Video Production Guide for Merchants

Linc Wonham
by Linc Wonham 22 Nov, 2011

You may be an expert in ecommerce. You might also know all the latest design trends and everything there is to know about SEO. However, what do you know about video?

The eTailing Group reported that in 2010, 73 percent of online retailers used video on their product pages. This is up from 55 percent in 2009 and only 20 percent in 2005. According to eMarketer, 74 percent of the top 50 retailers use product videos; 40 percent use category videos, and 38 percent use other types of informational videos.

Web video is no longer "a nice to have" feature for an online business, it has become an essential. It is now one of the most effective sales tools for ecommerce companies and all online marketers.

"Customers respond to video because it provides an effortless way for them to make product decisions," says James Booker, business development manager at shopping cart software provider Volusion. "Instead of looking through multiple images and scrolling through several bullet points of specs and technical requirements, shoppers receive valuable information all in one place."

So, how do you make a good video? For starters, understand that producing an effective online video is not too difficult - as long as you remember a few simple guidelines.

Keep it simple and keep it short
Most Web users have a limited attention span, especially for an introduction to your product and/or service. Effective online videos are short - maybe two to six minutes at the maximum. If the video covers a complicated subject, break the video into a series of shorter ones. This is especially true for instructional or "how to assemble the product" types of videos.

Simple means keep the frame uncluttered. Shoot your video with a plain background - maybe a light-colored pastel wall decorated only with your logo. You don't need fancy backgrounds and camera moves. The simpler the stage, the better the video will look.

When you are in the editing phase, stay with the same concept - simplicity. You don't need fancy wipes and dissolves. Stay with cuts only and maybe a quick fade-in at the beginning and a fade-out at the end. The only effect we recommend is using captions and subtitles - superimposed text to reinforce the message and to explain the product and services.

If you are anticipating doing a series of videos, you may want to create a standard video intro and title section for the business. Keep it short. I have seen standard intros that went on for 30 seconds, 60 seconds, or longer. Not good. Keep the intro short.

You may also want to create a standard program "outro" -  a credits section that includes contact info - the business' email address, website and phone number so that potential customers can contact the business and buy your stuff.

Another good tip is to superimpose the businesses logo and website address on the bottom right of the video throughout the entire piece. Not only does this reinforce the marketing message, it makes it more difficult for a competitor to steal or co-opt the video.

Make the video and audio look good and sound clear
You don't need the most high-resolution video or the highest bit-rate audio. The video just has to look clean and the audio has to be clear without break-ups or noise. That is not hard to do with today's gear that is completely affordable.

Almost any high-end HD camcorder or video camera will work; the major selection factor is to make sure it has an audio-in jack so that you can add an external microphone. The built-in mikes found embedded in many entry-level camcorders are not very good. Usually, they are omnidirectional mikes that capture sound from many directions. Instead, it is preferred to use a  unidirectional microphone - one that captures sound from the direction in which it is pointed.

This can be a shotgun mike mounted on the camcorder, a boom mike held over the talent's head,  a mike held in their hand or even a small lavaliere mike pinned to their lapel. All will work better than the inexpensive mike built into most camcorders.

Both wired and wireless types of microphones are good. Wireless is often slightly more expensive but provides much more freedom to move around. Either way, make sure the batteries in the mike are fresh and try to have someone monitoring the audio via headphones while recording. It is much, much easier to fix an audio problem while recording than to later try to repair it in the editing process.

To get good-looking video, follow these two suggestions:

-    Use lots of light. Yes, modern-day camcorders can almost shoot in the dark, but by adding an extra video light or two, the resulting captured image will be noticeably sharper and cleaner.

-    Use a tripod and don't move the camera around. Unless you are doing some kind of music, dance or sports video, there is not much reason to move the camcorder or handhold it. By using a tripod, not only will the video look a lot more professional, the camcorder and editing electronics will have an easier time of compressing the video for Web distribution. Similarly, it is not a good practice to zoom in and out. Cut from a wide shot to a close-up if you need to show details - don't zoom. Live-on camera zooms are the mark of a true amateur.

The video has been shot and edited - now what?
Depending on how much traffic you expect to get, and how professional you want the video player to look, you can create a video player and host the video yourself or use a video-hosting service. One option is to stick it on YouTube or another public site and then embed the video into the HTML. However, for the best customer experience, the highest-quality playback and the ability to create a video player that matches the site's look and feel, you ought to use a professional online video platform.

In addition to handling compression options and bandwidth costs, an OVP enables customization of the video player's look and feel, its dimensions and even its shape. Many platforms enable the post-production addition of captions and other capabilities that will improve the overall shopper experience.

"The major advantage of using Web video to market products is that it transforms an otherwise stagnant product image into a moving, engaging sales tool," says Booker. "Whereas in a retail store there are sales clerks to demonstrate the product and answer questions, online video can take that very role by showing online shoppers how the product can be used and, more importantly, demonstrate benefits that are impossible to portray through mere product images or descriptions."

About the author: Ian Snead leads the marketing strategy and product focus for online video platform vzaar. The company has positioned itself as a professional video-hosting service providing a low-cost service with an easy-to-use interface and serves over 1,500 companies worldwide.