If you are building a website with a large amount of video content (what I call a “video website” or “video site”), a core component is to create unique video landing pages, increasingly referred to as “Play Pages”, for each and every video on your site.
But what makes a good “Play Page”? How can you get started making your video content on your website more indexable by search engines?
Here are 10 tips to make your video site have super-powered play pages indexable by search engines:
1. Prominently place the video object above the fold.
From a user experience perspective, a play page’s primary goal is to facilitate playback of a video asset. One of the simplest but often ignored rules of a quality video play page is to place the video playback object above the fold — clearly in view for the user without requiring the user to scroll down.
However, countless times I see video-oriented sites powered by blogging engines that have long-form text and pictures above the fold, requiring a user to scroll down to find the actual video asset. This is far from an ideal user experience and Google video search documentation clearly advises that a video play page should prominently feature the main video above-the-fold.
Put yourself in the end-user’s shoes — if users come to this page expecting a video, put it above the fold. And make it big and easy to find.
2. Include markup from Facebook Open-Graph and Schema.org.
This is for the HTML coders out there. A crucial component of video indexing is including metadata in the HTML code that describes the video in a form that is easily read by search engine crawlers. A description of this code is beyond the scope of this post, but check out this detailed reference from Google about various in-page markup you can employ on your play pages.
3. Maintain a descriptive and unique URL for each video.
Now we’re taking a page straight out of the blogging SEO playbook: each video play page should have a unique URL, ideally consisting of both a unique ID for the video and a descriptive title in a URL-friendly “slug” form.
For example, with VidCaster we form play page URLs as follows:
We designed this URL structure specifically such that a user can copy only the unique ID by itself, and the page will still resolve (redirect) to the full-length URL with title with a bonus feature that if a headline changes (which often happens) legacy links will still function via the root unique ID redirect. At the same time, we indicate to search engines that the canonical root (“official”) URL is the full-length URL with a descriptive headline included.
4. Include only one video per play page.
Many “player only” online video platforms allow you to create embed-able player with a sidebar playlist listing other videos a user can watch on that same page. This is horrible for video SEO (and in my opinion, not great for user experience) and absolutely not the appropriate way to make your content easily searchable and findable by users.
By no means am I saying don’t include browsing or listing pages on your video site, in fact a key component of a video site is making content easily browse-able and searchable by many vectors, from categories to tags, subgroups, etc. Go crazy with browsing navigation pages, tag clouds and the like, but when it comes to the actual play page you want one and only one video on the page. If you really can’t control yourself, try using a “related videos” widget instead of an actual playback object for other videos which direct users to appropriate landing pages for other content.
5. Use autoplay.*
This is for user experience and may not have any effect on video SEO rankings. But we’re doing this for the user, not to game the system, right?
Remember, the goal of a “play page” is to facilitate playback of a video object for an end-user. A simple way to make this happen is to start playing the video as soon as a user visits the page. Most video platforms make this as simple as adding an “autoplay” attribute or “autoplay=True” to the embed code settings.
*A warning if you’re using an embedded YouTube player for your video site: you will likely want to use the YouTube video player’s autoplay feature with caution, as many users report that viewership numbers are not counted when an embedded YouTube video has autoplay enabled. Evidently Google does not count autoplay views of an embedded video toward your video’s play count statistics, owing to a history of egregious fraud from users embedding autoplay videos below-the-fold on spam sites trying to artificially boost view numbers to game the rankings. It’s all Avril Lavigne’s fault. (Really, I’m not joking.)
6. Display prominent and simple metadata including title, summary, tags to the user.
This one is easy but crucial. Not only must you include title, summary and tags, but you should make those clear and prominent to the end-user visible in the rendered website. Ideally the video title is enclosed in an <h1> or <h2> tag and is consistent with your video sitemap.
As search engine crawlers play the “cat-and-mouse” game with black-hat SEO tactics, one of the most effective rules is to make primary, relevant metadata literally clearly visible to the user. The crawlers put a significant amount of value on text that users can see, so you might as well make it clear, effective and truthful instead of cramming fake keywords in your HTML code.
7. Include a transcript of the video as plain text.
Although computer based transcription is always improving in accuracy, there is no guarantee that search engines will take the time and effort to scan the contents of your video to extract content. Further, if you do not make a raw video file available to the search engine it is not possible for them to attempt to extract keyword metadata from the file.
To help out search engines and hearing impaired users alike, include a full transcript of the video including each and every word spoken by every speaker in the video. (Bonus points for captioning of sound effects or description of visual elements in the frame.)
Including a full transcript is the holy grail of video SEO, it allows users to find your content by searching for literally any word spoken in the video, propelling video to be as powerful as text content for indexable content marketing combined with the upside of the compelling medium of moving pictures.
8. Include a clear link in HTML to thumbnail as a plain jpg in HTML.
This one is easy to overlook. Often video site creators don’t include a thumbnail in the play page. My guess is that they think that the player object itself shows a thumbnail / freeze frame.
However, in many cases the search engine crawler is unable to introspect the video player object to extract the thumbnail for indexing purposes. Further, when sharing a link on Facebook, Facebook is notorious for choosing the “wrong” image on a page that has nothing to do with the actual object being shared.
To help out search engines and social networks, it is best to include a direct link to the thumbnail inside the HTML code of the play page. Tag this link appropriately for schema.org and Facebook.
9. Create a link to each playpage in a video sitemap XML file.
A core component of an indexable video site is to include a special XML file in your robots.txt that points search engines to a list of videos on your site. Similar to a regular website XML sitemap, a video sitemap includes a link to each video on your site and metadata about each. However, the video sitemap standard differs significantly from regular sitemaps, including such attributes as video player, running time length, thumbnails, etc., so you’ll want to read Google’s video sitemap documentation in detail to do this right.
10. Reference a legacy flash player swf file or raw video (mp4) in markup and sitemap.
It pains me to suggest this, but search engines still have a hard time understanding how to crawl HTML5-based video players. What’s more, most video metadata standards still request, if not require, a Flash swf object for inline embedding of video objects.
I wish we could finally rid ourselves of Flash for online video, but we have about a year left and until then you might as well still include a swf link in your metadata as a failsafe mechanism to ensure highest chance of being indexed, especially if you’re using a legacy Flash player anyway.
A much better alternative, although technically challenging, is to allow the Googlebot or other search engine direct access to the video file or mp4. This can be technically challenging for two reasons:
- It can be tough for entry-level users to upload and reference a directly uploaded video file on a server.
- Worse, even for technically adept users it is dangerous to post a raw, large mp4 file on metered storage servers such as Amazon S3 because of bandwidth leeches: if the video file you are hosting is remotely interesting watching for humans, then unscrupulous persons will deep link directly to your mp4 file on their own website (without users knowing it came from your server), leaving you with a huge bandwidth bill to cover *their* traffic. Google recommends blocking all IPs and only “whitelisting” the Googlebot IP, that way only the Googlebot has access to this raw video file, but this can be quite challenging even for experienced developers depending on your server configuration.
Make one video the primary focus of the play-page with a unique URL, appropriately present metadata in HTML code and to the end-user, use a video sitemap. These will get you well on your way to make an optimized video play page so that search engines can appropriately index and direct user searches to your content.
However, as you can imagine, creating all these play pages by hand for a large library of videos can be tedious and time consuming. One of the reasons we built VidCaster is to automate this process so that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel when you make your own video SEO optimized video site. Why don’t you give it a spin?