Posted by PhilNottingham
I’m frequently asked: “How should I host my videos for SEO purposes? Is it better to use YouTube, Vimeo or third party hosting?”
My response to this question is invariably terse, along the lines of "it depends on the style of your content and what you want to achieve with it". Each situation calls for a nuanced approach, defined by the marketing aims of the company and the audience base the content will appeal to.
All hosting solutions have their own set of advantages and disadvantages – making each suitable for different aspects of SEO and Inbound marketing:
Third party and self hosted:
- Easier to get video rich snippets for your own domain
- Can customise video player
- Can build links back to your domain through embeds
YouTube & Vimeo:
- Gets the content in front of more eyes
- Content will invariably rank well (albeit often not for your domain)
In this post, I’m going to outline the core of four different approaches I normally recommend to clients, defining the basics of the appropriate technical implementation and the types of content required for each approach. At the end of this post, i have also included a brief summary of some of the most popular paid hosting solutions (Vimeo Pro, Wistia, Vzaar and Brightcove)– explaining the pros and cons of each.
Approaches to Video SEO
In my view, there are 3 major functions for video from an SEO perspective:
- Ranking, traffic and conversions
- Brand impressions and notoriety
These purposes do sometimes overlap, so i think it’s better viewed as a classic venn:
Approach 1: Video for Ranking, Rich Snippets and Conversions
This is by far the most common purpose for video that i come across. Many SEOs want to increase ranking and click through rate with rich snippets in the organic SERPs, while improving conversions with a beautifully designed video that shows off their product in it’s best light.
Include the videos on a page targeting a term likely to receive a video rich snippet
To ascertain the viability of a video result, look through the SERPs and see which rich snippets are currently being returned. Anything with shopping results, local results or a high proportion of PPC will invariably be off-limits; but there will be high volume search queries around any niche, that return video results. Amongst others, any terms including the following keywords invariably return these rich snippets:
- what is
- how to
Ensure your videos are being built into a page where there are a variety of other media types
Rich and diverse pages typically rank better and will invariably improve conversion rates. While web video is an extremely popular way of consuming information – it doesn’t suit everyone. The more text, images and diverse media you have on a page, the better it will appear to both the algorithms and potential customers.
Include only one video per page
The better spread out your videos are, the more terms you can potentially target for video results. Big video directory pages typically struggle to rank for multiple keywords.
Either self host your videos, or use a paid secure hosting solution (options detailed at the end of this post)
If you are self hosting; using either your own servers, or a cloud solution such as Amazon S3 is fine. Just make sure to keep the bitrates low when exporting your videos to avoid huge bandwidth costs.
I generally recommend that If you want to rank with a rich snippet and improve your domain's overall ranking – you do not put your videos on YouTube. While YouTube videos occasionally provide rich snippets for the domains they are embedded on in the organic SERPs, frequently the YouTube domain will rank instead and it’s currently not as surefire a way to achieve a rich snippet as securely hosting the content, submitting a video XML sitemap and implementing schema markup. A free Vimeo account is best avoided for the same reasons.
Ensure the content cannot be embedded outside of your own domain
While there is no absolute way to ensure you get video rich snippets – you always stand the best chance if you can keep the content unique to your site, giving Google only one option regarding which page should rank for your video. Moreover, making the content only available on your site will ensure that users wishing to watch the video are forced to do so on your domain, making it easier for you to turn that view into a conversion.
Most popular paid hosting solutions allow you to define where your content can be embedded. You will also need to ensure that your video player will not display an "embed" button as an overlay or box beneath the video.
Unfortunately, Google are not very good at crawling iframes at the moment; so if you want videos to be indexed, you need to make sure you’re embedding content in an HTML5 player with Flash fallback, or a pure Flash player.
All the paid hosting solutions at the bottom give you this option – as detailed below:
- Wistia – Pick the "SEO" embed code type in the "Embed Type > Advanced Options" section of the "SuperEmbeds Builder"
- Vzaar – Pick "Plain HTML" in the embed settings page
- Vimeo Pro – Pick "old embed code" when you are a choosing the embed for the video
- Brightcove – Pick "Blog" or "HTML to Embed" Options.
If you’re self hosting – you can use one of the following players, or build your own in HTML5 and Jquery
Submit a video XML sitemap to Google Webmaster tools.
For a detailed explanation of how to build a video sitemap and get video rich snippets in Google, check out a more detailed post i have written on the topic. For further reference, Google have an excellent guide which explains all of the sitemaps elements in full.
