Understanding Online-Video Using SEM Analogies

A media buyer recently approached me to see if YouTube “stars” could beat .05 on a cost-per-view basis. It was such an odd question, and one that made me realize we’re still comparing apples to oranges. As I answered the question (yes, but…) I found myself drawing analogies to a more familiar digital medium: search engine marketing (SEM).

Let’s draw from our collective understanding of both Google advertising and “search engine optimization” (SEM), where content providers try to have their websites rank on the first pages of search engines. Then let’s explore how that can help us understand online-video marketing. Finally, let’s pay special attention to “the second click,” which I use to refer to the prospect who chooses not to visit your own content but remains important.

This post is not really about search-engine optimizing video content (see ReelSEO for a wealth on that). It’s about thinking about online-video in the same way we think about an SEM approach. Apologies to traditional advertisers since this post does depend on some basic understandings of digital marketing and search-engine marketing, although I’ve tried to reduce the jargon and assume SEO/SEM is not your sweet spot.

I. Getting “Natural” Views: To get a brand.com or campaign website high search-engine ranking (thus “free” visitors) we have a variety of tools and tricks, but four basic guidelines:

  1. First, we optimize the content to use words that are commonly searched (use customer lingo not our brand speak). We frame our content to answer common natural-language queries like “what’s the cheapest life insurance insurance in Arizona” rather than “Bob’s Inexpensive Term Insurance!!… oh and I serve the globe, but happen to be in Arizona.”
  2. Second, we design the website to ensure that search-engine spiders can find it (treat the spiders as important as customers, which means more text not flasherbation). Video can help us here, but not in lieu of carefully prioritized words. Little things matter: the picture should be tagged “mom with headache” not “lady with green sweater,” something few potential targets are searching unless you’re selling sweaters).
  3. Most importantly, we try to “link bait” in appropriate ways (no “link farms” please), by earning the right to have credible well-trafficked websites link to our website. It gives us credibility, thus higher rank on engines. It can make the difference from being on the cemetery of page 3 to the wild night club of page 1.
  4. Finally, we want that visit to be positive for the “user” since a quick bounce and return to search can suggest failure to search engines. If you trick me, I’ll leave and re-search… and your ranking will slip.
What this means for video:
  • We need to think about video in this same measured approach. Sure we need to focus on SEO-optimization of our valuable video content on brand sites. Of course we want to avoid churning through various short-term video campaign micro-sites that don’t help in the long run. Absolutely we need to ensure our content is also placed on YouTube and well tagged. But there’s more to it than that.
  • Ultimately our video has to make a promise it can keep. If the headline and thumbnail is a dupe, it won’t last or travel. If the goal is to entertain and draw curiosity, then the brand must take a back seat. If the goal is to explain the product, then that’s fine… but that content isn’t likely to go viral unless you’re launching the next Apple toy.
  • A promotional video serves a purpose, but it’s unlikely to be the next Old Spice or Evian babies video. However a video can travel to prospects if it’s valuable to them (funny, informative), and most brands don’t need 4 million teenagers… they’d rather 100 solid prospects. If we want “organic” or free views (not using paid media) then we’ve got to focus on serving a need and not selling our product.
  • YouTube has loads of ways to promote video content on YouTube, and it’s always cheap… but it’s easier to get people to watch a video on YouTube than dragging them to another website. Off YouTube, we can partner with smaller properties to get “paid views” (the .05 per view reference above), but recognize that “a view isn’t a view.” Once it’s paid, it’s often forced or auto-play, and that can be a data junkee’s “fool’s gold.”
II. Paid Ad Campaigns: On search engines, a good digital marketer will vary creative and try an abundance of headlines, copy and even URLs. More importantly, they’ll create “custom landing pages,” so a search pays off. You’d be a fool to create a search advertisement promising content that doesn’t exist on the landing page. Most SEM veterans will vary campaigns (A-B testing) and do experiments to determine the optimal keywords to purchase, the right creative, and the appropriate content to serve.
What this means to video:
  • Video serves different purposes in various locations. In video display or pre-roll advertising, its goal might be to drive awareness/recall/attitude/intent for the brand or product. Alternatively it may be designed to produce an action/engagement. In general it’s hard for advertising to do both well in the same campaign.  Since most display ads accept the sad reality that click-thru rates are going to stink (low single digits), it may be better to jam the brand name and a simple message into the display ad or preroll… hey at least they’ll get “exposed” to the message. Otherwise the video preroll or display is aimed at a direct response goal (“see our cool education/entertainment,” “we have a sale,” or “check out our new product line.”).
  • While video can augment either awareness or direct response, I see “yellow flags” when I hear media buyers or PR executives using paid media to get videos or microsites traffic. The root cause? Marketers or agencies have sadly invested precious dollars to produce “viral video,” then become frustrated that the videos didn’t… go… viral. So they’re desperately looking for inexpensive ways to get the videos seen by using paid video ads.
  • Now we have a “dangling media tactic,” which is often inconsistent from a brand strategy. There’s a covert mission to get the content views to “save face” for the lonely isolated micro-site or unviral videos.
  • Back to the SEO/video analogy: It’s okay to create written content for search engines in hopes that it will gain high ranking and “free” (organic) views. But we are usually realistic about the timeframe and sheer numbers. However when marketers create video content, they bank on a groundswell of free traffic spawned by YouTube viral and mega-sharing on Facebook. That’s happening less and less.
  • Solution? The video or video-laced microsite (campaign site) should be serving a specific goal on the awareness-to-loyalty continuum and not an isolated tactic that depends on “going viral” organically. If you’re creating video for “top of the funnel” awareness creation, then a) don’t spend a lot of money since the odds are against you, b) keep the brand/ad message on the down-lo because it will tank the natural views.

