James Parsons is the founder and CEO of Content Powered, a content creation company. He’s been a content marketer for over 10 years and writes for Forbes, Entrepreneur, Inc, and many other publications on blogging and website strategy.
Can Adding a Video to Your Blog Post Improve Rankings?
The question of whether or not a video can improve your search engine rankings has been floating around for over a decade now. It has been discussed to death, but I want to give my take on it. I believe video is a bit of a double-edged sword; it can work, and work well, to increase your rankings. On the other hand, if it’s used improperly it can have devastating consequences. Let’s dig deeper so I can explain what I mean.
Why Video Can Increase Search Rankings
Using video properly on your site can do a lot to increase search rankings, and it’s primarily due to some of the user behavior metrics that Google tracks. “Video on your page” is not a direct search ranking factor. However, backlinks from authority sites, dwell time, time spent on site, and user interactions are all beneficial. Videos can bring all of those to you – if you use them right.
Video is engaging content. Users like watching videos so much so that some content marketers have speculated that the blog post is going to fall by the wayside in favor of video content. I don’t believe that’s going to happen – there’s still a valuable niche for written content – but they certainly are engaging. I’ve personally lost hours to YouTube related video chains, and if someone does that while on your site? That’s great.
Videos increase time spent on site. Dwell time (or time spent on your site) is a valuable metric to Google. They care that people like a site enough to stick around on it. Watching a video can be an engaging activity and it encourages users to spend a few extra minutes on your blog post. Those few minutes spent watching are an excellent sign to search engine that your content is good enough for users to stick around.
Video interactions trigger analytics events. One of the problems with Google Analytics in particular is that you need more than one interaction with a page to record data about a session. This is an issue with, for example, bounce rates. If a user clicks on your page from the Google search results, reads your content, and leaves satisfied… that’s still just the initial load. If they didn’t click on anything else or trigger another interaction, there’s only one data point. From Google’s end, it’s indistinguishable from a bounce.
There are a handful of different ways you can solve this, from producing more engaging content to using related post plugins to forcing an automatic refresh of the analytics script, but videos can handle it nicely. See, clicking the “play” button on a video is an interaction with the site, and counts for Analytics. It’s automatic if you use YouTube, though you may need to implement code to monitor it for an alternative host like Vimeo. It will automatically decrease your bounce rate upon implementation and will benefit your site across the board.
The host of the video can send quality traffic to your site. Earning links from influential sites is a great way to boost your SEO. Normally, user-generated content like posts on Facebook or, in this example, a YouTube video, don’t pass along link juice, because it’s too easy to exploit. However, an embed from a different site can pass value, and other sites can link to you because of your video content. It’s a win all around.
The Devastating Consequences of Poor Video Use
On the other hand, there are some things a video can do that hurt your site. You can’t just slap a video into every post and assume you’re going to benefit from it. You need to make sure you’re doing it right.
Videos can cause a very slow loading page. Site loading speed is one of the most important modern metrics Google has starting caring about. It can take a lot of effort and a lot of tweaks to get a site to a 90+ on PageSpeed Insights. I know, I’ve done it.
The problem is, video files are large. If you’re hosting the video on your site, loading a large piece of media is often measured in seconds if not minutes, and that’s far too long for PageSpeed. My usual solution is WPRocket, which allows you to cache and lazy-load YouTube video embeds so they don’t impact your speed or initial content paints (part of Core Web Vitals).
An alternative option from Digital Inspiration is this good guide for implementing a placeholder thumbnail that essentially loads nothing more than an image until the user clicks to play the video. It’s a good solution.
Videos might not be interesting. A problem often encountered by mediocre blogs that care more about SEO than about their users is the quality of the content. Videos can, well, suck. If you’re just recording some garbage with your webcam or a screen recorder with narration via a cheap headset mic, you’re not going to get much value out of it. People might click the video to play it, but they’ll leave after a few seconds because it’s not engaging. You need high-quality and compelling content for your video to benefit you.
Making value exclusive to video turns off certain kinds of users. There are tons of people who browse the web on mobile devices. Think about the use cases for these devices. Sometimes they’re on the couch and have plenty of time to browse. Sometimes they’re at work or in class and can browse, but can’t use sound. Sometimes they’re looking for a quick answer to a question and don’t have the time or inclination to listen to a five-minute video to meander its way to the point. These people are most likely going to leave if they try to get an answer from your site and find a video waiting for them instead.
The solution to this I’ll go into more detail about later, but it’s pretty simple: a transcript.
How To Optimize Video Usage for SEO Purposes
If you want to use video to get a boost to your site SEO, you certainly can. You just want to make sure to do it right. I’ve already mentioned some of the problems above, so now let’s talk about solutions.
Make sure your videos are of high production value. Webcams are cheap. Mics are cheap. Recording videos is cheap. There are a billion people on YouTube making bargain-bin content that no one cares to watch. You need to make sure your production values – or at least the perceived production values – of your content are high quality.
Note that this doesn’t mean you need to go all-out with flashy effects, CGI, or crazy studio-level nonsense. One of the most popular ongoing video blog post series’ out there is Moz’s Whiteboard Fridays. That’s just a dude standing in front of a whiteboard with a marker, giving you an engaging talk with a high-quality microphone and a decent quality camera. There are no tricks or nonsense, just engaging content presented well.