Google seem to be relatively agnostic about the length of a video with regard to ranking – though it’s rare to see < 30 second videos generating rich snippets. If you’re aiming to convert consumer purchases off the back of your video, keeping it as short and to the point as possible is preferable.
Good on-site web video content should be considered an “inbound” piece of marketing, rather than an “outbound” effort. If you’re building commercially focused content, then it’s important to remember that product videos are not ads. If a user has visited your site, then they already have partial buy in – so you do not need to hard sell them the virtues of a product or service, meaning the videos should be broadly informative in nature. Imagine that someone has walked into your physical store and you now have the job of selling this product to them – exactly as Webtogs have simply and cheaply implemented.
Note to Webtogs – if you had securely hosted this video and not used YouTube, you'd be getting referring traffic and a link out of this mention!
Another example of content suitable for this approach is a recent events trailer I created for Distilled
This trailer was built with the goal of improving conversions on the Distilled conferences page and helping us rank better for terms around "SEO conference". In order for this to approach to be effective, we needed people to be on our conferences page when they were watching the video — just one click away from signing up to the email list or purchasing a ticket. As the content is commercial and created for a very narrow audience demographic (SEOs), it would have done very poorly on YouTube and few people would want to embed this content on their site. The potential marketing value of the content was in driving traffic to our conferences page, which is why I took the aforementioned approach of locking down the content onto our domain, in this case hosting with Vimeo Pro.
Approach 2: Video for Links
People typically link to videos in two different ways – they either link to the page that the video was on, or they embed the content on their own site/blog.
The technical approach here does not differ significantly from the approach for getting rankings and conversions, but is more an augmentation of that implementation – suitable for content which people are likely to share and embed.
As with all bits of link bait, put the content somewhere visible, with good internal linking structure
Ensure the content is embedded in a nice large frame on the page (640px by 360px is normally good) and isn’t tucked away in corner, where it will be ignored by a passing visitor.
Self-host the content or use a third party solution
The approach here is the same as that for getting results and rich snippets; but it’s even more imperative that you don’t put the content on YouTube or Vimeo, as embedded and shared videos will then only link back to the YouTube/Vimeo domain, rather than your own.
Allow the video to be embedded anywhere
To build links through embeds and shares, you need to allow the content to be viewed on sites across the web
Create a CNAME for your video files
If you are self hosting, you will probably have already done this – but some third party hosting solutions allow you to white label their products and create a CNAME alias – which can be used to make sure all links to a video file in an embed code reference a branded subdomain. This way you can ensure any embedded content links back to you twice; once to reference the video file and once with an attribution link to a page which you can specify.
As per the rankings and conversions example.
Include social share buttons next to the video player
If you're using Brightcove or Wistia, then you can customise your players to show a plethora of social sharing buttons either as overlays or as icons next to the player. Make sure to include any which seem relevant to your niche and always the big three (Facebook, Twitter and G+).
If you have a different hosting platform, or are building your own player – then just include social sharing buttons as plugins below or to the side of your video player.
Customise an iframe embed code for users to embed your content
Because Google are bad at reading iframes, make other sites use an iframe for the embed. This will prevent the videos from being indexed on their sites, but the code will still appear to the engines as a referring link back to you.
Add an additional attribution link to the end of your custom embed code, pointing to any page which you want to build links for. I normally suggest targeting the home page with branded anchor text, but you can pick deeper pages and include partial anchor text if you want.
Create and submit a video sitemap per the ranking, rich snippets and conversion model
Do this before you begin any outreach, ensuring that the video is indexed before you get others to embed it. Assuming you have included the <video:publication_date> and <video:uploader> information – it will *hopefully* be clear to Google that your version of the video is the canonical, and you should still be able to rank for it.
Outreach the content as you would any piece of linkbait, ensuring you also try to build traction socially.
To be link worthy, video content doesn't necessarily have to be exciting or flashy. People will link to and embed useful resources as much as they will cute cat videos. If you have a particularly tight budget – build some software tutorials using a screencasting program such as camtasia studio. Check this post for more information on building link worthy video content.
For more information about content types and incorporating video into your link building strategy, check out this slide deck from a presentation i gave on the topic in January
Approach 3: Video for Brand Impressions & Notoriety
If your main goal with video is getting your company and services in front of as wide an audience as possible, or make a video "go viral" – this is the approach you should be taking.
