How do you get people to watch your videos? In this tutorial, you'll learn five fundamental strategies for search engine optimization—a decidedly modern answer to that age-old question. This tutorial is the first in our series about SEO for video projects.
There's a lot of magical thinking about SEO. While the exact formulas to get you to the top of a search engine results page aren't totally clear, search engine optimization is definitely not magic.
In fact, good SEO is not even all that complicated. And it's not much of a secret, either. Though it's a bit dry, Google publishes exactly what they're looking for. Optimization takes consistency and focus—it takes work—and that's where most people falter. In this tutorial series you'll learn about just what kinds of SEO work to invest in with your video projects.
Done right, video can increase traffic to your website, generate buzz,
and create better interactions with the people you attract. Done wrong,
video is a waste of time and resources that can undermine your
efforts. In this tutorial we focus on strategy. Later in the series we'll go deep on specific SEO tactics for video.
Strategies and Tactics
Sometimes people use the words "strategy" and "tactics" interchangeably, but it's important for this series that we're clear about what each is before we launch into SEO.
You have a goal. Maybe you want to entertain, or sell, or educate. Whatever your goal, you need a strategy to reach it.
strategy is a plan: it's all of the decisions you must make
to reach your goal. It includes figuring out what
that goal actually is—for example, what action you want your intended audience take—and
what your key objectives are along the way.
what is important. It guides your actions, sets the direction, and helps
you choose tactics. Strategy also helps you track progress and evaluate
A tactic is a specific thing you do to carry out your strategy. Video
is a tactic: it's a tool you use. SEO is a tactic, too: you
use it to get the most work and value of your videos.
tactics are part of a strategy, and they can be used alone or in concert
with other tactics to get an outcome. The tactics you use will change
over time, as your abilities, resources, and needs change.
OK. Ready? Here are five key video SEO strategies!
1. Focus on What's Most Important to Your Human Audience
When video connects with a receptive audience
it can be a transformative experience. When video doesn't connect with the intended audience, however, the outcome can be transformative in a highly undesirable way. I'm talking Dean scream bad.
The first step in your video SEO strategy is to understand your audience's
desires and expectations. It's tempting to head into a video
project with your own needs in mind: this video is going to do this or
that or the other thing for me. That's natural and understandable, but I suggest you first ask what your audience wants.
It's All About Desire
Your audience is special. It's hard to know how they'll respond to your videos. That's why Hollywood and advertisers do extensive focus group research before they put out the next multi-million dollar blockbuster or Superbowl ad. You and I might not have focus groups, but we can poll our audience about the kind of videos they'd like to see. Make a post, ask them on Twitter, use a forum: whatever works for you.
Audiences, however, are a bit mercurial. They often don't really know what they want, or give contradictory and confusing feedback. That's where indicators come in. You want to watch to see what they respond to, and make informed decisions about what to make based on actual results. We'll dig into what to measure and how to interpret this kind of information in a future tutorial.
Your conclusions might include choosing to not make video, and that's perfectly OK. Sometimes video is the right tool
at the right time for the right audience, but sometimes it just isn't.
If it's not the right tool, use something else!
In other words, it's important to identify in advance how your audience will benefit if you add video to a project. In my view, video that connects with viewers is the foundation of all other SEO work. Use your understanding of the subject matter to come up with ideas, then do your research to make informed decisions about what kind of video you might produce.
2. Focus on What's Most Important to You
Once you've got some idea what people want to see you can start to figure out which of those opportunities match your priorities, including the possible benefits of search engine optimization as part of your decision making process.
Phil Nottingham outlined these possible benefits well when he said:
In my view, there are three major functions for video from an SEO perspective:
- Ranking, traffic and conversions
- Brand impressions and notoriety
Choose one of these outcomes to focus on. Yes, there is some overlap, and if you are clever sometimes you might get two good outcomes. If you have a big budget and are very clever you might be able to get all three. But, realistically, you can't have it all: pick one.
Video for Trust: Ranking, Traffic, and Conversion
This is your unglamourous-but-effective everyday video. Don't overlook the value of this humble performer!
This kind of video includes tutorials, reviews, tests, "what is" explainers, how tos, demonstrations, lectures, and guides. In a sales context, it's best to think of this kind of video as "inbound" marketing. Your viewer has already chosen to engage with you—the video helps affirm an impression and move them towards whatever action it is that you want.
There are so many ways to make this kind of video, but from an SEO perspective they all have the same purpose: to increase the authority and information value of your web page. Positive outcomes for this kind of video are high rankings on search engine results pages, increased traffic, and more of whatever action you want people to take (or "conversions," in marketing jargon). To be truly effective, every video of this kind needs to be used in combination with other tactics, particularly well-built pages on your site.
