Rise and Shine

Video SEO: Dump YouTube and Host Them Yourself

Photo of Greg McGuireTo 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.


The Goal

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.


Schema Markup

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!


Content Decisions

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.

Greg McGuire
Latest posts by Greg McGuire (see all)


  1. Max Kohl /

    Hey Greg, thanks a ton for the shout out! You’ve definitely hit the nail on the head re: the benefits of self hosted video in regards to SEO and the ways to go about implementation. Another tip you could give folks is tailoring the location/surroundings of the video embed for an optimal user experience. Little things like embedding the video above the fold go a long way towards fostering a great experience for visitors clicking through the video result, and Google will only view this as a good thing 🙂 
    Thanks again Greg, and we’re rooting for your video to crack the top 10 (and hopefully even higher!) 

  2. Personally, I have had great results from YouTube for clients, and it is mostly due to the promotional tools available through that channel. 

    If you understand how it works, the video suggestions and trending topics features can make engineering a viral ad campaign possible, and in some cases, likely. It is a compromise to trade YouTube’s audience, but I can can definitely see your position if it’s specifically targeted to SEO traffic and is expected to bring in traffic long term.

    • You’re absolutely right Adam.  Again, it all depends on your goals for your video content.  If you want viral content that is aimed at getting your brand in front of the most people, then by all means go to YouTube.

      The problem with promoting more product and category-specific content there, however, is that the YouTube version will always be more competitive than the corresponding page on your site, which means you force potential customers to make extra clicks before they get to your products because they go to YouTube first.

      • Ever since I started designing websites, and forums were often hosted by third parties, I have disliked third party hosted features and applications. It once showed a lack of professionalism, and before I developed some other tricks for YouTube, I looked heavily into options for self-hosting video. I’m glad the self-hosted prospects are looking up. Ultimately, I do think it adds a level of professionalism when you have more control. On YouTube your viewers would be clicking “next video” or viewing related videos. On your own website, you have a ton more control over their direction and can add a level of interactivity.

        •  Would love to hear about some of your YouTube tricks!  I am also promoting a YouTube video this holiday season in addition to the self-hosted one I mention in this article and I’ve been having some trouble getting traction for it.

          • Well Greg, 

            I was actually writing a book on generating viral promotion, but it has been put on the back-burner to facilitate other projects. It’s all about beating their algorithm, and to get total traction you need roughly 1 in every 10 people that sees the video to share it. It has to have wide general appeal. If you have a big enough budget, I would test so see if it gets shared by 1 in every 10 people. 

            Then, you need to target promotion in places like Reddit, frequented forums, line up influencers to promote to their followers; places where a large number of people will see the video. 
            If you can beat the algorithm on any one aggregation site (Reddit, YouTube, Google +, Hacker News, etc.) then your video will be promoted by the network itself, and the virulity of the content will take care of the rest. If you find that only 1 in 30 people will share your video, it’s safer to go back to the drawing board and edit the content you have, add new scenes, or start over. 

  3. Justin Mattison /

    Are there ways that I can benefit from self-hosting as well as having the videos on Youtube/Vimeo? For example, I want my site to come up in SERPs for my video, but I also want to have the video available on my Youtube channel as well. Is there a way to tell Youtube not to index my video on their site?

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