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Video SEO: YouTube Optimization and Universal Search Video Ranking Factors & Signals

Written by Terry Van Horne   
Tuesday, 25 May 2010 14:59

VSEO Pt. II: Optimizing Video For Search Engines & YouTube

(By Terry Van Horne)

Video search engine optimization (VSEO) utilizes optimization techniques during the video planning ( script ), production, the usual on-page SEO and off site factors including links and the YouTube community user and channel signals for ranking on Google/YouTube.

BTW, the Video format wars I mentioned in Video for Universal SERPs, well ... nevermind!! Google has likely got the answer.

Video Ranking Factors and Signals:

In the first post in the Video Optimization Series I covered Video Indexing and today we'll get to the nuts and bolts of video optimization and identifying the other ranking factors at play. One thing to remember is optimization for Google will differ widely from Bing or any other search engine because of it's use of user and YouTube channel stats.

Secondly, as I interact with other SEOs, less experienced with video, I see a discounting of the social factors at play, often, attributing the signal to links ie: typical... when all you have is a hammer everything starts to look like a nail. This could be a mistake because if the stronger signals are views and embeds and not the links the techniques used to promote the video change "cuz ya' approach webmasters for links differently than embedding a video". ie: you're asking for far more visibility and page real estate.

Video Optimization: Using Video Production Techniques:

You can use the production techniques in Tim Nash's post Flash SEO and I added to the Video Indexing post. Pay special attention to the Flash settings/bindings he mentioned to ensure the video annotations are indexed by search crawlers.

  1. Follow Flash production "best practices" concerning indexing and the settings and binding of your movie
  2. Add Video transcripts possibly with sub titles and captions if Task ROI is adequate
  3. Add annotations to Flash
  4. Put optimized target content in first frame of Flash for more thorough indexing
  5. Michael Gray has said that Google gets the thumbnail from the exact middle of the video. Hmm no one at GoogleTube has verified this information is correct, however, Jim Kukral posted in How to change your YouTube video thumbnail image that YouTube has indicated this is false.
  6. Production quality is optimization in that the higher the quality of it the better it is perceived by users and that affects user reaction which are signals
  7. The Set which can be optimized so the video raises "Brand" awareness and traffic to website and makes the thumbnail less of a branding/visibility issue

IMO, the thumbnail position is conjecture on Michaels part personally I believe the brand, url or any props important to the goals of the site and video should be in every frame to ensure these features are easily identified and in the thumbnail chosen by video presenter. Ever notice the logos and website info behind people being interviewed on TV. Think that works for Interweb vids?

Video SEO

Video Transcript Optimization, Flash Annotations & YouTube Captions

Transcript, "captions" and annotations should be treated as a vehicle for user accessibility ie: impaired users utilizing text readers etc. For that reason optimize your script or discussion because it should be the same as the actual video. I like to write a script it also ensures that all the benefits and calls to action are in the places you want. You can also add link pointers and messages encouraging users to comment and rate the video.

Video Transcript Optimization

The Google support forums Preparing a Transcript File provides instructions for writing a transcript for your video. First the transcript should be the same as the video so optimization starts with a script or what is said in the video. However, if the video is embedded in your site the context in which it is in plays a role in the relevancy score for the page.

In the case of Google Universal Search IMO, it is definitely an advantage to add more than just the transcript to the "video landing page" other content will definitely help in the optimization of the "video landing page". For ecommerce I would definitely add video to the item/product detail page. Thus the transcript provides an answer to the problem with most landing pages ie: not enough copy to rank above competitive pages.

Video Optimization & YouTube Captions

YouTube technology syncs up English language transcripts with the action in the video so the need for adding YouTube "captions" is questionable for optimizing English language videos. Optimize the transcript as if it were text/copy for a page using the same rules for repeating and positions of keywords in the copy. Personally I frontend load my target terms and use the modifiers towards the middle end of the copy.

Optimization of transcripts should not be overdone for the same reasons as page copy ie: it reads poorly! Remember that video optimization is more about user reactions/behavior than it is relevance. So the pitch has to fit the site and video goals without alienating the community. The role of comments ratings, and general engagement with the video are IMO, important signals!

These signals are seemingly not getting a lot of attention in the VSEO process, in fact I cringe when I hear SEOs touting links as the "magic bullet". At times it feels like they believe they are still optimizing static text web pages for "keyword relevancy".

YouTube Captions

Getting Started: Adding / Editing captions provides a great tutorial on how to edit and add captions to your video using YouTube. A caption file contains both the text and information about when each line of text should be displayed. I'm not sure if there are any optimization advantages to adding captions. Perhaps but I'm not sure of the task ROI.

