Episode Overview: One inquisitive search is sometimes all it takes to inspire a career change to SEO. FastSpring’s Hamilton Kiah applied his vast portfolio of multimedia production skills to SEO and became a known, trusted digital media strategist. Join Ben as he interviews Kiah on when he first discovered his passion for SEO, how his robust multimedia production skills closely align with core SEO practices and how it has led him to develop a lucrative career.
- Kiah’s expansive multimedia production portfolio includes working on an episode of the VH1 documentary “Behind the Music,” featuring Lenny Kravitz.
- Kiah first developed his love for search in 2000 by categorizing media assets to ensure offline and online editors could pull media quickly. Managing these media assets utilizing this method was an early form of search functionality within digital asset management.
- “Being able to see the big picture was a huge thing working in an entertainment industry or at a marketing agency … And SEO, I feel that’s kind of the same way. A lot of people don’t really understand it. They just think it’s keyword stuffing or words. They don’t realize that there’s so many different aspects of SEO that really … the SEO really encompasses.” – Kiah, explaining how his multimedia skills informed his SEO strategies.
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Ben: Welcome to career day on the Voices of Search podcast. Today we’re going to learn about the skills accumulated and lessons learned from a great SEO throughout the various stops on his career. Joining us for career day is a self-proclaimed mad scientist and music producer turned SEO specialist.
Hamilton Kiah is the digital media strategist at FastSpring, which is a trusted e-commerce partner for companies that sell software around the world. Companies use FastSpring’s full service e-commerce solution to sell more, stay lean and compete big. And prior to working at FastSpring, Hamilton made the transition from multimedia content production and design to SEO stardom.
But before we hear from Hamilton, I want to remind you that this podcast is brought to you by the marketing team at Searchmetrics. We are an SEO and content marketing platform that helps enterprise scale businesses monitor their online presence and make data driven decisions. To support you, our loyal podcast listeners, we’re offering a free trial of the Searchmetrics suite and content experience. That’s right. You can test out all of Searchmetrics’ software for 14 days risk-free, no credit card required. To start your free trial, go to searchmetrics.com/free trial. Okay, on with the show. Here is my interview with the man, the myth, the legend digital media strategist at FastSpring Hamilton Kiah.
Hamilton. Welcome to the Voices of Search podcast.
Hamilton: Thanks for having me, Ben.
Ben: Excited to have you on the show. Excited to talk to a customer from Searchmetrics. Excited also to hear about your path going from some music and multimedia production into SEO. Let’s start off at the beginning. Tell us a little bit about yourself and how did you get into this crazy world of search?
Hamilton: Well, Ben, I’m from Atlanta, Georgia. I moved out to L.A. around 2003. I’ve always loved video and music. Started doing a lot of video production in Atlanta for Georgia Tech.
Ben: Great music scene.
Hamilton: Oh yeah. I love me some Outkast. And I found myself in the right place at the right time. I had some really good mentors. And then 2003, I was invited to come out here for a project and play and that’s all she wrote and I’ve been here since 2003.
Ben: So, you mentioned you were doing multimedia production in 2003, music video. Talk to me about the type of work you were doing before and where do you think there’s overlap between the skills you were developing there and what you’re doing today in SEO?
Hamilton: Well, it’s interesting because when you get into a lot of video production, music production, you always have this organizational cluster that you always try to overcome. And one thing that got me loving search or looking into search were when we were trying to organize all of our media assets, being able to categorize, make sure we had the right meta data so the offline editors and online editors could pull the media fast and so they could be efficient.
That’s, I guess, where my love for search started and once I then started doing more multimedia and that one of those delivery channels being the web started to look at how we could incorporate some of the same search functionality inside of some of these digital asset management tools that we call it today, but this was back in 2000, before they really existed. We wanted to find out how people could find that information online.
Ben: So, you started off, you know, creating content assets and you learn a little bit about sort of tokenization, about how to get content to be searchable and sortable and you had the basic understanding of search. You mentioned that you moved from Atlanta to Los Angeles for a job. What was the job and you know, why did you decide to make the big move?
