Asad Zulfahri is a 27-year-old search engine optimization (SEO) manager from Malaysia, who just celebrated his first anniversary as a digital nomad.
He works for an app integration company called Zapier, as an expert on search engine optimization – a field he has been studying for almost a decade.
I was very curious to find out how Asad got his high-paying remote job while still living in Malaysia, so I asked away.
A Childhood Hobby Can Be Your Ticket To The Digital Nomad Lifestyle
Asad’s interest in making websites goes back to his childhood. At the age of 12, he found out it was possible to make simple web pages with Microsoft Frontpage. He started playing around with it after school by creating small sites on a bunch of different topics like health and nutrition, entertainment, making money, and WordPress.
He also continued reading tips for webmasters, which taught him that one could make money by selling ad space or commissioned posts on websites. The only thing he lacked was more visitors.
To solve that problem, Asad started researching ways to increase his readership. He soon stumbled upon SEObook.com. However, the book was too expensive for a teenager from Malaysia – it cost $99!
Instead of giving up, Asad dropped the author an email, explaining his situation, and asking if he could get a complimentary copy – and he did. It was the most resourceful SEO book he’s ever read, Asad says.
Excited about this newfound knowledge, he quickly applied it to his websites. After several weeks of experimenting with SEO tactics like link-building and keywords, title and meta description optimization, the traffic on his websites increased tenfold: “It grew from 100 to around 1,000 visitors a month, which was pretty decent for a small blog back then.”
Asad capitalized on this by using PayPerPost to earn money from sponsored posts on his websites. Due to the amount of traffic he had, Asad made up to $800 a month – more than your average high schooler!
He really wanted to continue his website business, but his mom was not a fan of this idea and forced him to focus on his studies instead. Asad had to take a long break from writing content for websites.
Hone Unique Skills You Have That Others Don’t
Asad was not able to develop websites anymore through his university years, as he was focused on his computer science degree. However, he at least kept his main blog, which he used to further experiment with SEO.
When his final year was approaching, he realized that there was a lot of competition in the job market for software engineers and web developers. Therefore Asad started looking for ways to distinguish himself from others: “I was OK at university, but I knew I was really good at SEO”.
Soon enough, he found an internship at a local SEO agency. He interned there for 3 months until he finished university, and then they hired him for a full-time position.
The company was really happy with Asad’s work, as he had restructured the company’s SEO, web development, and sales workflow. He managed to cut 2-week project lead times to just 3 days by switching to WordPress as the content management system and choosing to automatically generate web templates instead of manually developing code in HTML. His knowledge was paying off big time.
Keep Social Media Profiles Up To Date To Help You Land That Dream Remote Job
Asad always knew how important it is to maintain a good online presence. Next to his work, he would continuously write articles about SEO on his blog, and later he would share these articles on his social media profiles.
He would also share articles related to SEO to his connections on LinkedIn and Twitter. He says that this helped set him apart from other candidates, as it showed employers that he knew what he was talking about.
This was how he was found by Monster – an American-based employment website (and – spoiler alert – also by his current employer Zapier). He was headhunted to become Monster’s SEO analyst.
Combine Skills From Different Fields to Excel At Work
At Monster, Asad was the first Malaysian hire for SEO. As his manager was based in the USA, and other teammates in the Netherlands, he was working semi-remotely. He spent most of his days working at home or in cafes around the city, but he would also occasionally travel to the USA to meet his manager and go to tech conferences.
Asad realized that his computer science background gave him a huge advantage. He was able to cut project timelines to just 24 hours instead of 14 days: “I proved myself technically able to make changes in the backend, frontend, and databases directly. My manager helped in getting direct access to various systems like production databases, tag management, test servers and additional development machines so I can create automation for SEO.”
Asad was happy with his job at Monster, and his employers were extremely satisfied with Asad’s results. During his employment, Asad helped increase their website’s organic traffic multiple times. In three months, he also became the technical lead and hired a few people for the local SEO team.
Asad’s ability to deliver paid off – Zapier marketing director Danny Schreiber took notice of Asad’s great work. He dropped Asad a message about applying to the company for a job on Twitter. Though Asad was a little skeptical about this sudden encounter at first, he quickly sent in his resume when he heard about the company’s remote working culture. After 3 rounds of interviews, Asad was flown to Zapier’s office in Mountain View, California and officially joined the team as their SEO & Growth Manager.
How Being a Remote Worker Helps Asad’s Personal Growth
Being a remote worker has so far been a liberating experience, says Asad. It gives him the freedom to travel and develop a work-life balance. He works 8 hours a day, split between two sessions in the morning and at night. This allows him to catch up with the team in the US in the morning, and the teams in Europe at night.
However, when he was just starting out, it was hard to tell his friends and family about this great opportunity: “My friends thought I was joking and my parents thought I was playing games in my room! Working online has a bad reputation in Malaysia and I’m working on changing that perspective by encouraging my friends to apply to Zapier or any other companies with a remote working culture.”
Since he knew he could work from anywhere, he decided to ditch Kuala Lumpur and joined a Hacker Paradise retreat in Lima, Peru earlier this year. Asad says that it was a good break from working from home: “I was always working from home and I was slowly going crazy. I wasn’t talking to people, and I eventually got really sick. Having people to connect with helps you a lot.”
Asad fell in love with digital nomad retreats and their sense of community. After joining Hacker Paradise, he moved on to travel around Europe, USA, and Canada, and is currently in another Hacker Paradise retreat in Southeast Asia. He says that being able to work remotely also gave him an opportunity to volunteer in really cool events, including TedXBerlin, and speak at a conference in Atlanta.
When I asked Asad if he would ever go back to being a typical employee in Malaysia, his answer was a definite no: “I get paid 10 to 15 times more than the average Malaysian, and one of the biggest reasons why I wanted to work at Zapier was because it was triple the pay I was getting at my previous job at Monster. Plus there was the perk of being able to work anywhere.”
How to Become a Great SEO Analyst
Asad says that SEO is actually very easy and it only takes a few weeks to a month to really understand the concept of SEO. Asad gave me some of his most insightful tips on SEO (and about remote work in general):
- Best website to learn about SEO is Moz.com, as it is regularly updated and has tons of guides;
- You also need to be good at understanding website analytics because at the enterprise level you would have to do a lot of experimentation and beta testing;
- One great way to learn is to set up your own site and do a lot of testing and experimentation. This will help you get an understanding of what’s working and what’s not, instead of relying on rumors;
- Developing good written communication skills is very important, especially as a remote worker, as this is how teams communicate most of the time;
- It is crucial to mix around with different people in your team in order to understand their style of communication, as people in the corporate level talk differently from software engineers;
- Having an online portfolio will definitely help because that’s where recruiters are looking now;
- Be willing to offer help to people when they ask about SEO because you’ll never know down the line what opportunities they might give you.
Interested in Following Asad’s Footsteps?
Check out these online courses to learn more about how to become a successful SEO manager like Asad:
- Complete SEO Training + SEO for WordPress Websites;
- SEO Training Course: Proven SEO & Link Building Tactics;
- SEO Training & Link Building: Backlinks And Keyword Research.
To learn more about Asad’s work, check out his website, and follow him on Instagram.
P.S. Asad says it’s been hard to explain about his remote work lifestyle to people in his home country. Are you facing the same problem? If so, how are you overcoming that? 🙂