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Video Indexing for Universal Search; the SEO blind spot

Written by Terry Van Horne   
Tuesday, 18 May 2010 13:48

Part I: Indexing, Discovery and Development

(by Terry VanHorne)

Video was one of the reasons I've been so interested in the Universal search SERPs. My experience with video has been limited but very successful. I first realized the need for video information in the SEO world during a recent Dojo Friday chat. Video was new to most of the gang because in the past, SEOs had little interest in video, however, the interest shown in that chat prompted theGypsy and I to seek more knowledge and share it with the community.

Video Promotion and Video SEO Series

With U.S. Internet users watching 31.2 billion videos in March, 2010 and more than 180 million viewers watching an average of 173 videos per viewer during the month video has become an important part of not only SEO but website development. The growth in the number of video views, the popularity of video with users and video proving to be an effective teaching/conversion tool are possible reasons for a recent study by emarketer to conclude developers are making video additions a priority in their content re-design plans.

Understanding video technology is a key to developing SEO techniques to overcome indexing shortfalls in the different players, which players and formats will be used in which devices and what technologies and distribution methods users are favoring. I went through the "browser wars" of the late 90's into the new millennium and can tell you it won't be pretty.


Universal Search - Video SEO



Search Engine Optimization Techniques for Flash Player

Tim Nash's post on Flash SEO is the best information I've found on video/flash player optimization. Tim being the awesome Dojo member he is offered to lead the Friday Chat choosing the title "Optimising Media for Search Engines". Tim was kind enough to allow me to share the "gist" of that chat in this post. Tim provided information on indexing SEO techniques for the major players ie: Flash, Silverlight and the HTML 5 spec. 

Tim started with some tips on optimising Flash. If you wish your Flash movie to be crawled some quick tips are:

  • first of all decide if you even want that flash content indexed or ranking at all
  • make sure a text object is in the first scene
  • don't rely on ActionScript to call the first scene
  • links inside flash hold little or no value
  • while flash does indeed "rank" its a lot more work in terms of getting links i.e you need more
  • search engines don't always know the content has been updated/added/edited as crawlers rarely index a textual flash object
  • Tim continued the Flash discussion with tips for when your flash object is being treated as video:

    1. video in general is deemed to be more or less static
    2. once up video is not expected to change
    3. video is treated as having no internal context

    Tim went on to add "That's about to change big time." Flash video is made up of 4 pieces:

    1. the video itself
    2. the audio
    3. the annotations
    4. the player

    Tim went on to add that he believes the annotations and the player should be where you are looking for video call cue points to optimize, These optimization targets are points in a video when an action occurs. The call points are used for subtitling amongst other things. Annotations are text and similar to the Captions you can add to YouTube. To finish up the Flash player ReelSEO published a great post on How to customize YouTube player embeds which is very useful for techniques to customize your YouTube video embeds.

    SEO for Video and Universal Search

    Search Engine Optimization Techniques for Microsoft's Silverlight Player

    Tim began the Silverlight discussion with "I wanted to say positive things but...". Tim wanted to provide some Silverlight optimization tips adding "but even Microsoft's response is, 'don't let search engines near it'. Google is not picking up videos in Silverlight as videos. I suspect that is going to change soon".

    Tim elaborated with "what I will say is Silverlight is designed to be the presentation layer for data so Microsoft encourages you to expose the data to search engines separately so crawlers index the xml, which means you can write the content to the page directly and Silverlight can consume the content from that page and represent it."

    SEO for the HTML5 Player

    Tim next covered HTML5 starting with it is a HTML5 specification, nothing more, it doesn't define what a video is or what it does. It basically provides you the tag, video containers and video codecs. has some great info on how the new spec will work and Tim seemed to think there was little you could do to optimize video using this player

    The Looming Video Format Wars

    The Open Video Alliance launched a mass campaign to bring video to Wikipedia and Google/YouTube are behind open video standards. Steve Jobs recently expounded on how crappy Flash performed he was especially hard on the inability of Adobe to get it running on mobile and the iShite. Yep, you guessed it I am not a fanboy of the Apple brand! Techcrunch recently posted an article citing an report that indicated:

    Flash is represented by Flash VP6 and FLV, which combined represent only 26 percent of all videos. That is down from a combined total of 69 percent four quarters ago. So the native Flash codecs and H.264 have completely flipped in terms of market share (Flash also supports H.264, however, you don’t need a Flash player to watch H.264 videos)

    Another data point that Steve Jobs mentions  in his post "All YouTube videos are available in H.264, which alone represents 40 percent of all videos on the Web".  So one thing to consider in all of this is Apple and Adobe are sort of synonymous with nickel and diming their developers, Adobe are needlessly embedding H.264 in a player even though it isn't really needed. Micro$oft has already gotten behind HTML 5 in IE 9 and said they will cover any costs that come with using H.264.

    Google and YouTube support HTML5 but Google bought a video codec by On2 called VP8. The thing to remember is that open standards currently Ogg Theora which are h.264 licensed and have promised to remain free till 2016 after which it will have the right to charge a license fee. Tim said in the chat "it should be pointed out that flash is similar except Adobe can announce a change at any time and do not have to wait till 2016. I'm sure that is one of the reasons Apple is squeezing them out now so they are not in bed with them when they do start charging.

    Indexing Conclusions

    Indexing "Kluges"

    Tim's conclusions for indexing video were summed up with "so for Flash/Silverlight to be honest if its got textual data associated with it and no video I would block engines from seeing it and giving them alternate data. I would block both the actual file by robots.txt but also use a JavaScript replacement and make sure I was giving the correct copy to Google. In the past I have done the same with video splitting videos up and putting content transcript beneath the object". He ended with "if you don't split it up you end up with huge pages which don't benefit, I would then use a modified version of SWF address to find the correct points in the video."

    I would add that for YouTube the transcript should be your optimization target. Captions are easily added and are definitely indexed providing yet another reason to use the second most searched search engine on the Interwebs. In the next post in this series I will go into the optimization in more detail.

    Sitemaps Discovery "Kluges"

    One of the ways around video indexing issues is to generate an rss feed for for the site. Tim suggested that you could use this technique adding "you can then ping Google blog search which in turn brings its big brother but that is messy". Google also has a video feed format and also will use your MRSS feed. I prefer these feed solutions over JS as they are an excellent video indexing solution. IME, JavaScript is almost always a hit or miss thing including using the element which should be, by rights, read by every engine.

    The reasons for my preference for a video sitemap are because they not only provide a decription field for your optimized text but also a node in the XML for default thumb image. Otherwise you may be able to set the default image by placing that image in the middle of the video, however this has never been verified by Google or YouTube.

    Personally I think this is a wonky way to optimize one of the most important parts of your listing ie: the image in the SERP or embed. Tim mentioned "bing rarely picks up anything via sitemaps". I have found that Bing will pick up the sitemap from a robots.txt link but... finding and using could be two different things.

    One problem I often hear is getting your videos hosted on third party sites to be seen by Google as part of your site. The solution here is pretty simple you need to have the MRSS or Google Video feed located on your actual domain if you want the videos to be attributed to your domain.

    Sitemap Tools and references:

    Other Posts in the Series;


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