Conversations in Search: Dewi Nawasari

Dewi Nawasari leads SEO for The Sole Supplier

Originally from Indonesia and a graduate of Arizona State University, please say Halo! to Dewi Nawasari.

Dewi heads up the in-house SEO strategy for The Sole Supplier, a site dedicated to curating the latest sneaker trends for the European market.

When Dewi is not optimising the The Sole Supplier she likes nothing more than socialising with friends or putting her ribbon acrobatic skills to use.

This post is part of a series called ‘Conversations in Search’. I discuss the current state of SEO practice with other SEO experts and discover their views on the future of SEO.

Damien: Dewi, thanks for taking the time to have a chat. We’re talking amid the grip of lockdown in the UK, and COVID-19, how are you and your family?

Dewi: Thankfully, we’re all still okay, and I’m doing good. I’m lucky because I can stay at home, I can work from home, I have my job, and I’m not at higher risk. My family is in the same situation as well, so we are all fortunate.

Damien: That’s great to hear. So, you’ve been in SEO for a while, take us back in time to when you were first starting out in your career. When and how did you get into SEO?

Dewi: So, I grew up in Indonesia, and I went to the US to further my education. I didn’t study anything to do with SEO. I actually studied in business at Arizona State University. I studied supply chains, everything to do with the chain from manufacturing all the way to the user. That chain of movement of products was my foundation.

When I graduated in 2006, I started applying for jobs, and I got a post-study work visa provided by the US government for students on a student visa. So, when students graduate, they get a year to apply for jobs and maybe work at a job with that post-study work visa.

I was just very hungry for a job, and hungry for experience, and to get my career started. So firstly, I applied to every supply chain starter role that I could find. I then decided to branch out to any research-related function that I could find.

I always knew that I loved researching, so I was applying for research work, and one of the jobs that I applied for was as an SEO analyst.

I had no idea what SEO was at the time, I didn’t even use Google, I was using Yahoo!

I think my research capability and passion for moving forward showed in the interviews, so without any coding experience or any sort of computer experience or direct SEO experience, I got the job, with iCrossing.

I got the job with them before they went global. This was when iCrossing was a company with only US-based offices. They had offices in Scottsdale, Arizona, and in Chicago and another in New York. They were very US-centric.

They decided to expand to Europe and acquired an agency in Germany, and then another agency called Spannerworks in the UK. This expansion coincided with the timing of when I tried unsuccessfully to apply for a working visa.

Sadly, my application got rejected! After nearly a year with iCrossing in the US, which I loved, I went to my manager and asked if I could be transferred to the UK office. He said yes, so I feel like I got lucky, again, and I moved to the UK office, which at the time was based in Brighton.

Damien: So you’re a new grad, working out of the Arizona Office and you’re about to embark on your second international relocation. What was on your mind at the time?

Dewi: Well, I only remember how devastated I was because I’d built a life in the US, I had, and still have, my best friends there. I know Arizona like the back of my hand, and I was happy there. 

I was just like this can’t be the end of my journey. Yeah, I’m literally only beginning and I’ve still got a long way to go, and I’m just passionate about my work. I thought, I can’t go back to Indonesia now, that would be a backwards step, so a move to the UK made great sense, I thought. 

Damien: You’d found your dream job, and now you face this upheaval of moving to another new country.

Dewi: Absolutely, it was a momentous move, again. I chose to move to the UK because well, I am multilingual and fluent in English, and I was able to leverage the expansion of my first company to do the transfer. 

I was able to get my UK visa approved too very quickly as well. So I migrated to the UK on a sponsored working visa with my employer, and I still feel grateful for the support that those early leaders showed me.

Damien: What was a typical day like working in a regional office of iCrossing? How was it different from the US starting out in the UK?

Dewi: Oh my gosh, it was such a long time ago. Well, on a typical day, I would work closely with an account manager handling client interactions. They would brief me on the work, give me some directions, the goals and timeframes and I would get cracking.

Damien: Thinking about that early time in the UK, what was most memorable to you?

Dewi: At the time, the SEO industry, unless you were in PR or in social media, was dominated by men. As a young woman without any coding experience, and needing some coaching to complete essential technical work, I was surprised at the gap in training that was available. It’s not just that the SEO industry is still highly dominated by men, but also by people who have a great deal of experience in coding. I’d thought there would be better upskilling, for all genders.

Usually, the people in the agency had computer science, computer design or broader coding and website designing experience. I had none of these skills at that time. There was a gap in giving training to someone like me. There was also some reluctance providing proper training because, I suppose from the company perspective, there were already people who had the experience. I’d say they missed a trick on that.

Damien: It sounds like you had to fight through that, and build your experience in those technical areas. Men, on the other hand, didn’t have to work so hard?

Dewi: Yes, because of their experience, they could be more relaxed as they understood how to translate, and apply the technical best practices.

Damien: What characteristics and values do women bring to the workplace that men don’t?