III. That Second Click: It’s a mistake to obsess strictly about the search engine (we’re done! We’re on the first page organically and with an ad). Odds are that 80-90% of people will zoom right past them to the third-party choice (the credible blogger, the crowd-sourced rating website, or a publisher). That means we want to get our message and content on the highly trafficked websites our customers will visit after their search… the second click. That’s usually done via PR (desperate and failed pleas to bloggers for product mentions) or advertising (often ignored display advertising).
What this means to video:
  • Good news. Most video traffic is not to professional content or branded videos. Outside of music videos, the hidden “oil well” of reach includes mostly amateur webstars or “the new establishment” of web-video networks. These guys are surprisingly receptive to subtle brand messages, inexpensive sponsorships and (of course) adjacent ads that are their primary income.
  • While it’s unethical for a travel destination (hotel/resport) to spiff (pay off) a Conde Nast travel freelancer, it’s okay for them to invite Shaycarl (and Nalts) to visit and show the property to millions of their daily viewers. 🙂
  • It’s not okay to send a free tech product (like that new tablet or HD camer) to TechCrunch or Wired, but you’d be a fool not to deluge iJustine with your latest gadgets (and maybe toss her a check to show it love). It can be cost prohibitive for a marketer with a “recession” budget to hire Justin Bee-iber, but Rhett and Link reach millions and they’re taking a road trip this Friday that I’d sponsor it in a minute if I was a CPG brand (ensuring the comedy/singing duo received loads of free candy and beverages, as well as a decent check to ensure the products get some prominent placement). If I was selling guitars, I’d send a free one to Wheezywaiter and MikeLombardo in a second, and a $1-$10K to mention my website occasionally.
I’m finally beginning to accept why this last “no brainer” step (which I detail in my book, Beyond Viral) is not yet embraced by many brands. For a while I found it downright perplexing and unforgivable that Coke was handing out free product on the streets of NYC, but not sending swag to the top 500 most-viewed YouTube creators (which would provide Coke with more free impressions than it could ever imagine).
But there’s not an easy analog for this type of marketing. Sure Coke does product placement on American Idol, but it’s hard for marketers to translate that to some clown on YouTube even if he gets more views than American Idol. The TV folks are forced to understand product placement and integration because Fox is beating it into them. But it’s hard for a TV junkie to translate that to web video, and trust amateurs. Most importantly, the silo approach of most large brands makes it hard to determine who should run with this: is it PR? Advertising? A sponsorship/events group? Digital?
In truth this type of “second click” thinking applied to video requires people with an odd mix of understanding/experience of marketing, social media, consumer marketing and PR. But those folks are hard to find except in startups (who are less attractive to webstars than Big brands). When they do exist in larger companies, they often lack budget influence.
So this marketplace remains somewhat irrational (some “webstars” fetching obscenely high fees for non-targeted and awkward pitches). Conversely, many brands use PR teams to chase bloggers with smaller audiences and a fundamental reluctance to pitch (because “playing favorites” might erode their credibility as a mini-journalist). And those same brands are often missing some highly influential and valuable willing “spokespeople” with large fan bases and credibility… just because they have no idea that a medium-sized video webstar’s reach is often 100x that of the biggest category blogger.
As Arseneo Hall would say… things that make you go hmmmmm.

Clueless Author Reveals Online-Video Secrets

So I do this interview at Blogworld not realizing it’s friggin’ Mark Robertson of REELSEO that’s interviewing me. Since the question of video SEO comes up, I mention Mark during the interview, referring to him as the authority on video search-engine optimization… after all he helped with the chapter on video SEO in “Beyond Viral.” Then the interviewer smiles, says “yeah that Mark knows his stuff,” and turns his name badge around. So yeah, I have one of those Alzheimer’s moments where I realize I’m talking about Mark TO Mark. To make matters worse, the camera man was Daisy Whitney’s husband, who I had dinner with before. Missed that too. Jeremy Scott interviewed me via phone… he’s a hoot. So I’m going to remember him as long as… I can.

I’m lucky I remember my kids names. All three of them. Wait- four.

A Blog Post That Doesn’t Mention iPad (Video SEO)

Via Larry Kless, here’s Mark Robertson, the King of Video SEO, sharing some tips about video codecs, encoding, and other things we don’t quite understand… but know are important.

Until you or your agency are doing all these things as prescribed by Dr. Robertson, we recommend getting all of your content on YouTube. Turns out Google indexes YouTube videos, um, pretty darned well.

What You Don’t Know About Videos & Search Engines Can…

… be hurting you. Why do keep writing about video search-engine optimization?

  • Your viewers or customers are increasingly using specific terms in their search, and including the word “video” into searches more than the word “sex.” In the past 5 years the term “how to” has grown steadily as a search phrase (Google analytics).
  • Eye charts show that when a thumbnail image (representing a video) appears among a search-page results it gets an early glance before people read.
  • Approximately a third of the views of a video are driven by search. It may surprise you that search engines overtook social media as a driver to videos back in early 2008 (Hitwise, 2009 via ReelSEO).
  • Google, by far the leading search engine, incorporates many forms of media in its results. Since it currently indexes far more text than video, you have a distinct advantage with video content.

