Does Uploading Videos To YouTube Cannibalize Website Video SEO?

To YouTube or NOT to YouTube, that is the question for e-retailers pushing e-commerce product videos. Is posting product videos on YouTube complimentary or counter-productive to e-commerce business goals? ReelSEO's Mark Robertson shares his thoughts about the "YouTube cannibalization theory," and offers some valuable tips for "hosted and posted" video strategies.

Mark Robertson, Publisher of ReelSEO, was one of the featured speakers presenting at this year's Video Commerce Summit in Seattle, hosted by LiveClicker. Mark's presentation was on Video SEO And PPC Strategies For E-Commerce Video Online.  I asked Mark to talk about his thoughts on "YouTube cannibalization" and the  following is an edited transcript of our phone interview with Mark.

The YouTube Cannibalization Theory?

Mark: Some e-commerce retailers are hesitant to put videos about their products or their product videos on YouTube, for fear of YouTube dominating their own site search engine results pages. There's the big concern that if they put videos of their own products up on YouTube, then the Google listing for that YouTube video is going to outrank their video on their own website; that's because YouTube is such a large and popular site, has such a high Google page rank, and has been viewed as getting preferential treatment in Google's search results. (Google is the parent company of YouTube.) So to these e-commerce retailers, the thought of putting product specific videos on YouTube, as one might also do on product pages on their e-commerce site, would be potentially damaging to their site's own traffic performance, and ultimately undermine their business.

Grant: So do you buy into this theory?

Mark: Part of my hesitation to buy into fear of "cannibalization" has to do with my experience working at a newspaper company, including for 3 years as the company's Director of National and Local Search. Over there, folks were constantly concerned about cannibalization. We had concerns like, "what if we made an Internet website where people could actually search through our classified ads," but then nix doing it because "what if people then would no longer buy our [print] newspaper?" So we didn't do that; and sure enough, other sites "cannibalized" the classifieds business.

Grant: So using that analogy with YouTube, you appear to be saying that by not doing it, not optimizing your videos for YouTube, you're leaving yourself open to your competitors to take over the traffic. Well, let's talk specifically about e-commerce. What do you tell retailers who have this YouTube cannibalization theory on their brain?

Mark: At ReelSEO, we've followed trends with video in e-commerce for nearly 4 years now. Research has shown to me that YouTube doesn't necessarily lend itself well to product-specific videos, in the sense that I don't believe audiences are going to YouTube on a large scale and searching for specific products to find video reviews of. (At least, not yet.) So, you're not likely to get as huge bang out of product-specific videos on YouTube, anyway.

Ultimately, the retailer should focus first on putting their videos - especially product page videos - on their own website and optimizing those videos; that's in regards to SEO and overall visibility effort. It certainly is to the e-commerce retailer's benefit when someone is doing a search, find a product video from that business and end up on their own website and not on YouTube.

So I understand the hesitancy retailers have, but I really believe that there isn't any harm in putting up videos in both places. In fact, I think there's somewhat of an advantage to doing so.

Grant: So what you're basically saying is, Any e-commerce retailer with video should optimizing the video that they have on their own product pages first and foremost, and optimize videos on YouTube, afterwards?

Mark: Yes, I've found that to be much more likely to yield huge benefits, and will also help mitigate some of the potential out-rankings that YouTube videos could have on your own website.

Grant: Your presentation at the Video Commerce consortium in Seattle kind of summed this up, about a "hosted with posted" video strategy. It's not a "versus" issue like some have made it out to be. We saw that with examples from some of the other retail presenters who featured their own YouTube channels; they didn't seem look at YouTube as cannibalizing.

Here's what I think our audience would like to know: there are instances where you can have two image thumbnails of your same video appear in Google SERPs. For example, one image thumbnail can link to your own site or other hosted video space, and one can link to YouTube. Instead of cannibalization per se, could this be instead looked at as friendly duplication?  Is this type of multiple listings for the same video actually complementary for e-commerce?

