A few weeks ago, I noticed a drastic change in Google's video index that's something many people have been asking for and has some pretty interesting ramifications. I didn't post about it right away as I wanted to make sure that what I was seeing was something that would stick. So, 2 weeks later, and after some testing, I can now confirm that - YouTube embeds are getting indexed for sites/domains that embed them.
What??? Yes, and it doesn't even matter if you're the owner of the YouTube video or not. Further more, you DON'T even need a video sitemap for YouTube. Hang in there with me as this will likely be a long post given my passion on the subject.
Disclaimer: There are a few oddities in how this seems to be working (as you'll read below). I did reach out to Google about this when I saw it a few weeks ago and have not received a response. It's entirely possible that this is a bug, but if it is, it's one that's been running solid for at least 2 weeks now.
Background: YouTube Embeds, Sitemaps, Google Indexing
So, on the 27th of March, I was doing some of my normal SERP monitoring and noticed that the number of indexed video results for www.ReelSEO.com increased by roughly 300%. When I took a closer look at what pages were getting indexed and what videos were on those pages, all were from posts that we published which contained embedded YouTube videos.
Video Sitemaps for YouTube = CONFUSION:
This change is of great interest to me as I've had numerous people ask me how to create video sitemaps for embedded YouTube videos and there has been a huge amount of discussion online as to how to get videos from YouTube indexed for one's own domain. Check out the comments on this post as an example.
However, until now, it was impossible to get indexed in Google Videos with YouTube embeds on your site, even with a properly formed sitemap (trust me, I conducted testing with almost every publishing method and variant you can think of.) There were a few work-arounds, but these were not well known and would probably be considered a bit of a hack. The reason for this was that Google/YouTube was "ignoring" any sitemap entries that pointed to YouTube.com assets and not allowing sites to get indexed through a YouTube embed.
Google and YouTube never stated this anywhere in there documentation (in fact, their documentation initially caused more confusion by showing an example sitemap code using YouTube). Because of this, people were wasting time trying to build sitemaps for YouTube and troubleshooting why they were not getting indexed. I saw this confusion first hand through multiple emails asking me for consultation help. Unfortunately, for each inquiry, the answer was similar - "sorry, you're wasting your time with that because..."
In fact, there was so much confusion that even some developers built plugins for wordpress that would automatically build video sitemaps for embedded YouTube videos (BTW - good effort though and I really like the developer). Problem is, they did nothing other than create a valid video sitemap. The sitemap entries would never end up getting indexed as videos.
As recent as a few months ago, a member of a major SEO site, SEOMoz, posted an article titled, "Video Sitemap Guide for Vimeo and YouTube." The article featured instructions for how to create an XML sitemap entry for a Vimeo embed (which we've covered in the past). Beneath that, the author stated,
"Don't worry, the same steps should work for YouTube as well."
Because I've been close to the subject for some time, there was a lengthy comment discussion on the article that speaks to the fact that such instructions at the time were adding to the confusion, as Google was not indexing YouTube videos for sites that embedded them. The author was very involved and helpful in the discussion but the initial article was just evidence of the confusion. At least he wrote about it and spawned the discussion... I've been meaning to write about this for some time.
Why Might Google Block YouTube Embeds from Being Indexed?
When I originally confirmed that YouTube embeds could not get indexed for sites other than www.youtube.com, it occurred to me that there may be a few reasons why Google and/or YouTube could have decided not to allow it.
1) Spam & Duplicate Content:
There's already an issue with regard to duplicate video content both in YouTube itself, as well as within Google. For example, if you upload the same video to 20 sites, you'll see several of them get indexed with the same title, descriptions, etc... In YouTube, we've all seen the tons of duplicate videos that exist.
Can you imagine if now all those YouTube videos could be indexed on every site that embedded them? You'd have even more people creating content farms with videos embedded from YouTube just as an SEO play. It would be an issue with any video embed, not just YouTube embeds. If this was a reason, it would be hypocritical in that other embedded videos were not ignored.
Regardless, it's no longer a potential issue, it's a reality.
However, Google is pretty good about ranking URLs and being that personalized & social search are taking over, duplicate content is becoming less and less of an issue in the end.
2) Money Money... $$
It used to be that embedded videos did not always have ad functionality. Additionally, it used to be that YouTube was primarily monetizing via the YouTube watch page, with display ads representing a large porition of revenues for YouTube. Therefore it would make perfect sense that they'd want to drive all traffic back to YouTube.com in order to monetize page traffic.
However, as we've all seen, YouTube has been doing a much better job in monetizing embedded YouTube videos and I imagine that if this change was intentional (vs. a bug), it would have been made in part, because they now are more able to monetize traffic that goes to sites with YouTube embeds and are less concerned with mere page views.
Testing Results: YouTube Embeds Get Indexed
As I mentioned, after discovering this, I immediately went into testing mode. I tested several versions fo the YouTube embed code, including but not limited to:
- Straight iframe embed code directly from YouTube
- "Old" embed code directly from YouTube
- iframe oembed code
- iframe with video schema.org markup
- And quite a few others
YouTube Video Sitemap NOT Required
First off, it was a bit of a surprise to me that they were doing this without any additional data other than what can happen through crawling. Additionally, because I had both a sitemap and schema markup on ReelSEO.com, I wasn't sure if either helped contribute to the jump in indexed results that we saw. So, I tested each of these with and without a sitemap and guess what? It didn't matter whatsoever if there was a video sitemap entry or not.
