Make Your Videos Rank on the Search Engines

There was a time when web pages consisted mainly of text and perhaps a few static images to add a little color and interest. Many web sites are still like that, but by and large the web has become a lot more dynamic and interactive. One sign of this is the popularity of videos. If you’re thinking about including videos on your web site, that’s going to affect your optimization strategy.

There’s nothing wrong with continuing to keep it simple, but your visitors are likely to want and expect more. Plus videos are a great way to attract those visitors in the first place, and the issues with the slow download speeds experienced through dial-up Internet connections are becoming less of a problem every day. A new survey from Nielsen/NetRatings shows that more than three out of every four active users of the Internet at home connect via broadband. These broadband users also spend about a third more time on the Internet than dial-up users, and view twice as many pages as dial-up users.

But it isn’t just pages of text that they’re viewing. According to a survey of 2,600 adults conducted by Burst Media in November, three out of every four men on the Internet watch video content — as do more than half of the women online. Almost half of the respondents watched news clips; other content viewed included movie trailers, comedy, music videos, and TV shows and clips. The point is, video is becoming an integral part of the web surfing experience for many people, and you don’t want to get left behind.

Assuming you have some good video content to put up, however, that raises a question. We all know that search engines are most comfortable with text, and have problems indexing other kinds of content, including video. If most of your visitors are finding your site and your content through the search engines, how are you going to let them know about all the great videos you have posted to your site? There are certain techniques you can use to help the search engines find your video content and index it correctly so that searches on the relevant keywords will bring up links to your site. In fact, since video optimization is in its early stages yet, you might even be able to score highly for broad-based keywords you wouldn’t dream of putting a lot of effort into with conventional SEO.

You could start with the items that you already know the major search engines can index well. The most obvious of these is text. So you might consider including a transcript of the video on your web site, or at least a summary that hits on the key points. Having transcribed some lengthy video myself, I know how time-consuming that can be. Fortunately, that’s not all you can do to help the search engines find you.

Remember your basic SEO skills and look to where you can optimize. For example, what file name did you give the video? Was it something like "122706-tut.mov"? That might have meaning to you, but it means nothing to a search engine. Try for something a little more descriptive, like "December-SEO-Basics-Tutorial.mov" to help both the search engines and your visitors know what that video contains.

File names aren’t the only place you can insert keywords. Just as you would optimize a landing page for an ad with keywords, you can also optimize the web page that launches the video. Including a summary of the video on that page will help optimize its content. You should also optimize the page’s description in the HTML with keywords. And by all means, take advantage of any anchor text opportunities.

As I’ve already mentioned, because these are the kinds of things that many people still overlook for video, this part of the field is wide open. At SES Chicago, Gregory Markel of Infuse Creative observed that "Optimization of video for search is like optimizing your website for AltaVista in the late ’90s." In short, it makes you a lot more visible to web surfers because not everyone is doing it yet, so with some straightforward optimization you can get good returns. This means you can set yourself up to rank for phrases like "travel video" or other broad keywords and hope to be spotted.

If you really want to make sure the search engines spot your videos, you can submit them. As John Leicht from Intuit pointed out, "The search engines themselves are very open to working with you. If you have good content, they are happy to help. Call them!" Top engines include Yahoo Video, YouTube.com, AOL Video, Google Video, and Singingfish.com. Blinkx and SearchForVideo are two other sites worth submitting videos to, and you can probably find more with a little research. All of the sites have helpful guidelines.

You wouldn’t dream of not having a site map page for the text on your website. What about a site map for videos? The site map itself would be in text, of course, which is easier for the search engines to index, and you could include a few words describing each video. As mentioned above, it’s a great opportunity to make the most of anchor text. You will want to keep the video site map under 1,000 links, so if you have a huge library of videos you may have to plan your map carefully.

What should you do if you’re a publisher with lots of time-sensitive content? If your videos follow the headlines, as would be expected for a news organization, you might want to use a paid search campaign to lure web surfers to your site. It’s very difficult to get to the top of the SERPs within 72 hours for most keywords with a strictly organic SEO campaign — and that’s the time frame a news publisher needs to achieve after a big news event. But a PPC campaign can get you where you want to be — in front of people searching for timely information — much more quickly.

Remember to use keyword research tools. They work perfectly well for text content, and they will work just as well for video content. Be willing to expand the tools you use. For example, YahooBuzz is worth a look if you aren’t checking it already.

While you’re likely to have better results with broad keywords when you optimize for video than text, you shouldn’t forget your favorite niche keywords. If you include those as well, you’ll be optimizing for both the long and short ends of the search tail.

If your site is set up for RSS feeds, make sure to include your videos as part of the feeds. You can even do more than just an RSS feed for your videos. If they’re likely to be of wide interest, you should also look into doing an Atom feed, iTunes feed, and/or MRSS feed. If you have several shows with episodes (like an ongoing podcast or TV series), you will want a separate feed for each show. If you simply have a collection of videos, one feed should do the job just fine.

In addition to the video search engines and regular search engines, you may want to submit links to your videos to the social search engines. For example, Dabble is a social bookmarking site that is specifically dedicated to video. Searchles lets its users bookmark both text and video; it makes it very easy for users by running the video right from its own website if the video is from YouTube or Google.

You should host your video on your own site whenever possible. When you do submit it to another web site or video search engine, you should submit it with the highest encoding quality permitted by the site’s guidelines. According to Ben Wills, writing in his Social Media Marketing blog, "One theory is that the video quality can actually gain more visibility, but a higher quality also means a greater chance for services that transcribe audio for content to use in ranking algorithms…that’s a good thing."

If your video is going to be making the rounds, you should add a watermark to it so that web surfers know it’s yours. Even if you don’t think it’s going to travel far and wide, with the viral nature of the Internet you never know what’s going to catch on. Including a watermark of some kind in the video will help promote your brand. And if you want to encourage that kind of viral awareness, by all means include a "call to action" at the end — something discrete that encourages the viewer to share the video with a friend, or visit your website, or something equally straightforward.

Keep in mind the diversity of web surfers who will view your content. Even if the majority of them are connecting via broadband, not all of them are using the latest products from Microsoft or Adobe. So encode your video using multiple file types, and offer both higher- and lower-bandwidth downloads. Remember that when you encode your video in different file formats, you will lose the meta data that you put in, so you need to add it again after you encode.

Lee Odden pointed out in his blog some of the excellent benefits of video search traffic: "it’s free, it’s viral and it can still be easily controlled for certain groups of phrases." If you have some good quality videos in your site’s field, you will want to use them to attract that traffic. By raising your profile in the video search engines with the tips from this article, your site may benefit from increased brand awareness in your target market.

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