That said I am also reconsidering this because if you used the caption/annotation to add a message at the end asking to comment or take an action that helps with engagement or distribution such as favoring a video or sharing then the task may be a task worth doing.

Flash Annotations

Annotations refer to Flash which Tim Nash begin_of_the_skype_highlighting end_of_the_skype_highlighting mentioned as an optimization target in the previous post on Indexing Flash. Using flash video metadata to display annotations is an excellent post to use as a reference for adding annotations to Flash. The optimization techniques are the same as for transcriptions and captioning videos outlined above.

Transcription Tools and Services

This Google Search for video transcription software shows how far transcription has come since I first started working with video in 07. Back then there was 1 company that provided an online service based on software developed for the Us Gov. I contacted the company and they informed me the service was not very effective. Apparently, judging by the search, this has changed. Still I'm a little skeptical of this software.

A Google search for Transcription Services indicates there are plenty of services at varying prices. This has also improved 100 fold since 2007 when I first started sourcing these services for clients. I would recommend that transcripts be proofed carefully when using these services.

Video Optimization: On Page and Site Structure (Sitemaps):

Google relevancy signals use the On page context in which the video is embedded and the sitemap in determining relevancy. Video Optimization targets include:

  1. Video Transcript and captions on YouTube
  2. Annotations in Flash Player
  3. Thumbnail Image
  4. Video Sitemap

On-Page Video Optimization

I would suggest that video should be looked upon as an addition to the page with other supporting or pertinent information. IMO, adding the transcript as text to a page is not very effective when transcript is part of the video as well. The tradeoff is that the transcript provides accessibility to the video content for the impaired. At the very least I'd add more content to offset the exact duplication if I was including transcript to the video landing page.

Sitemaps & MRSS (Promoting viral content)

A video sitemap will help in indexing and discovery of your video by search engines. Incoming links to video page will help in the same way as links to any other content, however I am skeptical of their value to the video ranking. A video sitemap ensures the thumbnail for your video is your choice because the sitemap includes a namespace for the image in addition to a description namespace to describe the video. Your video sitemap is useful for distributing and managing video across multiple websites as outlined by Google below:

If you have multiple websites, you can simplify the process of creating and submitting Sitemaps by creating one or more Sitemaps that includes URLs for all your verified sites, and saving the Sitemap(s) to a single location. All sites must be verified in Webmaster Tools. More information about managing Sitemaps for multiple sites.

External Video Ranking Factors & Signals

The value of links is not entirely clear to me. In fact of all the signals other than transcript it is the easiest to manipulate. I hear many SEO's touting them as a ranking factor but... it is generally anecdotal evidence.

Incoming Links:

Incoming links are a tough call because it isn't clear whether it is "best practices" to build links into the YouTube Channel or into the video landing page? This is a question that I couldn't really find a clear answer to either from a reference or personal experience. However, I am thinking that it depends on the SEO on the video landing page and engagement on your YouTube page.

Personally, this is conjecture on my part, I think the 3rd party embeds may have the same value as links. I also believe that the promotion of the YouTube Channel and the the corresponding gains in your subscribers, views, comments, ratings, friends and stats tied to quality of the video are weighted heavier than incoming links. So, IMO, it should be a case of monitor the results after adding the video and based on results build links to the page/content to meet your goal. One or the other may not need any "assistance" from citations to reach your goals.

YouTube Community and Channel Stats

I have often wondered what the author of posts that are negative on YouTube are basing this opinion on. It can't be visibility because YouTube is the second most popular search engine on the internet. It seems these authors don't like that the video is on another site. I have found that if the video is good and the person really is interested they will go through to the video landing page.

Another reason that I disagree is if you aren't on YouTube there are IMO, quite a few "signals" only available from YouTube that Google definitely uses in its video and Universal SERPs searches, mind you, maybe not weighted as heavily on Google as YouTube. At the very least you want YouTube in your video distribution & promotion strategy.

YouTube Optimization Targets:

Listed below are the optimization targets for optimizing YouTube Video:

  1. Descriptive Keyword Rich Title
  2. Relevant video tagging (keyword equivalent)
  3. YouTube internal page linking with playlists and video responses
  4. Description
  5. User comments (sentiment?)
  6. User ratings
  7. RSS Subscribers & YouTube Friends
  8. 3rd party embeds
  9. Attention Score ( Video Content Quality Signal )

Video ranking factors

1. Descriptive Keyword Rich Title

Titles are always important and YouTube is no different so employ your "best practices" for a web page title. I use keyword rich descriptive titles and try to hit some of the YouTube special categories like "how to" and definitely try to include the word video since someone on Google is fairly likely to put that in a search query if they want video included. Though not a Universal SERP strategy... it works.

