I had a really interesting and occasionally heated discussion with a client today about the purpose of video, and I thought it was worth a broader discussion.
The issue was the use of online video—specifically with YouTube in this instance—and how it's intended purpose drives the SEO, link-building, and other various marketing efforts supporting the video.
The client had set aside a budget for creating some videos, and had ideas all over the map for what the content of those videos would be. They were pretty adamant about creating a viral campaign, involving Digg and Stumble Upon and links—clearly this client was a bit ahead of the curve in having read up and grasped the basic concepts of online marketing.
They wanted to leverage YouTube, primarily to avoid bandwidth costs and reach an audience that might not find them otherwise.
Everything was tracking pretty well and I thought I was headed for the smoothest consulting gig of my brief career… until we got to the topic of the actual videos themselves.
This client wanted to create a series of training videos, and not just any training videos—but videos specifically related to a proprietary piece of software that serves as one of their core products. And that's when the red flags started going up.
From here the conversation went something like this:
Question: How many people use your software?
Answer: We have over 1,000 clients that subscribe, but most of them don't know how to fully leverage the tool to their greatest advantage.
Question: Are the videos going to sell the software? Meaning… is the video content a sales piece, or strictly a training piece?
Answer: Training. We want to open their minds a bit on the power of the software.
Question: Then what good would it do you to grab 100,000 views from people who don't know what the software is, don't use it, and aren't going to be sold on it by watching your video?
See, we're at a bit of a tipping point for online video. Sure, we've been there for a while. It all depends on who we're talking about, I guess. I'm talking about medium and small businesses. The last 10 months have seen a huge increase in what I would term the overall online marketing savvy of such companies. Before 2009, I didn't have any clients coming to me asking about Stumble Upon and Digg, or using phrases like "viral marketing" or "ROI.”
Now, however, these topics are mainstream enough to put them on the radar of the small business owner. Everyone wants to go viral now, even your dentist and your drycleaner.
They just don't really know what that means, or why there might be a time when going viral is absolutely pointless.
My client in this story needed to train existing customers on a product they already purchased. There wasn't a sales piece or a branding effort behind any of the video plans. At roughly 500 customers, that's a pretty small target audience, and certainly not a fit for a viral campaign.
The client only wanted these things because they'd read enough advice that they were convinced that "viral" went hand-in-hand with "online video.”
Is YouTube a viable option for this client's training videos? Absolutely. No reason to spend money on bandwidth if you don't have to, and YouTube is now one of the most trusted online brands. The client should absolutely upload their training videos to YouTube, maybe create a channel, and then embed those videos on their website and blog. Without a doubt.
But do they need comments turned on? Probably not. Do they need to spend time and money on social bookmarking or link-building? Not at all.
The lesson is this: Know your video's purpose. Some videos are a vehicle to something else—usually some conversions metric like a form completion or an inbound link. Other online videos are the destination unto themselves, such as training videos.
It's en vogue to talk about video SEO. It's popular to talk about going viral. But small businesses can make use of online video tools to increase revenue and improve customer relationships without ever getting more than a few hundred views. In those cases, the promotional strategy is wildly different.
What good would 1,500 views from Stumble Upon be for a video produced by a company like my client? Not much. Front page of Digg might buy you some links (and a useless one-day surge in traffic), but none of that is going to get your video in front of your customers who need training. In this example, traditional offline marketing coupled with a heavy dose of email marketing to existing clients is the perfect strategy for getting those videos the audience they're intended for.
Sometimes the video is a means to another end. Views are not the end game here. Usually, it's brand awareness. Views are definitely a gateway to that brand awareness, but the video is a middle man. There's a lot of talk lately about how important video will be to overall SEO efforts in the coming years, with good reason. But not all videos should be treated as a way to get better search rankings.
With something like my client's training videos, the video itself is the destination. There's good, raw instruction there—learning that's crucial to the success of his customers. And we nearly buried it behind an over-ambitious viral campaign that would quite literally have been a waste of time and money.
SEO is important for either type of video. But not every SEO tool and trick is applicable to both scenarios. Links are valueless for my client. Very few, if any, of his clients are going to Google, typing in the name of his software, and searching for training videos.
There is no single blueprint for video SEO that applies to every scenario. Each video should be examined for its purpose:
- What is the video about?
- Who is the audience?
- What are the goals? How will you know if the video has been a success?
A unique SEO plan and overall online marketing strategy will flow from the answers to those questions.