Video SEO: worth the effort?

A recent discussion with a client, and coincidentally an article from Agency Post (Why Video Is Online Marketing’s Best Kept Secret) led me to investigate the claim that adding videos to a website will result in improved search engine results, and increased sales.

My first response was scepticism: given that search engines such as Google can’t ‘see’ the content of a video (unless it’s captioned), why would they give extra credit to a page containing one? Any why would a video necessarily increase sales?

Video SEO

The Agency Post article quotes impressive figures: ‘If you have a video on your website, it’s 50 times more likely to be ranked on the first page of Google.’ Unfortunately, the research on which this claim is based is more than three years old (The Easiest Way to a First-Page Ranking on Google). It might still be true, but then again it might not.

Benjamin Wayne (in How To Use Video SEO To Jump To The Top Of Google Search Results) advises that since Google can’t see the content of your video, you can post it multiple times with different titles to attract different search queries. This sounds very much like the ‘black hat’ SEO technique of publishing multiple copies of text content to artificially boost search engine ranking: a technique which has become less successful as search engine algorithms have become ever more sophisticated. If enough people try to game the system, search engines will learn to ignore them.

Converting visitors into buyers

I’m not a patient person, and my internet connection isn’t always as fast as I would like it to be, so if I’m going to play a video it needs to provide a return on the investment of my time. It takes longer to watch someone talking than to read the same content, so I’ll watch a video of a talking head only if I have reason to believe there’s something pretty special about what they have to say.

If your video shows me something that’s hard to explain in words – how to cut a mortise joint, or judge when a custard is cooked – then it may well be worthwhile waiting for the video to load, and the video in turn might help to persuade me to buy the mortise saw or double boiler you’re selling. If it’s a video of someone telling me how wonderful your product is, I’m not going to waste my time. A testimonial that looks slick will be discounted as ‘marketing fluff’; one that looks amateur is just embarrassing.

Accessibility

If you care about accessibility (and you should: read Access all areas) any video on your site must be captioned or have a text equivalent. In addition to meeting accessibility guidelines, this ensures that search engines can understand your content. (Of course it also means that you can’t publish multiple copies with different titles and expect to fool them into treating each copy as a unique piece of content.)

Conclusion

If video is relevant to your visitors, by all means use it. Provide captioning or a text equivalent to ensure that it’s accessible. Follow Forester’s advice (The Easiest Way to a First-Page Ranking on Google) and Google’s (About video content in Sitemaps) to ensure that it has the best chance of appearing in search results.

But don’t add video for its own sake and expect instant improvements in your search engine rankings.

Instead, publish content that helps your visitors complete the tasks that matter to them: contact me to find out how.

 

SEO: Metadata and more

In my introduction to search engine optimisation, I addressed ways that a writer or editor can create content which can be found by search engines: this article will look at other influences on your search engine rankings.

Metadata

There is more to a web page than the words and images that appear in your browser window. Metadata is information about a page that doesn’t appear in the browser, but is read by the robots that build search engine results.

The metadata elements of most interest to editors are the title, description and keywords.

The title appears in the browser title bar and (by default) in lists of favourites or bookmarks; it is also the first line in the search engine result for a page. Therefore, it should clearly describe the content of the page and be easy to scan. Avoid the temptation to place the name of the site at the beginning of the title ‘My site – articles – A word about metadata’ is less scannable than ‘A word about metadata – My site’. Titles longer than about 70 characters will be truncated in search engine results.

The description provides an opportunity give readers more detail what the page is about – who should read it and why. Bing is the only one of the major search engines that routinely displays it in search engine results, but Google also displays it in certain circumstances. Avoid using the same description for multiple pages (for example using the same description for every issue of your newsletter).

Description for the Membership page reads 'Jessica new login page to add a customized login module.'

The description for Defence Health’s Membership page needs editing.

Meta keywords were very important a decade ago, but it was all too easy to load up the meta keywords with words and phrases that were popular but irrelevant to the content on the page. As a result, most search engines give them little if any weight in assigning a ranking. You may wish to include known alternative spellings in your keywords, but don’t bother waste too much time tweaking them.

