An overview of video SEO for communicators

Posted on August 20, 2010 1:45 pm by | Search | Video

Shel HoltzI was struck by Shmulik Weller’s introductory statement in a recent Search Engine Land post on search engine optimization (SEO) for video:

This is the year in which we will see video grow from a “frill” some businesses occasionally include on their websites, to an essential, competitive differentiator that drives SEO and increases brand identification.

I agree unreservedly. Video is becoming a critical element of online communication. We’ve all seen the various numbers that support the trend, but it never hurts (and is kinda fun) to revisit some of the key statistics:

  • The average Internet user watches 186 online videos each month (Source)
  • 100-plus hours of video is uploaded to YouTube about every 4 minutes
  • YouTube exceeds 2 billion views each day
  • Cisco Systems anticipates that video will represent 90% of all consumer IP traffic and 64% of all mobile traffic by 2013.
  • YouTube is the second-most used search engine after Google
  • Facebook’s video views are up 239% in a single year; Facebook users watched 245 million videos in May of this year (Source)
  • E-commerce sites that use product videos sell up to 45% more product, according to Internet retailer ReelSEO

You’ve no doubt seen plenty of other mind-boggling video stats.

User-generated content accounts for some of the surge in video, but the popularity of Hulu and the importance of video on ecommerce sites support the importance of institution-produced video.

The communications connection

While PR and organizational communication professionals probably won’t be shooting the videos that describe product on ecommerce sites, there’s plenty of opportunity for video to support other online communication. The Mayo Clinic’s Lee Aase, for example, uses a Flip camera and the Clinic’s YouTube site for brief interviews with doctors involved with new research. These videos have appeared in places such as The Wall Street Journal health blog.

Too many communicators—and their organizations’ leadership—still view video as something that requires a sizable budget for a production company. Marc Price, who produced the movie “Colin” for about $75, is encouraging teens to produce their own films considering the quality of the video cameras in their smartphones is better than that of the video camera he used to shoot his film.

Just about any PR-focused communication can be enhanced with a short video. And, as Weller argues in his post, optimizing that video for search is as important now as SEO for text became several years ago.

According to Forrester Research, videos are 53 times more likely than a traditional web page to get an organic first-page ranking. However, most organizations aren’t optimizing video for search, so you have a unique opportunity—for a while, anyway—to make sure your videos achieve that prominent position on the first page of search results.

Video SEO can be daunting for communicators who already have more than enough to keep them busy, but even if it’s a task that’s delegated to IT, outside support or somebody else, communicators still need to understand the options and how they work. Think about it like printing. A quarter century ago, it was a rare communicator who knew how to operate an offset press, yet any competent professional knew the ins and outs of printing in order to manage projects and ensure the product came out the way it was supposed to.

I’m no video SEO expert, but after reading Weller’s post, I decided to do some research so I could be conversant when talking video with clients and audiences. What follows combines the wisdom from a good two dozen posts and articles I read about video SEO. If anything you read here smells wrong, please leave a comment.

Links to the most useful of these appear at the end of this post.

The basics

The fundamental elements of video SEO—things you can do without turning to a coder or an expert—include…

  • A page for every video—The videos you embed on your site should each get their own page and their own URL. At the end of the page title (that information that goes in the HTML page title tag), add an underscore and the word video, as in consulting_firm_mini_documentary_video.

  • Search engine submissions—Submit each video on each search engine, being sure to check the submission and XML-seralization guidelines.

  • You first—If you can, post the video to your site before making it available on the file sharing sites or embedding it on other sites.

  • A dedicated video directory—If you have a lot of videos on your site, consider putting them in a dedicated directory on the server. Consider a subdomain, like, or getting a .TV domain for your videos, like (You can link to your videos from your main site.)

  • Use a descriptive title—Give your video the same kind of descriptive title you’d give a typical HTML page.

  • Use tags—The video sharing services—YouTube, Viddler, Vimeo and the rest—provide you with the ability to add tags. Make sure they’re descriptive and include at least one that defines the nature of the video, e.g. how-to, funny, announcement, description).

  • Make it match—Make sure your video title and the title tag match. While Google’s algorithm includes all kinds of secret sauce, it’s known that, for video, the video title is vital.

  • Multiple versions—Consider producing multiple versions of the same video. You can include condensed versions, for example. One site recommends that you include a video that’s only available on your own site as a premium item to complement the video you added to YouTube. Several sites also advise that you make videos available in multiple formats (like AVI, MOV, MP4, WMV, etc.). Each one would include the same SEO elements.

The really geeky stuff

With the basics out of the way, we can move on to the more technical elements of video SEO that will most likely require working with someone who knows how to code and deal with the highly technical tactics required to execute these techniques.


Creating a video sitemap is one of the most frequently cited recommendations I found. These XML-based sitemaps are video-focused versions of the sitemaps most sites have employed. The idea is to put all the information about the video you’ve published in a single place, making it easier for search engines to find your videos. Here’s tutorial and example.


Robots.txt is text file that sits on the server and is generally used to tell search engines what parts of a site they’re allowed to visit and what parts are restricted. For video SEO, this file includes information that lets Google ascertain that the locations where you’ve submitted your videos are legit; they also let Google know that the pages contain the appropriate embed codes that verify the existence of the video.

