Although YouTube hit pop-culture status just a couple years ago, online video has been a staple of corporate and content websites for quite a bit longer. In that time, web designers have tried many approaches to viewing experience, trying to combine compelling content with a user-friendly interface.
After many experiments with plug-ins and third-party players, most designers settled on the concept of an all-in-one Flash-based player. These players deliver a device-like experience, using TiVo, iTunes and even BMW’s iDrive as models for a self-contained, easy-to-use interface. All-in-one players usually combine a viewing screen, playback controls, “related video” links, and often an ad banner. The player works by using Flash’s ability to pull video directly off the server, so that from a user standpoint clips can be played back seamlessly.
Now that YouTube et al. have entered the game, there’s a newfound enthusiasm for video content, but it’s also changed the game somewhat. The potential viewing audience is now much larger than the group of visitors already on your site. In fact, video has reached the point where it behaves like an independent marketing channel, offering content to users who may never visit your website.
This is both a blessing and a curse. While access to new audiences is great, the trade-off is that it’s becoming much more difficult to track these people. Their YouTube activity is off your radar screen, at least as far as conventional web analytics are concerned.
Finding a more direct path
As we talked about in a previous column, the most effective online video strategies are the ones where on-site and off-site videos dovetail. Off-site videos create the initial interest, and then drive people back to your on-site content.
But there’s a third leg to this bar stool: on-site videos can also function as a promotional tool by making these clips compatible with video search engines. While YouTube and other upload-type portals dominate right now, pure video search is rapidly gaining ground in the form of universal search functions offered by Google, Yahoo, and Ask.
With time, people will come to rely on universal search as a direct path to video content, making this an avenue that marketers will want to pursue.
Don’t bring a knife to a gunfight
The problem arises when we try to reconcile these new video search needs with existing all-in-one players. These players have scripts that allow them to communicate with their servers, something that search engines aren’t equipped to do. As a result, you could have a player that has access to thousands of clips, but none of them will be detected and cataloged by a search engine.
Websites that have achieved success in video search did so by taking a very different approach. Rather than delivering all clips through a single access point, they’ve done the opposite: individual landing pages for every video in their inventory. This reflects our newfound priority, which is to provide a variety of entry points that attract a wider viewing audience.
In case this all sounds familiar, it’s because this is exactly what YouTube does. Before YouTube was a Google property, one of its top priorities was to achieve widespread visibility in search results. They realized that the only way to get this done was to generate unique landing pages for all their videos, in the hope of attracting long-tail traffic for very specific searches. And it worked – they drew a huge audience, and got $1.6 billion for their efforts.
Balancing findability with usability
More traffic is great, but are we sacrificing too much in the name of popularity? Video landing pages would seem to eliminate all the usability advantages that all-in-one players offer. In place of a streamlined “device” we now have thousands of very conventional-looking webpages that, on the surface, look more unwieldy for users and developers alike.
But in practice, this isn’t the case. For example, these websites still incorporate “related video” links into the viewing screen. But they also supplement them with “related videos” on the page itself, because that’s what search engines will use to discover the rest of the site.
Redundant? Yes – but users don’t actually mind redundancy. Redundancy improves usability if it results in can’t-miss-it, don’t-make-me-think ease of use. For example, when a car company places the volume control on a steering wheel, they don’t delete it from the radio itself.
The bottom line
The trade-offs between player design versus search engine visibility seem to favor visibility. Most videos exist to attract attention, either to themselves or to accompanying advertisements. Therefore, the need to promote and increase visibility takes precedence.
In this new environment, companies using all-in-one players need to take a very serious second look at what they’ve gained, versus the opportunities they’re missing out on.
Sherwood Stranieri is Director of Natural Search at SMG Search, a dedicated search unit of Starcom MediaVest Group. Based in Chicago, SMG Search creates integrated search strategies for some of the world’s largest companies. The Video Search column appears weekly at Search Engine Land.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.