Hamilton: Well, in 2002, like I mentioned earlier, I was doing some work for SCME, Southeastern Consortium for Minorities in Engineering. A producer director that I worked with was from L.A.. His name was Will Harper. He invited me to come out to California to work on a project with him and I was like, “Sure, I’ll come out to California. What’s the project?” And he was like, “Oh, I’m doing a documentary for my friend Lenny.” And I was like, “Lenny?” He’s like, “Yeah. He’s a rock star.” I was like, “Lenny Kravitz.” And it just so happened.
Ben: Do you know him?
Hamilton: Yeah, Lenny Kravitz is Will Harper’s friend and I was a silent PA for three months out here in L.A. working on his VH1 Behind the Music documentary.
Ben: So, you seem like you have a career that’s getting centered on music production. You’re meeting some big names. When did the search part come in?
Hamilton: The search part came in when I, actually, when I moved to Santa Barbara right around 2007 and I was working for a design agency, full-service agency, called Idea Work Studios. And our clients were like Hard Rock Hotel, all the hospitality, big casinos on the strip. And we started doing a lot of gamified flash experiences.
Ben: Notoriously not search friendly.
Hamilton: Exactly. Not search friendly at all. So me doing a lot of motion design, video, audio editing, we would use Action Script and then when I would do motion designs after effects, we started learning tricks on how we could use two points, chapter markers to pass code from a rendered FLV file that could be read by flash. So then we had to toss it over to our web dev because Hard Rock was like, “Well how can people find this?” Or if it’s a gamified experience, how can maybe people jump to a particular part in the game?
And that’s when really the search began for me right around 2007, 2008.
Ben: So, you’re working with, you know, multimedia. You’re working with a bunch of flash content. Can’t be searchable. The client comes to you and says, “Great. We need to solve this search problem.” What are you doing to make your, you know, your flash content, your multimedia content searchable and where did that help you head in your career?
Hamilton: Well, what we ended up doing is we ended up using a Shockwave Object 2.0 and we would kind of do these dual sites. One was HTML based and one was flash-based. So then during that time your browser, if it was compatible, would read one or the other. We also obviously learned a little bit of the trick of the trades was PR where we got a lot of kind of backlinks per se linking to our gamified experiences, which helped for search ability. But it still never really did the trick. And basically that went away. And 2007 when Steve Jobs made the iPhone.
Ben: Murdered flesh.
Hamilton: Yes. And we kind of had to get away from that.
Ben: I shouldn’t say murdered. It was neutered.
Ben: So, you have this experience where you’re creating music, you’re creating video, you’re creating multimedia experience, you’re getting into gamification. I don’t know if I’d call those SEO roles, even if you’re, you know, forced to sort of learn the dynamics of search. When did you start to feel like you were really an SEO?
Hamilton: Started feeling really like a SEO when a friend of mine, in 2010, his name is Nathan. He … He and I were passionate Muay Thai lovers and he created a site called Muay Thai Authority and he knew my design background so I would come up with like some wire frames and he had connections with different promotions around the globe and he’s like, “Man, I just want to … I want to be known as just the site that people go to for Muay Thai news.”
So this was right around the time also that WordPress was becoming a bonafide CMS. Not nearly like it is today, but we started using WordPress before as a blogging platform. And then right around then is when they started really making moves as a CMS. So it opened up a whole new window for me and we got to really, I would say everything, a lot of tactics back then were black hat, but that’s what I could say that I really started becoming an SEO, or at least I thought I was.
Ben: So, it seems like this was a passion project that you’re working on to create a site around Muay Thai and for anyone who doesn’t understand, Muay Thai is not a plate of food. It’s a type of martial art. Did I get that right?
Hamilton: It’s a martial art and it’s coined as the sport of kings and the science of eight limbs.
Ben: Okay. So, you’re focused on, you know, building the Muay Thai site and you want it to be searchable and so you start studying SEO. This isn’t a career venture. What were you doing at that time to support yourself while you’re developing this asset? And did it lead you into an SEO specific job or did you continue to go down the digital media content production and design route?
Hamilton: Yeah, like I mentioned earlier, it was a passion, so I was still working at Idea Works Studios at the time and this was kind of just a weekend side project. When I would go down to L.A. and train, I would meet up. So it wasn’t anything full time but and then I can still continued. I didn’t really enter into like SEO in a role until FastSpring but I was always doing SEO on the side because I was just fascinated by moving things up in rankings and with the release of webmaster tools and Google analytics. I mean, it just became so much that I just found myself staying up at night with lots of coffee, going to bed at 3:00, waking up at 7:00 in the morning because it was just something that I gravitated to.