Captions and Subtitles

Captions and subtitles appear in the video itself, along the bottom of the video window, but are generally called from a separate file that can be searched and indexed. In addition to the SEO benefits, these techniques also make the video accessible to those with hearing impairment. If you produce them in other languages, you expand the audience for the video and make it more discoverable by those searching in that language.

Here’s a brief video of how to produce captions:

Besides the manually-produced transcripts, YouTube can produce captions automatically using a voice-to-text routine, which could require you to go in and fix the usual errors such a process inevitably generates. Here’s a video that covers automatic captions and automatic timing. The video notes limitations on the use of automatic captions, but this has now been opened to all videos:

Alternatively, there’s a service called Speakertext that will launch soon. Speakertext will be free if you provide a transcript you produced yourself, although the company works with the people who peruse Mechanical Turk looking for quick jobs that pay small amounts, like transcribing. Once SpeakerText has a transcript, they enhance it for SEO with a technique called “QuoteLinks.” When you get your speakertexted video bac, you can embed it on your site and attach the transcript. People who view the video can choose a segment of the transcript, copy and paste it onto their own site as a link to the precise spot where the quote appears in the video. People who click the link will go to the version of the video on your site instead of the YouTube site.


Even if you don’t combine a transcript with a video to create captions or subtitles, including a transcript will ensure that the words in the video are captured by Google (and other search engines), drawing visitors to the page where the video is embedded.

Alternative HTML Content

SWFObject is a JavaScript library that allows you to create alternative HTML content to Flash videos. It’s a complicated procedure covered by a tutorial from ReelSEO here. Even though Google has been crawling and indexing Flash content for a while now, several experts recommend this approach of providing alternative HTML content in addition to the Flash file itself.

In-File Metadata

A number of the more commonly used video formats let you attached metadata to the file itself; this is known as “in-file metadata.” Some search engines are able to glean this information from the file. Adding in-file metadata, as near as I’ve been able to discern, requires that you’re using Adobe Creative Suite, which includes a tool called “Bridge” that lets you add metadata to AVI and MOV formats. Again, ReelSEO has produced a tutorial on how to do this; you’ll find it here.


I hope you’re already conversant in RSS, which can accommodate enclosures for multimedia. Sometimes referred to as MRSS—Media RSS—these let you add text to your feeds that provide information about your latest videos. While these tend to limit online information to your most recent videos (not as comprehensive as a video sitemap), it does get the information out onto the Web in close to real time.

Yahoo! SearchMonkey

Google will recognize Yahoo! Searchmonkey tags and index them. SearchMonkey is a service from Yahoo! that lets you use structured data to make search results from Yahoo!, Google “more useful and visually appealing, and drive more relevant traffic to their sites,” according to Wikipedia.

The upside of using Searchmonkey is that your tags (and the code in which they are contained) go on your own page, leading Google to find your video without you having to submit other feeds or sitemaps.

Some Video SEO Resources

In my research, these sites, pages and posts provided some of the best information:

We’re not done…

As mobile increasingly becomes the place for both consumer interaction with online content and technological innovation, it’ll be vital to optimize video for search over mobile platforms. The number of people who watch videos on mobile devices is expected to grow nearly 30% this year, up to 23.9 million people in the US, according to eMarketer. While that’s a mere 7.7% of the overall population, and under 10% of people with mobile phones, we can expect those numbers to surge over the next few years. Don’t wait until everybody’s already using their phones to watch videos. As soon as SEO techniques emerge, start employing them.

As I said, I’m no expert; this is all just the result of some research I did for my own benefit, and consolidating it into a post helps solidify the concepts in my own mind. So, what did I miss? What did I get wrong?



  • 1.Excellent resources here, Shel. Thanks for sharing!

    Donna Papacosta | August 2010 | Toronto

  • 2.A little research, eh? Shel, this is an amazing post, that--at the risk of sounding self-serving--gives me confidence my publisher launched the Strategic Video Awards at the right time.

    Long-through mourning the death of corporate publications, I'm really happy that video is taking off; it will necessarily signal a return of creativity and technique in communication.

    Which is more than half the fun!

    David R. Murray | August 2010 | Chicago

  • 3.Hi Shel,

    As it turns out, the soon-to-be released SpeakerText does A LOT more than what you described. We just started beta testing this week and would love to give you or any of your readers a sneak peak.

    -XML sitemaps
    -tweet out quotes with short URLs pointing back to your video
    -auto-update of transcript onto your page once it's ready

    If interested, drop us an email: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

    -Matt Mireles
    CEO, SpeakerText

    Matt Mireles | August 2010 | Mountain View, CA

  • 4.These are great tips for optimizing video. And you're right, it doesn't take much time to record, edit and upload a video for communications purposes. As long as you have a consistent format, it can all be done in about 1 hour.

    One additional tip would be to cross promote the video such as uploading to YouTube, embedding it on your blog, tweeting it out and linking YouTube to Facebook for auto updates.

    Cece Salomon-Lee | August 2010 | San Francisco

  • 5.One of the best compilations of information I've seen. You've hit all the major points. And while a dedicated video directory certainly is one option, remember the more videos you have on the content pages of your site, and have them surrounded by text, the better you'll be.

    Ron Harper | September 2010 | Ohio

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