The Whys and Hows of Video Search Optimization

More people are viewing video online all the time. Bill Gates is even predicting that online video will replace TV. How important is this trend for you? And how do you get your video in front of viewers? Keep reading to find out more.

The trend began in 2006, with maybe 10 percent of web surfers saying they watched video online. Then Techcrunch reported a survey from Motorola that revealed 45 percent of European broadband users watch at least some TV online. Those numbers date to May 2007; today they’re quite a bit higher.

In fact, let’s switch continents and move forward in time. An article from the BBC in January reported n American online video viewing habits. It noted that the writers’ strike fueled interest in online video viewing, with some sites doubling their audience. About 53 percent of men and 43 percent of women reported viewing videos over the Internet, according the Pew Internet project.

But the age demographics really deserve a look. About 70 percent of those under 30 use video sites. Not surprisingly, the number of people watching videos online is set to keep growing. According to eMarketer, by 2012, 62 percent of the total US population and 88 percent of the online US community will be watching videos via the Internet.

What’s more, the way people watch videos has been diversifying, and that trend looks set to continue. Not everyone watching online video is sitting at a desktop computer. There are the inevitable laptop users, of course, but more people are viewing video on the go as well. Some download video from the Internet for later viewing on iPods and iPod-like players, while others may get on the web using their smartphones and view video directly online. You can thank advanced technology for the growth of the mobile web – and the ability to view online video from just about anywhere.

The implication seems pretty clear: if you have a product or service that you want to pitch to the under-30 set, you might want to consider reaching your audience with online video. And even if it’s aimed at an older crowd, they’re going to be watching online videos – if not now, then soon. Don’t you want to be where they are?

People looking for video to watch online go about finding it the same way they go about finding anything else on the Internet: they use search engines. That’s where many of them start anyway. Google and Yahoo attract video searchers with their blended searches, which display different forms of content in the same list of search results. But they’re not the only ones turned to by video searchers.

There are also specialized video search engines. These search engines and blended search on the majors work the same way, in that both types of engines send indexing bots out to crawl the web, find videos, and bring their information back. When a searcher clicks on a link, they are taken to the site that hosts the video.

But search engines may just be a starting point for many online video viewers. There are also social networking sites, many of which focus on video. YouTube is the archetypical example, of course; there’s also Revver. Searchles also offers some serious video sharing opportunities, with users able to create their own “channels.” Many social sites that offer blogging for their users also make it easy to embed videos within blog entries; I’ll talk more about that later.

The difference between these social networking sites and the search engines is that the networking sites do not crawl for videos outside of their own sites. Users search for videos, yes, but someone searching for a video on Revver won’t find it using YouTube’s search engine – unless another user uploaded the Revver video to YouTube! In other words, as with any social networking site, video sharing sites rely on their users for content.

This distinction has been blurring a little bit. Searchles lets users post videos on their site that have also been posted elsewhere. Google Video lets users embed their videos on other sites; for instance, when I wanted to embed an amateur video I’d co-written into a Zude page, I was able to do so easily. I know that Google Video isn’t the only video sharing site that permits this. And some video search engines not only crawl the web looking for video; they permit users to push video to them.

I’m mentioning all this because it is important to understand the differences in how users find video online. If you don’t understand how the different video search engines/sharing sites work, you will find it difficult to aim your SEO campaign appropriately. Video SEO is a challenge, but it’s becoming more and more necessary as video’s profile continues to rise online.

Your best practices for video search optimization are mostly the same as your standard best practices for SEO – as long as you keep in mind that search engines can’t see video content. Yes, Google says that they can see Flash now, but if you read their blog entry on the subject, you will find this sentence: "Also note that we do not index FLV files, such as the videos that play on YouTube, because these files contain no text elements." So it looks like you’re going to have to worry about optimizing your videos for a while longer. 

Some sites are trying to make things easier for both the search engines and companies with video content. EveryZing, for instance, provides its “ezSEO” service and voice recognition technology developed by BBN to help web sites index large amounts of archived and legacy video and audio content. But what if you can’t afford to hire someone else?

First, as I mentioned, you need to decide who you want to pick up your video. Every site has its own specifications as far as what video format it accepts. Then you need to make your video visible to them. That starts by using the right keywords. That’s right – the key to video search optimization is wrapping your “invisible” video in a layer of very visible text. Have you ever wondered why you so often find videos embedded in blog entries that talk about the video? It’s because the text of the blog gives the video a natural layer that makes it visible.

As to the video formats themselves, I’m not going into any serious detail here; the technicalities of video production are beyond the scope of this article. You can cover your bases by offering three different video formats when posting video to a web page: Flash, Windows Media file and QuickTime. When you submit video files to search engines and sharing sites, you should use the MPEG 4 format. If you’re planning to submit your video clips to multiple video search engines and social medial networks, you might consider using Tubemogul.com.

Video clips should receive their own page; do NOT put more than one video clip on a page. Use all your usual on-page optimization techniques – keywords in the content, keywords in the file name separated by dashes, keywords in the page titles and meta tag description, keywords in the H1 heading…you get the idea. Don’t keyword stuff so much as use them intelligently and let them fall naturally.

As to off-page optimization, link building becomes even more important. Search engines can’t read your keywords directly from your video, so links become an important way to tell them what keywords are relevant. The good news is that video has a better chance of going viral and collecting lots of links. You can encourage this by making it easy for your visitors to save your video’s URL to social media websites. Include Digg, del.icio.us, StumbleUpon, maybe even Yahoo Buzz. Don’t forget to include buttons that let your users send a link to their friends! “Learn more” buttons can help make your page even more sticky.

You can do more than just surround your video with text and get lots of backlinks to it to make it visible to the search engines. What does the URL for your video’s web page look like? Is it really long with parameters and other stuff likely to make a search engine choke? Shorten it and clean it up with mod_rewrite.

It’s also a good idea to build a video sitemap to help search engines crawl your video content. Google has a program called Google Sitemaps for Video that can help webmasters create such a sitemap. It is an extension of their normal webmaster sitemap program.

It’s a good rule of organization to keep like things in the same place, and that’s true with video and websites too. Put all of your video files in one directory. This should be off the root directory. Again, this will help search engines find your video content.

When viewers find your video, it might not be obvious where it’s coming from. So you should brand it. Louise Rijk writing for Advmedia Productions recommends placing your company name, logo and a call to action in the first frame of the video.

There’s a lot of material I didn’t have room to cover. For example, how do you brainstorm ideas for new video content if you’re not sure where to start? The important thing to remember is that videos can be a valuable way to give your business more visibility in the search engines, if you optimize them appropriately. Good luck!

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