of people saying, all right, well, when are you going to celebrate white men? And when are you going to do this? Andi when you’re going to do that? And you’re just like, oh, man, you’re just missing the point entirely. But what it reminded me is that there’s a long way to go before we had done with diversity. Right. People are like, oh, we’re not there yet. No, we’re still in the stone age. We haven’t even got started. Have you had any negativity coming towards you for putting women in techacity altogether? But then how would you use that positively to drive things forward?
Yeah, I always get the and I expect them by now. I think the first time around, when I held the event.
I was really shocked by it.
But I always get a lot of commentary around how my event is illegal.
And I get, like, actual links sent to me, like, governmental links about how what I’m holding is illegal because it’s a paid event that is excluding, like, a certain gender, which for a minute they’re panicked me, actually. And I have to go speak to some lawyers to make sure I’m not from the UK, so I have no idea if that would be the case or not. But you have women only gyms and you have women only clubs and you have tonnes of stuff. So, no, my event is not illegal. I have realised that. But I think it’s in general, like this idea of, unfortunately, people feeling excluded, that they are not a part of this community. And there’s been some feedback. That’s fine, you want all your speakers to be women, but why can’t we go there and attend? And it’s very difficult to kind of explain the dynamics of trying to make this as safe as possible. And that’s a lot of feedback I get from my speakers about how comfortable they are sharing their knowledge, knowing that it’s a room full of women and how important it is for them, which, like, I prioritise.
But, yeah, I do think we’re still a very long time away from any of these problems being solved. When people ask me, how do you envision women in tech? Seo becoming a success. For me, it’s when it becomes redundant. Right. Like when we no longer even need that community or that group because everyone feels equal and everyone feels like they have a voice and everyone feels like they’re fitting in. So the day that that happens and when tech SEO is deemed redundant and no longer needed, that for me is okay. Yes, I’ve succeeded on this mission here then.
Yeah. And sadly, we’re probably a long way off. It’s not this year or next year ambition to make yourself redundant. It’s sadly a little way off just yet. And I think what gives me joy and hope is that there are people like you just driving the agenda forward. And sometimes it can be tiring, can’t it? Sometimes when people are looking to you almost it’s like, well, I don’t want to do something about this. Don’t worry. Will do it. It can be tiring. Darn it sometimes been ahead.
Yeah. I mean, I tried my best to kind of I’ve created all these different hubs like Speaker Hubs and Interview Hubs Andi Founder Hubs. I’ve tried to kind of put these resources where people can kind of go in and do the job themselves because it’s like, there you go, you’ve got a list of 500 brilliant speakers. You can just go and make sure you diversify your event yourself. But then for whatever reason, it’s still so much easier for someone to tweet Andi say, oh, please tag every woman in SEO who can possibly speak in my event or I’m struggling to find women in SEO. Can someone please let me know where to find them Andi find these types of requests? Very frustrating because then you are putting the work on others where others then need to go out to you and be like, oh, you can go to this and this and this. Andi unfortunately, what tends to happen as well is a lot of the same people get mentioned. And something I always say and I’m comfortable saying it out loudly is I don’t want women in tech SEO to become white women in tech SEO.
This is a struggle of mine as well, where I need to make sure that it is safe, inclusive, and it welcomes diversity. So I always put the effort to if I’ve got an interview help where every week I publish a new interview, it can always be white women. I need to make sure that I’m amplifying and giving room and space for women from all around the world, but women from across different races and different backgrounds. So that’s always a struggle. And a challenge of mine as well is it shouldn’t just be about the gender aspect of it.
I know from hosting the podcast that you have to really sometimes try hard ownership. I’ve fallen back on my network and tapped into people I know, people I’ve worked with to bring them on, or at least to introduce me to other guests on the show. Andi when I do that. What’s really interesting is how much of those people are white men in the late 30s, early 40s. Yeah. That’s my network, which I think would be fairly diverse, and I’m quite proud of the people I know and how I kind of network in different places. And even then I do sometimes go through periods where I look back at just there’s lots going on. Andi you look back and you’re like, My last five guests have all looked and sounded like weirdly sounded the same as if they all went to the same school and group in the same square mile. Andi you’re like, wow, how have I fallen back into that? Andi it’s an easy trap to fall into when you’re busy, you’re doing other things Andi you’re like, it was a wake up call to me that I need to keep working harder and keep checking that with myself that it’s not just white men on the podcast or something like that, Andi notice it when I’m doing it and like to think, okay, well, I have noticed.
