In Video Veritas: Optimizing Video for Search

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Online video has exploded on the web scene, reaching an ever-growing mass of viewers and participants. Search engine optimization (SEO) is all about going where the audience is, yet the number of search marketers optimizing in the video space has been relatively few. Despite the rapidly-growing technology and the abundance of audience and performance data, search marketers and their clients have been hesitant to enter the space

Over the past few years, there has been a growing shift in attention towards what is being referred to as “new traffic,” a large part of which is coming from online video. To those who have been around the Web long enough, referring to online video as “new traffic” may seem quite peculiar. Online video has actually been around for over a decade, albeit in very poor quality for most of its history.

For the video search space to have become the viable audience and marketing medium it is today, technological advances for creating and disseminating online video, faster and more prolific broadband connections, improved search and user interfaces for utilizing video content, and a wide range of participants (from the enterprise level to the general user community) were necessary.

The advances in video and video search technology, coupled with growing consumer interest, have produced a near revolution in not just the increasingly popular video search spaces, but mainstream web search engines as well – especially the Big 5 of Google, Yahoo!, MSN, AOL, and Ask. This has created a new opportunity for search optimizers that holds vast marketing potential – video SEO.

Video SEO can be defined as the art and science of ensuring that your video content attracts as much traffic as possible from mainstream web search engines, video-specific search engines, and the online user community via organic (free) activity.

But the current video search space is about where traditional search and SEO were back in the late 1990s – an unpredictable, Wild-West boomtown arena. There is a potential goldmine of opportunity, but with many challenges (and pitfalls) for search marketers lacking a proper understanding of the unique complexities of video – not just the optimization and promotion side, but the production and development of it as well. Add the challenge of convincing clients to utilize video SEO in their own marketing strategy, and you start to understand why the opportunity for search marketers and optimizers has been left largely unexplored.

The first step to overcoming this apprehension is a dose of “video SEO education.” This article explores the opportunities and obstacles facing marketers wishing to optimize video content and the video search space, along with promotional tips for building an audience with measurable results any business would envy.

Why Video Search?

SEO has always been about going where the audience is, and the search audience is gravitating more and more towards the video space. Significant facets of the video search audience driving growth that marketers need to keep track of include:

1. Wide audience and engagement levels

According to comScore Video Metrix’s most recent report (released November 30, 2007), over 9.2 billion video streams were initiated in the month of September in the US alone. Roughly 75% of all Americans using the Internet that month watched video at least once. The average video viewer watched 68 videos per month, averaging 2.7 minutes in duration (slightly more than 2 videos per day for a total of about 3 hours per month). This translates to a large number of unique visitors with a high level of media engagement.

According to a Pew Internet & American Life Project study (July 25, 2007), the largest percentage of adults viewing video content choose items in the news category, the segment with the highest trust and engagement level with audiences.

2. Rapid growth

The frequency of watching online video on a daily basis is increasing rapidly amongst adults (the 12-64 year age group): in 2006, 9% were watching online video daily, while the percentage has increased to 14% in 2007, a 56% increase over the year. (Magid Media FuturesTM study June 18, 2007). Various predictions of growth in the next 2-3 years all agree continued increases are likely.

3. Large adult market

An eMarketer report (based on an Ipsos Insight March 2007 study) indicates that 75% of those accessing the Internet in the US who are aged 18-24 have streamed video. Likewise, 61% of the 25-34 year olds and 56% of those aged 35-54 also say they streamed video during the month of December 2006. Since many sources estimate 75%-80% of the US Internet viewing audience are 18 years or older, the adult market for video is substantial.

Bridge Ratings reports (April 4, 2007 press release) that the 35-44 year olds hold the highest percentage of use amongst streaming video and audio users at 33%, with the 25-34 demo just behind at 31%.

4. Higher response rates

More significant is what users do in response to videos they watch. According to The Kelsey Group White Paper “Online Video: A New Local Advertising Paradigm” study (May 24, 2007 press release) , more than half of online video watchers “said they engage in some sort of response activity, such as visiting a Web site, going to a physical location or making a purchase.” Michael Boland, Senior Research Analyst for The Kelsey Group, explains part of this is due to the natural ability of video to elicit an emotional response.

Another factor is technology. “This is likely because those with broadband rates to handle video streaming are skewed towards higher incomes and are more likely to reach buying-empowered consumer groups.” says Boland.