However, be aware that virality is an inexact science. Often videos we think of as “viral”, such as Rebecca Black’s Friday or “I want to hug every single cat” do not become sensations overnight – they only go “viral” when a key influencer sets a context for wider public engagement with the content.
Host the content with YouTube and Vimeo
Upload it to YouTube, Vimeo, Daily Motion and submit to any other video sharing sites you can find. Jacob Klein included a nice list of sharing sites in a recent post.
Ensure you optimise both your YouTube channel and video correctly. Check out this guide for a detailed explanation of how this should be done.
Since Google preference HD content, export your content for YouTube with the frame size 1920×1080 pixels. (You can do this even if the content wasn't filmed in 1080p).
Ensure you submit a closed caption file with the YouTube video – this should be treated like page copy and optimised for relevant keywords accordingly.
If you have a paid Vimeo Pro account – then enable the "community pass", which allows users to find your content when browsing videos on the main Vimeo site.
Embed the YouTube version of the video on your site
Any views on your site will raise the total number of views for the video on YouTube.com and will help to improve the overall ranking on YouTube.com
Since Google own YouTube, they are pretty good about knowing when and where something is embedded – so there is no problem in using an iframe to embed the videos.
Get the "As Seen On" attribution for the video
YouTube provide "As Seen On" links for some videos, which link to a curated page listing all of the YouTube videos embedded on a specific site or blog. These pages pull in text from the pages themselves, so can be a great way of generating brand impressions and referring traffic.
To get the "As Seen On" attribution for your videos, ensure the video is embedded on an accessible page with rich supporting text and images. Then make sure that you're getting a lot of views of the video on your site.
Even for YouTube videos, you should be submitting a video XML sitemap. Although Google have access to all of the metadata for YouTube videos – a sitemap allows you to provide additional information – such as defining the uploader and specifying a meta description for the content.
If you want your content to succeed on YouTube (and any video sharing sites), then it needs to be extremely engaging. YouTube audiences are fickle and if you spend the first 10 seconds of their time on showing a branded sting, you will lose half of them.
In order to mitigate against a high bounce rate, you need to achieve emotional engagement quickly. This need is much more pressing than with a text based web page, since the way we engage with video differs dramatically from the way we interpret text. In an attempt to explain this simply, i have put my rudimentary photoshop skills to use and created a couple of informational graphics (“infographics”?)
Cognitive Engagement with Form
Consider that most people who view your videos through YouTube or video sharing sites are unlikely to have prior knowledge of your brand or marketing efforts. This means that you need to consistently work for their attention - ensuring each creation is interesting or entertaining in it's own right.
Don't put overly commercial content or product videos on Youtube
People rarely go to YouTube to find commercial content and as such, the high bounce rate a video may receive will potentially hinder it’s ability to rank in Google SERPs as well as YouTube – preventing you from getting significant views and brand impressions. Unless you have an exceptionally creative and fun product video (think Old Spice guy), YouTube should only be used to share creative or educationally informative pieces.
Examples of this done successfully:
This April fools offering from Lynx is excellent because it succeeds in driving a context for social engagement from the audience: Is this a joke? Is this genuinely something that has been created? If so, how could it work? could something like this exist in the future?
But you don't necessarily need high production value to create interesting content, as demonstrated by this simple but fun recording from Oddbins.
Equally, you can be extremely successful with dry or serious videos, providing that the creations are easy to watch and give information that is of genuine interest to an audience. The Distilled protips, which were all created in a single day, stand as an example of how this can be scaled effectively.
Everyone should be undertaking this "Video for Notoriety" approach in some measure. YouTube is the world’s second biggest search engine and if you don’t have a presence on there, you’re missing a huge trick.
Approach 4: Video for All of the Above
It’s very rare to be in a situation where you have a video that will not only aid conversions, but will also attract links and do well virally. You will need to be in the unique position of having something that sells your service, demonstrates creative and aesthetic excellence while providing a hook that will generate embeds and links.
For an example of something that hits this mark, I'm going to refer to a video that Rand showed off in his recent LinkLove presentation
If you can build something of this integrated quality, then you have basically won the internet. While it’s awesome to get a video like this, it takes exceptional creativity and investment. For most companies, it’s normally better and less risky to aim to hit different channels with different videos, rather than to put all your eggs in one basket. However, if you are Dollar Shave Club, this is what you should be doing…
You need to place the content on an easily accessible page, targeting a term suitable for getting a rich snippet, keeping the video front and center of that page.
