The Great Video SEO Frontier

While efforts to get web sites onto the top page of Google’s search results have spawned an entire industry, people are only starting to seriously consider the value of video optimization for search.

videoseoblendedsearchGoogle’s “Universal Search” feature — which incorporates results from news sites, videos and maps right into the body of a search results page — was introduced in May 2007, but already a fourth of U.S. Google searches (and more in other parts of the world) return videos in the results, according to a study by analyst Nate Elliott, now with Forrester Research.

Videos are 53 times more likely to appear on the first page of search results than text pages, Elliott found. Under the catchy headline “The Easiest Way to a First-Page Ranking on Google,” he blogged about some of the math behind that number. The study looked at 40 of the most popular keywords, and found:

On the keywords for which Google offers video results, we found an average of 16,000 videos vying to appear on results pages containing an average of 1.5 video results — giving each video about an 11,000-to-1 chance of making it onto the first page of results. By comparison, there were an average of 4.7 million text pages competing for a place on results pages with an average of just 9.4 text results — giving each text page about a 500,000-to-1 chance of appearing on the first page of results.

The simplest reason for this finding is that there are far fewer videos than web pages. But it’s worth considering that U.S. video views have (as expected) surpassed searches — there were 12.7 billion video views in November 2008 and 12.3 billion searches.

These developments are old enough to already support multiple video SEO companies, among them Vmatrix and EveryZing, with services ranging from video production to creation of keyword-driven video pages based on natural language processing and content analysis.

In a PermissionTV survey of more than 400 executives, 67 percent said online video would be a primary focus of their 2009 online marketing, with 52 percent expecting to start or extend online video projects in the second quarter of this year, up from 32 percent at the time of the study in December.

For his part, Elliott recommends that video marketers optimize keywords by including them in titles, tags, and file names; host their videos on YouTube, which shows up by far most often in Google results; and make sure to add new content, because freshness matters. He pointed out Electronic Arts’ integration with YouTube for its game Spore, where users can directly upload game-play videos that are properly tagged automatically, as a successful effort to take over a generic word (though at this point there is only one agricultural-related result on the first “spore” results page, so it wasn’t video alone).

Google is quick to point out that getting a video to the top of its results is not that easy. “[M]arketers shouldn’t expect video SEO be some sort of magic bullet,” said Matt Cutts, Google software engineer in charge of web spam, via email. Because video production is expensive and intensive, and watching a video takes time, which may cut down on conversion, it’s most appropriate for visual industries and branding efforts, not direct response. Cutts also warned, “[I]f Google believes that users are getting a low-quality search experience, we always reserve the right to change our algorithms, which can include how often we show videos.” But by the same measure, those factors would seem to make video less susceptible to spam (my interpretation, not Cutts’).

Cutts is right to caution against video as a cure-all. Elliott also warned in a phone interview, “If you’re not very good at text-based SEO, then you’re going to have trouble with video SEO.” But it seems clear that video SEO has the ability to make all sorts of video marketing more valuable. Original branded video content, viral commercials, video analytics and video search will become more valuable because of how prominent they can be.

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