There are two solutions: the hard way and the easy way. The hard way: you can ensure you or your agency is current on video SEO techniques. The second is that you post content on YouTube (which Google crawls quite well) and ensure that your title, description and keywords are aligned and words are ranked by priority. Don’t try to optimize against impossible phrases with lots of competition. Be specific and add words people are increasingly adding to search queries (video, how to, etc).

Larry Kless did  a nice summary of the Online Video Platform Summit (sounds saucy, huh), and quotes SEO Video Guru Mark Robertson. Nico McLane discussed her article from StreamingMedia that is subtitled “The secret’s in the sauce, but nobody’s sharing their recipes.”

Robertson puts it simply, “video SEO is purely an extension of SEO.” The more I research it, the more I realize it’s true. The tips for optimizing video content, with some exceptions, are typical of a good search-engine optimization plan.

Getting Your Videos to Rank High on Google

I just spoke with the Guru of Video SEO, Mark Robertson, to get some input on my chapter on video SEO (for “Beyond Viral Video”). I don’t think I succeeded on convincing him to just write the chapter (with credit, of course), but he’s been very generous with his insights. He’s got the smack daddy of resources on this subject, and had an answer for every questions I could ask.

I’ve obsessed with using YouTube as the fast-track to Google results, but Mark reminds me that it’s only one part of the puzzle. Equally important, perhaps, is ensuring that video content on your own website ranks high, and that it displays thumbnails you create. This is especially true if you’re trying to sell something (versus drive awareness). We already know that YouTubers don’t leave YouTube easily.

I’m still keen on brands (and creators and bloggers) getting content on YouTube because it’s the dominant video site, and more searches occur on YouTube than Yahoo or MSN. But that doesn’t mean we give up trying to optimize video on our own little desert-island websites.

My key take away from the call with Mark: While it’s easier to optimize your content using YouTube, most people would prefer to have the results display their own website. So your focus depends on who you are:

  • Small businesses or bloggers that lack a well-indexed website and technical resources: you’re much better off getting your videos found on Google by using YouTube.
  • Large brands are wise to concurrently upload video content to YouTube and their own site. It can’t hurt (at least in the near term it’s unlikely you’d be penalized for repetitive content).
  • Any sophisticated website should deploy Mark’s best-practices to ensure the site is SEO’d for video. The structure of the site has to make it easy for Google. And you generally don’t want to embed a YouTube video on your site, because that just makes it more likely for the YouTube URL to show up (instead of your own site, if that’s important).

Benjamin Wayne, SearchEngineWatch, published some good questions to ask your agency (or video platform provider, or technical geek) to ensure your videos aren’t invisible:

  • Will you index both my video permalink pages and the videos themselves?
  • Will links point back to my site, or will they drive traffic to pages hosted by the video platform provider?
  • How often will feeds be updated?
  • In which search engines will my results appear?
  • Do you still live with your mom? (okay I added that one)
  • How will I be able to track click-through and ROI?

Want to see what your eye might be doing as you search content on Google? Check it out:

Getting Your Video to Top of Google Ranking (fart)

I met recently with Steve Rubel, who Business Week once called “the all-knowing thumper in a forrest of bambinos.” He’s dumped his Micropersuasion, but still posts on SteveRubel.com.

Steve asked me what I knew about video and SEO, and prompted this succinct 101-post on “how to use online-video to crawl your way to the top of Google rankings.” As I’ve reminded you before, YouTube is the second most important search engine, and YouTube videos get a strong advantage on Google. When you search a term, and see a video thumbnail someone’s done their homework.

Mark Robertson is the authoritative voice on video SEO, and his blog (ReelSEO) is a must-read. His post “SEO for Video” is essential reading.

I’m less savvy than Mark or other SEO/SEM experts, but I am a marketer who spends many waking hours trying to get my YouTube videos more views. Here’s ReelSEO’s Jeremy Scott’s piece about my previous “inside” scoops on YouTube and search (and his clever retort of my assertion that online-video will trump social media).

Sure you can buy text ads surrounding these Google searches, but they will burn through a budget fas. Furthermore, searchers usually jump to the “organic” or “natural” results that aren’t in yellow. Google eye-tracking charts have proven that, and undisclosed eye-charts of YouTube show that the primary navigation attracts eyes to that coveted search field. I’m not suggesting “either/or.” You want to appear for key searches anyway you can… even if you’re buying ads on searches that you already organically dominate. I have fought this logic, but the text ads for your brand name usually yield the highest-quality traffic (even if they MIGHT have found you without the ads).

Your thumbnail in the red area is worth more than text ads

Now some fresh tips and secrets for helping your video content rise on Google results, where you are exponentially more likely to be discovered by curious prospects.