Dewi: Quite often, women underplay their ability, whereas men tend to overplay their ability. With men, there’s a mentality of like ‘fake it till you make it’ whereas women tend to underplay, there are a lot of statistics out there, their bold ideas.

A lot of women don’t want to show off their capability or speak up in a big meeting room full of senior people. They don’t because they feel like they’ll find more challenge from men, who often hold the power positions in business, to defend and rationalise their idea than if it had come from another man.

I think each gender has their strengths and weaknesses. The best type of workplace is one that has a diverse mix of gender that encourages diversity in skills and roles those genders fill too.

Instead of stereotypically saying ‘Let’s take a man with technical skills and place him in a development team’, and ‘Let’s put a woman to do PR or social role’. The business should really mix not just diversity of genders in the company, but diversify the mix of genders in each role too.

Men and women have different ideas. When they are put in the same room together, the strengths of men can influence and bring out the weaknesses, or the gaps that the female side has and vice versa. I’ve found in my 10 plus years in the industry how a team would evolve stronger and change as soon as they diversify the organisation and roles.

Damien: It seems navigating an environment dominated by men was tough, how did you move through it to stamp out your own mark?

Dewi: My way of navigating through this complex environment was to literally take any opportunity. I was not picky with the possibilities, as long as the opportunities gave me the chance to expand my knowledge.

I was also willing to be paid less for opportunities like that at that time. I was ready to take this compromise because if a break gave me the chance to expand my knowledge and reduce my knowledge gaps, it was even more enticing than money.

My very first experience with real technical SEO came when I joined a startup in London. The startup was under-resourced, so I self-studied, and I managed to produce some great work, self-learnt, after getting my foot in the door.

This encouraged me to rely on my ability and strength and to continue to seek out learning opportunities. I was not about to passively wait for things to come along, or for someone to give me something. You have to fight for what you want in life. If the opportunity is not available in one company, you’re going to have to find this opportunity elsewhere.

As with any great opportunity, you have to just grab it and run with it and take risks to find your success. Taking a risk is really important. Some people might be uncomfortable with taking risks because it can be like jumping into the unknown.

Trust me, you are really forced out of your comfort zone when you take on challenges where you don’t have all the experience, but push yourself, aim higher.

Damien: So you cut your teeth in agencies and startups and then went onto doing what?

Dewi: I gathered enough skills to feel confident in applying for a client-side SEO role. I found myself a role in a male-dominated company when I started at AutoTrader.

It’s a big organisation, and it’s very successful at what it does, the number one in the automotive industry in the UK, the market leader. When I started with AutoTrader, I was one of only a few women in the marketing team. I spent five years there, and I took a few great lessons away from working there.

First, in a savvy and intensely competitive environment, you need to stand out for the right reasons. You need to strive to be better and take on responsibilities to demonstrate this. Second, you always need to keep pushing yourself and have belief in your abilities. Finding allies to remind you of this can be helpful too.

If you really want to progress in your career, it’s those focused goals and aptitude for working hard to achieve them that will help you most. You must set out your own goals and plan; you have to work hard for it.

Damien: What’s your view on where we are as an SEO industry right now?

Dewi: I think we are at the most exciting time. I’ve only literally seen in every single year of my SEO career that each year becomes more impressive because the SEO industry evolves so much.

SEO is no longer about single tactics, like keyword optimisation, link building, or placing tags on your website. It’s actually more about the entire digital business. It’s about forming a holistic digital strategy for your brand. It’s also about all of those different signals that people can show if they love your brand or not, and that’s how you’re going to genuinely win in SEO of the future.

If you work in the SEO industry, it’s almost like the world is your oyster. You can branch out into just about any area of digital. For example, depending on who you work for, every business or brand will have different opportunities. It’s all to do with, with the right time, the right moment, and as I said, if the prospects are not present, then you need to be proactive to find them, perhaps elsewhere.

I am currently working for The Sole Supplier, it’s this fantastic market leader for breaking news on sneaker ‘drops’ to the highly creative ‘sneaker heads’ community. Our people are sneaker enthusiasts, there’s a whole lifestyle which surrounds this market, full of very talented people.

It’s also a massively growing marketplace. The adoption of hyped sneakers as a lifestyle statement is only increasing. We are only about 30 people in the company, so as our brand is growing, we’ve a bunch of different opportunities. There’s a website and mobile app in the UK and lots of opportunities to expand experience.

Damien: Where do you see your career evolving now?

Dewi: My career seems to evolve towards strategy and business expansion. I am now more able to explore ‘What would be the next thing?’ for our brand to expand to and use lots of the tools from frameworks from my earlier business training. The whole range of opportunities is available for me to explore, to collaborate with my colleagues, and to bring about the best product that we can.

We’re not just thinking like ‘Whoa, let’s create a page, and optimise it for this keyword’. No. It’s actually more like, ‘We’re going to open up some new offering. What are we going to offer? What are the users engaged with? Let’s ask the user, our community’.

We have an amazing Facebook community of sneakerheads with nearly 50,000 members run solely by my colleague and resident sneakerhead, Emily Atkins.

