Building a Video SEO Strategy
The core tactics of technical Video SEO are pretty easy to pick up. You can read through the bulk of what there is to know about getting rich snippets, optimizing for YouTube, and driving links back to your site within a couple of hours. While advice on these tactics will adjust and evolve as new technologies and iterations of the algorithm are released, there is an evergreen side to video marketing; one that both SEOs and creative marketers consistently fail to comprehend. And that is...
Defining and implementing a goal-driven strategy.
Creative agencies often fail at this, simply because they don’t know how SEO works. Most creatives don’t understand the full consequence of embeds or pointing to YouTube and Vimeo rather than to a company’s site. Typically they don't understand how to get rich snippets, and so typically fail to get companies the SEO benefit due to them for the content they invest in.
SEOs fail because most have no say in the creative process for video, and are typically invited to do “video optimization” after the video has been shot, cut, and edited. Such a process ends up looking a little like this:
- Take a look at the existing content.
- Work out what goal best suits that content.
- Implement the appropriate technical optimization.
And this is the consequence...
Thus follows the often observed, awkward disconnect of marketers attempting to make promotional product videos “go viral.”
As with copywriting, content creation, and development, success in the video space looks like "integrating the creative and the technical aspects of SEO."
For video, this means taking a goal driven strategy from inception to launch:
- Define the business goals.
- Define the appropriate audience, hosting, and promotional strategy for the goal.
- Create content that matches the business goals and the audience demographic.
In this post, I want to take a step back and outline the core goals I believe video can provide for SEO, the kind of content required for each goal, and the common mistakes made by companies both big and small in this field.
Consider this post a prequel to my last SEOmoz post which has more explicit tactical details on how to match the creative ideas to the technical implementation required.
Possible Goals for Video SEO
Video rich snippets have a higher click through rate than normal organic results, and so are an incredibly valuable asset for the kind of pages you want to drive a lot of search traffic to, directly from the search results. In the vast majority of instances, these pages are typically “product” or “category” pages in some form.
In the simplest terms, you can get rich snippets by self hosting your videos and submitting a video sitemap. Google is currently unable to read the “quality” of content outside of YouTube, so it actually doesn’t matter what kind of content you have if you’re trying to get a rich snippet. Indeed, for the more grey-hat minded...it's even possible to get rich snippets for images that are just encapsulated in a video container format.
Common objection: can I not get Rich Snippets for YouTube videos?.
It’s not impossible to get a rich snippet back to your own site with a YouTube video. Yoast’s Video SEO Wordpress plugin (which is excellent, by the way) offers a method of doing it. However, this and other methods only work with a hack and when the video isn't performing particularly well on YouTube, making it strategically redundant. If a video is not returning many views or generating engagement on YouTube, then it’s doing nothing except devalue the overall quality of a channel and restrict the ability of that channel to rank. Especially when you can get secure hosting for free, there is no reason to do that.
Video can be a fantastic way to improve conversion rate, again, particularly for commercial landing pages. Appliances Online have created videos that are a fantastic example of undertaking this goal driven strategy with immense success.
A user who watches an Appliances Online video is twice as likely to convert and spends 9.1% more money on average. When considering the average price of white goods, it’s not difficult to work out how quickly those videos will pay for themselves.
These videos work because they carefully take into account the context of their target audience, which is “on the cusp of buying a washing machine.” The videos bridge the gap between interest and conversion, by engaging on a personal level with the likely questions and concerns of the interested party. Conversion videos should be informational, rather than promotional; more “shopping channel” than “TV ad.” However, these videos do not need to be "product" focussed, and can just as easily be created for service sector businesses.
Earlier this year, Kurtz and Blum, a Law firm in Raleigh, North Carolina - created 53 videos for $4000 ($75 per video) - each of which describes, on a very personal level, a specific service that they offer their clients in need of legal advice. Through this work alone, Kurtz and Blum saw a 14% month on month increase in traffic.
Videos for conversion should also almost always be self-hosted or hosted with a secure third-party solution, rather than put on YouTube. Why? Because these videos should invariably also be used to get rich snippets and drive additional traffic to the "money pages" of a website.
Common objection: can I put this “conversion focussed” content on YouTube as well as securely hosting?
Usually not, for the following reasons:
1. It’s very difficult to target specific, product focused videos to a different keyword
If you put content on YouTube as well as self hosting and embedding the content on your site, one of the ways of ensuring YouTube doesn’t outrank you for your site is to target this version to a different keyword. However, as with the Appliances Online example, if you have a video about the "Bosch Classixx Washing Machine," it’s very difficult to find more than a couple of variations of relevant keywords.