Also important is the PC platform itself. “Users who views ads during a television broadcast are often on their couches in ‘lean back’ mode and are thus unlikely to immediately respond in any meaningful way beyond making a mental note,” says Boland. “Users watching video on their PCs are conversely in ‘lean forward’ mode and are likely engaged in a search process to find a product or service.”

5. Organic video dominates

Even as TV networks gain more share of the online video audience, user-submission sites still dominate the video watching space. The largest user-submission site, YouTube, reached 60% of total US video site visits in May 2007, according to Hitwise US analyst LeeAnn Prescott.

6. Highest search queries

Data provided by Google Trends indicates that there are more search queries done for the keyword “video” than there are for other search properties, including all terms around audio, animation, shopping, news, local, and even the keyword “search” itself.

7. Integration into web search

With universal search becoming an increasingly important and integrated strategy across all of the popular mainstream search engines, video content is becoming indexed and incorporated into default web results. In Google’s web results, you can find image icons next to results featuring video content that may attract more attention at the bottom of a page than a text-only listing at the top of the results page. Add the interactivity of being able to watch the video right on the same page, and organic, free multimedia content can give you much more effective real estate on the page than the highest-priced ad.

A Step-by-Step Strategy for Optimizing Video

Step 1 – Business Assessment

Don’t make the mistake of doing video SEO for its own sake. First, make sure you meet at least one of the following criteria: 1) You already have video content or have already planned to build video content (which can include television coverage/commercials); or 2) Your target audiences have already demonstrated a positive responsiveness to video.

Step 2 – Research

Do keyword research in the mainstream web search engine results, starting with Google. Find out which video search engine and video publisher sites (which accept user submissions) are showing up prominently in the web search results. YouTube is an automatic, so look at other video publisher sites that appear.

From those sites, review the video content on the original site locations. Learn their styles and pinpoint what helps them engage with their audience (especially read any available comments). Find out which social groups and categories are associated with those particular videos and find ones related to your own business model. Follow the dialogue in these groups, and build up profiles and link references to the most prolific posters – people who may later become your evangelists or your critics. Participate in the discussion to learn more about group interests.

Step 3 – Video-Specific Keyword Strategy

For every spot you plan to incorporate video, be sure to actually include the keywords “video” and “videos” around all of your other targeted keywords.

Step 4 – Multiple Content Strategies

Build up a video inventory of all your resources. This not only includes the video content you have for your own business, but also that of your partners, vendors, and third-party news and PR coverage that you can either license or link to or potentially add as clips to your own content. Be sure to follow all fair use legal guidelines.

What if you don’t have readily available content, but know your audience would be responsive to it? Look at other available avenues you can easily create valuable business content for, such as video conferencing, webinars, or presentations. You can even animate audio recordings with photos.

Multiple content strategies can be applied and measured against each other. Here are a few examples of viral content strategies to consider applying, based on how well they match your business model.

  • Educational/Informative – how-to, tips, news, announcements, training
  • Promotional – needs-based, features and benefits, product demos, contents, discounts, premium content, exclusive access
  • Emotional – opinionated, personal experience, storytelling, testimonials
  • Entertainment – humor, “coolness”

Your effective content strategy should be broken down into two groups: those whose attention you first need to get (the portal strategy), and those who are already in a position to be your customers (the website strategy).

“Videos on portals have to be built around the strategy of first getting your audience’s attention.” says Sherwood Stranieri, current Director of SEO at SMG Search. “The goal is to get them back to your website, to view ads and explore your other content.

The content you choose should complement your business model. Pick newsworthy topics and mechanisms of action. Look at which videos are already scoring high traffic in your targeted keywords and content categories and emulate what works. For example, if you’re an e-commerce site, you should follow the buzz, showcase your hottest products and their anticipated uses, and be entertaining. A good example of the importance of the entertainment factor is BlendTec, a company that simply shows video of them destroying popular electronic products in a blender at their site willitblend.com, receiving millions of views.

For portal sites, keep your video content in short-form (1-3 minutes preferably), with the focus more on viral marketing. Again, this is where you just want to get people’s attention and interest to come to your website. An effective portal tactic is to follow current news and buzz, and predict where the buzz will be far enough in advance for you to produce video content timed to be released when it happens. Since the portal sites give preference to video that is fresh, you can piggyback your video on popular keywords AND buzz, which can either directly or indirectly relate to your target audience. Even if it is indirect or just fleeting traffic, it will still be a large enough amount of traffic to become effective viral marketing.

For your website, you have already caught people’s attention, so build on it. Here is where you can do longer-format videos that build on your authority and trust and are the final step to customer conversions. The double benefit is that you now have multiple-length formats of the same video content, which is just as spiderable by search engines, which do not consider multiple lengths of the same original content to be duplicate content or spam.

