Optimizing Video for Search

Everyone is viewing videos online these days, and the (relatively) simple act of including this content on a website repeatedly proves to increase the ever-elusive goal of engagement.

According to 2012 BotVideos research, the average user's visit to a text- or imagebased website lasts about 43 seconds, while visits to sites with just one video averages five minutes and 50 seconds.

Even the most awesome video won't provide much benefit, however, if people cannot find it. That's where a little video search engine optimization (SEO) proves useful. Taking steps to improve a video's rank or position on the search engines improves the likelihood that it will be found by interested parties and eventually spell success for your brand on today's video-obsessed Web.


The YouTube Question

Once video content is prepared, the question becomes what to do with it. For many, the answer is to post it on YouTube and then embed the video on your website. YouTube is (by far) the largest hosted video service on the Internet (with more than 800 million monthly unique visitors), but that doesn't mean it is necessarily right for every brand or every video.

An advantage to uploading video content to YouTube is that it's nearly guaranteed to be indexed by Google, since the search giant owns YouTube. This doesn't mean your video will necessarily be found on the first page of Google results, but you'll at least be recognized by Google, which is a pretty important step in exposing content to a large audience. As a bonus, posting to existing YouTube channels can help boost rankings, according to Emily Ward-Dickerman of Dassant Baking Mixes whose video currently ranks in first place for its desired search phrase on both Google and YouTube.

However, while showing up in Google's search results may get you clicks, those clicks will go to YouTube. If you just want people to watch your video, then that's okay. If you're trying to use your video to drive traffic to your site, you're out of luck. According to Tommy Landry, the President of Return On Now, "To increase the chances of earning visibility for your own videos, host it on your own domain." This means using another video hosting service that, like YouTube, will allow you to embed your video on your website and make an XML sitemap for your video.


Video XML Sitemaps

If you create a video XML sitemap, submit it to Google and Bing Webmaster Tools to help the search engines discover your content. "This will help get your videos indexed and provide search engines with additional clues to what your videos should rank for, if you use the optional tagging," said David Carrillo, the Manager of Earned Media at The Search Agency. Some video hosting services, such as Wistia will generate video sitemaps for you to submit. In many situations, however, you'll find that you need to create your own.

Five basic components make up video sitemaps: title, description, thumbnail URL, play page URL (the page that will show up in the results) and a URL for the raw file. However, if you put your video on YouTube or Vimeo, you'll want to submit the player location URL instead of the raw file URL. Remember that every XML sitemap file can only have a maximum of 50,000 entries; if you have more than 50,000 videos, submit multiple sitemaps. There are also additional tags that can (and should) be included to help provide search engines with additional metadata and other information about the video, although you can add too many tags and may reach the 50MB uncompressed limit before you include 50,000 videos.

One way to go about creating a video sitemap is to use the Google Video extension in the Sitemap protocol, which helps marketers provide Google information about the video content on their site. Bing Webmaster Tools accept Google Video sitemaps, as well.


Keywords and Meta Descriptions

You didn't think we were going to get through a whole article about Video SEO without mentioning keywords, did you? Optimizing videos for search engines is pretty much the same as optimizing anything else and that starts with keyword research.

It's highly unlikely that you'll ever be found by interested users on search engines if you don't do a little keyword research to discover exactly what users are looking for. The most commonly used video keyword research tool freely available online is the YouTube Keyword Tool.

Once you know what keywords your target audience is searching for, it's time to put them to use. "Like regular SEO, a video should have a keyword descriptive title," said Carrillo. "Since search engines can't 'see' videos the same way they can see content, it also helps to put a video description near the video to give bots a better clue to what the video is about." Adding relevant optional tags will also make it easier to be found for corresponding searches.

A good, attention-grabbing title should be obvious, but also know that Google's primary method for ranking videos is matching the search terms to the video titles. The more long tail and specific your title is, the better, but heed the advice of SEM Manager Jacob Baldwin and be sure to include your keywords "naturally." Oh, and the title tag of the Web page you have the video on must be the same as the video's title - search engines like that kind of thing.

However, in terms of wooing users, your thumbnail image matters. According to Dave Sniadak of Axiom Marketing, "We find that viewers tend to watch a video based on the thumbnail that pops up in their search findings. When possible, we try to select a thumbnail image that represents the message we're aiming for."


Video SEO is Becoming Vital

Video SEO is still a burgeoning practice, but for savvy content publishers or marketers, it's one they're going to want to get started on sooner than later. It's no secret that video is becoming a vital part of a winning Web strategy, and Google is already working on more sophisticated ways to index video content for search results. But if you can optimize your videos to get ranked on the first page now, that will give you a considerable leg up on your competitors in the future.