Before the middle of 2007, the SEO landscape was relatively simple (OK, not simple, but certainly manageable). As an industry, we knew the importance of the top three search listings and had numerous eye tracking studies confirming that users focus on the first few results.
Then universal search changed everything.
With universal results, suddenly the top three listings lost a bit of their luster. The user was drawn to flashier, less uniform listings such as images, news results, and videos. Search results became a space to be noticed. Need proof? Explore the listings for "outer space" and see where your eyes are drawn.
Video results sit at the top of the universal heap. They draw the user in with an image, provide instant gratification, and require no reading. They're also great lead-ins for your target Web site. Let's walk through the proper way to optimize video content for universal search.
Let's start with video content. What've you got? Television spots? PSAs? Custom content? Before you decide on any video content, consider the following question: is this relevant to my audience?
Whatever videos you're starting with, remember that you're optimizing for results relevant to the video content, not your target Web site. It's unnecessary -- and ineffective -- to plaster your video submissions with brand messaging if the content is about something else entirely.
If your chain of department stores ran a PSA to save the whales, you want your video submission to speak to saving the whales, not low prices on designer jeans. You can link to your target site through the video's description section.
On most video submission sites, the video's title and description serve as the page title and meta description as well. This is certainly the case with YouTube. Be sure to optimize these elements in the same way you would traditional meta data, but be sure to include your target URL upfront in the description.
Content relevancy is key for video content. Think of your video listings as portals to your target site and an opportunity to immediately engage the user with your messaging. You can include ownership identification, such as company branding or Web site location, at the end of the video to keep the video associated with your brand if it gets embedded on an external site.
Sharing is Caring
While there are many video sharing sites around, YouTube is the logical starting point. Establish a YouTube channel, and make this is your hub for video content.
As you optimize your submissions, examine the video landscape in your niche. You might benefit from existing user-generated content. These videos have already established audiences that may be receptive to your video. If the user-generated video is relevant to your submission, consider linking your video as a response.
This works well in the case of commercial videos that have been posted by other users. For example, an Allstate commercial featuring NASCAR driver Kasey Kahne was posted by a fan of Kasey Kahne. An Allstate channel that collects televisions commercial, such as ThatsAllStatesStand, could benefit by posting a commercial as a response to the Kahne spot. As long as both videos are part of the same Allstate messaging, this should be a relevant response. The responding Allstate video then can gain traffic from a video with more than 40,000 views.
Additionally, associate your video channel with relevant groups to help build viewership and traction for your content. Allow users to embed your video to increase its chances of going viral. Examine the YouTube Insight data of your videos to help you refine your listings once they've been live for a while.
Sharing and participating in video sites can help build the viewership that will help propel your content into universal search. Good presentation inside a video sharing site can lead to good presentation outside.
Multiply your Listings
Don't stop at YouTube. Establish a presence on multiple video sites.
MySpace Video, AOL Video, and Metacafe also present excellent opportunities for video content. Build them out just as you would YouTube, and you'll increase your presence in video search as well as your chances of appearing in universal search.
Promote, Promote, Promote
Your video content will go nowhere if no one knows about it. As with traditional Web content, videos must receive links and promotion to succeed.
Start the process at home. If you've optimized your Web site correctly, it should have a significant amount of link authority; this can benefit your videos. If you create a hub page for all of your social video content, you can effectively push a little link popularity to your videos. This is a great start towards getting them into universal results.
If you think your video could go viral, promote in the social space. Social sites such as Digg and StumbleUpon present excellent opportunities for video promotion if one is savvy of the social audiences. Whatever you do, don't let your videos sit idly on social sites. Actively pursue their success.
Just What is a Search Engine?
Video optimization can be an important component of successful search engine visibility, but the proliferation of social video sites such as YouTube hint at another important discussion. In the age of social media, just what counts as a search engine?
With YouTube's estimated 73 million U.S. viewers monthly, shouldn't its own internal search be just as important for video content as Google is? Social communities may be considered search engines. They may be targeted to a specific type of content, in the case of YouTube, or to a specific niche, such as the musician and comedian profiles on MySpace. A smart online marketer will ensure that his/her target Web site will appear in the results wherever the ideal audience may be.
Video listings cause us to reexamine the way we've traditionally viewed search engines, and this is simply part of the natural progression. After all, it wasn't too long ago when universal search rocked the world of SEO or social media changed how we use the Web. Content interaction will presumably become more complex and more niche, and our marketing practices must evolve in kind.