Ben: So, you’re a self-taught SEO who does content media production on the side and you mentioned that you had a couple of different roles. How do you think understanding the content production process and some of the other creative work you did helped you become a better SEO?
Hamilton: It’s interesting because if I were to take a slice out from my visual effects, motion design, you know, in visual effects like After Effects you have layers, but if you’re doing visual effects, say in some type of new or smoke platform, there are node base and with nodes you have semantic relationships for effects.
In a weird way, as the tools got more sophisticated, I naturally was able to figure certain things out because of my creative background. Being able to see the big picture was a huge thing working in an entertainment industry or at a marketing agency or a creative agency because clients would come to us that they didn’t have a vision and we had to help craft and morph and present that vision to them.
And SEO, I feel that’s kind of the same way. A lot of people don’t really understand it. They just think it’s keyword stuffing or words. They don’t realize that there’s so many different aspects of SEO that really … the SEO really encompasses. And I think that’s how I became and started becoming recognized in SEO on how I got my job with FastSpring is because since we are a digital commerce, full-service e-commerce platform. We’re a small company, we’re scrappy and they needed somebody that knew media because we, you know, all we do is digital downloads, digital content, software as a service.
So I was able to use my media production background juxtaposed with my SEO search capabilities and then that’s why I’m here.
Ben: So, you mentioned that you’re your first true SEO role even though you learned SEO on the side and were practicing it through some of the work that you were doing outside of your day job, right in, in your hobby life.
Ben: And now you sort of connected the dots to … Why did you decide to move outside of the creative production roles into one that was more digital marketing and specifically organic growth focused? What drove you to the job at FastSpring?
Hamilton: What drove me to the job at FastSpring was throughout my career, I’ve always loved the creative process. I love working with people and I didn’t really find out until later that how much I loved data. That’s what I went to school for. That’s what I have my degree. I was in electronic engineering and telecommunications.
And once I really started to be able to see the similarities between my creative media production background and SEO, I completely fell in love with it. You know, as Google started delivering rich features, SERP features, my video production, adding, you know, your closed captions, and vetting using JSON video into a webpage and then seeing how those rankings would move up and then being able to create video carousels.
It was just, it was like a, I was like in Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. I was just like, I could do no wrong. It was just playing and tasting, playing and tasting.
Ben: I liked the Willy Wonka metaphor. Playing and tasting constantly seems like a good way to be a very big Oompa Loompa. So at FastSpring, it’s your first time being an in house SEO, you still got lots of experience. Talk to me about what you’ve learned moving from digital media, focusing more on driving rankings.
Hamilton: Oh, it’s a continuous uphill battle. The competitive space. I started at FastSpring 2016. When I started there wasn’t nearly as many competitors in the space and everything back then were, you know, we’ve heard the PayPals and the Stripes and so forth. Well, Fast Spring was just a dedicated full service e-commerce platform because we’re a merchant of record and now there’s so many, everybody’s breaking apart. So we’re a monolith, right? We have five different features under one platform where other, like PayPal is known for their payments. They just do payments and then you could get these microservices or third parties and put in.
So it became … I started realizing like how much impact I could have by doing competitive research. Also working with some outside SEO agencies to help do some technical audits. And then it became like a chef in the kitchen. It became, you know, for our payments area, this is how we’re going to combat this. We’re going to create these three webinars. We’re going to create these three product videos. We’re going to go after these third party payment blogging sites to conquest some writeups about these certain features.
And then we were able to mix and match. And that’s where the multimedia came in, how I juxtapose those, because in multimedia development you’re getting all different types of assets, whether it’s audio, video, images, 3D objects, all of this type of stuff and you’re putting them in to one, just one output. And that’s the same thing like with SEO.
And with FastSpring, we’ve seen huge leaps and bounds when combining all of these different elements and assets and I really fell in love with the process. So I don’t feel, like I still feel that I’m a multimedia artist and I’m just layering SEO on top of it.
