Use Open Graph To Get Video Thumbnails Into Your Search Results

Joel Harvey is, among other things, the Video Scientist at Conversion Sciences. Over the past four years, he has developed video strategies for a large number of online retailers. We’ve found that video is great for drawing and converting qualified search traffic, so I asked Joel to tell us his tricks for getting video ranked on Google. He doesn’t disappoint.

Search marketers are always looking for strategies to give them an edge. Ever since Google first announced Universal Blended Search results in 2008, search marketers have been looking for ways to consistently use the blended results to their advantage.

The Opportunity

According to Joel, one of the most mysterious and difficult universal channels has been video, particularly getting video thumbnail images associated with the search results that you rank for with your domain.

Notice how video thumbnails make search entries stand out.

It’s important because these thumbnails capture searcher’s attention and can “make a number three ranking perform like a number one ranking” in terms of click through rates and traffic.

The Problem

The criteria for getting Video Thumbnails in your search listings has never been transparent, but Joel says that videos must be indexed and associated with our domain in Google Video for there to be any possibility of thumbnail associations.

He warns that even if we’ve done this, there is no certainty, but only “increased probability.” Apparently, factors such as industry, geography and search terms all influence which type of blended results are displayed, if at all.

In the beginning of Universal Search, Joel used a process that was relatively easy:

  1. Add unique video to your site.
  2. Ensure the video player and video file are on the URL you want that video’s thumbnail to rank for.
  3. Submit Video Sitemap to Google Webmaster Tools.

Beginning in 2008, he saw thousands of videos ranked using this simple process. But over the course of the next 18 months, videos that had been previously ranked began falling out of the video index and fewer non-YouTube videos were being added to the video index, he says.

The Solution

With the addition of one step, Joel says we can significantly increased the likelihood of getting a video thumbnail in our search results.

  1. Add unique video to your site
  2. Add Open Graph Video Tags
  3. Ensure the video player and video file are on the URL you want that video’s thumbnail to rank for
  4. Submit Video Sitemap to Google Webmaster Tools

Ok, so number 1, number 3 and number 4 look familiar, but Open Graph tags for Video SEO? Really?

Joel says, “Absolutely.” Open Graph is a protocol developed by Facebook that allows any webpage to become a rich object in a social graph.

At their most basic, Open Graph tags allow you to define and categorize the objects on your site that you associate Facebook Like buttons to. Think of them as social media meta tags.

My question was, “Why do they matter?”

First, says Joel, Google has made a conscious effort to get more social. Open graph tags are currently key components of that.

Second, he points out that many video players today are buried in java script. It can be difficult for the spiders to verify the existence of a video file on such a page. This is important because when you submit a sitemap to webmaster tools, you’re telling Google that you have videos on specific pages.

Rather than take your word for it, the spiders must verify it. However, because javascript-based players are common on the market and used by many huge brands and because the spiders can — but usually don’t — execute java script, verification can be tricky.

Enter open graph tags. Though not perfect, Joel believes that they are viewed as an adequate video verification signal.

Adding Open Graph Video Tags to Your Site

Placed before the </head> tag:

<meta property="og:video"
   content="" />

<meta property="og:video:secure_url"
   content="" />

<meta property="og:video:type" 
   content="application/yourvideoapplication" />

<meta property="og:video:width" content="xxx" />

<meta property="og:video:height" content="xxx" />


Joel showed me some domains found “in the wild” that rank video well, we see that most (not all) utilize open graph video tags. You Tube – anyone who wants to get video ranked in Google Video would be wise to look at how You Tube works.

Below is a universal video result. Take a quick look at the source code on any given video page and what do you see…

V Tech Universal Listing

V Tech uses video to great effect.

YouTube Open Graph Implementation

YouTube's Open Graph Implementation


These guys have consistently ranked video since 2009. Let’s take a look:

eBags Consistently Rank for Video. Here are their Open Graph tags


I was glad to see hime choose Zappos as an example. This company is the granddaddy of eCommerce video and has one of the longest running track records of successful video SEO. Let’s take a look at the source code for a page where they have a video thumbnail in their results:

Zappos Open Graph Implementation

Zappos Open Graph Implementation

“Wow,” he says. “Not only do they have a video open graph tag, but it’s the only open graph tag.”