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Mark: Certainly. Now e-retailers can (and probably should) have a different marketing strategy with their YouTube channel than videos on their website; but having product videos in both areas should be looked at as an opportunity for e-commerce retailers, as opposed to the YouTube cannibalization theory (which treats it as a problem). There's an increasing number of searches where you could do a search for a video or product on Google web search and a universal search box pops up showing two identical videos - One being on the e-commerce retailer's website and the other being on YouTube.

Grant: But those making the cannibalization argument might still say, why give your audience one more choice to make? In the Google SERPs, wouldn't having a YouTube video thumbnail alongside their website video thumbnail, just distract potential customers away from what they're really trying to persuade them to do?

Mark: Obviously, e-retailers would prefer someone to click on the video going to their own website over somewhere else; and not having any videos on YouTube (or anywhere else) can help eliminate that problem. Potentially that's where those that argue against cannibalization might find some evidence there. But I still recommend that e-retailers should do both. Having both videos on the same search engine results page does provide more visibility to your brand in particular and potentially your product.

Grant: But more visibility doesn't always equate to more sales. If YouTube so incredibly big, how do you explain to e-retailers that the bigger fish (that is YouTube), won't outrank and eat the little fish, and the not-so-big fish?

It's not necessarily true that YouTube will outrank an e-retailer website. Let's take the example of the popular e-retailer, Zappos, which has it's own Zappos YouTube channel. Google understands that Zappos is very topically relevant to the term shoes; and knows semantically all sorts of different shoes and brands and makes; and typically Zappos will show up quite high in organic search rankings for shoe related searches. If Zappos were to optimize the videos on their website with that same meta data on YouTube, more than likely, even if their product page has a lower PageRank than the YouTube video, their video may rank higher than the YouTube video because Zappo's site is so relevant to shoes. There's where in e-Commerce, Google makes search results, especially with video listings, very verticalized.

So if it's not cannibalization happening here, then it's augmentation. But the only way you're going to know that for sure is to do performance testing. E-retailers should focus on post-click-through metrics, or whatever performance measurement metric that's further along the visitor funnel. They could simply set up their own analytics and use the analytics data from YouTube, and do a comparison report with the performance analytics of their self-hosted, on-site video.

Basically, you still should be doing every type of testing to see how your video is performing wherever it originates, YouTube or no YouTube.

Mark: Yes, and YouTube already it's own analytics for videos hosted by them, called YouTube Insights. You can see exactly where people are discovering your videos, what their engagement levels are, audience demographics, and how popular those videos are relative to those of other uploaders.

Does Uploading Videos To YouTube Cannibalize Website Video SEO? youtube insight discovery 750x521

Grant: So how would you summarize what you want to get across to e-commerce vendors about YouTube and the so-called cannibalization theory?

Mark: I think businesses should be using YouTube to compliment their the first and foremost priority - video on their own website. Also, they should really think about what is their YouTube strategy.

Grant: And that may not be so much as in necessarily duplicating product videos, but hosting some unique content on there, like the earlier example you gave of Zappos. They and other large retailers have really being doing a good amount of that, it seems.

Mark: Yes. For e-commerce and e-retailers, I think the opportunity with YouTube really lies more with brand awareness. So I would tell all the e-commerce vendors simply this:

If and once you've already optimized the videos on your own website (and not before then), you should then leverage YouTube for brand awareness, and finally, if resources permit, put your product videos on YouTube as well.

  • Brian Russell

    I agree completely with what you are saying here. We have seen this in the Multi-Family Housing space with Optimize the videos on your primary site first so you can drive traffic to the destination where you have the most opportunity to convert. Once that's done, post it to the relevant video sharing and social network sites.

  • AffiliateNetwork

    Using you tube definitely helps your efforts for brand thats for sure. First, you tube videos always index, second, millions of users use you tube on a daily basis. Reaching more targeted audiences is what its all about. Use as many avenues as you can why limit yourself?

  • Mike

    Very interesting point and a good read.