Step 5 – Optimize Your Video Files

When optimizing the actual video files, there are a number of concerns to focus on. Starting with the most basic, the format of the file and its name are crucial. Some of the most common file compressions that search spiders can crawl and index are: MPEG-4, QuickTime (.mov), Windows Media, and AVI. Avoid having only Flash files, which are generally not indexable for video search results. As for naming files, ensure video filenames are sensible and descriptive, ideally with hyphens or some other form of separating character between words.

Within the in-file metadata, you can include keyword-infused metadata added during the video encoding process. The most important data for SEO purposes includes title, description/clip info, and keywords. Metadata insertion is available with all video encoder tools, including the free ones such as Windows Media Encoder.

To help brand your video, include a company watermark on your video to show others that you are the copyright owner. The starting and ending points are the best place to include this.

Some of the graphics you choose for the beginning and end of your video are important for SEO. Because videos are displayed in search engine results pages (SERPs) as static graphic icons, you should open your video with some simple and legible graphic text, explaining the brand or the video content. The final frame of the video should include a call to action (e.g., visit our site, call this number, download this free whatever, etc.).

One last note as far as YouTube icons are concerned. You have control over which icon you wish to have displayed in YouTube’s search results. Position your chosen image right at either the ¼, ½, or ¾ mark. These are the time stamps YouTube uses to select your icons.

Step 6 – Optimize Your Website

As with optimizing the video files themselves, some video-specific alterations to your website will increase your chances of landing well in the SERPs. One important step concerns site navigation. Make it easy for search engine spiders to find video files with a video-specific directory system. Consider creating a subdomain where all of your video content is featured, which allows for easier crawling by the search engines. Add a video-only sitemap page for optimal search engine spidering and indexing.

As far as optimizing each web page, feature just one video per page for optimal indexing. Each single video should have its own page, with optimized title tags, descriptions, and keywords surrounding the video on the web page. Include at least a text synopsis of the video’s content, and certainly consider including a full or partial text transcript. Include cross-links to other related videos and video categories, again using keywords in the anchor text.

Be certain to keep the video displayed on the page when people click to play it. Include an embedded video player for each featured video, preferably one that allows for social bookmarking links (such as offered at Brightcove) that will also facilitate viral marketing. Avoid using pop-up players, which are not conducive to crawling and indexing by search engines.

Step 7- Manual Submissions

For manual uploads to video portals, especially YouTube, include keyword content for the mostly heavily weighted fields – title, description, and (keyword) tags. Make sure you do this for every video search engine and video portal site (or simply websites with video content that accept user submissions) that show up in the top 100 results for any of your targeted keywords.

It is possible to use multiple-destination video submission tools over manual submission. For example, TubeMogul provides a “one-stop universal upload shop” (as described by Gregory Markel of Infuse Creative, LLC) to major video engines, saving time and energy. They also provide analytics (views, comments, ratings, tracking and analytics reporting, including traffic growth rates).

Time your submissions around breaking news. Google and other sites give a boost to recent videos in their search results, largely since they have found “freshness” to have added relevancy. Plan a video launch strategy that revolves around major news and events in your related industry and with your target customers.

Step 8 – Feeds

Many of the larger search engines allow for RSS feed submission (AOL Video, Blinkx, Yahoo!, etc.). This typically requires setting up an account with each search provider and then submitting your Media RSS (MRSS) feed.

Create and submit the MRSS feed – this will be your optimized “video sitemap” that can be submitted to major search engines and social media sites that accept RSS. The most heavily weighted Media RSS tags for search engines are the title, description, and keywords fields. Also make sure to have your RSS feed validated before submitting.

Google has a new video sitemap program, an extension of their sitemap protocol which enables you to publish and syndicate video content on your website with video-specific tags for better inclusion and searchability into the Google Video Index. The Google video sitemap supports the same enclosures as an MRSS feed, so you can just submit your MRSS feed to Google as an XML file.

Step 9 – Network Socially

Optimization is just the first part of video SEO. Being part of the online social community is almost essential. Dan Ackerman Greenberg, co-founder of viral video marketing company The Comotion Group, explained in a TechCrunch blog post (November 22, 2007) that “not all videos go viral organically – there is a method to the madness.” What this means is that video SEO also requires an online social networking strategy to gather its “buzz” traffic, which often vastly outperforms what organic, algorithmic search results alone can accomplish.

