Last week I started a 3-part series about video SEO (search engine optimization). In part 1 I talked about the three myths of video SEO:
- Good video SEO is getting as many views as possible
- Putting videos on YouTube increases your search rankings
- YouTube is good SEO because it’s the second biggest search engine
Today I want to address the video hosting issue and why the solution you choose could actually be hurting your SEO, not helping.
What is SEO?
Remember we established that SEO is about optimizing the number of people who find your site via organic searches. There are a whole host of ways to optimize SEO that go beyond the scope of this post. But when it comes to video, as I referenced in the myths, just putting videos on YouTube will not boost your SEO. Yes, you may get that YouTube video highly ranked on a search engine results page (SERP). But the links on that SERP will link to YouTube, not your site. So, in that case you’re actually hurting your SEO, not helping.
But what if you could get the same ranking with that video, but have the link on the search page go to your website, not YouTube (or Vimeo). (Note: I’m talking about regular Vimeo users here. With Vimeo Pro, and even Vimeo Plus, you could accomplish what I’m talking about. More on that a little later).
When video SEO is working properly and effectively, when your video embedded web page comes up in SERPs, it’ll have what’s called a rich snippet. Those are those video thumbnails you see when a search engine result links to a page with a video. Links on SERPs with rich snippets typically get clicked before regular text links because your eye is drawn to the images. When you’re doing video SEO right, that link will lead to your website.
Below are the search engine results for the JJ Abrams TED video. The video is located on both TED (via the propriety TED video player) and of course on YouTube. When you do a Google search for the video, they both come up. As you’ll see, one result links to the TED site, and one to YouTube.
Your goal is to get this kind of result, but with the only link being to YOUR site. (In the case of TED, it make sense for TED videos to be on both TED.com and YouTube. This relates to how and why you should effectively use both your site and social media video sites. But I’ll talk about that in part 3. Here I just wanted you to see an example of what I’m talking about.) The key to all of this involves 1) self-hosting your video on a professional site and 2) creating a video sitemap.
Chances are most of you reading this use either YouTube or Vimeo to host your videos. Those are great services (I use them both) and they have their place. But if using video to help maximize your SEO is important (which for some of you it is, or should), then you need to be smart about how you use social sharing sites like YouTube.
When you host a video yourself, or use a professional hosting site like Wistia, Brightcove or Vimeo Pro, the video is hidden from search engines and the web. Unless you have a link directly to that video, it won’t appear. Why? Because they are designed so that the web page where you host that video is the “owner” of the video. The link to that page will be the link that Google will serve up in the SERP.
So you start with the self-hosting to maximize video SEO. You can do that by putting the video directly on your site’s server (the same way you would a photo). But depending on how many videos you have and how many views, this could get expensive as most hosting providers have storage and/or bandwidth limits. If they don’t, or if you have a plan that can handle it, then this may not be as big an issue.
The next best way to host yourself is to use a professional service. There are quite a few. Wistia, Vimeo Pro (which, by the way, is the same thing as Vimeo Business), Brightcove, and Viddler are some of the more popular. They cost anywhere from $200 to o$600/year (or more) depending on which option you get. But the investment can be well worth it if you use their feature sets to their maximum potential.
The Video Sitemap
Now that you have your video professionally hosted, you need to let Google know that your site is the owner of the video. This is done with a video sitemap.
Sitemaps in general are XML files usually located at the root level of your site. They are useful because they tell search engines like Google, Yahoo and MSN where to find key content on your site. Having sitemaps and then adding page links to those sitemaps can help in your overall SEO.
A video sitemap is a sitemap that is specifically geared towards telling search engines where your videos are located. More specifically, it’s telling the engines which page is to be considered the “home” of the video. If you were to Google that video specifically, that is the page the search engine would link to. Here’s a short video by Google on what a video sitemap is and what’s needed:
Every video entry on your video sitemap needs to have
- Play page URL
- Thumbnail URL
- Raw video file URL and/or the video player URL
Below is what a video entry on your sitemap would look like. You’d have one of these for every video you want listed for your site.
You can use a simple text editor (using the .xml extension) if you want to create a video sitemap by hand. (Click here to access a video_sitemap.xml document I created from this text. You can use it as a template, should you decide to create video sitemaps manually).
Once the video sitemap is created, you need to upload it to the root level of your website to take advantage of the benefit and get that rich snippet. But keep in mind that part of this strategy involves having a site that Google will bother to crawl. If you’re managing your own site, you could use Google Webmaster Tools to do this. You would go to the ADD/TEST Sitemap button in the Sitemaps section of your dashboard:
In addition to that, you’ll want to create a robots.txt file and add that to your root as well. This is a file that gives instructions to search engines what to crawl, index and/or exclude from search. Add your video sitemap as a sitemap entry in this file. (See below on how to do that).