So that’s useful. At least I’m doing something about it. But it’s an effort that shouldn’t be there because I think sometimes you should be able to see the people there Andi just go, I want that person. I want this person. But it can be quite difficult to where am I going with this question? It can be quite difficult to make diversity feel authentic sometimes anyway, you know, just go, oh, I’ve had lots of white speakers. Let me go and look for a black speaker. I don’t want to do that. I don’t think anybody wants to do that. So I kind of set a really high bar for speakers to come on the podcast, which is why I was like, he’s coming on. That’s a really high bar. So to come back to the beginning, because I’ve been waffling for a little bit, how do you focus on bringing in racial diversity into women in tech SEO? Do you find it a struggle or is it actually the speakers that are hiding in plain sight?
Yeah, from my end, I always make sure everything is fully open. So if someone wants their speaker card on, their founder card on, they want to do an interview, Andi so forth. I keep open forms that literally anyone can fill at any time. So I make sure that there’s always this open call for whatever it is, whether we’re doing a podcast or a newsletter or whatever it is for everyone to kind of put themselves forward and apply to something. So making sure that this aspect is open where you’re not the only person who’s having to reach out and pick out, because what’s going to happen is I’m always going to pick from my network, if that’s the case. So instead of keeping that open and advertising these forms and these open forms helps bring a lot of people in. Andi then I tend to ensure at that point that I diversify and I prioritise who comes in from there. So if I have one black woman fill a form and then four white women, the black woman gets first, I would always prioritise and make sure that she gets a spot. She’s added in and so forth Andi do a lot of my own outreach as well.
I do reach out to brilliant black women and women of colour within the industry and I tell them, we’ve got all of these different initiatives. Would you like to be involved in one of them? And you kind of give them that space of realising and knowing? I think also partnering up with other communities really helps. So Rejoice, who is brilliant and she runs the Digital UK, she’s one of my speakers and we work together to kind of make sure there’s going to be a lot of scholarship tickets out there for WTS Fest, specifically my festival that go to her community. Andi so partnering up with other communities who are doing a better job than you are when it comes to diversity is key because we ended up with beautiful looking audience, very, very diverse. And a lot of it is thanks to her and thanks to her community and thanks to her outreach. So reaching out for help and going to people who are running other brilliant communities and saying, I want to partner up with you. I have this event happening. Are there people from your community who would like to attend, who would like to take part and then having them put the word out as well, just kind of partnering up in that way?
I think that really helps.
Brilliant, brilliant. There’s a lot of lessons I think people can take from that. Andi even to put in my own lesson, I think once you start to think about diversity, it becomes really easy. It’s when you stop thinking. I think sometimes you just slip back into reaching them Andi whatever. But once I reached out to some very new guests, people who probably wouldn’t have approached if I wouldn’t have noticed how homogenous some of my guests were getting. Andi just with half an hour’s research, half an hour found some brilliant, amazing guests who are coming up over the next number of weeks. And he’s like, Is that all the work it took? 30 minutes, 30 minutes was all it took to reach out.
Yeah. And honestly, new faces put such an effort Andi know, we think that. But new faces put like minimum, triple the effort that someone who’s used to being on podcasts and webinars and so forth would, because it’s really important for them. Right. And it’s something that’s new for them. Andi so they would put the time and effort in preparing for it and you would end up having a brilliant, brilliant speaker with great output at the end of it Andi think that’s something bright Andi SEO do really. Right. Which is they always, always encourage new faces and new speakers to be on their stage. And that’s why the quality of the talk is really good, because I remember speaking Martinezo for the first time, and I think I spent nine months prepping for that talk, and so do a lot of other new faces.
Yeah. One of the things I know you said you keep your event small and single track, which is great. One of the beauties of Brighton, though, is that they have such a diversity of stages as well, like big ones and little ones and small ones. I know I did my first Brighton, I think it was five years ago. I’ve been once or twice before I did Brighton SEO on one of the auditorium. So it was a big issue. But I probably done presenting for three years prior to that and five years after being I’m keynote in this time on the big stage and the joy of that. But they can drop people on small stages first. It is terrifying, right? Being on stage, speaking in front of people, is terrifying. And there’s a lot of imposter syndrome around. So being able to start on a small space, realising that actually she’s okay, graduating onto a bigger one Andi a bigger one, that’s I think a real strength of Brighton, that it can help people graduate through stages onto bigger stages and test what they want to do.