“Viral” video SEO is about generating as many views as possible for your video content. Place your video content on as many video sites as possible, as long as they don’t directly contradict your brand’s image. Video bookmarking services, such as Digg, Reddit, StumbleUpon, Facebook (and specialty services like Dabble and Panjea) make it easier for consumers to manage bookmarks to multiple videos across the Web.

Participate in video groups and social networking groups to market your video content virally. Don’t just be passive with your video content. Offer your own comments, subscribers, ratings, reviews – and request them of others with whom you network as your online “friends.”

As part of the strategy, share an opinion. Sage Lewis, President of SageRock.com and speaker at Search Engine Strategies conferences, said on Search Engine Watch (discussing how to “resonate with an online community” – December 2007) that “others who love and care for the same thing will happily share recognition with you by giving you a link.” A good example of this is Dove’s “Evolution of Beauty” video.

There is an excellent list of video search engines located at Contentinople.com under “Video Sharing Sites” (complete with “Editor’s Picks”) that is a good starting point for your social network strategy. Gregory Markel, Video SEO specialist and founder of Infuse Creative, explains that video sharing “sites have their own ready-built audiences. For the larger ones, see what categories your videos are best suited for. Look for the niches that are best suited to your own video content. You can get greater traffic from smaller sites based on your relevancy to the niche audience.”

Step 10 – Track Performance

As with any type of SEO, tracking the performance of your efforts is essential. There are more and more analytics packages able to deal with the idiosyncrasies of tracking online video emerging as the channel expands. TubeMogul is a good choice for portal-side video analytics (views, comments, ratings, tracking and analytics reporting, including traffic growth rates).

Some of the most important items to track the performance of your videos on your website is by measuring total time spent on each page with video content, along with overall performance metrics for your video directory folder.

Keep updated on technology advances for measuring in-file video performance. Google Analytics is currently testing out updated code that will allow site owners to set up additional tracking parameters on how long people watch the actual video (rather than just time on the web page as a whole) and what actions they take after watching the video. In the future (partially depending on the DoubleClick deal), Google may offer even more options for tracking audience interaction in video.

Challenges for Video SEO

Even at this relatively early stage, video search engine optimization is not without challenges. Video has its own nuances that add more of a learning curve to a search marketer’s strategy. Some of the more challenging are:

Amount of Time Needed for Video SEO

Video SEO can require a great deal of manual, one-by-one, SEO and submission activity. Because video files are typically much larger in size than standard web files (HTML pages and images), having to upload a sizeable quantity of video content is laborious and can require constant attention. The most popular video search engine, YouTube, only accepts manual, individual submissions. Google representatives have expressed no plans to allow for a batch submission and optimization program anytime in the near future.

Dependency on Text

Video doesn’t naturally lend itself to indexing the way text does. It requires additional data: tags, metadata, fully-optimized web pages, text around the video, and file naming. This means that your video SEO strategy will still need to revolve heavily around both traditional algorithmic, website SEO (on-the-page HTML optimization), along with social linking, to be truly successful.

Lack of Standardization of Format

One of the most common online video formats, Flash, is not at all spider-friendly to some search engine crawlers. The irony here is that most of the video publisher sites that accept user content submissions actually use a Flash codec to convert the submitted video.

The Brand Dilemma

Many corporate brands have been hesitant about entering the space, worried about the appearance of being associated with video search sites that are ,by-and-large, depositories of comparatively amateurish quality content that can rip them apart online. The other concern is unauthorized use of corporate video content by third parties online. Once you make it available, it is subject to being repurposed by others.

However, what these companies fail to realize is that by not participating in the video search space, they are really ceding more control over to others, not less. The best way SEOs can help their clients overcome their brand paranoia is by showing them how easily their brand, or other brands, are already showing up in the video search space through their user community.

Conclusion

Video has proven to be a major benefit to any SEO strategy, with an audience and opportunities that will only grow with time. It is naturally more content-rich and relevant than text, more likely to keep current audiences and build new ones, and provides much higher engagement levels that increase one’s customer base. And, despite the current apprehension of the industry and the double-edged sword it can pose with opportunities and challenges, video search optimization will eventually be a requirement for every SEO professional to work with. While video SEO should not be undertaken solely for the sake of creating video, it will eventually be a virtual requirement for SEOers – for the sake of the SEO professional’s own relevancy.

About the Author

Grant Crowell is the CEO for Grantastic Designs, a search marketing and usability firm, and Senior Analyst of ReelSEO.com, a video solutions publication for online marketers.

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