Video SEO Sitemap Standards and Documentation get a Refresh from Google and Partners

I don’t know about you, but nothing gets me more excited than video SEO! (Well, at least it’s a close second after racing cars, driving taxis, and public transportation, but none of those pay the bills at the moment.) By the way, if you’re new to video SEO, you may want to read this older blog post about what exactly is video SEO and why it matters to you and your business.)

Last week I had the pleasure of joining some of the Google team at their Los Angeles Venice office as VidCaster prepares a beta of a Google TV app for our users. I thought most of the dev session would be dedicated to the particulars of Google TV (more on that in a later post), but much to my surprise there was a great deal of new info about the evolution of video search in general including some brand new documentation from Google on the subject of video search.

Below I summarize my learnings to share with others, all of which are public to the best of my knowledge.

Explicit push for a “Play Page” Standard

I have always been a proponent of the concept of a “playback” page or “video landing page” for user experience and indexing purposes. Even the non-technical readers can understand this concept — you have seen a “play page” each and every time you view a video on YouTube. Each video on YouTube has a unique web page URL (look in your browser address bar and you’ll find a URL usually ending with a confusing unique video ID such as “oHg5SJYRHA0“) where you watch the video, view comments and can click on related videos such as cats playing pianos.

Interesting to note, Google has now begun to refer to video landing pages as “play pages” and highly recommending their use:
> “Make sure you have a publicly available video page where users can watch your video. Google recommends using a dedicated video play page for each video.”

I am very happy to see Google et al. promoting the standardization of a “play page” as it is truly best-practice for a good user experience. Curious what makes a best-in-class video play page? Check out my recent post — 10 tips for optimizing your video play pages.

In-Page Markup has Renewed Importance

One of my key recent learnings is that Google, Bing and Yahoo are renewing emphasis on in-page markup to identify video content, in addition to (but not replacing) the XML video sitemap.

While there are a number of competing standards for in-page markup of video content metadata, including Facebook’s popular Open Graph protocol (incidentally the GoogleBot can parse Facebook share / open graph markup), Google, Bing and Yahoo have recently come out in support of schema.org, a new initiative to simplify and standardize in-page metadata tags.

What’s the Difference between In-Page Markup and Video Sitemaps? Push vs. Pull:

I like to describe video sitemaps as being a “push” mechanism and on-page markup as a “pull” mechanism. Both are important for getting content properly indexed, but they serve somewhat different purposes and work well together in tandem.

PUSH – A video sitemap can be “pushed” or uploaded to Google by any user with access to their Webmaster Tools. In fact, if you’re a savvy developer you can even automate the submission process using an HTTP POST request when new content is posted.

PULL – In contrast, in-page HTML markup on a video play page is “pulled” or fetched by a search engine only when the page is being indexed by the search engine crawler.

By combining these mechanisms, and ensuring that the data is consistent and matches on both, you can maximize the chance that your users will find valid content they are searching for.

In-Page Markup can be Harder to “Game”

One of my favorite parts of the schema.org standard is that some of the core components, such as title and description of the video, are simply plain text (displayed to the user on the HTML page) enclosed in tags with appropriate schema.org syntax. Check out this example from the Google Video SEO documentation:

<div itemprop="video" itemscope itemtype="http://schema.org/VideoObject">
  <h2>Video: <span itemprop="name">Title</span></h2>
  <meta itemprop="duration" content="T1M33S" />
  <meta itemprop="thumbnailUrl" content="thumbnail.jpg" />
  <meta itemprop="contentURL" content="http://www.example.com/video123.flv" />
  <meta itemprop="embedURL" content="http://www.example.com/videoplayer.swf?video=123" />
  <meta itemprop="uploadDate" content="2011-07-05T08:00:00+08:00" />
  <meta itemprop="expires" content="2012-01-30T19:00:00+08:00" />
  <meta itemprop="height" content="400" />
  <meta itemprop="width" content="400" />
  <object (...) >
    <param (...) >
    < embed type="application/x-shockwave-flash" (...) >
  </object >
  <span itemprop="description">Video description</span>
</div>

Notice that both the Title and the Description are plainly visible to the user, encouraging site owners to simply leverage the “real” text that users can see to pull double duty as tagged metadata. I’m a big fan of this approach since it reflects the actual data visible to users and encourages site owners to be “good players” and not game the system by including spammy keywords hidden inside of HTML.

HTML5 Still gets the Short Straw to Flash in Video SEO

I’m sorry to say that the current state of indexing HTML5 video playback objects is very poor across the board and this is still a work in progress for Google et al. We have found that support for indexing HTML5 players is spotty, owing to the very nature of HTML5 players — an “HTML5 video player” is simply a regular HTML page that plays back a video in the full width of the rendered document frame.

Usually an HTML5 video player is embedded in another page using the iframe tag — the HTML5 iframe looks just like a Flash based video player for humans in our browsers. However it’s really tough at the moment for the GoogleBot to distinguish the difference between a “play page” and a “video player” HTML page. As such it’s safest to continue to use a Flash based player (or at least have a backup Flash player) until Google announces clear support for HTML5 players in video sitemaps and schema.org markup. (Again, I hate to recommend this, but HTML5 video is still a bit early when it comes to video SEO.)

Testing and Getting Started

Get started now with these updated “features” to video indexing: check out Google’s brand new video SEO docs and use Google’s “Rich Snippet Testing Tool” to see how well your pages make out.

(Or you can just use a cloud video SEO solution like VidCaster and we do all this for you.)

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