Definitely. I think it was 2019. And me and Luke, Luke Kirsty, we did Britain SEO and it was one of the auditoriums. And then afterwards, we both posted Moscow that same year. And Moscone is terrifying. And then Kelvin Tweeted, something like, oh, I knew Luke and Reef before they were famous or something like that. And it was like, honestly, if I hadn’t done Britain SEO, I would have never, ever had the courage to even pitch or put myself forward for Musk on giving. Those opportunities are so important.
Yeah, brilliant. I really love it. Andi are you at Brighton this year?
I’m not going to be attending the April 1. Definitely September 1. Fingers crossed.
Okay, well, I’m having to wait till September to see you then. That’ll be all right. Let’s jump from your part time job, if you want to call it that, into your full time job. So you recently Andi say recently in Vote Ecommerce, it’s probably a year. You’ve just moved jobs from Zoopla to Papier, and before that you were agency as well. So I want to kind of you have three very different types of jobs you’ve had there. So let’s start where you are now with Papia, which is VC funded paper products company. Is that the best description of it online ecommerce stationery?
Yeah. Andi beautiful stationery has to be said as well. I mean, I had a look at the website. This is the good stuff, right? Any old station. This is the good stuff. So talk us through the challenges of head of SEO there. Andi I’m assuming a fairly competitive segment.
Yeah, super competitive and so exciting. To be honest. When I joined, I was the only SEO and I only recently hired in my team, which is so exciting. There’s something very challenging Andi very exciting about being the first SEO to come in companies around five or six years old. You don’t have any of the scary legacy issues that you would have joining like a bigger company. And when I joined, I joined in the tech team, which is the main reason I applied for the role. I was like, oh my God, finally an SEO role that sits in tech Andi not in marketing. That was huge for me and I think it’s a huge advantage and it’s something that a lot of other in house companies really need to consider because you get so much done when you’re sat in tech. But yeah, I found it really exciting because you get to build everything from the ground up. There is no benchmarking, there was no reporting, there was nothing there. And everything needed to kind of be built from scratch. So you kind of come in and you own that space and then you spend a lot of time kind of raising awareness and education with different stakeholders on why SEO is important and why more investments in organic needs to take place and so forth.
Andi yeah, you work with a product you love as well. I’ve been such a stationary freak all my life. So it is really nice to be working on a product where you don’t find it boring in any way. Like you actually love what we’re doing and what we’re selling.
I’m going to have to introduce you to my daughter because I think you two get along famously. She’s on stationary freak makes birthday is really easy. It’s like some nice pens and nice pads of paper and she’s over the moon. She’s like, yeah, I’m sure it will stay that way forever. But let’s look at sitting in tech versus sitting in marketing angle. I think SEO sits in marketing a lot because it helps to deliver a number in sales terms or lead terms depending on what industry you’re in. So it’s a marketing channel, right? The same as all the other marketing channels. That does cause problems as you alluded to with getting stuff done from the tech team because you’re just that annoyance from marketing asking for things to be done. But if you’re something technical, not marketing, do you also lose that link with the big strategic picture? Obviously this is the strategy sessions Andi I’m always interested in how you keep a link to what’s going on in the company strategy.
Yeah. So I think we’re really, really lucky because we’re still quite a small team, like fairly. So we have a lot of FaceTime with our CEO and we have a lot of FaceTime with our CFO, which means that I get a chance at least once a month to kind of report back on my findings and understand what are some of the main business objectives and what are the main KPIs Andi am I aligning my SEO KPIs with the business KPIs and so forth? It might not be the same if I was working in a much bigger company, for sure. I might miss out on some of that exposure. The other thing is I do still have to be very cross functional because I have to work very closely with PPC and Brand and Content and PR in a lot of the different like non tech SEO channels. But to be honest, it’s so much easier being cross functional with marketing teams because they’re really nice in general, then it is the other way around when you’re sat in marketing and you’re trying to be cross functional with tech. Not that tech is a nice. I think mine seems really nice.
