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Stories of a Fractional Enterprise SEO with Ash Nallawalla

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Ash Nallawalla

Ash Nallawalla, Fractional Enterprise SEO & Author of Accidental SEO Manager

Ash Nallawalla is a seasoned Fractional Enterprise SEO Consultant and the esteemed author of "Accidental SEO Manager", a reflection of his unique journey through varied careers before making a significant mark in the SEO industry. Beginning his professional life as an accountant in New Zealand, Ash's career trajectory took him through eight years of service with the Royal Australian Air Force before transitioning into product marketing. His foray into SEO began unexpectedly at 48, following his tenure as a CRM manager for Macromedia in the Asia Pacific, where his venture into setting up a consultancy website led him down the path of SEO mastery.

With a blend of expertise in enterprise/complex SEO, ecommerce optimisation, speed/performance optimisation, conversion optimisation, and a solid foundation in business, marketing, and computer science, Ash brings a multifaceted approach to search marketing campaigns. His depth of knowledge and experience has seen him play pivotal roles in some of Australia's largest companies, handling everything from SEO for major banks to advising on strategic online marketing for multinational corporations. Ash's approach is informed by a rich tapestry of experiences, including managing SEO for a domain name registrar's agency, where his efforts significantly boosted client visibility online.

An active voice in the SEO community, Ash contributes regularly to blogs, Twitter, and forums, engaging with a broad spectrum of topics within and beyond SEO. His journey highlights the importance of adaptability, lifelong learning, and the serendipitous nature of career paths that led him to become a leading figure in SEO. Despite starting in the field later than most, his work has had a profound impact on the industry, illustrating that it's never too late to pivot to a fulfilling career in SEO.

For those eager to delve into the insights of a seasoned SEO professional or to explore the intricacies of enterprise SEO, Ash is easily accessible through his book's website,, and is open to connections on LinkedIn. Always keen to engage in meaningful conversations, he encourages interested individuals to reach out with more than a mere connection request—perhaps mentioning a podcast appearance or reflections from his book. Beyond SEO circles, Ash advocates for exploring diverse interests and fields, underscoring the value of understanding the broader business landscape in which SEO operates.

The Unscripted SEO Interview Podcast with Ash Nallawalla

Watch the interview

(click on the 'cc' icon to view subtitles)

Listen to the podcast

(56 minutes long)

Unscripted Fractional Enterprise SEO Q&As with Mark A Preston and Ash Nallawalla

Could you share your journey within the SEO field, Ash?

My foray into SEO marks my fourth career trajectory, briefly skimming over the preceding three. Initially, I embarked on a career as an accountant in New Zealand, dedicating eight years to the profession. Subsequently, my journey led me to Australia, alongside my wife, where I engaged with the Royal Australian Air Force for another eight-year stint. Upon exiting, I ventured into what broadly encapsulates as traditional product marketing, despite the variability in job titles throughout my tenure.

At the age of 48, following my redundancy from Macromedia where I excelled as a CRM manager for the Asia Pacific region, I ventured into establishing a consultancy website focused on CRM. My proficiency in SEO, a result of my deep engagement and enjoyment in learning, propelled the website to the top ranking for the term 'CRM consultant' for approximately a decade, despite never formally working in that capacity. A discussion with an American associate about my SEO success led to a referral to his client, who then entrusted me with a minor SEO project. Despite initially identifying as a CRM consultant, the dotcom bust nudged me towards embracing opportunities in PPC and SEO, marking my transition into SEO with a company now known as RingCentral.

This late bloom into SEO at 48 set me apart from contemporaries who commenced their journey in their twenties. Now at 71, contemplation of retirement looms, yet my SEO career has been rich with experiences, including a significant stint at Melbourne IT. As a large domain name registrar with an in-house SEO agency, we serviced over 800 clients, benefitting from the company's unique position as the sole authorised domain seller. This period reminisced the early, less competitive days of SEO, focusing on PageRank and directory sites to enhance client visibility.

Throughout my tenure, working with some of Australia's largest banks and multinational corporations, I gleaned that large enterprises seldom required the same SEO strategies as smaller websites, particularly concerning link acquisition due to their inherent newsworthiness and sponsorships.

An amusing incident involved a senior executive enquiring about our link-buying practices. Despite our success without purchasing links, we acquiesced to utilise his budget for editorial content, which, despite its high cost, yielded negligible impact on our already strong rankings, reinforcing the lesson that content focus trumps link acquisition for large entities.

My final role, at a car selling platform employing 20 journalists for daily car reviews, underscored the diminished need for extensive keyword research in such content-rich environments. This journey underscores the nuanced approach required in SEO, especially within large corporations, and highlights the enduring value of quality content over other tactics.

Do you notice any similarities between SEO for large enterprises and lesser-known brands?