Indexing Can Happen Reel Fast
This is something that likely will depend on the domain you're using and how often it's crawled, etc... We did have a general XML sitemap (non-video) to tell Google when a new page was published and this may be partially why it happened so fast. Here you can see a screenshot that shows a video indexed in less than a minute after having published it to a relatively new domain.
Surprisingly, Schema VideoObject Markup Didn't Help
As I mentioned, when I first saw this happening, I thought perhaps it was a result of the schema.org markup that I have on all my videos. So, one of the tests that I did included an example whereby I used a straight iframe embed from YouTube (which works on it's own) along with schema.org markup to include additional information about the video. (You can read more about schema markup for videos here.)
Here's the odd thing. The video did get indexed in Google Videos. However, it's missing the thumbnail so if anything, adding schema hurt the result here as we even provide them directly with a thumbnail URL which wasn't used. WTF?
Video Thumbnails will Match YouTube's
As for the other results, it appears that they're using the same thumbnails that are the default chosen thumbnails from the YouTube video itself. Here's an example of a post from earlier today that's already indexed in Google videos.
Greg's post on 101 YouTube channels for Google had 8 videos embedded in it. It appears that Google indexed this page for the last video that was embedded, and used the thumbnail that was originally chosen by the video owner for YouTube.
I haven't tested this yet--but it would be interesting to see if submitting a sitemap entry for this URL, with a different thumbnail specified, would override this default.
Any YouTube Embed Works, Not Just Yours
As you've probably noticed by now, this happens for any YouTube video you embed on your site - IE - it doesn't have to be a YouTube video that you own. I mention this because folks from Google mentioned to me (as well as publicly in our webinar about video sitemaps) that they were thinking of enabling the ability to index YouTube videos only for those videos that are embedded on the YouTube account owner's website properties. This would likely require some sort of integration into webmaster tools but if they have your email address tied to YouTube and Webmaster Tools, it should be easy enough to authenticate ownership. All that being said, it appears they've perhaps relinquished that option so as to allow it for all.
Only the iframe Method?
Just as with schema markup, I was surprised to see the result when trying the older, more established embed code that YouTube provides (<object><embed></embed></object>). I was surprised to see NO results from the ordinary YouTube embed code. The only videos that were indexed were those that were using the iframe embed method with "youtube.com/embed/VIDEOID" as the source.
Why? Well, I suspect that it is less related to the fact that it's an iframe and perhaps more related to the idea that they seem to be looking specifically for the embedded iframe source URL. It could also be (though probably not likely), that they have detected it on YouTube's end and they're matching that up with Google's index. Who knows? Oh wait, Google.
How do you Get YouTube Embeds Indexed with Thumbnails?
Step 1) Embed a YouTube video using the iframe method (YouTube's new default embed option).
Step 2) Add schema.org VideoObject markup to the published embed
Step 3) Create a video sitemap for your YouTube embed and use Mark's secret hack
Step 4) That's it. The next time your page is crawled, you'll likely see that it's indexed in Google videos, which makes it eligible to show in Universal Search with a thumbnail when Google considers video results to be relevant to the users' search.
If you want to check to see whether a page has been indexed or not, all you have to do is to go to Google Videos (http://www.google.com/videohp) and search with the following:
Here's an example if you want to see all the videos that we have indexed at ReelSEO.com, you would search for "site:www.reelseo.com."
Now, when you're done with this article, and you've liked, plus'd, tweeted it (look how much work I put into this...hehe), go check your own site. If you have any YouTube videos embedded, they're likely already indexed.
GooTube SEO for Your Site, Potential Ramifications & What's Next
Please note the word "Potential." Again, because it's only been a few weeks and because there are enough oddities (like this only working for iframes, not working with schema, etc...), and because Google has not confirmed or announced any changes with regard to this, I'm not quite ready to say 100% that this is a change that's going to stick. Clearly, no one but Google can make that claim. So, dont get mad at me if this stops working tomorrow.
As for the ramifications, there are potentially many. One just off the top of my head is with regard to some video hosting platforms and services out there. Many of them utilize the previous notion that one can't get indexed for YouTube embeds as a selling point to for custom video player solutions. If anyone can embed any YouTube video on their site and now get indexed as a video result, this USP (unique selling proposition) fails.
Even worse for those companies is the fact that it is now easier to get indexed using YouTube than most video platforms whereby you'd still be required to generate and publish a video sitemap for Google to pick up on the fact that you have videos embedded. Thankfully, there are enough other USPs for video platforms that they won't be too affected.
I certainly have other reservations (like the fact that some embeds may not be the focus of a page and may dissapoint searchers who have come to expect a video landing page when clicking on a video search result in Google) but this post is already long enough and my grammar is becoming a mess so....
It will certainly be interesting to see how this all pans out. I'll promise you all this... if it stops working, I'll write a post with one of the work-arounds that I know will work.
What do you think?
- Are you excited by this development?
- Are you seeing anything different than what I've found?
- What other implications can you think of positive or negative?
- Are you more inclined to use YouTube on your website now?
Comment below and let us know.
Proof? Example Embed - Video Sitemaps Webinar
Back in 2010, we did a webinar with Google all about video sitemaps. If you watch until the end, you'll hear a complete discussion about YouTube and video sitemaps. I'm embedding this video into this post just so you can see that it gets indexed as a video after the post goes live.
The proof? Here's a screenshot I took of a Google search result less than a few minutes after publishing this post.