It’s a space for our brand and community talk about our passion for collecting sneakers. We sometimes hold meet ups to attend sneaker launches, or just to hangout and we’ve made lots of new friendships.

we’re lucky to have a great community that lets us connect our brand with the very people that makes it. Some of the friends that we’ve made are even modelling products for us.

Damien: What are you most proud of so far in your career, Dewi?

Dewi: What am I most proud of, oh that’s deep, Damien. I think it’s the friends I’ve made along the way. I am also very pleased with my fluidity, my ability to just take on new things. I’m not limiting myself to one thing or another. I’m quite open about new experiences, new learnings, and I’m very proud that I still feel humble.

I think humility is essential in this industry. You do have to keep a level of humility as we don’t always know everything. You do have to admit that you don’t always know everything. For example, TikTok and Snap were not part of my toolkit when I was coming up as a marketer.

You know, that I still want to learn from people, and from younger peers. The fact that I joined a company in which everyone is younger than me is exciting because these guys are the future.

To truly continue to grow in this industry, you must look beyond just looking up. You have to actually look around you, not just look up to people who are more experienced, but look at what’s surrounding you.

Taking more of the strategic view, and encouraging the use of newer platforms and tools by younger peers is key to this. In our business, we’re like ‘Oh, that idea is great, let us help you and guide you through these ideas so we can make it happen’.

I mean we don’t necessarily see that it’s working for us, because we’re the old ones. It’s clearly working for the younger generation, and it’s definitely something that we need to keep an eye to develop our brand presence.

Damien: Who would you say has had the most considerable influence on you in life, and made a significant contribution to your growth?

Dewi: There are a couple of people that made significant contributions to my career and in life. First, my brother, Tommy. Ever since I was young, he’s six years older, he’s been very entrepreneurial. I’ve always looked up to him and sought his advice when it comes to career choices and the like.

Secondly, the manager I had at AutoTrader, Berian Reed, was instrumental to my SEO career growth. He was influential not because of something smart he said, I mean he was always lots of intelligent things. What makes him stand out for me is his kindness. He gave me the chance to achieve as he saw I was willing to work for it. I’m sure there will be others in the future too.

Damien: Do you think the search engines are making the experience of search better for users?

Dewi: You know, I can see the changes in my search results since Google first announced Rankbrain in 2015. I can feel the evolution of that personally. They [Google] are still not perfect, but they’re brilliant because they are making the experience better every single year.

If you think about those updates to the Google algorithm as being the bellwether and core focus for lots of SEOs, where they would once pander to each tweak of an algorithm, they’re now changing.

As the years go by, we now realise this was the wrong way to do search engine optimisation. It was focusing on finding ‘the loophole’, the quick win or the easy fix to a search algorithm update.

Now there’s a switch underway, in the focus of SEOs on the user signals within their own business.

Imagine if they continue improvements for the user signals with each update to their product, then there’s no real need to worry about tactics which don’t matter to users. You could actually be a brand doing well in SEO results by focusing your attention on all those things which make your users fall in love with you.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say the future means no link building, but it’s easily a future which makes link building secondary. Google’s focus has been all about shifting perception as to what’s essential to succeed in search. It’s given us a catalyst for thinking about the users.

So instead of SEOs thinking about let’s clean up, no, actually, let’s just focus on the user as trite as that may sound to some.

Damien: Where is it all headed, where is SEO going, Dewi?

Dewi: Ah, well, I would say it’s only going to evolve further towards whatever is making money. I know that might seem unexpected. There are strong correlations between brands that are doing the right things to create user happiness and that gain commercially.

Mobile traffic is only going to grow, so it’s a good bet to invest in it. In our brand case, mobile far supersedes desktop traffic, less than 20%. This is something that every brand needs to obsess on, make sure users of your mobile product are super happy first, and then invest in developing outwards.

This small screen of mobile user experience is the majority of screen time for most people now. The majority of shopping time, and of browsing time, and for most people the majority of entertainment time.

Companies need to really pay attention to what their users are doing to find their products, too. Depending on what industry you’re working on the things to focus on will be slightly different.

Let’s say you’re working in the appliances industry. You need to understand from your data that more and more people are searching from Amazon. So how are you going to address your channel strategy from this?

If you’re in the fashion industry, more people are now using Google images to find products. Either that they see on the street or to do a comparison price shop. You can then also see the stock availability status and price on those product images. What’s your brand strategy to take advantage of this? You definitely want to start now. I think this is the next big thing.

Lastly, structured data is crucial for the future of SEO. The vertical search that Google has been developing has always been dependent on structured data being available on your website, formally or informally.

Take the strategic view when applying structured data. The trend I am seeing is for the top-performing websites to implement structured data for every element of their site.

Damien: I’d agree with all of those points. Thank you Dewi, it’s been a pleasure, speak soon!

You can follow Dewi on Twitter at @dnawasari and visit her site The Sole Supplier.