2. Potential cannibalization of shares and links
If potential customers/influencers share your YouTube video rather than your product page, you miss out on the link equity. This can also affect sales and word of mouth marketing, as product videos invariably make little sense outside of the context of the supporting page. Especially if you want to retarget visitors with PPC ads, driving customers to your site has to be the goal; and duplicating content on YouTube can hinder this.
3. Devaluing your YouTube channel for SEO through lowering the average quality of content
From some tests I’ve run at Distilled, I think there’s reasonable grounds to believe that YouTube algorithmically rate channels based on the cumulative and average “quality” of the content uploaded. Practically speaking, if your videos have all been very popular, your channel and new uploads will tend to rank very well. Conversely, if your channel has lots and lots of videos on it, few of which get much traction, then the SEO consequence is negative. Therefore, adding a whole bank of product videos (most of which probably won't do very well) can serve to dramatically devalue your channel. It’s possible to mitigate against this by creating a new channel for your product videos (as Zappos have done), but you run the risk of setting this channel up for failure to a greater or lesser extent.
4. Generating negative brand awareness.
YouTube is a community platform, as much a social network as a search engine. For users discovering your brand, you want the first touch to be a positive demonstration of your identity and quality, which video can both help and hinder. Attempting to sell users a product before they’ve visited your site often isn’t going to work very well and you can turn off those who would otherwise have been positively disposed to your presence on YouTube. Product videos aren’t created with the intention of building brand awareness and as such, and they normally do a pretty bad job of it.
Video is a fantastic form factor to improve brand awareness, as it's an easy way to display the ‘faces” of a company, either through actually filming the people who work there or by explaining the “character” of the company through the integration of story, imagery, and sound.
There are fundamentally two different methods of improving brand awareness through video: you can either pay for it, or generate it organically.
In both instances, the best place to host such video is on YouTube, the world’s second biggest search engine and absolutely best place to put video that you want to be “seen.” (You should also put branding video on other platforms too, such as Vimeo).
To generate that awareness organically, you need to create “a creative story, attached to your brand.”
If you’re willing to pay for the awareness, either through YouTube/Google Display Network Advertising or viral seeding services (I recommend Unruly Media), then you can alternatively create content in the traditional, promotional “Tv Ad” model. However, to get the most bang for your buck from CPV advertising, you should make sure any video you plan to seed is under 30 seconds in length.
Common objection: I don’t have the money to build anything that good, but want to have a YouTube presence. Why can’t I put my product videos up there?
While YouTube channels featuring a large number of product videos can be ROI positive, especially when combined with a paid video advertising campaign, my experience is that they are far less ROI positive than seeding a targeting ad campaign through YouTube advertising and having rich snippets point back to the product videos on the business’s own domain.
As well as creative stories, tutorials are also a great way to build up your brand identity as experts in a specific field. These can be extremely simple, easy to make either through filming physical products and providing advice...
...or for software/services businesses, this can be done very simply using screencasts or by recording lectures/conferences e.g. SEOmoz Whiteboard Friday.
Links and Social Shares
Typically, the best way to get links back to your site with video is to create valuable and useful video content that simply does not make sense in isolation from a wider mixed-media page type. A perfect example of this technique is the Simply Business guide to WordPress that currently has 137 linking root domains according to Open Site Explorer.
Alternatively, another way to build links and shares back to your site is to take the kind of video you should create for organic brand awareness, but securely host the content on your own site, rather than putting it on YouTube and Vimeo.
Under this model, you'll also need to ensure you provide an embed code that features a text link at the bottom back to your site. I've built a tool to help you do this quickly, which can be found here.
Summary of Goals and Content Type
Common objection: can I target more than one goal with the same bit of content?
Yes. But, you probably shouldn't. That’s not to say you can’t use the same piece of content for two different goals, but when you do, you typically dilute the return you’re going to get, either because your content will not be particularly well suited for the goal, or because the technical implementation will cause compromise.
In most instances, it’s much more effective to directly and exclusively target one of the goals, rather than attempt to do everything with one piece of content. However, do remember that conversions and rich snippets should always be treated as conjunctive goals; as essentially two facets of the same strategic approach.
So what does a fully comprehensive Video SEO strategy look like?
With some variance dependent on vertical and business model, companies looking to achieve all of the above should look into creating four different kinds of content: one to target each marketing specific goal and audience demographic :
- Video created to improve conversions (with video sitemap submitted to get rich snippets)
- Video created to increase brand awareness through inbound channels
- Video created to increase brand awareness through paid advertising
- Video created to drive links and social shares back to the company’s site
I hope you found this post a useful resource. If you're interested to read more about the ideas and approaches suggested, then I've written a very large (but pretty comprehensive!) guide to online video marketing which can be found here.
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