Look at the analytics for your site and you’ll see that most of your traffic comes not from bookmarks or referrals, but from search engines. Increasing that traffic is crucial, and is the heart of search engine optimization (SEO).
When adopting video SEO as a strategy to increase traffic to a website, those implementing the strategy have several issues they need to be aware of: the content being offered, the video’s ranking on the search engines, and the overall goal of the strategy. But there are also areas that have to be addressed. These include best practices for implementing video SEO, as well as challenges and pitfalls to avoid in order for the video to attract the largest number of viewers to a website, which is a video’s ultimate measure of success.
Of course SEO video is an outgrowth of SEO, says Tom Wilde, the CEO of Ramp. He stressed that for the use of SEO video to be successful, it is important to understand SEO basics. SEO depends on “two big buckets of effort,” he says. The first bucket would be on-site optimization, which is a website’s “content and links pointing at each other.” The second is off-site optimization that is fueled by Google, Bing, Yahoo, or any of the search engines that examine content beyond how many links point to it, he says. An example of this is how Google mines a webpage to determine the “aboutness” of the webpage’s content, he says.
Search engines employ a few approaches to understand the aboutness of a webpage, or of particular content on a webpage, Wilde says. It looks at the words in the webpage’s URL, as well as the webpage’s title, the body of content, and the links out from, and into, a webpage. “It associates all those things together to try and come up with the best guess as to what a webpage is about,” he says. The search engines do that to try to understand “what is the best piece of content to put in front of a user.”
It Starts With the Content
The key to attracting viewers to a website using a video starts “with great content,” says Richard Glosser, president of Hilltop Digital, a consulting firm that helps companies with digital growth strategies. The video has to be “produced well,” as well as be contextual and relevant, he says. If the video does not contain those elements, it will be not be of interest to anyone, he added.
Sharing Glosser’s opinion for the need for quality content is Aaron Aders, the market research director for DigitalRelevance, which is headquartered in Indianapolis. When it comes to content, the video should provide value to the target audience, according to Aders. But a video should be entertaining as well as educational, and it should increase not only the amount of views by the originally sought after audience, but also grow in views by being shared among that audience, he added.
With that in mind, those who deploy video SEO need to determine what the overall goal is for any specific piece of content, and ensure their technical and creative strategies match up with that goal, says Phil Nottingham, a consultant for Distilled, an international marketing and SEO firm. “Ultimately with video SEO, goals are best served when individually targeted with a specific piece of content, rather than trying to make a single piece of content match up to loads of business and marketing goals,” he says.
Making the most from implementing an online video strategy is Keiser University, an academic institution that is a client of Vertical Measures, an SEO company based in Phoenix. Keiser has campuses peppered throughout Florida, with its College of Golf located in Port St. Lucie. In order to get a jump on the competition in regards to attracting potential students, the college has been posting videos on YouTube, says Paul Zagnoni, a managing partner with the school.
The reason Keiser uses video SEO to promote the golf college is that in golf, there are a lot of videos — such as instructional videos. The administration realized that videos are valuable assets that can be used to inform potential students about what Keiser has to offer, says Zagnoni. That video effort “has been very successful,” he added.
The university’s strategy has been to provide content that students of golf would be interested in, he says. The videos are produced in-house using a microphone and a mid-level camera, Zagnoni says. “That’s what’s good about YouTube; the video’s aren’t expected to be professional productions,” he says.
There are a lot of golfing schools out there, but there are only a handful of golf colleges that Keiser competes with, and those schools are very active online. Therefore the video strategy the college has implemented is to provide a lot of golf tips with faculty and instructors. “Viewers seem to like those because it is a free golf tip,” he says.
Because the golfing videos have worked so well, Keiser University plans to implement a video strategy to promote a firearms school the university has recently acquired, Zagnoni says.
Of course, content is only the start. It is one strategy that goes with other strategies — or best practices — including social media, syndication (such as on YouTube), and getting ranked high on the search engines.
Video SEO Best Practices
The goals of video SEO are always to attract more traffic from organic searches, to increase brand awareness, and to increase the video’s rankings on the search engines, according to Nottingham. When it comes to ranking a website — which is used to determine its placement on the search page — Google is the leader, but YouTube does its own ranking of the videos on its website, according to SEO experts.
Ultimately it’s about getting your content to show up on Google search results — hopefully on the first page, and if at all possible in the top three results, because there is a huge drop-off after the first page, according to Wilde. About 90 percent of clicks to items produced by a search are on the first page, and the remaining 10 percent of clicks are on all subsequent pages. In addition, about 80 percent of all first-page clicks are on the first three items listed. “So there’s a real premium on getting on the first page, and getting to the top of the first page,” he says.
Therefore, those who implement SEO video need to understand the position of the video on the rankings, says Bruce Clay, the president of Bruce Clay, Inc., who added that the general objective of deploying a video is to get traffic to a website. The video imparts on the viewer that by going to the website there is additional data available. From an SEO point of view, those who deploy a video for SEO want to optimize videos in a way to get them to appear on the YouTube channels and cycle within YouTube so that viewers watching the video can be tied into the website of whoever posted it, he says.