Make sure the page is nicely linked up internally, so you can spread the link equity you’re going to get.
Hosting and Embedding
The first thing you should worry about is getting the ranking and rich snippet
If your video is in the hands of others before you’ve had a chance to get that ranking and claim ownership, then you risk others being able to get results for your content.
Host a secure version on your site, following the aforementioned suggestions for getting rankings and conversions until you have got your nice rich snippet results.
Then aim for links
Put a custom iframe embed code next the video on the page, with partial anchor text for your target keywords in the attribution link i.e. <a href="http://www.dollarshaveclub.com>Dollar Shave Club Amazing Razors<a/>
include social share buttons next to the video.
Outreach like crazy. Be willing to write some guest posts about the video which can be used to accompany the content on any blog.
Then aim for fame
When the outreach dries up, a month or two later; submit the content to YouTube, Vimeo and any other video sharing sites, but optimise everything for different keyword variations — so you don’t risk outranking yourself with your own video on the YouTube or Vimeo domains.
Clean up the links
A few months later – find anyone who has embedded your content from your "notoriety campaign" – but are linking back to YouTube or Vimeo as a consequence, and outreach to them with the (iframe based) embed code for the secure version on your site. Explain this code is the higher quality version and that you would be extremely grateful if they would switch it over so you can get the referring link attribution. Most people are happy to do this, as after all, they’ve already linked to your content.
N.B. – the reason why you don’t normally take this two pronged "self-hosted and YouTube" approach for video linkbuilding is that by putting the content on YouTube/Vimeo – you will inevitably encourage future links and social shares to point to the these domains, rather than yours. This may be not be a problem and it can be worth sacrificing potential link equity for greater exposure; but if you’re looking to build links and shares over an extended period with evergreen content, it's normally not appropriate.
Paid Hosting Package Analysis
The table and points below compare the features of some of the most popular paid third party hosting solutions.
|Standard package price||$79 per month||$79 per month||$199 per year||$199 per month|
|White label embed codes (CNAME)||Yes||Yes||No||Yes|
|Domain restrictions (restrict where you can embed it)||Yes, but you have to request it||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Auto-generate Video XML sitemaps||Yes||No||No||No|
|Call to action link at end of video||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|iframe embed code||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Flash based embed code||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
Pros and Cons
- Notifies you when anyone downloads your content
- Email marketing feature with Mailchimp integration
- Superb interactive heatmap analytics
- "require email to play" feature can be used to increase mail subscriptions.
- "SuperEmbed" embed builder has by far the best feature set of any of the customisable players.
- Inexpensive transcript creation service for videos
- It's slightly cumbersome to enable domain restrictions
Anyone looking build videos purely for ranking and linkbuilding should look first at Wistia. They understand SEO and offer a superb service.
- iOS and Mac OS X Apps for uploading and account management
- Easy to create secure download links for users
- Simple account management interface
- Does not have an XML sitemap generation feature, though you can build something to do this with the API
- Customisable player lacks social sharing buttons
Vzaar is a robust and secure service, which allows you to easily white label the player and embed codes with your branding. The iOS app makes managing and uploading new content easily on the move and it's simple to hook the service up to your Google Analytics in order to monitor views and engagement.
- Extremely good value for money compared with other services
- The customisable player has a great feature set
- Usage limited by views, rather than bandwidth; which makes it easier to calculate ROI.
- Can build free video portfolio microsites
- Loads of great support videos and tutorial content
- Does not have an XML sitemap generation feature.
- Can be easy to leave the content unsecure if you get the account settings wrong.
Vimeo Pro is my default recommendation for any businesses wanting to securely host video on a budget. You get a lot of value for that price; and aside from the lack of an XML sitemap generator, there is very little which the service doesn't provide.
- Highly customisable player, with API for customising Mobile players
- Youtube Syndication (automatically upload to Youtube) – for if you're taking the "Video for Everything" approach
- Advertising integration (so you can monetize your videos)
- Live streaming feature – for if you are running webinars or conferences
- No XML sitemap generation feature, though you can build one with the API
- Not particularly user friendly for beginners
Brightcove is an enterprise solution, popular with large businesses and developers because of its wide selection of APIs, SDKs and third party extensions. Brightcove has an expansive feature set and offers a great solution for anyone using video in numerous different ways across a site.
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