I think you’d already flagged where that was going. We’re going to edit this and this’ll be the clip to go into the promo. Ali said, Marketers wonderful tech SEOs. Sorry, Tech, you’ve done it now. Everyone hates that’s it women in tech. Seo is done because you’ve said no way. I think the point you might be, I think that what you are making Andi having worked with technical teams and marketing teams before is that technical teams have a lot of very clear deliverables that sit on very clear timeline Andi become quite tunnel vision based on having to do because they live in a world where one plus one equals two a lot of the time and they have this to do and that to do in a backlog Andi so on and so forth. A lot of marketing is a little bit more nebulous if you want to call it that way. This thing might have a little bit more impact, but that one if we did this well Andi there’s a lot more moving things around. So the market needs to hear what you have to say to bring you into that so they can see which bits of the puzzle are going to move around in the tech team.
It’s very clear I have a list of things to do Andi once I finish that, I might talk to you, but until I finish that, I’m not talking to you. Is it that sort of approach that you mean where it can be quite black Andi white sometimes with technical teams, whereas Market is all shades of grey?
Yeah. And I think also what tends to happen is once you familiarise yourself with different products initiatives that are happening with the tech team instead of you going up to them and being like, here’s all the SEO work I need you to do, you just fix your SEO work within their different product initiatives. And just like that, you went from, oh, there’s an SEO initiative that I need you to dedicate time for to here’s all your product initiatives and here’s the SEO considerations that need to be added in each. And it makes it so much easier than to get stuff done. But if you’re sat outside, you would usually not have as much visibility on these initiatives.
I had Tom Criticlaw on the podcast a couple of weeks ago, a couple of months ago maybe, where we talked about his SEO NBA.
I love it.
Bulk of that is around I hear the phrase soft skills, people skills I talk about rather than soft skills, because soft skills and hard skills immediately devalues them. It’s nonsense. People skills. I think what you’re saying is that the people skills are equally as important for an SEO as the technical skills, as a content skills, as whatever else. Because if you can’t work with the groups, if you can’t work in cross functional teams, if you can’t talk to your CEO, everything else is a waste of time. You could be technically brilliant, but if nobody else cares, it doesn’t matter.
Yeah, 100%. And I think that was one of my biggest struggles. The agency side. If you want to talk a little bit about agency versus in house and so forth, that was definitely my biggest struggle. At the end of the day, you’re this external person who’s kind of handing over recommendations and so forth. You don’t know the first thing about their different initiatives Andi what they’re busy with and what they’re doing. It’s very difficult to ingrain and figure yourself within the work that they’re doing. Whereas when you’re in house, you have all of that exposure because it’s right there. It’s happening in front of you. We’re all one team. We’re all trying to achieve the same thing. I’m a huge fan of all of Tom’s work and I’ve taken that course Andi thought it was really, really helpful, especially for in house folks.
Yeah. So your other in house role was with Zoopla, which again is another you only like hyper competitive spaces. Is that right?
Yeah. Zuplo was like, it’s so interesting, the comparison. Now we were talking about, oh, houses for sale in London and how we rank 1.5 versus rate move who ranked 1.3. And it was so competitive. Very.
That brings its own challenges. But it’s also really exciting, isn’t it? Because you’re kind of like testing yourself in the fire of really competitive SEO in a world where you can test Andi move things through really quickly given the volume of traffic and things like that. So it must have been really exciting working there, even if maybe the pressure must have been quite high.
Yeah, definitely. I mean, it’s an industry where you’ve got like two or three top market players and you’re one of them. Andi so how do you close that gap? Like the whole time you’re just thinking of that small gap and how do you close it? Andi you have two key terms around houses for sale or houses to rent. And then in every single geographical that’s basically all the main stuff they’re always going to care about from a business initiative and then add to that, of course, like a legacy website with a lot of its own technical hurdles that you need to work on, being sad in marketing and then the marketing team being huge, the tech team being massive. Like, how do you even go around, like, working with one another? So it was really, really competitive by saying, definitely, like, tonnes of challenges. Most of my time was spent on, can we please get this thing done? A lot of it was spent on that for sure. Whereas now I have a lot more room to breathe in terms of the analysis side of things and more experimentation and so forth, because we’re still really young and the website is fairly new, so we’re able to do a lot of that, but a lot of that stuff was very difficult to do on the Zooplus site.
