To say video is all the rage these days among inbound marketers would be an understatement. Articles, presentations, and chatter have proliferated in the online marketing ecosystem over the past few years. Camera and audio equipment is widely and pretty cheaply available, and YouTube will host anything for free. There are dozens of free video production resources available for novice videographers.
It’s safe to say the bar has been sufficiently lowered— anybody can start making videos for their website. But just because YouTube is free doesn’t mean it’s the best option for marketing all that great video content you’ve been creating. Even if you upload a video to YouTube and then embed that video on your site you are creating a duplicate that could hurt your chances for ranking and create unnecessary competition in the search engines.
For this reason self-hosting video content can generate much better results than YouTube videos, assuming the goal is to engage new visitors who are searching for keywords within your industry or niche.
Self-hosted videos have a few key advantages:
- Only one version will show up in search engine results pages
- Links will only point to your site
- Social mentions focus on the page on your website where the video is hosted
These advantages are essential if the goal is to increase the organic profile of a given page on your website for a given set of keyword terms. Video can be an extremely powerful tool for building links, adding rich content, and gaining social mentions for a web page.
Of course, it depends on your video content’s goals. If the goal is to take the internet by storm with a Dollar Shave Club-style viral video, then YouTube’s place as the second-largest search engine in the world makes it the obvious home for your content.
But being the next Dollar Shave Club is a little like playing Powerball: the payoff is huge but the chances of hitting it big are astronomical.
Now, many smart marketers have definitely leveraged YouTube videos and channels to build incremental traffic and brand recognition, but in terms of growing organic traffic directly to your site, self-hosted video is the way to go.
The Nuts and Bolts
OK, so you’ve decided the goal is get your pages ranking well for targeted keyword terms with the help of video, and you’re on board with the idea of hosting those videos yourself so that YouTube doesn’t steal link and social juice and SERP space. Great!
Things to consider:
Bandwidth. If you host videos on your own server, be prepared. It’s not likely that a self-hosted video will go crazy viral but if it does you don’t want to crash your whole site. Ideally you should host videos on a separate, dedicated server so that in the event you do go viral and start getting thousands of simultaneous hits just your video server goes down and not your whole site.
Alternatively, you can use a third-party hosting solution like Wistia. These companies will handle all your bandwidth needs plus most have a pretty comprehensive analytics and social sharing package.
Embed code. Make sure you do a simple flash or HTML embed! Java or iframe embeds are difficult for Google to crawl and while there is decent evidence that Googlebot can figure out what you’re hiding in there it’s definitely advisable to make things easy.
By the same token, make sure you customize the embed code you give everyone else who wants to post your video to include an iframe with a link back to your site outside the iframe. That way Google will have a hard time crawling duplicate versions and continue to recognize the original on your site as the canonical version. You can also include a canonical tag in the embed code to really make sure the search engines get the picture.
Mark up your video with microdata so that a thumbnail and description display in the SERPs. Research has shown this can significantly increase your click-through rate even if you’re ranked further down the page as user’s eyes are drawn to the thumbnail image.
Keywords. Pick a couple keywords to target and make sure they are consistent throughout the video and the page: title, URL, H1, video file name, video title, and content. Bonus points for including a transcript of your video on the page!
So you’re ready to rock out some pages on your site with some self-hosted video… but what should the video be about?
You want to make something that’s inherently linkable and shareable but also represents your brand well. The expectations for minimum production value (how well the video is produced) also go up for customers and your company when a video is hosted on your website as opposed to YouTube, so keep that in mind while brainstorming a topic.
How-to guides and other resourceful information that leverages your industry/niche expertise is almost always the best bet for creating a video that can earn links and shares. Product information videos can also be very successful, although you typically need many such videos to start moving the needle. That’s why it’s a great idea to start with a how-to guide targeting some higher volume keyword terms in order to earn the buy-in to fund a larger number of product-level videos.
The Self-Hosted Secret Weapon: Nailing The Long Tail
Adding rich content like video to your web pages also helps you nail the long tail by raising that page’s organic profile for variations of your primary target keyword. This is certainly helped by all those additional links and social mentions your page is earning after you post video.
But video can also start showing up in universal and video-specific search results for long tail terms simply by virtue of the fact that there is not a lot of competition in the video search results for lots of keywords, therefore raising the likelihood that your video will be picked to show up for even distantly related terms.
Of course, an embedded YouTube video can also show up in universal and video search results. But YouTube is almost certainly more powerful than your site, and therefore the YouTube version will likely get the nod in the SERPs, which means potential visitors to your site must make an extra click to get to your domain. This is where insisting on self-hosting can provide a clear advantage in the SERPs.
Case Study: Christmas Gifts For Men
I work for Cloud 9 Living, an experience gifting company based in Boulder, CO. December is a huge month for us. Christmas keywords are insanely competitive. So last month I developed a video that we self-hosted on an optimized page on the Cloud 9 site.
The day the video went live we ranked #34 for the keyword term “christmas gifts for men.” The page received 26 visits from 13 organic keywords. For the past two weeks that number has steadily increased and yesterday the page received 97 visits from 37 keywords.
Traffic for the past two weeks is up 170% over the previous two weeks. Granted, some of that has to do with increased search volume for Christmas-related keywords after Thanksgiving, but still, the improvement has been noticeable. Organic traffic for this page is up 20% over the same time period last year, and a whole slew of long tail keywords are driving traffic that we didn’t get any visitors from last year.
Best of all, a marked-up thumbnail of the video is bouncing around in the SERPs between #11 and #14 for “christmas gifts for men.” We hope to break into the top ten by December 25th. Keep your fingers crossed!
Could you have achieved these results with a YouTube embed? Certainly. That’s not the point. The point is that there’s not a YouTube video circulating out there competing with my site for the same set of already competitive keywords. That should mean more visits and engagement with Cloud 9 Living’s site over time, not to mention every link we have built so far points to our site and not YouTube.
A few factors definitely contributed to this page’s success:
- The page was already well-optimized for “christmas gifts for men”
- Some link building had already been done for this page, resulting in a SEOMoz Page Authority of 49
- The video was professionally produced, giving it a high-quality feel that met the minimum expectations for our brand and site
Self-hosting video may not be the least expensive route for video SEO but it can certainly be a successful one if correctly implemented. Insisting on keeping your video content unique and only located on your site means you control what shows up in the SERPs for your targeted keywords, and that can add up some very ROI-positive results over time.