Indeed, there are several commonalities between enterprise SEO and that for smaller or less well-known brands, a topic I've explored in my inaugural book, the first instalment of a three-part series. In it, I delve into the process of hiring agencies, a practice not uncommon amongst medium-sized brands and some profitable smaller businesses, such as professional services offered by accountants or dentists. The key here lies in the meticulous crafting of Requests for Proposals (RFPs) or Requests for Quotations (RFQs), ensuring fairness and consistency across all applicants by posing identical questions and criteria.

My experience spans both ends of the corporate spectrum, from a publicly listed company with a mere 25 employees to colossal corporations with staff numbers in the thousands, housed in significant buildings across several major Australian cities. A notable similarity across these varied environments is the approach to project management. SEO tasks, much like any other project, require adept handling, often employing tools such as Trello, Monday, or Jira, particularly in larger organisations where Jira, given its Australian origins, is prevalently utilised.

Effective communication with other departments, especially development teams, is crucial. Familiarity breeds cooperation; when developers understand the profitability implications of SEO tasks, they're more likely to prioritise them. This was evident in the early adoption of scrum methodologies, where stand-up meetings involved physical circles and tossing a ball to designate the speaker, contrasting sharply with today's digital gatherings on platforms like Zoom.

An illustrative anecdote from my career highlights the shift in company dynamics over time. Initially, SEO was perceived as a nuisance or an afterthought, leading to discoveries of unnotified changes post-factum. This scenario shifts dramatically in companies where SEO is integral, embedded within the company culture, and understood and respected at all levels, including the C-suite.

This brings me to a recurring theme I advocate for passionately: elevating the SEO function within the company hierarchy. In one instance, the inadvertent blocking of Screaming Frog due to a new firewall illustrated the potential oversight and disconnect that can occur when SEO does not have visibility or say in higher-level decisions. Such challenges underscore the necessity for a 'Chief Webmaster' or 'Chief Web Success Officer,' a senior role that ensures the strategic alignment of SEO with overarching business objectives, including domain name decisions and the technicalities of web architecture, such as the optimal use of reverse proxies.

Reflecting on the evolution of such roles, my research into LinkedIn titles revealed a growing recognition of C-suite positions dedicated to web or SEO functions. This trend is a positive indicator of the increasing acknowledgment of SEO's critical role in business success, marking a significant step forward for the profession.

Can you elaborate on what led you to title your book "Accidental SEO Manager"?

Certainly, I've titled my book "Accidental SEO Manager" to reflect a rather serendipitous aspect of the role many find themselves in. The title doesn't just catch the eye; it encapsulates the essence of the narrative I wish to convey. This book isn't penned for the individual SEO practitioners delving into the minutiae of daily tasks. Rather, it's crafted for managers, particularly those who might not have a foundational knowledge of SEO but find themselves overseeing it as part of their remit. This situation often arises not by design but by circumstance, hence the term "accidental".

The core audience for this book, and indeed the series it initiates, is twofold. Primarily, it addresses managers who, due to their broader business education and experience, might not have specialised in SEO. These individuals often possess a general MBA background, enabling them to manage multiple departments, including SEO, despite lacking specific expertise in this area. The secondary audience, especially for the final instalment of the series, is the C-suite executives, who, although they are the least likely to purchase the book themselves, play a crucial role in understanding and supporting SEO strategies within their organisations.

This trilogy is designed to illuminate the importance of SEO, its role within the business structure, and its key components without delving into the procedural specifics of SEO practices. It underscores the necessity for dedicated SEO professionals or agencies to execute the actual SEO tasks. My intention is to provide a resource that elucidates the strategic value of SEO to those who may inadvertently find themselves responsible for it, drawing parallels to my own unexpected journey into the SEO profession and the similar paths trodden by many others. Through this series, I aim not only to educate but also to leave a legacy that enhances the understanding and appreciation of SEO across managerial and executive levels.

For whom is your book "Accidental SEO Manager" intended?

"Accidental SEO Manager" caters to businesses of any scale, ranging from small enterprises with just a trio of employees, including a CEO who values SEO, to larger organisations. It's particularly suited for those who have previously engaged with SEO agencies, perhaps opting for more budget-friendly options, only to be left disappointed by the outcomes. Such experiences may spark curiosity about why their SEO efforts failed to meet expectations. My upcoming second book, tentatively titled "Is Our SEO Working?", continues to target managerial figures. This instalment moves beyond the foundational understanding of SEO, provided in the first book, to address concerns regarding the efficacy of implemented SEO strategies.

This question of SEO's effectiveness is more pronounced in smaller enterprises, where the lack of SEO knowledge is common, and reliance on external consultants or the pursuit of cost-effective solutions can lead to unsatisfactory results. These individuals are the primary audience for my work; they seek to understand where their initial approach may have faltered, how to rectify these missteps, and what constitutes a sound strategy for engaging with SEO agencies in the future. The book aims to equip them with the knowledge to make more informed decisions and, hopefully, to secure more favourable outcomes from their SEO investments.