1) Put Your Video in Places Easy for Search ‘Spiders” to Find. Your video content is either on YouTube or it’s hiding. Google’s automatic “spiders” dig routinely through your site, but don’t make them work too hard. If you have videos streaming on Quicktime on your website, then don’t expect them to get discovered easily (especially if they’re buried deep). Start posting on YouTube, then use TubeMogul to go more broadly (a free tool that distributes videos to dozens of existing online-video accounts, as long as you have accounts on them). I have asked TubeMogul’s CEO (Brett Wilson) to allow video publishers to vary keyword tags by site; currently you tag your video the same for all sites, which doesn’t allow you to experiment and hedge bets. That will increase odds of “Mother Google” blessing you with first-page result for niche terms. Again, if your video is on your brand site it might as well be in a file cabinet.
2) Oddly, Metadata Still Works. Metadata includes the title, description and keywords that search engines can use to find your content. Be selective, and go for targeted terms. Don’t try “digital camera,” but something more narrow like “how to buy cheap video cameras.” Then be consistent with your title, first words of your description, and the keywords. This can be challenging, because viewers like short irresistible titles… but spiders will index based on common search terms or phrases.
3) Engagement Matters. A well-viewed, top rated, commented, favorited video is going to work MUCH better than one you post solo. That’s why the YouTube stars (already popular amateurs or pros) have an edge on the rest. Their active fan following moves them to top of most-viewed videos, and makes them easy for a new audience to discover them. This is one of the reasons I urge marketers to tap into the credible platform of a weblebrity instead of posting their own videos. If I upload a video on my “Nalts” channel, it’s going to do better on SEO than the same exact video posted to a new account or your account. Many people attempt to replicate this by asking friends and family to “5 star, favorite, and comment.” But a few dozen people aren’t as powerful as the thousands of active fans that rate their favorite creators 5 stars even before watching the full video.

4) YouTube is Getting Smarter about weeding out videos boasting provocative thumbnails (the images that represent the video on YouTube or Google search results). So in time, pictures of neon graphics (a hot trend) and boobies (a timeless certainty) will not outrank relevancy. Ultimately I expect YouTube to rank videos based, in part, on “attention scores.” As a YouTube Partner I know which of my videos have high “attention scores,” which is a relative score based on videos that are of similar duration. I can’t tell precisely how many people stopped watching at a specific moment (or the average view duration) but I can see where most people dropped, and I try to manage that by “teasing” video that comes later. If a video for a particular term has a high “attention score,” then Google/YouTube can correctly assume it was relevant to the searcher. So I’d expect that to be as vital as transcribed text, and Google/YouTube already has the ability to connect these (and may well be using them).

5) While Waiting for Transcription. Don’t hold your breath for Google to transcribe videos, which will be the Holy Grail. Rubel observed that “Google Voice” is teaching Google to recognize various dialects, and that will come in handy when it’s time to transcribe and index video speech for word searches. In the meantime, you want your videos to be valuable/relevant and short (30-90 seconds), then compel action (like a visit to a website) with a meaningful promise. Remember it’s much easier to get a YouTube viewer to a channel page than to abandon YouTube. We’re still seeing click-thru rates (from YouTube to brand sites) in the low single digits. Some YouTube creators (like “CharlesTrippy” and “Shaycarl“) post daily videos as long as 10-12 minutes, which automatically propel them to the most popular page. This may give them an advantage, and I recently speculated that long videos may, counter intuitively, be a view driver. I’m now thinking that the frequency keeps them “top of mind” and forges a bond with their viewers, which is the real driver. Still, their fans will watch more of those videos than typical videos of that duration… and that certainly should help. While we wait for transcribed search, consider captioning your content (it’s time consuming but free on various sites) or adding a full or partial text transcript to your description.

5) The basics of SEO apply when it comes to keywords. Spell hot ones wrong on purpose, focus on less competitive terms/phrases, and use desired ones first. Before Google stopped using metatags to rank, it always put exponential emphasis on the first word than the fifth. So consider carefully the first words you’ll use in sequence, and don’t try to fight for highly competitive terms. I used to automatically use “Nalts” as a keyword, but now I place that at the end of my list. Sometimes I’ll use a partial phrase like “how, to, become, popular, on, youtube,” and name the video similarly. Then my description will begin with “How to become popular on YouTube…”

6) I haven’t seen evidence that YouTube videos embedded on other sites have an advantage. Logically, an embedded video means bloggers and other websites find the content valuable… and YouTube videos used to show publicly (under video you’ll see “statistics and data” the sites that drove traffic to a video, but have inexplicably eliminated that somewhat recently). It was probably being abused by spammers. Google tends to focus on relevancy rather than monetization, but it’s hard to ignore a motivator YouTube has: the site can monetize videos on its own site easier than on other sites. So it’s in Google’s financial interest to reward video content that draws traffic to YouTube rather than embedded videos on sites that use its bandwidth without creating a premium for advertisers. We know that if hundreds of websites link to President George Bush using a hyperlink called “stupid,” then he’ll rise on search results for the word stupid. So perhaps my top ranking for the keyword “fart” was helped by any sites that linked to me with the tag, “fart video.”

But there’s a true relevancy factor at play. If you’re inclined to search “fart,” I’m guessing a video of a kid with a fart machine is one of the things you may be hoping to find. Or maybe you were seeking a nice medical definition or the origin of the word (Wikipedia, which now has trumped me, indicates “immediate roots are in the Middle English words ferten,feortan or farten; which is akin to the Old High German word ferzan. Cognates are found in old Norse, Slavic and also Greek and Sanskrit.”