There’s Smoke, But Is There a Fire?

Evidence suggests that open graph tags, when used in conjunction with video SEO best practices, play a strong role in getting video thumbnails in your search listings. Are they the single most important element? Probably not. If you use them, are you guaranteed to get video thumbnail results? No.

But, if you want to leverage your video assets to get thumbnails ranked and increase search traffic, Joel makes a strong case that this is your formula.

Thanks again to Joel Harvey, who is a Conversion Scientist at Conversion Sciences, LLC, for his contributions to this piece. 

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Analytics | Search & Conversion


About The Author: is the Conversion Scientist at Conversion Sciences and author of Your Customer Creation Equation: Unexpected Website Forumulas of The Conversion Scientist. Follow Brian at The Conversion Scientist blog and on Twitter @bmassey

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  • ebooksulit

    Just wondering… granted you are using WordPress, are you going to put the above code in each video post that you do? 

  • Tad Miller

    Any opinion on Open Graph vs. Video Schema markup when it comes to getting the thumbnails to show?  Does it make any difference at all?

  • Angie Schottmuller

    I’m very skeptical on this. With a video site map several added factors come into play, but in-linking authority would still dominate. I’ve never seen OpenGraph have any impact on SEO, but I’m open to keeping an eye on it. From a rich snippets perspective of seeing the video thumbnail, I’d expect microdata to be the route. Got any SEO tests comparing microdata to OpenGraph?

  • Chris Tallman

    @twitter-14110783:disqus was wondering the same thing myself — and along the same lines, am I going to get penalized for “over-SEO-ing” if I use both microdata (Schema) AND Opengraph??

  • Brian Massey

    I asked Joel about this. He says, “We don’t have any data comparing microdata to Open Graph. However, we’ve seen at least three instances with clients where Google was not making thumbnail associations in rankings despite valid video sitemaps, exposed video file name, etc. In all three cases, thumbnails began appearing in their search results within 30 days after adding Open Graph video tags.”

  • Joel Harvey

    We’ve not seen schema applied consistently in the wild by sites that are successfully getting thumbnails associated with rankings (aside from You Tube). At the heart of it, video SEO is a verification problem. The issue that search engines have is confirming that the video webmasters tell them is on a given page (via the video sitemap) actually is there and relevant. Because search engines were built to crawl TEXT, they are at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to vetting and indexing video content. They need verification signals like open graph tags and/or microdata to confirm that what the sitemap says is on the page is actually what is on the page. At the end of the day, you can make the case that either one does this, at least theoretically. We always default to what works and what’s worked for us is open graph. 

  • Joel Harvey

    I don’t think you’ll get penalized for having both…each is supported by Google and Bing. 

  • Dino Gomez

     Hey Brian is there a WordPress plugin of sorts that will help add this code to video posts more easily? Or am I setting the idea that there should be one? Great post by the way!

  • Rob Snell

    I’m pretty sure Mark Robertson of ReelSEO is the guy who worked with Zappos to do this. He was very helpful earlier this year when we were getting our little toe into video.

  • Rob Snell

    I’m pretty sure Mark Robertson of ReelSEO is the guy who worked with Zappos to do this. He was very helpful earlier this year when we were getting our little toe into video.

  • Joel Harvey

    Just for clarity, out of respect for their privacy, none of the examples used in this post were sites we have worked on.

  • Joel Harvey

    Just for clarity, out of respect for their privacy, none of the examples used in this post were sites we have worked on.

  • Jeff Martin

    On our own site we’ve successfully had videos properly recognized and indexed for the last several years. Make sure to use Google’s rich snippets testing tool:

    If you are struggling with indexing issues Google does a very good job explaining common indexing issues in this video:

    Google introduction to video markup:

    Google on Schema for video (their preferred method):

    Google on alternate video markup (Open Graph, Yahoo! Search Monkey, Facebook Share, etc):

  • Marc McDermott

    I’d also like to know this. And if open graph doesn’t make sense, whats the alternative?

  • Chris Avery

    I would also assume the answer is “No” but clarification on if it’s worth doing would be useful.


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