What have been the most significant learning curves in your SEO career?

Certainly, my most educational experience sprang from what I consider my greatest success. I had the privilege of being engaged by one of Australia's leading banks, a connection made possible through a manager familiar with my previous work. Upon being laid off from my prior role, this manager extended an invitation for me to consult at the bank with a generous daily rate for an initial three-month period, followed by a subsequent six-month stint at a slightly reduced rate. This period marked a profound learning curve as I embarked on the discovery process in an environment devoid of any in-house SEO expertise, effectively starting from scratch.

Over the first three months, I conducted a comprehensive audit, culminating in a strategic SEO plan that included recommendations for assembling the bank's inaugural SEO team. The depth of my findings necessitated a four-hour presentation to convey the audit results and strategy—a significant request given the manager's busy schedule. Impressively, the presentation was attended by various stakeholders, reflecting the importance and interest in the SEO initiative.

My commitment to the bank included a promise of a 10% increase in web traffic within 12 months—a conservative estimate intended to set realistic expectations. Remarkably, following the full implementation of the recommendations, the bank experienced a 10% uptick in traffic in just eight days, with continued growth leading to a doubling of traffic in eight months. These outcomes were not the result of correcting any penalties or major issues but rather the effect of strategic improvements.

Three years after concluding my initial engagement, I was invited back, discovering in the interim that traffic had tripled—a testament to the enduring impact of the SEO strategy I had implemented. This experience underscored the value of complete acceptance and execution of SEO recommendations, a rare occurrence in subsequent roles within companies. It taught me the importance of internal expertise being given the same weight and consideration as external consultants. Companies should not only be open to consultation but also ensure that recommendations, even those from in-house experts, are fully implemented to achieve optimal results. This experience has been a cornerstone of my career, highlighting the profound influence of strategic SEO on business success.

How can SEO professionals forecast the ROI of their SEO initiatives?

Within a particular project at a leading bank, where I was tasked to focus on their credit card segment due to a company-wide quarterly emphasis, forecasting the ROI of SEO efforts posed a unique challenge. Despite the comprehensive support from Google Analytics and the precursor to Google Search Console, quantifying the precise value of a single website visit was complex. This question is pivotal yet often remains unanswered due to the intricate calculations required to ascertain the financial worth of an individual site visit.

At a rudimentary level, one might correlate the total monthly website visits to the monthly revenue, thereby deriving an approximate value per visit. This figure serves as a foundational metric for further calculations. If, for instance, a company aims to boost revenue by 10%, understanding the proportion of visitors that convert into customers is crucial. Through a meticulous analysis of these variables, it's possible to deduce the additional number of visits required to meet the desired revenue increase.

The process involves creating a detailed spreadsheet model where inputting the target revenue uplift automatically calculates the necessary increase in website traffic. I advocate for continuing paid advertising efforts alongside SEO strategies, as the synergy between the two can be instrumental in achieving the overall business objectives.

To truly gauge the ROI of SEO activities, it's essential to gather comprehensive data early in the project, enabling precise forecasts and strategic planning. In contexts where exact figures are elusive, estimating the value of a visit—whether it be $1 or more, depending on the industry and transaction values—can offer a starting point for discussion. For instance, in an insurance company scenario, where transactions involve substantial amounts like annual policies, the value per visit would inherently be higher compared to other sectors.

Ultimately, presenting these calculations in financial terms—be it in dollars, pounds, or any currency—facilitates a more engaging dialogue with stakeholders, as it translates SEO efforts into potential profit and revenue growth, thereby aligning SEO objectives with the broader business goals.

What kind of discussions interest you, and how can people get in touch with you?

Engaging with interested individuals can best be facilitated through the dedicated website for my book, which serves as one of the primary avenues to reach me. Given the nature of my profession, I'm readily discoverable on Google, as any proficient SEO should be. The website in question is, complete with a contact form for ease of communication. Additionally, LinkedIn provides another platform where I can be found with relative ease. Should you wish to connect there, I would appreciate a personalised message accompanying the connection request—perhaps mentioning this podcast or your familiarity with my book to add context to the connection.

Beyond these, I actively participate in various SEO-related Slack channels, which are vibrant hubs for professional exchange and learning. However, I also advocate for engagement in non-SEO Slack channels. This approach is invaluable for SEO professionals, considering our clients span a myriad of industries beyond our own. It’s within these diverse conversations that valuable insights and perspectives are gained. Therefore, whether it’s through my book’s website, LinkedIn, or Slack, I welcome discussions that span the breadth of SEO and beyond, reflecting the diverse ecosystem in which we operate.

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