7) Timing. Michael Buckley’s “What The Buck” show and Sxephil’s vlogs benefit greatly from their regular content about topics being searched. Their recent videos are often between 500K to a million, and they have some videos that are cash cows for certain subjects (garnering regular views that are in the multi-millions). As I write, they’re no doubt making a video about the Golden Globes, knowing that on Tuesday people will return to work, and be grazing for recaps. This timely content also serves as “link bait” to popular social-media sites that are looking for current videos about hot content. Topicality is important, and the best personal example I can provide is my 2009 Superbowl “best commercials”  video. It maintains a poor attention score (lots of early drops relative to most of my videos), but I launched it before last year’s Superbowl game… fetching it 3-4 million views in the days after last February’s game… and it’s up to 7 million now. The GoDaddy boob thumbnail doesn’t hurt either, but that’s not helping the attention score. If you want boobies, you’re turned off to see a dad and his kid talking about the best ads. If I did a daily vlog about the hot terms I found on Yahoo Buzz, I’m quite certain I could dramatically expand my daily views from 150K-200K to 500K. But alas I have neither the time nor interest. I’m guessing Buckley and Phil scour many sites to find out what content people are searching each day.

8) Untapped Secret: SEM on YouTube. I almost hate to give this away. But if you have an Adsense/Adwords account and you’re a YouTube partner, you can advertise your video based on keyword terms. This drives search-driven ads that display your video to a targeted audience, and is not expensive for most terms (a cost-per-click bid of a few pennies sometimes works). Even better, you’re then able to put your own simple “InVideo” ad over the video with a clickable hyperlink. See the example on my “Hair Transplant Fun,” which is more likely to drive viewers to my blog than a hyperlink in the description. And remember: get that hyperlink early in the description so it appears to viewers in a truncated description.

Now a few things that don’t work, or at least will die soon enough.

  • I’m finding lots of spam automatic blogs that are now embedding my videos and descriptions hoping to trick Google into indexing it. This annoying technique is also fooling Radian6 and other social-media monitoring tools, which report this old content as new. Last week I tried a “Nalts” search on Radian6 and was frustrated to see old video descriptions appearing as recent buzz about me. Maddening.
  • I’m also constantly finding my name packed with other YouTube usernames in videos by people who naively hope that works. Puh-leeze. Did that ever work? It’s a good technique if you’re mentioning a particular YouTuber, because we do tend to “ego surf” for content that tags our name. But as soon as I see 12 other names aside mine, I know it’s trolling.
  • Fake thumbnails might artificially drive views, but the video will be penalized when the attention scores show Google the video duped its users.

YouTube is a Search Engine, Dummy

YouTube was once a popular video-sharing site built on community. That community is still critical to gaining and keeping a large audience, but heat maps show the YouTube masthead is HAWT around the search field, and YouTube is now the second most-popular search engine after Google. It beats MSN and Yahoo. Or YahooMSN.

ReelSEO has posted a “best of” all of the wisdom for optimizing your videos for search. Read them or be doomed.

Mark Robinson has a wealth of knowledge on this subject, and shares advice from others… like this TubeMogul video about optimizing. Last week I asked TubeMogul to allow us to insert different tags when we upload to various sites (currently tags are entered once for all of the video-sharing sites TubeMogul feeds). Then we can increase our odds by trying different keywords for each video. Not a pure study, since the confounding variable is the website itself, our popularity on that site, and the ability of the video-sharing site to rank at all (some are better than others).

ReelSEO also has a video by Google’s Matthew Liu that gives us some insights on how Google/YouTube ranks videos. They fall into three categories:

  1. The obvious: make sure the video is good, short and engages. Tag it appropriately without spamming unrelated keywords.
  2. The semi-obvious: engage in the community, encourage comments and ratings.
  3. The secret clue: Matthew, at the end, eludes to ensuring that the content is consumed. That suggests two things… be sure it’s short (duh) but also keep the viewer engaged to the end. If your viewers complete the video, the video gets an unseen “attention score” that (I believe) will become the biggest variable. If you have a lot of important text at the end, the viewer will “scrub” the player to reread the text, and that translates to the engine as “yummy content.”

Nalts “Tip of the Day”: Toss in some important text at the end that may require people to pause or replay the last few minutes. Then add a little black to keep them from wandering off to related videos.

Nalts “Bonus Tip of the Day”: In my recent “Killer Caterpillar” video I didn’t pull the typical “please rate” or the ShayCarl “rate 5!” plea. Instead, I simply told viewers that only 1 in 100 actually rate a video. While I don’t expect this ratio to last,  the video got 2,000 ratings on a video seen only 12,000 times. That means 1/6 of the people rated… which is highly unusual. The video is short and took more time than usual, so that also helped… but I thin the high rating ratio contributed to it being the 21st most popular video of the day. Getting ranked as the most popular has become increasingly more difficult since YouTube merged most-popular with most-viewed. And I just spent an hour surfing the most popular to see what I could deduce. It’s primarily driven by a deep fan base: the creators that are deep in the community still rank high, even if the occasional one-hit wonder finds its way.

YouTube’s Homepage Not as Important as Google’s “Secret Sauce”

There’s been a fascinating and widespread reaction to YouTube’s redesign, which was based somewhat on superficial changes to YouTube’s homepage (phase one referenced in YouTube’s blog, and a broader change is planned per NewTeeVee and ClickZ).

But the fate of YouTube’s partners, professionals and user-generated content is driven less by the homepage than the “secret sauce.” What, you ask, is “the secret sauce”? Hang with me for a moment first. I promise we’ll get there, and I’ll even give you tips for giving yourself a competitive advantage.

In this horrifically long post, I’m going to analyze the homepage, show why most reactions are missing the point, explore how a video gets “love” on YouTube, and give you some tips for getting views.

