The importance of search engine optimization (SEO) for businesses is growing every year. To understand why, you need only ask yourself when the last time you picked up a phone directory was. Search engines such as Google are where consumers turn for information, whether on a computer, laptop, tablet, or smartphone. Although competitors such as Bing and Yahoo! are solid alternatives, Google commands more than 80% of the worldwide search engine market.
Forrester Research, Inc. predicts that in 2012, U.S. companies will spend more than $21.5 billion on search marketing. About 90% of this total will be on paid search (such as Google AdWords), about 9% on SEO agency fees, and about 1% on SEO technology (online SEO reporting).
Organic vs. Sponsored Search Results
When I first read these figures, I was a bit surprised at the allocations, considering the findings from a 2011 User Centric, Inc. study in which participants' searches were tracked using eye-tracking technology. The study revealed that sponsored results above Google organic search results were looked at 90% of the time and, on average, for only 2.8 seconds. Compare this to the 100% of viewers who looked at the organic search results and spent 14.7 seconds, and the 28% who viewed the right-hand-side sponsored results for an average of 4.4 seconds, and you'll appreciate just how important organic search engine results are for driving users to websites.
Within organic search results, SEO marketing company Optify measured click-through rates on first-page results and found that 36.4% of searchers clicked on the first result. The remainder of the top five results had click-through rates of 12.5%, 9.5%, 7.9%, and 6.1%, and the bottom five ranged between 4.1% and 2.2%.
That's a lot of studies and stats to analyze. But the obvious conclusion is that organic search engine results should be the goal of most SEO campaigns, yet businesses are spending 10 times more on paid search results (which don't include display ads, which account for about the same level of spending as paid results do). Flip that around, and you'll realize that if you could solve the SEO problem and generate top-level organic results, you could tap into a huge potential market for your services among prospects searching for the type of services you offer online. Read on, and I'll show you how video producers are well-positioned to offer a solution to that problem.
Caption: Video results with screen shot, within organic Google searches
Enter Social Media
Increasingly, social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn are important drivers for traffic. While social media has been credited with an increase in consumer interaction, marketers often forget that the goal of social media from a strictly sales perspective is to drive traffic to your company website. This is an important point, and I'll come back to it later when I discuss video SEO and YouTube.
The way Google calculates search results is a topic of much debate. Part of the challenge in SEO is that the algorithms that Google uses change all the time in an effort to keep results relevant, as well as to discourage "black hat" SEO marketers who use tactics that aren't approved by Google. What we can agree upon is that content-rich websites, with lots of links from other webpages, and keywords in the body, titles, description, and metatags will rank higher than ones that lack relevant content, keywords, and links from other websites. Flash sites also do poorly because Google can't index those sites as easily as HTML ones. SEOmoz assembled a 132-person expert panel for its 2011 Search Engine Ranking Factors report, and those experts' collective wisdom produced a nine-factor broad algorithm of what is important for search engine rankings.
As the owner of Shawn Lam Video, a Vancouver Video Production company, I've been really frustrated with how difficult it has been to maintain a high organic search ranking for my key search terms. One effective way is to get lots of links from other websites in the form of search terms, rather than in the form of URLs. For example, you'll note that I hyperlinked Vancouver Video Production in the first sentence of this paragraph on purpose--it not only points back to my website but it also tells Google what search terms to connect with my website.
Not every link is equal. What is also important is that websites that link to your website are both relevant and authoritative; they will then pass on lots of link juice (authoritative and link juice are both SEO terms).Unfortunately, for every high-quality and relevant link earned, I've found that some of my competitors can purchase links or commission an SEO company to generate bogus links for them, and the sheer volume of low-quality links can equal or outweigh a normal quantity of high-quality links. There is also no shortage of SEO companies that are willing to guarantee you first-page rankings; I get an email or telemarketing call offering SEO services on a weekly basis. Part of the problem is that their black-hat methods can still produce results, and companies covet high search rankings so much that they keep paying these companies, which perpetuates the cycle. Stick around; as promised, I'm going to present you with a white-hat solution that offers additional benefits. But first, here's a little history.