However, Wilde adds it is important to know that when it comes to SEO, “[V]ideo is tricky and at a bit of a disadvantage because a video by itself isn’t text.” It is an invisible object of binary content, he says. That means when Google encounters a video file, it does not appear to have the ability to look inside that video to try to understand its aboutness. So the video’s creator needs to help the search engines do that, and there are a variety of ways, he says.
Some of the obvious ways include ensuring that the video lives on its own webpage and is not part of a video gallery (which is also invisible to Google). It’s also important to make sure that the video has appropriate thumbnails around it, that it has a good title and description, and that there are tags around the video, as well as a transcript, Wilde says. However, producing a good transcript “can be extremely time consuming,” he added. Nonetheless, “those are all the onsite challenges.”
The off-site challenges include creating a video sitemap and submitting it to Google and Bing, for those search engines support the documented standard for video sitemaps, Wilde says. Another disadvantage is that Google favors YouTube videos over other videos. Without submitting a video sitemap with good tags and transcripts and a good thumbnail, it will be difficult for a video to surface inside of the search results, as well as in the Google/YouTube video clip, he says.
Clay stresses that embedding a video on a website is an option. However, when a video is embedded, there are rules in how to go about it so it is effective. “If you follow the rules you can get the video to appear in Google search results, and when people click on the video — rather than going to YouTube — it goes to your website,” he says.
There is a way within the website to get representation in the Google search results, and there is a way through universal features so that YouTube results can also appear in the Google search results, Clay says. “You can get both of those pretty effectively,” he added. To do that, the video needs to be associated with some dominant keywords, and the keywords need to be placed in the video’s file name, according to Clay. The keywords can also be placed in metadata and the scripted text, he says. Video can also be optimized for local uses, he added. For local rankings of video, ensure there are keywords that emphasize local properties, he says.
Also, getting viewers to the webpage is the first part; keeping them there is the second part. To increase the likelihood viewers will continue watching a video, producers need to know that research shows if there is a person in the video speaking, it gives the viewer an increased feeling of trust in the website and has a positive influence on conversion, Clay says. What that shows is when optimizing videos, implementation is multifaceted — covering everything from search-engine ranking to content — and can be done so the video performs better on YouTube. If it does not show as well in Google, it can be deployed in such a way that it facilitates “in conversion” within a website, he says.
Challenges and Pitfalls
Of course there are challenges and pitfalls to avoid. A few of those include 1) posting a video that is more focused on entertaining rather than providing value; 2) using a Flash player that is not readable by any of the search engines; or 3) posting a video without any optimization.
Throwing up a video while not doing any optimization means the video is not going to show up in search results, so it is not going to be viewed, Clay says. SEO video is “not a matter of ‘make a video and they will come,’” he stressed. Even in the videos that are successful, some promotion is necessary. “There is a certain degree of ‘buzz’ required to get it to accelerate through the industry and among viewers.” So, without any promotion, “it doesn’t matter if the video is hosted on YouTube or not,” he says.
However, for Glosser the biggest pitfall is using a Flash player that is not readable by any of the SEO engines, so no metadata, titles, transcripts, keywords, or search terms are being exposed. When that occurs, it does not matter if the video is on a website, because its value is not being optimized.
In addition, when a video is syndicated and appearing on lots of different websites, the producers have to avoid a situation where search engines point to different versions of the same content that are on websites other than the home website, according to Glosser. The danger of a video appearing in multiple places is that the search engines tracking the video can be confused, he says. While that could be a problem, the way to deal with it is to have the online roads lead back to the home website, even if a viewer goes first to another website to watch the video content, he says.
Another syndication pitfall is attempting to make a “viral” video rather than a valuable video, Aders says. Producers should not “jump on a trend like the ‘Harlem Shake’ and expect to drive results,” he says. “Focus on value and your video will be shared.”
In addition, it is a mistake to ignore mobile devices, because a large portion of online videos are consumed on mobile devices, Aders says. Producers need to ensure the video is launched in a mobile-friendly format so the mobile audience is not locked out, he says.
And producers should be mindful of placing the wrong content on the wrong hosting platform, says Nottingham. The hosting strategy for any specific video campaign should be based on the content type and the specific marketing goals, he says. Therefore, the easiest way to avoid making a mistake is to ensure the creative process starts with a goal, rather than just creating content and then trying to work out how to “optimize it,” he says.
The Future of Video SEO
Despite the challenges and pitfalls, it is likely that within a few years it will be a challenge to conduct business without video SEO.
Having rich media types such as video throughout a website is going to become a prerequisite of having a site that ranks well in the search results, Nottingham says. Video will become something companies need to invest in just to stay competitive. Ensuring that a specific video really helps with marketing goals will become the core activity of anyone working in video SEO. It will affect both the technical and creative side of video marketing, he says.
Clay echoes that opinion, saying video SEO “is something you’re going to have to do.” Videos increase engagement, traffic, and conversions to websites, which will need to have professional-level videos, he says.
In the more immediate future — within a year or so — video optimization will be simplified by the search engines, Gould says. While there are tools out there to facilitate XML sitemaps and schema. org markup, the SEO video process can still be a bit technical for some, he says. “I expect to see a resource similar to Google’s Data Highlighter for video to make that more accessible,” he added.
This article appears in the October/November 2013 issue of Streaming Media magazine as “The Search for Successful Video SEO.”