I think it’s one of the big surprises when I first started working at enterprise level companies in marketing, more than anything else, just how awful the tech stack can be. Andi always with good reason. You go in there Andi you’re like, Why do you use this website or this thing that is so old is falling apart at the seams? And you talk to the CMA Andi be like, here’s the report, right? The risks of this, the benefits of this, Andi it could all go wrong and that would be the end of my career. So, no, it’ll stay right. Okay, that does cause a whole lot of downstream challenges, doesn’t it? To marketing activities, to tech, SEO, to pretty much everything.
And you really have to pick your battles at that point because it’s like, I know I’m probably this quarter going to be able to fit in, like this one ask or this one initiative. Andi so I really have to make sure that I prioritise it well Andi really need to make sure I consider impact versus priority, and I understand them very and know exactly what to fit in and what’s worth fighting for and what’s okay to drop. Yeah, I definitely learned a lot from it in terms of stakeholder management and working with different partners across the business Andi knowing which battles to fight and which battles to drop. Whereas now, because we have a lot more space, it’s so much easier to even do something and say, you know what? If it doesn’t work, we can just roll it back, which is something I was never, ever able to suggest when I was at Zucchin.
Yeah, brilliant. Did you ever notice the impact of TV and traditional marketing on SEO when you’re at Zoopla, whether that was a competitor investing big in some offline stuff or at Zooplar, did you notice the impact that had on search and rankings?
Oh, 100% I think I fully started appreciating and understanding seasonality as well when I first joined Dupla and this idea of Boxing Day marketing campaigns that a lot of us and our competitors would go out with and how that would impact brand search and how that would impact interest in the industry. We have some newcomers as well popping up who are still very young, but they used a lot more traditional marketing than we did for some time and how that kind of skewed things around. So, yeah, definitely not something I’m exposed to at the minute, but definitely during my time at Zupla, it was a massive caveat.
And then rolling back to your agency days, is that where you first started to develop those people skills Andi the joys of agencies are juggling five clients all at the same time. Is that how you sort of started to develop the people skills from being in an agency first?
Yeah. I mean, I never go back to agency side now, but to be honest, I always advise anyone who is starting out an SEO starts an agency side. There’s so much to learn and you get to work with a huge number of different clients across a lot of different industries. And I remember my first few meetings with clients and how terrifying I found those, whether it was a pitch stage or whether it was sharing recommendations stage. And then over time you kind of lean into it and you become much more comfortable. So, yeah, of course it helps so much because then you’re talking to different people from marketing and tech and so forth, and you’re trying your best to be an extension to their team more than anything when you’re an agency and those skills definitely help you so much once you move in house because you can wear different hats and you can think from the perspective of the PR team and the brand team and the content team and so forth, because you’ve spoken with a lot of these different teams even if you were a little bit on the outside when you were agency side.
Yeah. And you got to work with some amazing people as well, didn’t you, when you were in agency side? Andi does that have an impact on you and your growth as a younger SEO at the time?
Oh, huge. Of course, you learn so much, right? There’s so much that you can learn from working with awesome people and you pick up on so much more on your agency side. I’ve seen people kind of do the opposite where they were in house and then they moved to agency and it’s such a struggle for them because it’s like you’re so focused on this one website and then all of a sudden you need to juggle like five or more clients in one go. How do you even go about doing that?
I think people think agencies are just this great party, non stop. Right. Andi agencies cultivate that a little bit. That Friday afternoon beers Andi we’ve got the dogs in the office. And isn’t it great? Isn’t it fun here? But it does kind of mask the look. Like sometimes the phone rings, you get an email Ping, and while you’re on the phone to one client, someone else is shouting you that another client wants you. And you’re like, how do I prioritise all of this?
Yeah. When you think of like algorithm updates, for example, there’s so much headspace now where you can spend kind of thinking about how has it impacted that one website I’m working on and you can analyse the data, you can see what happened to your competitors. And then when that happens, when your agency hide Andi you need to somehow report that to ten different clients who are working in ten different industries with ten different sets of competitors, and everyone wants an answer first. Right. So how do you kind of prioritise that and how do you give them the time and effort? Andi yeah, it’s too stressful, to be honest.