Ben: Here’s the thing that sticks out to me about your story is that you have a creative background and you spent most of your career focusing on creative content development, but built the technical understanding, right, then have the ability to understand very complex problems. You know, creating video is not a simple solution. Right? And making you know, interesting different formats, webpages, audio and making things truly multimedia and dynamic. It’s very technically complex.
And so you’ve taken that understanding of how to use complex technologies and the vision of what you want to have the end product put together and look like and you’ve been able to move that from actual content production to SEO strategies.
As you think about your career and what you’re building and you have this knowledge of how to build it, you know, how to understand technology and how to apply it to get to an end goal. How do you think about the future of your career? Do you see yourself continuing to be focused on SEO? Do you have broader aspirations? What does the creative do that gets into SEO next once they’ve found their in house SEO role?
Hamilton: The next step for me career wise is really learning more the sales process and marketing aspects of SEO and how it plays a role in generating more revenue for FastSpring. For example, trying to quantify our ROI because it’s so hard with SEO and this is where I currently am and that is being able to, because about 60% to 70% of our inbound leads is from our SEO strategy.
So, it’s being able to quantify that now throughout our, our sales process, whether it’s top of funnel to the bottom of the funnel. That’s where now there’s another layer that I want to tackle is like how are people engaging? And this is where the interactive development comes out. How are people engaging with the content between the top and the bottom of the funnel? What can we do to rapidly change that but have efficiencies in there so we’re not just producing a crap ton of content and throwing mud at the wall to see what sticks, but actually having more strategy behind it.
So what’s really next for me is really figuring out those behavior flows and the engagement of the content, whether it’s, you know, a paid LP coming now, then returning from an organic search and then being put into a nurture drip campaign and interacting with videos or soapbox video and then doing a question or query on a SERP and then coming back in. So that’s the next level for me because I’m not there yet.
Ben: So, what I’m hearing is that you still feel like you have a lot of meat on the bone to not only continue to develop as an SEO but also learn about how SEO is an important piece in a greater marketing and sales funnel.
As you think about, you know, working at FastSpring and continuing to develop your skills and your career, do you have an end milestone? Is there a direction that you’re trying to head? It seems like you’ve always had a good vision of what you wanted to be in or what you wanted to create in terms of content or in terms of a strategy. What’s the end goal in your career look like?
Hamilton: The end goal of my career, to be honest, I really haven’t thought about the actual end goal because it’s always changing and especially now. I would say, if I were to take a grasp at it now, would be more a director of digital strategy. If I were to try to say, because it’s very broad. I don’t want to leave my creative foundation behind, but I also know that natural search is the future. Whether you’re talking about voice, you know, search within inside of games, VR, augmented reality, all that stuff is going to have some type of natural search functionality. So it was hard for me to say exactly where my career’s going now, but I just know that I’m in an exciting space and I’ve worked for an amazing company.
Ben: Truly a creative mind. Hamilton, I appreciate you walking us through your career and talking to us about the transition from working on creative content development into SEO and what the future looks like. Thanks for being our guest on the Voices of Search podcast.
Hamilton: Thank you, Ben.
Ben: All right. And that wraps up this episode of the Voices of Search podcast. Thanks for listening to my conversation with Hamilton Kiah, digital media strategist at FastSpring. If you’d like to learn more about Hamilton, you can find a link to his LinkedIn profile in our show notes. You can send him a tweet. His Twitter handle is Hamilton Kiah. H-A-M-I-L-T-O-N K-I-A-H. Or you could visit his company’s website, which is fastspring.com.
If you have general marketing questions, if you’d like to talk to me about this podcast, or if you’re interested in being a guest on the Voices of Search podcast, you can find my contact information in our show notes, or you could send me a tweet at Ben J. Shap, B-E-N J S-H-A-P.
If you’re interested in learning more about how to use search data to boost your organic traffic online visibility or to gain competitive insights, head over to searchmetrics.com/free trial for your complimentary and risk-free 14 day trial of the Searchmetrics suite and content experience tool.
And if you like this podcast and you want a regular stream of SEO and content marketing insights in your podcast feed, hit the subscribe button in your podcast app and we’ll be back in your feed soon. All right. That’s it for today, but until next time, remember, the answers are always in the data.