In the world of search engine optimization (SEO), we often say “content is king”, referring to the importance of having high-quality, highly relevant text content on a site. Search engines are “blind” to images, Flash, and video the way we experience them; they can only understand text and markup. When crawling Flash and video, they see only a black box. This can be particularly troubling for a Web site which exists primarily to showcase images or video, such as a photography portfolio or a video blog. These challenges make it especially important for such highly visual sites to give extra care to SEO.
This post focuses on video optimization; check back soon for Part 2, which will cover optimization of image-centric sites.
Despite the challenges, videos have a couple of advantages over other content. First, because Google thinks it’s important to return a mix of content types in its results, it actually gives extra weight to videos. Second, although there are hundreds of thousands of hours of video online, many of these are not indexed because they are self-hosted and were never properly submitted to the search engines. Finally, videos have a stronger tendency to go viral than other media types, increasing their potential for back-linking. Take care to optimize your videos and submit them properly and their full potential may surprise you.
1. Make your video engaging. When creating your video, remember your ultimate goal is to capture and hold the attention of your viewers. If they like it enough, they may explore the rest of your Web site, subscribe to future content, and share with others. Give special care to length; as soon as people get bored, they move on without sharing the video or checking out your site.
2. Hosting choice is important. When posting a video online, your first decision is whether to host the video yourself or on a third party site (such as YouTube or Vimeo). Third party sites have a couple of advantages. For one thing, they handle the bandwidth issues of hundreds or thousands of viewers watching your video so you don’t have to. In addition, hosting with them makes it unnecessary to submit your video to search engines directly. Finally, they have the advantage of pre-established high domain authority and a wide viewership; however, these sites also have the potential to suck link juice away from your site.
Hosting a video on your own site will keep all the juice internal, and you can also include custom metadata in your video files. Unfortunately, it will also reach fewer viewers and will be fighting an uphill battle to go viral, not to mention bandwidth constraints. SEOmoz suggests leveraging the strengths of both by hosting in both places if you have the bandwidth, with titles tailored to each.
3. Funnel people to your site, then give them a reason to link there directly. Assuming you choose to host your video with a third party, place a link early in the video description. In addition, if you have a large blog readership which follows your video to YouTube, YouTube may include an “As Seen On” link to your blog. Although neither will be followed by search engines, they will make viewers likely to visit your site themselves and look around.
Once you have them there, provide content around the video to make your site more valuable to viewers than the third party site. For instance, include a second part or a transcription of the video, or perhaps add your own commentary. If your site provides more value than the third party, viewers will be more likely to link directly to your site, building you links and a potential readership.
4. Title is a big deal. For potential viewers, the title is the first selling point of a video. For search engines, it is possibly the single most important item. Search engines give video title tags a great deal of weight over other meta information. That being said, don’t neglect other metadata such as tags and categories.
5. Give the search engines something to crawl. When practical, get a transcript of the audio and place it near your video. You can use a speech-recognition service to speed up the process, though you will want to clean it up manually with a human touch. You can also use paid human transcription services such as the one offered by SpeakerText along with their transcription embedding tool. YouTube recently began offering a captioning service and appears to index the content it generates. There is as yet no indication whether other search engines crawl these captions as well.
Well-written video descriptions are also vital but are often neglected. Remember, this is the one place on a third party site where you can provide specially crafted content for search engines to digest. Instead of writing a sentence or two, write a few hundred words.
On your own site, make sure the surrounding content is well written, targeted, and clearly coded. Search engines take context into account when considering videos.
6. Encourage comments and ratings. There is some speculation Google understands a highly rated video on a site like YouTube is also a highly authoritative video, so encourage viewers to rate. Meanwhile, comments show interaction with your video, something which looks good to viewers and search engines alike. They also provide a bit more content, often targeting long tail search terms. Add an annotation at the end of your video reminding viewers to rate and comment if they enjoyed the video.
7. Link internally using playlists and video responses. As with any Web site, building links internally strengthens SEO and has the potential to lower bounce rate. In addition, your video will be seen by a wider audience as viewers browse for related content.
8. Don’t forget to make a Google video site map. A video site map follows the site map protocol and includes a few video specific tags. Check out this video site map guide for some specifics, or read the article in Google’s Webmaster Help.
9. Submit to all the right places, in all the right ways. YouTube and other major video hosting sites are crawled and indexed regularly by the major search engines, but if you choose to host the video yourself you will want to submit it manually. Most search engines provide a way to submit video as an XML feed. Be sure to track down and read the specific guidelines of each, as they are not all equal. See this post over on SearchEngineWatch for a few more specifics.
Online video can be a powerful form of marketing if you know how to leverage it. Careful SEO of video pages and sites will make a world of difference to the return you see on your video investment.