I want to come back because I’m really interested in what you were saying about the joy of being based in the technical team, not in the marketing team. So this is a marketing podcast. I’m going to ask you a question in a moment about that, and then I’m going to follow up on a top tip off you for SEO. In house SEO just gives me a chance to sing the theme tune. But do you think that Seo’s future is not as a marketing discipline? Do you think it is more or maybe tech SEO as a technical area rather than as a marketing discipline as it’s been seen as previously? Or is that just your organiser? Do you think there’s a wider lesson or is it just it works at your organisation because it works?
I think it’s a product discipline, to be honest Andi know some people who are brilliant at this and talk a lot about this at the moment. Adam Gent comes to mind. For example, I think I completely see SEO technical SEO specifically being more of an SEO product manager role and being sat in these different product contact teams based on what the initiatives are and making sure that they fit in all the SEO considerations Andi all the SEO recommendations within these specific technical and product initiatives that they’re set in. So I definitely foresee that happening at the same time. I see our content strategists and content executives and so forth with their SEO Hatton just kind of sat there and being on the contents and brand side at the same time. Yeah, that’s how I kind of see it evolving. I haven’t come across a lot of in house companies who kind of foresee it that way at the moment. But I think a really good first step is this idea of adopting SEO within your technical teams.
It’s really interesting and that fragmentation of SEO is discipline into some of it may be going technical Andi some of it going more into staying within marketing. I think there’s a little bit of a similarity to what happened in web development, where it just sort of sat as part of the graphic design team for years when it started and then slowly started to carve out its own way as it became more strategically important and different disciplines may be dropped into different places. So it’s an interesting evolution as the industry becomes more mature, isn’t it? I’d say more mature as an industry, not the people in it, because there’s some hugely mature idiots in the SEO industry. So now do you have a to put out peak for anyone listening who’s thinking, I really want to get into SEO or I want to be a tech SEO?
Yeah, I think it might seem very overwhelming, but it’s really important to kind of like start somewhere. As I mentioned, if you’re new to the industry, I definitely advise going agency side, because there’s so much more that you can learn while you’re sat there. A lot of people give the advice of starting your own website, which I think is a great idea, because you can do, like, a lot of different experimentation on there and you can test a lot of different things and, yeah, just joining networks and joining communities and there’s tonnes of resources out there. Don’t be overwhelmed with, oh, I need to make sure I pay for a course, for example, Andi so forth, when there’s tonnes of free stuff that you can get started on. And don’t worry too much initially about finding your niche where you go like, oh, this is the one track that I want to focus on Andi want to be really good at. It actually, the more general you are at the start, the better, because you can get to learn Andi experiment in all of these different sides before kind of deciding this is the one thing I’m most interested in, so I want to Hone down Andi learn as much as I can about that one thing.
Yeah, brilliant advice. And I think if you knew at this as well, an event like Brighton SEO is perfect. The airport one is not because the free tickets have gone, but there’s a ballot for free tickets where you can as the name, closing the name. Right, you can go for free. So all you need to do is be able to get to Brighton and attend the event. 910 stages, SEO content, PR strategy, all sorts of different stuff. So if you’re not quite sure, go watch a few different things and go, which sounds most interesting, how do I get into this and then follow the people, follow down that rabbit hole and see where you get to. I think that’s go wide first and then narrow once you know where you go. Brilliant advice. Tapping you for more advice now in terms of the books, podcasts, resources, newsletters, where do you go to stay in touch with the industry? What are your recommendations for people?
Yeah, I always say Andi know a lot of people already follow that. But Ali does. Seo formal doesn’t get any better than that, to be honest. She sends it on a weekly basis and she puts a lot of time and effort in it and she always, always diversifies what she shares, which I absolutely love about her. So that’s one of my favourite weekly newsletters because you can kind of recap all the main stuff that’s been shared. She also then holds Twitter spaces. That the week following it where she discusses some of the most bread pieces in the newsletter with a lot of other SEO folks on there. So that’s really fun to kind of listen and tune in for. Andi being in house, I do really have a lot of appreciation for Tom’s MBA newsletter that he sends out Andi his course and resources. I learned tonnes of stuff on there in terms of strategy and so forth. And then of course, just a shout out to all the awesome stuff I build on women in tech SEO as well. We have our own newsletter, we’ve got our own podcast, got our own community groups.
So yeah, there’s tonnes of stuff that can be checked out on there.
