Monday, September 10, 2012

Creating a Video SEO Strategy Is Hard - But Worth It!

Why is Video SEO So Blasted Hard?

Sticks of dynamite strapped to a timer
Ever since I attended MozCon 2012 last July I have been on the video SEO warpath. It all started when Paddy Moogan uttered the words “Put an embed code in an embed code.” I felt like jumping up and down, shouting “Eureka!” and running around the room.  Aside from enthusiasm…perhaps one of my most valuable personality traits (although my kids would probably argue that it isn’t a virtue) is my tenacity. Right now, the focus of that tenacity is learning how to improve the SEO on the 100 or so videos produced by the company where I work as an in-house SEO strategist.

Here are the challenges: 

  1. All of our videos are posted on our YouTube channel first, then embedded in our site.
  2. Most of our videos are product promotion videos, not the best content for YouTube.
  3. None of our videos had transcripts (We began doing them 3 months ago).
  4. Video search results deliver visitors to our YouTube channel instead of our site.
  5. Visitors who grab our embed code are linking to our YouTube channel, not to our site.

Drawing of a lighbulb
Here’s a plan to make the most out of your Video SEO:

Step 1 – Transcribe Your Video

Thanks to some great blog posts by ReelSEO, I found a great site called where I could transcribe videos, including timings down to the millisecond. The site also functions as a video search engine “community” that allows members to add translations in any language to any video on the site. It’s free and easy to use.

While there are some good, low-cost transcription services available, you may decided to transcribe your videos in-house. Many of our products are highly technical in nature and services using speech-recognition software are usually not precise with the technical terms & that could make us look unprofessional. We probably would have had to spend a lot of time going back in and editing anything we’d gotten from a service, so in the long run this was more cost-effective.

DotSub makes it extremely easy to export the completed transcript and upload to YouTube. My biggest recommendation to anyone who’s created their own transcript is to disable the speech-recognition automated machine transcripts on YouTube once you’ve uploaded your “real”  transcription. “What machine transcriptions?” you ask? Trust me. Go to one of your videos right now and click on the “CC” icon in the lower left tray of the video screen and enable captions on a video with Google’s machine transcriptions.  Enough said…

Step 2 – Make sure the transcriptions are posted on your site, not just as captions on YouTube

Out of everything I tried to address, this was the hardest solution to find. What I wanted for our existing videos was the ability to publish an interactive transcript beneath the video window inside a scroll box that would follow along as the video played and highlight the line of text that was being spoken at any given time. I also wanted that content to be shareable and I wanted visitors who potentially found a relevant line of text from the video in a search engine result to be able to click on that and have it take them to exactly that spot in the video.
Man raising his arms to the sky
I asked everywhere. I got lots of suggestions for HTML scroll boxes and javascript solutions, but nothing that did everything I was wanting…until I found CaptionBox. The only caveat is that it's a legacy product owned by It isn’t supported except for their enterprise customers, for which we weren’t ever going to have enough transcriptions done in a month to qualify. However, I contacted them and asked them if we could download and use the software. They said “Yes, as long as you understand it’s not supported so if there are bugs or coding issues it’s on you to fix them.” Hallelujah! I’d found my solution! Even better, there was a free WordPress plug in!

Here is an example of SpeakerText in action:

Step 3 – Create an Embed code that links back to your site instead of your YouTube channel

When the company started doing YouTube videos a few years back, there was little thought given to SEO. There was more concern about getting viewers, a very valid concern. The decision was made to create a YouTube channel. It’s gone pretty well. The channel has over 750K views and 745 subscribers. What we didn’t know was that YouTube might be a great place for our instructional webinar videos, but it’s not the best choice for our product videos. We didn’t foresee handing over a click and delivering potential customers to YouTube instead of to our product pages.

What’s even worse?

When someone grabbed the embed code off of the embedded YouTube videos on our site, they too were delivering our potential visitors…that’s right…you guessed it…to YouTube.

Paddy Moogan’s blog post Getting Links and SEO Value from your YouTube Videos contains an update with a handy little tool created by Sean Lind that automatically creates an embed code in a video embed code. Ah, the magic of that phrase…”an embed code in an embed code.” Every time I think about it I get lost in a daydream of possibilities….Okay, back to the task at hand.

You can view an example of how the embed code looks in the screenshot below:

Picture of a Video Start Screen

It's not beautifully styled, but adding a nice looking button with expanding box for the script are easy to do. Here's an example of how the embed code renders on another Website when a visitor copies and pastes it into their source code:

Video by CCI Solutions

Still, a problem remains. If the visitor chooses, they can still opt to grab the YouTube Embed code, putting us right back at square 1 with all those visitors being directed back to YouTube instead of us.

Step 4 – Create a Plan that Secures Ownership of Yuur Future Video Content

The best solution moving forward will be to use a service like Wistia to privately host the videos. This way, we will get 100% credit for creating and posting the content and any shares or embeds will direct visitors back to our site instead of YouTube. The beauty of this is that even though our content is hosted by a 3rd party, for Google’s purposes the content is ours and coming from us. Now, you might ask the question “But what about the YouTube Channel that you’ve invested years and thousands of hours in building? Will it be abandoned? It’s got over 1 million views!” Sit tight. There’s an answer.

Step 5 - Use YouTube as a syndication tool, not a content creation tool.

I noticed SEOMoz is doing a really good job at this. They publish new videos on their site first. Then, after they’re established as the original source for that great content, they republish the content on YouTube. Sometimes it’s 6 months or more later. For example, I went to YouTube to find the most recent WhiteBoard Friday, and the newest one there is from Thanksgiving of last year. This is a pretty effective compromise. It establishes them as the authority source of the original content, yet still shares with billions of eyeballs in the YouTube community.

I am pretty “service agnostic” when it comes to good 3rd-party private video hosting. Since we haven’t yet settled on one, and things change pretty fast, here’s a short list of video solutions you might consider as you tackle your own Video SEO project:

3rd Party Video Hosting

If you decide to host your videos yourself, here are some helpful links:
You’ll just need to be sure to embed your video in an HTML5 player with flash fallback. DO NOT use an iframe! Search engines cannot crawl the content enclosed within an iframe. Now, if you are like me, the last three sentences aren’t too far away from pure Greek. That’s why, for us, 3rd part video hosting is going to be the way to go. Still, should you adventure down the yellow brick road of hosting them yourself, here are some good, customizable video players:
I would be remiss if I didn’t credit some very helpful people who helped us make a plan and give direction to our Video SEO Strategy:

Getting Video Results in Google - Phil Nottingham, Distilled
Building Links with Video Content - Jacob Klein, Distilled
Getting Links and SEO Value from Your YouTube Videos - Paddy Moogan, Distilled
SEOMoz Q & A - A great community for SEOs