Isn’t There an Easier Way?
Is your head hurting yet? Mine is. (And was as I researched all this stuff). And to be quite honest with you, I’m still learning. But I’m pretty confident that the basics I’ve covered here are an excellent foundation. Phil Nottingham at Distilled is a master. Much of what I am sharing is regurgitating what I’ve learned from their site (and Wistia).
Speaking of which, that leads me to the “easier way.” By far the easiest way to get a video sitemap created, uploaded and generating those rich snippets is with a Wistia account. They pretty much do just about all the work for you. They’ll automagically create the sitemap. All you need to do is
- Create a robots.txt text file (it’s easy. Click here to learn how. Or, click here to download one I’ve created for you. It’s recommended you read up on how to use one if you’re not already familiar. Don’t worry, you won’t break anything if you just use this as is. But without adding Disallow: records to the file, search engine robots will crawl your entire site. That may not necessarily be bad, but in some cases there may be sections you don’t want crawled. The Disallow: line in the robots.txt file will do that).
- Add the Wistia Sitemap line to your robots.txt file
- Upload the robots.txt file to your site’s root.
It looks like this:
Once the sitemap is created and verified, you’ll be able to start adding your videos to it. Click here to see how to do it.
Remember, for all of this to work, you need to have the ability to add files to the root level of your website. If you’re using a template style web hosting service (e.g. Square Space, Behance, WordPress.com, Showit Sites, Blu Domain, etc.) you won’t be able to create video sitemaps (as far as I know).
Alternative “Easy” Methods Other Than Wistia
Wistia is a great service (I’ve started using it and am encouraging clients to do the same through me) but it does cost. They have a free version if you’re hosting three or fewer videos. Any more than that and the costs start at $20/month (or $192/year) for ten videos.
If you need more videos and that’s not a cost you’re ready to assume, my recommendation would then be to use Vimeo Plus or Vimeo Pro in conjunction with a self-hosted WordPress website. (Note: technically, you cannot use Vimeo Plus for commercial work, but people do all the time and Vimeo hasn’t taken video down. But, it’s worth mentioning). Vimeo Plus is only $60/year (Vimeo Pro/Business is $199). You would then want to use the Yoast SEO WordPress Plugin (free) in conjunction with the Yoast Video SEO WorPress plugin ($69 for a single site). Here’s the video for the Video SEO Plugin by Yoast:
If you use this method, for Vimeo Plus you will need to make sure “Hide this video from Vimeo.com” is selected in the Privacy settings. If you don’t do that, both the Vimeo.com link for the video and your sitemapped webpage will be considered video locations by search engines. Vimeo is then more than likely to out-rank you on a SERP, thereby defeating the purpose of the sitemap. Vimeo Pro/Business videos are already hidden from Vimeo (as long as you don’t have “Community Pass” turned on).
For a more thorough list of how to add sitemaps for a range of popular video hosting sites, read Phil Nottingham’s post on Distilled.
Important Things to Remember
There are a few important things to keep in mind when working with video sitemaps.
- Do NOT use iFrame embed codes. iFrame embeds are more popular nowadays, but they hide the necessary information search engines need index your video. So make sure you’re using traditional embed codes (Wistia specifically has a selection called “SEO Embed”).
- Have only one video on the page associated with the sitemapped video.
- Have additional content on that page other than just the video.
- In your sitemap entry for the video, make the “Title” tag (or the “Title field” in the video sitemap form if you’re using Wistia) the same title as the web page itself. If your web page’s titled is “Atlanta Video Production and Marketing Agency Serving the Entire Southeast Region and the World”, then copy and paste the long-a$$ title into the title field. (Note: this is NOT the title of the video itself. It’s the “title” tag for the sitemap entry.)
- Make sure the page that you will connect with the video is not going to change. If you decide to change the URL associated with the video in the video sitemap after Google has already crawled it and created the rich snippet, it can take a LONG time for the rich snippet to update.
Is It All Worth It?
As you can see, there’s a lot of work associated with using video sitemaps. Is it worth it? Maybe? Depends on the kind of videos you’re making and how your clients are finding you. I say it is. A little bit of work on the front end can yield great results that can turn into work and brand recognition.
In the third and final part of the series, I’ll go into what’s a good strategy for effectively using YouTube and Vimeo in your video SEO strategy.