The Video SEO Dark Ages
Several years ago, when high-bitrate videos were 500Kbps Windows Media Player files that had to first be downloaded and then played in Windows Media Player, I hosted my own videos on my website hosting package and allowed my clients to link to the videos from their websites. This generated lots of traffic for me but also, and more importantly, links to my website. I was also fortunate enough on the SEO side that some of my early clients produced sports model competitions, and those videos were popular on early online forums, generating traffic and link juice for me. With videos hosted on my web server, viewers didn't even need to visit my website in order to generate traffic and links for me; they had only to view a video that I was hosting. For a few years this helped me maintain the No. 1 spot for my most valued key search terms.
But all this link-love changed when I started using video-hosting services, such as Brightcove, Vimeo, YouTube, and Amazon S3 (paired with a player, such as the JW player) to stream my videos. I switched because I wanted faster transfer speeds that a web host could (or was willing to) provide for me. But I lost all of the link juice that my videos were creating for my website, especially when they were embedded off of my website, such as on a blog, a social media site, or a client's website. All Google could see was a link to the video-hosting service, except for the occasional video production credit that I asked for but that was rarely or properly implemented. Most links were done with anchor text that was my URL and not a keyword-rich link as in my example earlier on.
At the same time, Google added the tag that allowed websites to display links but not pass on link juice to the linked site. This was mostly to avoid spammers from clogging up blogs and forums with spam comments in order to get links back. But video-hosting companies, including YouTube, also used the tag and, as a result, no link juice flowed to the content creator from their sites or from embeds. Understandably, this is why I have never been happy with off-site video-hosting solutions; they rob me of the SEO potential from the content I create.
The Challenges of Today's Video SEO
So where does all this leave video content producers when it comes to SEO? Has Google crippled our ability to be ranked? It turns out that Google, which now owns YouTube, started to include videos in its search results. More importantly, the search results to videos also include a thumbnail of the video, which stands out in a sea of text results. Not surprisingly, YouTube videos dominate the results because Google has accorded it the highest authority of all the video-hosting websites. But there is still room for the video-producer Davids to compete with the YouTube Goliath.
One of the first steps in getting a website listed on Google is to submit and maintain a Google site map, which tells Google the URL of every page on your website. A similar site map for videos also exists, but because most online videos are hosted by video-sharing websites and then embedded, most companies aren't even aware of video site maps; they aren't relevant to them, and they can be a bit tricky for novices. Google doesn't support metafiles that require a download of the source via streaming protocols, meaning it won't index a YouTube video embedded on your website and give you credit for it, which would allow the video to be seen in search results with a link to the webpage on your website where it is hosted.
Videos uploaded to video-hosting sites such as YouTube are automatically added to the hosts' own video site maps, and the titles, descriptions, and other metadata are used to populate the site map fields. So it's possible to get your videos listed in Google search results, but the link goes back to YouTube, not your website, and getting links and viewers to your website is the goal of SEO. Notwithstanding getting video views, the problem with sending a viewer to YouTube is that YouTube does a really good job of distracting your viewers with suggestions for other videos it might want to view, including the videos of your competitors.
Caption: Author beating YouTube in Google search rankings
Let's do a quick recap before I present you with a brilliant solution for video SEO. The goal of SEO is to get listed on Google search results, in order to drive viewers to your website. The problem is that video that is hosted on video-hosting sites serves to drive traffic to the video-hosting site, even if it is embedded on your website. The solution is to use a video host that conforms to Google's site map requirements and passes on SEO benefits to you for videos it hosts and that are embedded on your website. The solution that I use for video SEO is Wistia, a Boston-based online video management company.