    In the days before the Internet there was only the TV for video advertising most of us used to get up and make a cuppa when the adds came up. But even so the advertisers seem to do well out of it. even with a 15 second pitch.

    Question: How many do you think do a search term on Google then click the Video tool?

    Quite a few I think. True most just watch video on Youtube for entertainment. I think in the future people will want to view a video of a product or service in preference to boring text and pictures
    and clicking here there and everywhere.

    I have 10 holiday video adds on youtube at the moment with voice overs and Closed Captions and full descriptions about Newquay holiday vacations in Cornwall UK. They are doing very well with view counts. I have noticed the insite referring to search terms used from the CC and descriptions is twenty plus. If for instance. I mention a tourist attraction in the description or CC file my video, it then can appear in the list of relevant videos. Giving maximum exposure. No doubt about it optimize your video on Youtube with plenty of text seems to work better than optimizing a website.

    The crunch is getting the viewer to the Website, from the video. As I mentioned in an earlier post here. That's my next big project. Back to TV Advertising before the Internet. Well the AD had to influence the viewer to "PICK UP THAT PHONE"!

    Come on Guys any thoughts?

    • Mark Robertson

      Tons and it is time that I wrote about it :-)

  • Ronnie Bincer

    I think that YouTube will eventually get your products on it... if you don't do it someone else might/will. If you do it first, perhaps that is helpful (maybe it doesn't matter on youtube/google who was first with video on youtube?).

    Question: You state in the article that it is wiser to host your videos on your site first, then add YouTube versions 2nd... what about the client that can't afford hosting, but wants to get video out there? I say get them on YouTube now... if you can see video working for you, then hopefully you can justify the expense of hosting. Do you think doing the host/post in reverse order is a big problem?

    Ideally you may want to host on your site 1st, then post on YouTube 2nd, but in my circles... people are more likely to post first, and maybe host later. (i.e. capture what you can first, see if it works for you... make it better later)

    • Mark Robertson

      I think that both are extremely important and there are so many video solutions that can be used for those that have little money. I think that if a client can afford a website, they can afford to put video on their website as well. They just need to understand the value in doing so. I do think that the order can be important because if your video is extremely popular, putting it on your website first might get more links. That being said, YouTube is a great vehicle to make videos popular in the first place.

      • Ronnie Bincer

        @Mark... perhaps you can give us a price range of what you think are the low end solutions for hosting video. I'm sure that there are plenty of variables to affect prices, but giving a ball park and a name of a product or 2, might be helpful for people on this site (I know it would be for me)! Maybe some of your hosting advertisers would like to chime in here?

      • Mike

        Well Said Mark.

  • Russ_Somers

    Like Mark, I'm skeptical of cannibalization issues based on past experience in a variety of industries. More often than not cannibalization turned out to be a bogeyman, not a real issue.

    I believe it's slightly different here. Google has made their stance on duplicate content clear and has not indicated that the rules are different for video. They may have a hard time identifying duplicate video content, but we can count on Google to crack the code over time.

    At Invodo (full disclosure: yep, I work here) we provide both a unique version of the video for the product page and an optimized version for social distribution via YouTube, Facebook, etc. Even without invoking SEO there's some common sense involved in that strategy. A product page video should encourage you to buy. A product video on YouTube, in contrast, should encourage you to visit the retailer's site. Whether a client works with us or not, they can benefit from using that practice. I couldn't agree more that YouTube is a stellar tool for awareness and a retailer should have targeted content for that purpose.

    Regarding whether consumers actually view product videos on YouTube, we've seen product videos get 5-8K views per month. The average is less than that, but of course it's a long-tail are most things in life.

    • Ronnie Bincer

      So you think that Google will figure out how to compare 2 videos and say that they contain duplicate content? I know that YouTube can currently tell if you upload the exact video 2 times (in the same account)... but they cannot tell if you duplicate the video in another format.

      Let's say Google figures out by "watching" the video what words are used in the video and compares that to another video... I'd guess they would have to "think" about when the words are spoken in comparison to the timing of the video in order to not penalize the entire world for saying "visit our website" too many times since lots of videos might say that.