Since the redesign, we’re seeing the homepage’s vitality wane. Those homepage videos fetch fewer views than they once did. Where a featured (now “spotlighted” video) once got 100,000 to 500,000 views, the YouTube homepage is less of a driver than before. In case you missed the memo, here’s the latest vernacular.

  1. Spotlight Videos: Highlighted videos YouTube thinks you’ll want to watch, and a “thematic” approach to showcasing the best of the community and partners.
  2. Promoted Videos: Those driven by advertising.
  3. Featured: Includes YouTube’s partner content, other popular content, or those previously spotlighted.

Compare these two screen shots as exhibit A & B: The first is a shot of today’s “Spotlight” videos (aka featured), and the view counts are perhaps 200K on average.


Now see YouTube (via archive.org) about 2 years ago when “Farting in Public” was on it. This is not a scientific study, but you’ll see higher average numbers despite the fact that YouTube’s traffic today is exponentially higher than it was one or two years ago. We’d expect to see today’s YouTube homepage videos commanding views that are exponentially higher. So what gives?


The coveted YouTube homepage is still prime Internet real estate, of course, and the slippage of average homepage views isn’t entirely driven to the recent redesign — because this phenomenon is not new. A year ago I spoke with an interactive director of a popular company that had its video ad featured on the 2006 homepage, then again in 2007. Before asking him about his results, I told him I imagined far fewer people watched his most recent homepage-featured ad. He asked how I knew, and I explained that we regular YouTubers had grown immune to the large ad on the homepage.

Alas, the power of the YouTube homepage has become, and will continue to become, less important in influence, at least relative to other secret tools at the disposal of The Commercializers of YouTube. Why?

  1. First, only a small portion of daily YouTube visitors even actually see the homepage. They dive deep into YouTube for a specific video, and then out.
  2. Regular visitors (those who spend 20-60 minutes per day on the site) have largely customized their experience to give primacy to their favorite creators via “subscriptions.”
  3. That leaves only the people inclined to visit a homepage of any site, or those that are new and eager to explore. This is a minority, and the longer we spend on YouTube the less we care about the homepage.

YouTube, now behaving more as a division of Google than a standalone UGC/video sharing site, will continue to reward content based on two factors: relevance to viewers, and the premium of the ads they generate. Google prides itself on a legacy of innovation that is often instinctive and not customer driven — we didn’t know we needed Google search in a crowded market. And we didn’t know we needed Gmail, which has more traffic now than YouTube itself.

But most of us miss this fact. Let’s look at some comments about the redesign (from blogs/discussion groups, especially NewTeeVee and ClickZ). They’re focused mostly on the homepage and organizational principle, but are overlooking the more powerful dynamics driven by YouTube’s “secret sauce.”

  • They’ve been disenfranchising us more and more. Eventually we’ll migrate elsewhere and youtube won’t have an audience to advertise too.
  • I think the trend is going towards compartmentalizing video content 1. Quality + Professional free with the hassle of advertising 2. Mixed Quality + free between terrible and good UCG that can be found on sites like youtube and howcast with the hassle of advertising 3. Paid entertainment, video content that can be purchased through itunes 4. Paid, quality instructional content that can be purchased
  • I reckon that for four tabs.: Music-25% , Films-10% , TV-15% , UGC-50%
  • In effect, they are garden walling all the UGC on YT into a section so that if you want to ignore it you can.
  • I go to youtube because I *like* seeing good UGC (gasp)! I totally get that advertisers worry about what stupid crap their ads show up next to, but if youtube can’t patrol their homepage – why can’t they let their trusted users do it
  • I feel this change will marginalize UCG content, but it’s still a million times more democratic than the TV model.
  • The creation of a premium “sand box” for professional content will allow independent producers and large media companies to showcase and monetize their content more efficiently. Also, all content producers on the site will benefit from the inevitable increase in ad spends that are pushed to Youtube.
  • Hilarious! “Premium content” is just what the many millions of YouTube watchers don’t want!
  • I think this will give websites like Viddler and Vimeo a chance to grow their communities to the height of YouTube’s current level of success.
  • The UGC community on YouTube can succeed if they are able to monetize more easily and if established and rising “stars” are identified and receive promotion that positions them as “must-watch,” “YouTube only” content. They can be seen as complementary, and the more YouTube facilitates a parity the better.

Well you’ve made it this far, so it’s time to reveal “The Secret Sauce” of Google/YouTube. As I said, video content will rise/fall based on consumer relevance (duration of view, relevance by keyword, ratings, view counts, favorites, etc.), but the most vital aspect is “black box,” or confidential. We can deduce some things using “Google search” as a proxy. Google’s search results rewards advertisers who bid high prices for “paid placement,” and organic (natural) results based on whether the content is “relevant” (as defined by inbound links and whether we engage, or return Google to refine the search).

Not surprisingly, YouTube is replicating that Google model — giving “love” to content that either satisfied viewers and/or can be monetized via the Partners program. Unfortunately, YouTube is less transparent about whether a video receives primacy because of relevance or ad dollars. There isn’t a clear visual divide between paid and organic videos, even though the new labels (spotlight, promoted, featured) are a step in that direction, and this will continue to become more clear to even the naive surfer that still can’t distinguish between an ad or organic result on Google.