Caption: The Wistia Social Bar adds social media links to embed codes
In addition to video hosting and video site maps, Wistia also offers two other noteworthy features. The first is the ability to easily add social media sharing, via outlets such as Google+, Facebook, Twitter, email, and embed, via the Wistia Social Bar. There is even an option to add the Wistia logo; when you do so, you can also add a link back to your website. This is great for creating SEO links on sites that embed your video, although I wish the logo was customizable or more white-label.
The second really cool features are some very advanced analytics, including heatmaps. Heatmaps show how much of a video is played, which parts are played, and if portions of the video are viewed multiple times. All of these stats are displayed in an easy-to-understand analytics page on a video-by-video basis. To find out more, read my blog post about Video Analytics.
One of the things I learned from my own stats was that in a longer 15-minute corporate presentation video, many of my client's viewers tended to watch the first third and last third of a clip only. When I once brought these findings to my client, I suggested that we break each video into three to five smaller videos and describe the content of each section to make sure the message got across to viewers; this way, viewers can more efficiently find exactly what they are looking for (a keyword-rich description might also benefit SEO). I don't know if this will produce measurably better results (in this case, an increase in investment dollars), but at least I can analyze video metrics, suggest changes, and report any viewer trend changes.
Caption: Video sitemap creation is easy with Wistia.
All of this increases my value to my clients and provides more service to them than the simple viewer counts and lack of SEO potential that are the built-in limitations of popular video-sharing sites.
Wistia accounts are accessed online and allow you to create and share video project folders with your clients. These folders can be accessed by a custom link that can be password-protected for additional security. In true Wistia fashion, private user sessions are also tracked, so I'm able to see if and when my clients have viewed some or all of their videos, which parts they skipped over or watched multiple times, and commented on. It also allows them to share or download the source file.
Another nice touch is that the comments can be linked to a specific timecode, which makes it so much easier for my clients to communicate where edits are required on drafts. Wistia automatically re-encodes the source file for mobile devices, and in the spirit of content liberation, it allows these files to be downloaded as well. I've found the private user session stats to be very useful when working with my clients (especially when I'm waiting on edit decisions); I can gently remind them if I haven't seen any activity associated with their Wistia session, or I can contact them if I have seen activity but haven't received feedback.
The Deluxe Wistia account comes with 20GB of storage and 100GB of bandwidth per month. Bandwidth is calculated on actual viewing time, so it stretches much farther than you might expect. Additional storage or bandwidth can also be purchased.
Video SEO Best Practices
In the cat-and-mouse game of SEO, it is challenging to keep ahead of the competition and changing SEO best practices. Fortunately for video production companies, there is finally a solution that allows video producers to get more search engine love for their own websites and for those of their clients. Wistia makes it so easy for video producers to get SEO results; I can see many of them adding Video SEO Expert to their talents. I know I will.
When I first heard about the launch of EventDV magazine in 2005, I knew I wanted to write for the magazine. Two years later I got the chance when I met Steve Nathans-Kelly in Jacksonville, Fla., at the 4EVER Group’s Video 07 conference. I was one of the speakers, and when I saw him in my conference room, I decided I would approach him afterwards to see if I could realize my dream. After seeing my presentation, he had the same idea and asked me to join his team as a columnist. It has been a privilege and an honour (I’m Canadian and I’m going to spell it my way this time) to write for the EventDV community for the past 5 years.
I’ve also decided to launch my own video production training website at www.thevideoproductionpro.com, where I’m going to continue my own journey and discussion of video production business mastery that I embarked on with EventDV readers 5 years ago. In the meantime, you can follow me on Twitter @shawnlamvideo or subscribe to my public Facebook feed, ShawnLam1.
Shawn Lam (video at shawnlam.ca) runs Shawn Lam Video, a Vancouver video production studio. He specializes in stage event and corporate video production and has presented seminars at WEVA Expo 2005–2009 and the 4EVER Group’s Video 07. He won a Silver Creative Excellence Award at WEVA Expo 2008, a Bronze CEA at WEVA Expo 2010, and an Emerald Artistic Achievement Award at Video 08.