For publishers, a viral video is the holy grail of online video. Besides the immediate spike in ad revenue, a viral video can do wonders for brand recognition and long-term growth. Dollar Shave Club is a recent example of a small company that rode a viral video success to a billion dollar acquisition.
There’s no question that publishers want their videos to go viral, but cracking the code to predictably creating viral content is a different beast. The goal of this article is to understand how to set your video up for virality: in particular, the necessary search engine optimization (SEO) that allows viewers to discover video content relevant to their interests.
Finally, I’ll touch on the intangible UX factors that make a viral video special and how UX plays a role in searching and interacting with video content.
Technical Video SEO: The Fundamentals
Implementing Video SEO is the first step in making your content go viral. While optimizing content for search engines is not a hard requirement, making your videos discoverable and indexable by search engines and social platforms allows viewers interested in analogous products to find you organically.
1. The Video Player
Before even diving into the source code and optimizing schema metadata, understanding how the video technology you choose can affect how crawlers perceive your website is crucial. Whenever incorporating a video onto an existing page or creating fresh content, make sure you’re at least aware of the following:
Page Load Times
Understanding how your video affects the page load times (which affects SEO) and optimizing accordingly is key. Don’t put a video on a page just to have one — understand the purpose of the video on the page and don’t overload a single page with too many videos lest you increase your load times which will also drive your bounce rates up.
Backlinks in the video player?
Most people understand the concept of allowing users to share your videos and embed them onto other sites (and if you don’t, I’ll be teaching you in the next section). However, what they don’t also realize is that the video player itself can serve as a backlink to your site as well.
Using a white-label solution like JW Player, you can customize the menu dropdown when a viewer right-clicks on a video and have a backlink to your homepage or “About” page. JW Player uses this tactic to drive referral traffic (which boosts SEO) and in turn adoption of our video player (see below).
2. Schema Metadata
One common question with schema metadata is optimizing the actual implementation: how much is too much? For smaller businesses with limited in-house resources, what are the key objects to prioritize? While it depends on the type of content, Google recommends implementing the following:
As you can tell, the majority of these objects are simply technical statistics about the video, which could potentially be auto-populated by your video CMS. JW Player makes this as easy as a checkbox. Use this tool to confirm your schema markup:
3. Transcripts & Closed Captions
In addition to the schema markup above, be sure to include transcripts & closed captioning for your video content to facilitate accessibility. It’s easy to forget that everyone has different ways of consuming video content.
The issue with transcripts & captions mostly comes down to the operational cost of the manual workflow. There are services to automate closed captions for video search which works great for short-form content meant to be digested quickly and easily. However, these are prone to error as it depends on the quality of the vocal audio among other factors, as well as the length of the video.
Furthermore, transcripts for long-form content need to be truncated and optimized if included on the same page as the video as a complete transcript for a 30 minute video can overwhelm both the viewer and a crawler.
JW Player enables you to type a truncated version of your transcript alongside the video to reduce automated error of current video transcription services as well as avoiding the pitfalls of captioning for long-form content.
4. Video Sitemap
Implementing a video sitemap in addition to a schema markup is akin to dotting your i’s and crossing your t’s for video SEO. Sitemaps are a method of direct communication to search engine crawlers that indicate how to interpret the content on a website.
Most developers understand implementing a regular sitemap but fail to specifically optimize for video. You can either incorporate video listings to your original sitemap or break out a separate video sitemap to ensure that Google crawls your video content individually.
Follow this documentation for more information about implementing video sitemaps.
5. Multi-Channel Strategy & Social Sharing
Now that your content is discoverable and optimized for search engines, it’s time to drive backlinks to your content to spur organic growth. The most common way to do this is via online advertising and public relations. However, there are ways to create organic backlinks and increase engagement besides pay-to-play.
A multi-channel strategy is the concept of utilizing platforms such as Facebook, Vimeo, and YouTube to leverage the power of social media communities and sharing to drive traffic back to your owned and operated properties. Then, on your O&O site, you utilize online video platform (OVP) technology to maximize monetization and customize the user experience and branding. You can also use OVP technology to reach mobile and OTT platforms which are growing exponentially each year.
OVP’s work side-by-side social video platforms like YouTube and Facebook rather than acting as a replacement. YouTube and Facebook will always be social platforms that generate engagement while OVPs enable publishers to maximize the value for their content on their O&O website or app.
Video content is expensive and time-consuming to produce, and the revenue sharing model of YouTube and the limitations on monetization through Facebook do not enable publishers to make the most of their content. Keep in mind: every YouTube and Vimeo video player have prominent logos that backlink to those properties which limits engagement on the publisher site (see below).
Disseminating your content across social media (including optimizing each channel such as YouTube keyword tagging) is a surefire way to generate organic backlinks which will create the perfect storm for the right video at the right time to go viral.
6. The Intangibles: UX & Trending Topics
In this article, I’ve outlined how to utilize technical video SEO tactics to ensure your video is discoverable by search engines and primed to be shared and disseminated en masse across the Internet (aka going viral).
However, I would be remiss if I did not mention the “intangibles” that differentiate a viral video from your run-of-the-mill video. Here’s an (admittedly incomplete) list of things to look out for:
UX is everything. Google admits in their company philosophy that their primary goal is to “focus on the user and all else will follow.” This is similar to the idea of “build it and they will come” with a mix of the subconscious intangibles that make viral content so accessible. It’s easiest to create viral content when you focus on the quality of the experience rather than the nuts and bolts of operations. That’s why using an OVP technology like JW Player can come in handy. As Erik Kuna, VP of Operations at KelbyOne, noted in his experience with video workflows:
“We wanted to focus on our passion — that's why we teamed up with JW Player. They are experts at streaming video, so we can stick to doing what we do best.”
Understand the goal for your video content. As stated earlier, don’t just make a video because it’s the next big thing (it is). Make sure that your content aligns with its use case. Is your goal brand awareness, product education, or driving sales? The metrics of success for each initiative will be determined by your goal so don’t lose sight of it. This applies whether you create long-form content or short-form content and if you do video ads or webinars.
Pay attention to what works in your space. How do your competitors use video? Remember, good artists copy but great artists steal. Analyze what works for your space and use data such as real-time video analytics to generate insights.
Watch what’s trending. And this goes beyond pop culture trends like Gangnam Style and Ice Bucket challenges. Be on the cutting edge of technology, marketing tactics, and acquisition trends. For video in particular, Live Streaming is hot right now. Both YouTube and Facebook are prioritizing live streams in their video recommendations and related videos. If you can incorporate live streaming into your video strategy, you can take advantage of the surge in real-time viewers as well as take advantage of social network algorithms to grow your audience (and your CPMs).
JW Player has also launched our own event-based live streaming platform to enable publishers to take advantage of this trend on their owned and operated web properties. We’ll also have simulcasts from Facebook and YouTube (coming soon) so you don’t have to manage multiple livestreams at once. Alongside our video recommendation engine, Publishers can leverage the power of the JW footprint to get more views and go viral through related & trending videos.
Publishers will always be chasing the magic recipe to create viral content; however, there seems to be a pervading belief that virality is purely based on luck or being at the right place at the right time (or the right cat video at the right time). The goal of this article is not to contradict this belief but rather offer a nuanced view of viral content and outline how to set your content up for success.