2. Relevant video tagging (keyword equivalent)

Think of tagging as just the keywords tag broke up into tags instead of comma delimited. I would use some of the techniques such as including slang and synonyms etc., however, I would not include misspellings or keystroke errors. I would also keep them as short and highly targeted. I'm not sure if they are a ranking signal but at the very least they make the video more findable.

3. YouTube internal linking with Playlists and Video responses

Other VSEOs have likened playlists and video responses to link signals. I'm not convinced this is the case because there are many signals that could be making it seem like internal linking is a ranking signal when it could be because playlists are very targeted resulting in higher click volumes and embeds for higher video quality scores and attention scores.

Personally, I have made a conscious effort to not think in terms of traditional SEO when accessing weightings and signals. I believe the community signals of subscribers and friends, click analysis and attention signals are the most desirable for ranking video as they measure the reactions to and quality of the video.
Links also provide similar signals, however, the weighting of links in the Google algo have been on a downward trend for years going all the way back to the Florida update.

4. Description

Truncated at 27 characters there isn't an awful lot of the description displayed. Some say to put a link there, however, if you are widely distributed who knows what is displayed. That said the link does make a lot of sense since I'm of the opinion most users don't pay much attention to the description area anyway and a link will draw attention to it. IMO, the description is not likely heavily weighted as it is too easy to manipulate and there are plenty of cleaner user centric signals.

5. User comments (sentiment?)

Google to some degree is learning how to determine sentiment, either pro or con, so determining sentiment in comments would be one way that they could implement this new sentiment signal in a way which would improve their ability to determine video quality. In the past I didn't think either comments or ratings were very important due to the ease of manipulating these signals. I'm currently re-evaluating the value of these signals.

6. User ratings

One of the projects I worked on I definitely saw improved video ratings due to a choice to switch from "Brand Reps" to in-house personnel providing how to and demonstration videos. This did seem to improve the rankings for the subsequent higher rated videos. The comments were pretty clear that the YouTube community thought the "Brand Reps" were just "shills".

7. RSS Subscribers & YouTube Friends

RSS subscribers and friends (equivalent of Twitter followers) are ranking factors that are quite possibly more important then I first thought. With Social Search gaining prominence in the Google Universal SERPs it makes sense to increase your RSS subscribers and friends using promotion and PR techniques. One way to build subscribers and friends is to publish often. Instead of publishing 7 videos in one day spread it out over 4 or 5 days. More activity seems to deliver more traffic and subscribers.

8. 3rd party embeds

Are 3rd party embeds a direct signal link IBL's? Are links just seemingly a ranking factor because total views is the ranking factor and it provides a way to increase traffic outside YouTube or are both signals with one a little louder. I was never really able to prove either way. Whether embeds are a ranking factor shouldn't be the impetus for promoting your video using blogger outreach and free and paid 3rd party hosts a strong strategy to improve rankings.

9. Completed video views

Although I called this an optimization target it's not really a technique. Google and YouTube have some sort of score based on whether the video was viewed to the end, this is an indicator of the user's perceived reaction to the video. This based upon the premise that if a video is watched to completion the user was more satisfied with the quality. So... beyond the fact that this is easily gamed it may still have some merit. It is one reason to break long videos up into shorter videos.

Video SEO: It's Back to the Future for Me!

Personally, Video SEO has been a magnificent journey into the unknown. Lets face it for me VSEO is as close as I've ever come to the sense of wonderment I felt way back in the nineties when I started down the path to SEO enlightenment that all SOSG warriors eventually embark. See... I remember the day video came on my radar Oct 9, 2006! Sound familiar? It might... it was the day Google bought YouTube.

I phoned the owner of the retailer I was working with and informed him we needed to start producing videos for his products. Shortly after a production team was in place and now 318,231 Channel Views, 13,704,770 video views and 9,183 subscribers later... I think it's safe to say I gave that customer some good advice.

ReelSEO - SEO for Video: IMO, is easily the best resource out there for Video SEO information. Some of the video hosting services have blogs but I've found the information biased towards their services. The link above is a list of topics with featured articles.

Google Video Patents

Method for monitoring internet dissemination of image, video and/or audio files
Video overlay advertising creator

The entire Universal Search Series;


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