      Knowing just how much "duplicate" content will be considered a problem might be a new task for us (and Google) to figure out as there is more than just words going on in the video.

      I'd guess that we are still quite a ways away from Google dealing with Duplicate content in videos, and perhaps by the time they get there, the definition of duplicate content may have changed... for now, I say get the videos out there 1st and, duplicate or not, your video is still out there (and perhaps being first matters).

      • Mark Robertson

        The easiest way for them to determine dup content is to rather than filter it out, allow the content that is referenced most often for that topic (PageRank) as well as choosen most often in search results, dictate rankings such that those videos/URLs that are more "authority" will rise far above those that are dups. - at least for now. I think we are still a ways off of being able to filter all dups, but eventually, it will be possible.

      • Russ_Somers

        You're right that heuristics well beyond comparing hashes of the file are needed. Maybe it'll be a semantic approach as you suggest, maybe something else. I'm not going to bet on when they get there, but I will bet that they will.

        That said, I agree that "get the content out there" is the first order of business in this environment. That doesn't have to force a domain-or-YouTube choice given that the right video to post on YouTube is probably a little different (visit-my-domain calls to action, for example) than the right video to post on a product page.

    • Mark Robertson

      For product videos, do you actually produce 2 different versions - 1 for each? Totally agree - YouTube for e-commerce products is about long tail distribution, sometimes it works, and other times it doesnt - but it works on the retailer's website, and we know that.

      • Russ_Somers

        Craig's looking over my shoulder as I type so I can't say exactly how we do it ;) But with the right technology and approach, a video optimized for each of those two different purposes doesn't have to equate to a whole new production

  • Adam Peterson

    I concur with this entire article - especially for small businesses looking for as much exposure as possible. Nicely done. Better to show up in multiple places on a search than have something from your competitors show up.

    "Mark: Yes. For e-commerce and e-retailers, I think the opportunity with YouTube really lies more with brand awareness." <-- Isn't this the primary, and in many ways limited, value of YouTube anyway?

    • Mark Robertson

      Thanks Adam and YES, I would say that the primary value of YouTube is for awareness, in particular for the e-commerce vertical, but that being said, I would say that there value has extended beyond this for other verticals, and in some cases, for certain segments within e-commerce - for example, purchasing of music/dvd's/etc....

      • Adam Peterson

        Interesting point. I've had a question about YouTube that maybe you can help answer - when you say the value extends beyond awareness into purchasing "off-the-shelf" products, how do make that leap? What I mean is that when watching a YouTube video it seems to me there is a disconnect between watching the video and taking action. YouTube doesn't make it easy to leave their site e.g. you can't add links into annotations. If the answer is to embed the video, click on the video to pause it (on the video not the actual pause button) you are redirected to YouTube. Thoughts?

        • justinfoster

          You can participate in the promoted videos program and then buy overlays on a CPC basis. Untapped opp. IMO.

        • Mark Robertson

          Took the words out of my mouth.

        • Adam Peterson

          thx! that looks pretty interesting. seems like you have to pay twice - for the promotion and also for the CPC, but it's probably worth testing. Any resources on people who have succeeded/failed trying this?

        • Mark Robertson

          Ahh, but that is the best kept secret - you DONT. In fact, you dont pay a dime for those that click on your overlay and leave YouTube - only when someone clicks within YouTube to view your video. If you extrapolate that and take advantage of that, you realize that it doesnt even matter whether or not your bid is high enough (hint hint).

        • Adam Peterson

          Interesting... and a pleasant surprise!!! Checking out now...

          Thanks Mark

    • justinfoster

      @Mark - totally agree. I still see very limited opportunity on YouTube for product videos, but for awareness/marketing/lifestyle-heavy videos - maybe (if the brand is willing to accept the limits of YouTube's branded channels), as long as a retailer is participating in the Promoted videos program and bidding on overlays, no reason not to...