To consider how a video fails or thrives, consider the experience of a typical viewer navigating YouTube. They may choose to engage in the following ways:

  • Visit a specific video based on a link/forward from a friend. They may hang around, or dash.
  • “Hang out” with the community — and that segment continues to grow, but represents a smaller share of overall traffic. It’s also less important from a commercial standpount.
  • “Browse” related videos, and passively accept the “related content” YouTube serves after a video.
  • Dive into a favorite creator (and subscribe)- that could be a pro or an amateur.
  • More and more, visitors search for what they want — whether it’s the latest video gossip about a news figure, or “how to play a jawharp.”
  • Few, I believe, use the homepage design to delve into specific segments or such areas as “most watched” of the day, week or month. It’s possible that YouTube’s user interface (tabs, categories) can be important, but less so than most think.


The “secret sauce” is Google’s proprietary scheme for keeping the viewer engaged, and ensuring that the content continues to not just satisfy their curiousity, but more importantly “hook” them for more viewing (and it works based on average views consumed by a YouTuber relative to a Yahoo Video viewer). The “secret sauce” is, and will always remain, highly confidential and in flux. Otherwise we’ll “game the system” through various tricks. The algorythm that makes up that sauce will get smarter, and more difficult to fool.

We can complain about the “secret sauce,” or accept it and evolve. That means our video content needs to be relevant and captivating. Partners have a distinct advantage, because YouTube would be foolish to favor videos it can’t monetize. So we’ll see powerful and deep-pocketed commercial networks/producers (and advertisers) get an increasing “leg up” on amatuers by giving YouTube a financial incentive to show their videos “love” through paid buys, and favored placement. These entities can pay for “love,” or YouTube may give them free “love” to hook new audiences and mutually monetize their content long term. Recall how much premium placement PopTub had for a while. And sometimes an amateur gets lucky because their content gets “stuck” on the homepage (we saw that last month with CommunityChannel and a few others).

In the meantime, here are some basic tips, and some haven’t changed since last year when I wrote my free eBook (“How to Become Popular on YouTube Without Any Talent“).

  1. Create videos about content that is topical and searched. That’s how Buckley and Sxephil attracted a following that is now somewhat self sustaining.
  2. Build a distinct niche, and market your videos via like-creators and via properties (blogs) beyond YouTube.
  3. Continue to reply to videos that are already popular. The viewer will see the thumbnail, and your video will pick up “spillover.”
  4. Ensure the videos are tagged appropriately, but are also compelling, and engage the viewer. Otherwise algorythms will mistake those for spam. It doesn’t work anymore to tag your video with “sex” and expect that video to sail.
  5. Those thumbnails are as vital as ever. If a video is promoted, featured or spotlighted, the viewer will decide to engage based on the title, thumbnail and duration (we still want short videos).
  6. Here’s a doozy: Leave blank space after your video, so your viewers are less likely to “escape” via “related videos” served involuntarily by YouTube after the video plays (you want your viewer instead choosing a thumbnail for your own video, and those appear beneath the video).
  7. Finally, you’d better monetize your videos and become a YouTube Partner. Sponsored videos that aren’t monetized are not likely to thrive as well as entertaining videos that earn Google and its partners ad dollars.

It’s indeed harder to become an “overnight” success, especially when we have a “vicious cycle of fame”: it takes lots of views to qualify as a partner, and partner status to get more views. So the rich may get richer, and the bar is rising. But don’t despair! JeepersMedia is surpassing 100,000 subscribers, and had only had 4,300 subscribers 10 months ago. So there’s still room for new video creators who tap distinct audience niches, and manage (like Jeepers) to rank continually among the most highly-rated videos of the day.

And as long as the “subscription” model remains important to new YouTube addicts, your success breeds success. A good video can prompt a YouTube noob to subscribe (especially if you ask them to), and then your chances of that individual watching your future videos are much higher.

Getting Your Videos Seen With Search

Last week I wrote one of my more seminal posts on the convergence of paid search and video. Those who comment on my blog, of course, are rather indifferent about these vital topics and would just prefer me to stick with such topics as farts and YouTube drama.

Alas, I finally know how our summer Spanish teacher felt when our class (a motley crew of rejects that simply needed a passing grade to graduate) insisted that she play Spanish soap operas and stop trying to teach us vocabulary. For the most part, we’d just put “o” at the end of the word and it would sound sufficiently translated.

That said, I must persist and I have a ruler in my hand. You see, the percentage of video views attributed to search engines is growing rapidly. And I had forgotten sweet ReelSEO which had fallen accidentally on my iGoogle when I took it for a strict SEM blog. It has some great articles on video too. Here’s a recent piece by Michael Bunnell that has some summaries of the “Video Search Engine Optimization” session that took place in San Jose at the SES (search engine strategies) conference.

Check out the comments by Greg Markel, founder of Infuse Creative, LLC. He’s got some nice wisdom, including a remidner to have your killer link in the top of your description as the rest gets truncated. It might help that paultry view-to-click ratio (although I’d expect 1-4 percent tops anyway).

mike abundo with his sassy poseIn related news, Mike Abundo (pictured here in a sassy photo and see his blog here) writes about how marketers and creators may be able to buy YouTube text links on search results to support the SEO techniques Markel suggests.

SEM Plus Video = Gold in ‘Dem Hills

Pay attention now, online-video and advertising peeps. This lil’ blog post is going to be on the final exam. It might even spawn a trade article and a new business.

  • Paid Search Video Gold DiggerSearch engine marketing (SEM) is big business today, with agencies charging retainers to help websites rank high on search engines (increasing qualified traffic) and help manage paid advertising. Paid search (text ads on Google, Yahoo and MSN) already is annually around a $10 billion industry. Maybe more, maybe less.
  • Online video will likely be a billion plus industryin 2009 and growing at a rate of between 50-70 percent annually for the foreseeable future (see roundup of online-video industry projections).