Brilliant links to all of those in the show notes. So wherever you’re listening, watching, just click on them. And I’ll also link to Tom when he was on the podcast, just because I’m always happy for more listeners to come Andi have to cheque out what he had to say. Really interested Tom’s view on the world and on SEO as a discipline. I love listening to him talk about it. He’s really interested in an eye opening, I suppose, from that. Brilliant. My last question is they are always the same to every guest, which is what one question do you usually get asked? Haven’t I asked today.
People tend to start with an intro. Tell us a bit about your age. You haven’t done that.
No. I always say your bio is in the show notes. It’s like I just read your bio up now.
I can’t find it anywhere else.
But let’s finish with that because I always say, okay, we’ll go and answer the question because you have an interesting background. So tell us about that.
Well, I love to talk about how I moved to the UK eight years ago and it does feel like my home now. I’m from Egypt. I studied computer engineering there and then I felt like I was never going to be a good computer engineer. So Unfortunately I went down the marketing track, which I invite a lot of people to not go ahead and do right away. But I think it’s kind of where I found my passion within technical SEO, because then it felt like at least I managed to meet it in the middle a little bit based on my background. Yeah. That’s kind of what I tend to go into a little bit of detail about when we talk about that.
Now, I have very limited knowledge. I have this sort of wonderful Anglo centric view of the world. Right. Andi sitting here in the UK with my blinkers on, my limited knowledge of Egypt is that the University system is thriving and churning out great graduates, especially in sort of engineering, technical, not just computer engineering, but sort of old fashioned industrial engineering as well. Is that right? Have I just completely misrepresented?
No, you’re completely right. I think we have the best engineers, to be honest, and people are always so surprised, like when they move to other countries, for example, or so forth, and they apply for roles, they become very competitive. And our University system is so much more difficult than here because I did a master’s degree here. But my husband, for example, he did his engineering degree back home in Egypt, and then he moved here and he did further studies in engineering Andi he was like, Whoa, what we’re learning in postgraduate here is what we took in the first year of Uni over there. So it’s far more advanced and much more competitive over there. Very challenging, but it ends up producing, like, very strong candidates.
Yeah, brilliant. Andi think it is something I’d maybe hope to do something about over the coming years. It’s just kind of showcase some more about what happens in different places. Because I complained about this when I did my postgrad that every bit of reading we got was from the UK, US or Australia. Sorry. There was one bit from Norway was in Norway or Sweden. Anyway, somewhere in the Nordics. Right. But 99% of what we were given to read was written in an Australian Journal. A US Journal or a British Journal. Yeah. That’s three countries. There’s got to be other people writing about marketing. There’s a billion people in India and loads of people in marketing there. Why aren’t we getting anything from an Indian Journal? Andi look at the guests on the podcast, US, UK Island, Australia one. I think that’s it.
I’ve got some work to do. Right. It’s interesting how we get that Anglocentric view. It’s the worldview we have here, but we can’t forget that other places, fantastic graduates doing great stuff that we maybe need to tap into a little bit more.
Yeah, 100% completely agree. But it’s really good to have awareness about that. Right. And talk more about it and tap into other people’s networks and communities and see who can you meet and who can know more.
Brilliant. But this is an open call outright. I’m going to go and do some research after this if I need to, to try and find more speakers. I’m desperate to try and get someone on from India, particularly to talk about marketing because the different cultures and languages and things make the challenge, they’re really interesting. I always find it fascinating in that the UK language is the English language Andi speaking English is an essential Tenet of being British. If you look at what people say British, but you go to a country like India where I think there’s over 200 official languages, maybe more than that and lots of other languages, even if they’re not fast as official yet everyone is still Indian. I’m really fascinated from a marketing perspective, how do you do that when maybe you’ve campaigned up to be in English Andi Hindi and Punjabi and different depending on where you’re targeting. So that’s a challenge for me to get a guest to come in and talk about that. But if you’re listening and you’re from one of the markets, any market other than the UK Island, Australia and America, get in touch with love to have you on to come and talk about how marketing works in your country because I’m desperate to diversify a little bit that way, but I will be doing some work, too.
Anyway, that’s enough of me. Waffling Areej thank you very much for your time. It’s been really interesting to go through women in tech SEO your career and some of the interesting things you’ve had to say, including the fact that technical teams are really awkward to work.
Thank you so much for having me. I really, really enjoyed this.
No problem. Thank you for your time.