Create an enticing video thumbnail. Thumbnails are, more than anything else, THE number one thing that convinces people to click on and watch a video. I’m a marketer who is well-versed in these tricks and techniques, and I consider myself immune to a lot of advertising because of it, but even I have clicked on random videos because of a compelling thumbnail. A thumbnail should be well-composed, use an attractive word or phrase to draw in attention, and maintain a consistent theme that you can tie to your brand.
This is serious. Wistia found that just having a custom thumbnail, no matter what it was, increased play rates on their videos by 30%. Creating a compelling, optimized thumbnail can be even more pronounced.
Keep your videos relatively short. There’s an ongoing debate over the ideal length of a YouTube video. Some people argue that no one watches videos over 3-5 minutes, so keeping a video under 3 minutes makes it a bite-sized piece of content anyone can enjoy. Other people argue that anything less than 10 minutes is an insult to your viewer’s time and would be better served as a tweet.
I’m somewhere in the middle. I’ve watched and enjoyed videos 30 seconds long, and I’ve watched and enjoyed videos over an hour long. Take as long as you need to cover the topic you want to cover in an engaging, well-edited way. The key is to make sure you’re not going off on too many tangents or fluffing up your script. A blog post can handle some fluff; a video absolutely cannot.
Include actionable advice in the script of the video. What makes a video memorable? A lot of things, but not all of them are applicable to a blog post or marketing content. What you need to do is make sure you have something actionable for your viewers. Leave them with an action they can take, information that they can spread, or a new piece of knowledge they can use.
Write unique content to surround the video. Whiteboard Friday, as I already mentioned, is compelling video blog content. They take one of two paths with video, which is to make the video the star of the show. Their blog post is nothing more than a brief introduction and the transcript of the video, and usually a call to action at the end.
You can do this, or you can integrate the video as a small part of a larger post. What I like to see is a large pillar-style post with a video as a component of the overall post. You can even use a hidden shutter with the transcript, so interested parties can expand to read but people who watch the video don’t have to scroll past it.
Include a video transcript for people who can’t watch, and for indexing purposes. A transcript can be used in two ways and should be used in both. One is what I just mentioned; the transcript in plain text on the blog post itself. It’s content for indexing purposes and it allows users to read it if they don’t want to watch. The other is the transcript upload feature on YouTube. Attaching a transcript to the video allows it to generate closed captions, as well as feeding it directly into Google for more accurate indexing of the actual video content.
Optimize your video SEO. Don’t forget the actual SEO of the video itself. The title, the description, and the tags are all important for visibility on YouTube and with video results in Google search. There are a lot of great guides out there, so pick one and follow it.
Include related videos to keep users cycling through your content. Using the playlist feature on YouTube is a powerful way to use autoplay and auto-next to keep users engaged. It can take time to build up the video library for a lot of these benefits but, like blogging, your efforts compound over time.
Just make sure to only embed a single YouTube video per page. Google typically only indexes the first video on a page, so adding more than one needs to have a strong reason to make it worthwhile.
Secret Tricks: Using Other People’s Videos
One of the best tricks you can use for leveraging video to your own benefit is to use video you didn’t produce. Other people are out there making extremely high-quality videos on subjects relevant to your topic. You can make your own version, but people will always compare the two, and since you came last, you’ll look like a copy-cat unless you have something truly unique. Plus, if you’re competing with a very high production value video, you’ll probably look worse in comparison.
So instead, just embed their video.
What? Wouldn’t that benefit them? Sure. Who cares? Every single one of us links to other blogs that discuss our topics. We’re giving them value when we do so. Is that a bad thing? Of course not. It’s just how the internet works.
There’s a persistent myth in marketing that you can’t give your competitors the time of day. I’ve encountered clients who insist I avoid linking to sites that have anything at all to do with their subject, because they want to be the authority, and don’t want to give even a hint of value to their competitors because it might “cost them a sale”.
Let me ask you; how easy do you think it is to find good reference material to link to on sites that aren’t competitors?
It’s extremely difficult. Some might say impossible. After all, a site isn’t going to be writing about a topic that’s irrelevant to their business. To some extent, everyone you link to is a competitor on some level.
The same goes for video. With a link, your blog gets the value of citing a reputable source, and users can trust that you know more about what you’re talking about than if you didn’t have sources at all. With video, the same thing happens. You still get a lot of the benefits of embedding videos, like the dwell time and the lower bounce rate, but you didn’t have to produce the video.
Sure, some people will leave your site to pursue the creator of the video. Many won’t, though, because they’re there on your blog because of your content.
There’s just one important thing you need to make sure to do if you’re going to use this technique. Make sure your blog post has tons of unique value beyond the video. If you “write” a “blog post” about a topic, but the blog post is a video embedded from a competitor and the primary content of the blog post is a transcript of that video, that’s just content theft.
You need to make that embedded video part of a larger overall whole. Prove to the people who read your post and watch the video that, sure, that person is an authority who created a video, but you’re also an authority who provided a ton of additional content on top of it. Use the video as a small part of an overall whole, not as a primary component of the content.
That’s how you leverage competitor videos for your own benefits.
Are You Blogging? You Should Be.
I wrote a 6 part article titled “Why Blog?” that breaks down the stats and facts on why blogging is one of the best marketing investments, period. I guarantee you’ll learn something new.Read Article