Would you like Uncle Nalts to tell you where the gold is in ‘dem hills?

Kay, first let’s get into our time machine and go back 7-8 years. Around 2000, Nalts got nervous about the impending bubble burst and took shelter with Big 5 Consulting (KPMG). Turns out the Big 5 was no better poised than Internet marketing agencies and eventually Nalts would camp-out on client side so he could see his kids grow up. But that’s besides the point. Nalts got some good training on consultative selling and how to solve problems for C-level (that’s CEO, CIO, CFO) folks. Seems the VITO (very important top executive) loses sleep sometimes, and if you can help him/her sleep better they don’t mind giving you money. They sleep better when they can measure a marketing spend especially in a tight economy.

Hi. I\'m full of shit. I\'m going to manage your paid search campaignBut I’m getting ahead of myself… before Uncle Nalts left his interactive agency (Qwest), he pitched The Big Guy on building a paid-search practice. Brand teams were happy to spend $300-$500 thousand dollars on a big ass website, but it was equally important getting customers to actually visit those big-ass websites. Eventually the interactive agencies figured this out, but not before screwing it up with big-mouth idiots who promised to handle paid-search campaigns like “day traders”… and then ran off to the next pitch and left the campaign unoptimized and in autopilot. I can smell these people before they enter our building.

Even today agencies suck at SEM with a few exceptions, and most acquired their way there. Of course as a Product Director, I’m reluctant to hire a specialist SEM firm because they’ll only get into a pissing war with my interactive agency and media buyer. My peers at other companies consolidate paid-search spending even though the media spend is bid-based (so you don’t exactly garner spending/scale efficiencies except on campaign and analytic fees). So I hire an independent consultant to fill giant gap between my brand team, internal groups (promotions/Internet), agencies and analytics.

The best way to predict *some* of video’s future is to look at the past.Online video will follow the route of the SEM field in 2008-2011. Sure other things will grow and die along the way (from Hulu and eFoof to Revver and Vloggerheads).

But trust me that online video will eventually be managed the way we manage all other promotional content and media:

  1. Brands spend a fortune telling their story and making persuasive content (and sometimes even serve customers along the way). This stuff will become less important with time unless it is engaging and, dare I say, entertaining.
  2. We work like hell to get high organic (unpaid) placements on The Orb called Google- that means optimizing our content and getting it distributed on credible third parties. In video, of course, this translates to tagging, seeding, moving quickly, and leveraging popular amateurs– even little Uncle Nalts gets about 1.6 MM uniques per month on his videos.
  3. Finally, we buy ads on Google for relevant keywords- I’ll speak for myself but there’s NO OTHER SPEND that’s directly as measurable as paid search. It’s bending over the rest of the marketing mix and has it squeeling like a pig. Its only weakness  is scale, but I like the pay-for-performance accountability.

Now Uncle Nalts was going to hoard these powerful insights, but he’s sharing them here on his blog for the low, low price of nothing. Nalts will even confess that this is the space in which he wants to play (not marketing drugs until he retires).

You gotta do what you love, which for me is entertaining and marketing via emerging media. How fun to help brands get their good content seen via existing video sites and search engines, then supplant that “organic” play with targeted advertising buys (ideally at a cost-per-click and keyword targeting level). Okay it doesn’t sound as fun as blowing bubbles or eating Captain Crunch, but it’s fun to me. And if the video content sucks, then let’s create new videos without exhaustive, bloated production shoots. Even more good news: you don’t have to spend $250K MM on YouTube to get paid (promoted) views.

If you’re interested in financing a startup around this, just send me cash. I think I need about $500K, but no pesky venture capitalists please. You VCs creep me out, even if you’re still investing in video like drunken sailers.

Honestly, here’s why I don’t mind sharing this powerful insight (which some of you will find obvious now that I’ve said it, and others will be only mildly amused because the significance is lost on them). Because few are poised to tackle this issue yet. How many have experience with the mix of marketing, Internet advertising, and video? And the magic is in the implementation unless you’re the fat, smelly guy who pitches “SEM dashboard” full time.

The agencies will make a mess of this. I think it goes without saying that large full-serve “integrated” agencies (don’t laugh when I say integrated please) will wait until 2012 until they trip over this space by accident. Picture the dinosaurs that used to chew their tails raw before they even felt the pain. 

Even the interactive agencies will make a mess of it. Remember when the interactive firms tried to get into paid search and search engine marketing in the early 2000’s? It was embarassing. And most interactive agency people don’t know online video, much less know what a social media and online-video marketing plan might look like. Heck a woman at an agency last week told me she hadn’t heard of Twitter (but YouTube sounded familiar). And of course information management is still using terms like “portal” while PR firms spew about “blog and social media strategy,” and wouldn’t know a viral video if it urinated on their leg or licked them on the face.

While the agencies are ignoring it or screwing it up, a few bright people will build up an offering that helps brands place content organically (and seed it), and conduct efficient media spends to promote the content.  Again- I think the magical stool has three legs: marketing, digital advertising and online video. Yeah- like my old Drunk Uncle Jim used to say- when there’s a gold rush, sell shovels.

After all… it’s hard to sleep when your videos, like $500K bad-ass websites, are “billboards in the back yard.”  

Billboard in backyard