Update your site regularly

Search engines prefer sites with fresh, original content. Recent updates to Google’s search algorithm penalise sites whose content is duplicated across the web – typically because it has been produced in ‘content mills’ which churn out repetitive, low-quality content.

Links

One of the indicators used by search engines to identify quality content is the number of links to it: these are in effect recommendations from the linking site. Unfortunately, it is possible for these recommendations to be manipulated: some ‘SEO’ services simply list your site on a number of huge link farms – sites which do nothing but link. Search engines now recognise these for what they are, and links from them will do your site’s ranking more harm than good.

On the other hand, genuine links are worth cultivating. Seek out sites with related services – where a link to your site offers value to the customers of that site – and suggest a link. Register your site with reputable directories – both general ones like Biztas, a database of Tasmanian businesses , and those specific to your business, like the freelance register of the Tasmanian Society of Editors.

You can also use social media, such as Twitter and LinkedIn, to increase the number of links to your pages.

Code

Search engines – Google in particular – have a preference for standards-compliant, fast-loading pages. As an editor you may not have much influence on a site’s code, but if you specialise in editing the web you need to understand at least the basics of the web’s underlying languages.

Final lessons

It seems inevitable that the arms race between search engines and those wanting to game the system will continue. Put your efforts into creating high-quality, audience-focussed content and publishing it with lean, standards-compliant code, and you are likely to be rewarded with high search engine rankings.

 

Writing for the web: Introducing SEO

If your content is on the web, but the people who need it can’t find it, it might as well not exist.

Search engines work by analysing pages, working out what they are about, and matching them to what the searcher asks for. Whether you’re a writer or an editor, you want to make it as easy as possible for the search engine to do this accurately.

SEO is the art of helping potential readers find your content.

I will assume that your goal is to attract readers who actually want what your site has to offer – whether products, services or information. There are also techniques for drawing people to your site who aren’t looking for what you offer, but who might be persuaded to want it: these are sometimes described as ‘black hat’ SEO.

SEO advice from Google

Despite challenges from Bing and others, Google remains the dominant general search engine. At Google webmaster central  you can find links to a range of tools including Webmaster guidelines for content and design.

Bing and Yahoo also provide advice for webmasters, but it is more fragmented, and you have to dig for it.

Keywords

The first step in writing effective web content is to identify what you are writing about, and what your potential readers call it. Large organisations seem particularly prone to using ‘clever’ marketing or business terms to describe their products and services: but if your organisation’s word for a product doesn’t match the word that people who want it type into a search engine, those people are unlikely to find you.

These are your keywords – the words that people use to describe what they want to know or do when they come to your site. There are a number of tools available to identify keywords – some paid, others free – or you can undertake market research. One important source of keywords is people who deal directly with the site’s customers: they are the ones who are most likely to know whether your widget is called a thingummy or a whatsit by the people who use it. Don’t ask the marketing department!

If you don’t have access to any of this, you can use your skills as an editor to understand the potential audience for each page and the language they are likely to use.

Writing search engine–friendly content

Once you’ve identified your keywords, what should you do with them?

Your page title, headings and opening paragraph tell readers what the page is about, so this is where you include the most important of your keywords. Repeat them, and variations of them, throughout the text, but don’t stuff them into every second sentence: any visitors you do attract that way will quickly become bored and leave!

In the body of your content, start with the information that’s most valuable to most people, before moving on to more obscure, technical information, or details of interest to a small segment of your audience – you can even put these on separate, linked, pages. Don’t forget to include your keywords (where relevant) in the alt text for images.

Metadata

Some web writers swear by keyword metadata, but Google in particular gives relatively little weight to it. Consider that if a Wikipedia article matching your search term exists, it will usually appear in the first few search engine results, despite the fact that while Wikipedia articles have good titles, they have no keyword or description metadata.

The next article in this series will look at metadata in more detail.