Video for Notoriety
This kind of video isn't meant for driving traffic or convincing people to do something specific. Instead, the purpose is to get views: maximum exposure. You want to get your brand, personality, or idea in front of the widest audience possible.
Unlike video for ranking, traffic, and conversion, video for notoriety is, by definition, about reaching people who aren't already engaged with you in some way. To work, it has to grab the viewer and sustain their interest. Creativity, engaging the emotions, being a little bit surprising or humorous, or a bit of controversy; whatever way you want to chase notoriety, try to do it well. Aim for genuine connection with your audience.
Positive outcomes for this kind of video are lots of views and impressions, social media shares, and conversation. The success of this kind of video is much harder to define and measure, but in the right hands it can be a valuable tool all the same. The desired SEO outcome is a knock-on effect: a lift for all your efforts in general.
Video for Links
Nottingham again says it well:
"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."
This strategy is, basically, making your resources available and easy to share. All that sharing, in turn, increases your search results. In my view, this strategy tends to work best as a support to video for ranking, traffic, and conversions because with both strategies the objective is to bring people back to your website. With video for notoriety, on the other hand, bringing people back to your site is not necessarily the objective.
3. Focus on What's Important to Your Robot Audience
Though search companies keep their ranking algorithms secret, they all want the same thing: good information, and lots of it.
It's All About Clarity and Context
Video is incredibly information-dense but, unlike people, search engines can't watch and understand your video (at least not yet). You'll need to tell them what your video is all about, who is in it, what they say, the video's relationship to the page it is embedded on, and more.
Search engines want you to deliver this information in a highly structured, predictable way, and that's trickier than it sounds. The key is having a handle on what the project is about right from the beginning, so that when you do eventually publish your video you can easily tell the search engines what they need to hear, in the way they need to hear it.
If the previous strategies are about finding the right content and connections for your project, this strategy is all about keeping a deliberate eye on how you will create meaningful context for your video. The objective is to give a very clear signal to the search engines that your web pages are well made, data rich, and high value. We'll dig into how to do this, too, in later tutorials.
4. Make Internet Video (Not TV on The Internet)
Since the beginning, TV has shaped assumptions about video on the internet. From an SEO perspective, though, these assumptions are often counterproductive.
Internet video has it's own strengths and qualities. Video online is non-linear. It's not watched real-time: you can speed up, slow down, rewind, replay, jump, and time shift at will. And it's part of a far more fluid and complex delivery mechanism than TV. I argue that, unlike TV, there isn't one modality of video on the Internet, there are dozens. Video on the Internet (and all it's various devices) is a markedly different sensory experience.
Of the many interesting characteristics of Internet video, there are two key attributes that impact SEO. First, video is embedded. That means it always lives somewhere—you hardly ever navigate directly to the video file itself. That means, second, that video has a lot of context, often more than one. Unlike TV, for creative and SEO purposes, online video does not need to be a complete, self-contained unit in order to get results.
This strategy comes down to thinking about video in a holistic way, as part of a larger package, and not necessarily an end-product in itself. Internet video is at it's best when we skip a lot of the formal expectations built up by TV and film and instead focus on what online video does well.
If that's all a little mind-bending, not to worry, I'll show you examples later in the series, including how we approach online video here at Envato Tuts+.
5. Build Good Flow
This last strategy is simple, but maybe the toughest of them all: be consistent.
Creativity, focus, and clear information go hand-in-hand with a steady workflow, and both human and robot audiences prefer to a consistent stream of good video over a giant blast of uneven video.
Many video projects are high-risk, high-reward. Making video is a bit like playing the lottery: you spend what you can afford to lose. As I said above, audiences are fickle. Even the most lushly produced videos can flop. If you can't afford to do the SEO work that goes with making video, especially if you are on a tight deadline, you're usually better off focusing on things other than video instead.
If you do want to make video a part of what you do, even though the budget is tight, try to work slowly. That's my favourite way to go: do good work, for a modest budget, at a comfortable pace. It takes flexibility and a lot of practice to get good at making video, especially if you're doing everything yourself. If you make video slowly, always doing as good a job as you can, you'll have the breathing room to improve over time.
Plus, unlike old broadcast media, it's usually very easy to replace and refresh videos online. If it your video doesn't work, make more!
Optimize All The Things!
If you just read this and thought "well now, that sounds a lot like content strategy" you're right! I like to think about search engine optimization as one link in a healthy, integrated media production chain—a technical companion to the creative—not something to tack on at the end. Search engine optimization should be a consideration all the way through your workflow.
Coming up in this series of tutorials we'll tackle all the nuts and bolts and leading SEO tactics. You'll learn techniques everyone can use, everything from how to compress your video to how to choose your headlines. Watch this space.