In this episode
Lights, sound, action! The world of video has no secrets for Phil Nottingham. Name it and he’s been there and done that. From acting, directing, television broadcasting, and working as a stuntman (!) all the way to online video techniques and strategy. He’s done it all. So if there’s one thing Phil will teach you in this podcast episode, it’s picking the right video strategy for your company. His neverending curiosity about what’s there to improve will inspire you to hit that ‘record’ button!
Joost and Phil will cover the following topics during this episode, with timestamps indicating when the topic comes up.
- 3:37 – What makes Video SEO so hard?
- 6:40 – Scaling up with video
- 10:26 – Hosting your videos on YouTube
- 15.16 – Combining multiple content forms in a strategy
- 18:17 – Video strategies for Facebook
- 20:00 – Facebook live and YouTube live
- 21:55 – Long-form live video content
- 23:57 – General applicable forms of video content
- 27.05 – Acting tips
- 30:05 – Using an autocue or not?
- 33.00 – Technical side of Video SEO
- 38.40 – How Phil keeps up with video developments
Joost de Valk: Hello everyone and welcome to another episode of the Yoast SEO podcast. We are joined today by a friend of the company in many ways, and a friend of many people inside the company by now. Phil Nottingham. Thank you, Phil for joining us.
Phil Nottingham: Thank you very much for having me, absolute pleasure to be here.
Joost de Valk: As we were talking just before the show, you have a history of going from the creative side to the technical side and then marrying them as you said yourself. Can you tell us, what is your history in the SEO industry?
Phil Nottingham: Sure. I started my career actually in the creative sector in theater. So I studied theater directing at drama school in London. After that I was working in that space while doing a lot of lighting and sound and a bit of acting, that sort of stuff. Then trained as a stuntman for a while and worked as a kind of a stunt performer and films. Eventually ran out of money as one tends to do in that kind of world.
Then I found some interest in the marketing side and the technical side of video and was working for a company that back in the day was doing transport streaming coding. So essentially all the complicated technical things that you needed to do to get something from the camera onto the TV screen via satellite and cable. I was going really niche into that space.
From there, I ended up taking a job with a company called Distilled in London. Who have merged with Brainlabs. At the time I learned SEO and then realized we’re holding them and I have three little bits of expertise here. I understand marketing, I understand the creative side of video and content creation, and I understand the very technical delivery aspects of video as well. I realized that video was emerging as a space in YouTube was becoming more popular and essentially video is becoming a marketing tool around 2010, 2011 that I was perhaps uniquely positioned to understand how this all fits together and provide advice on it. So it then built a career off the back of that and I’m still doing that today.
Joost de Valk: You worked at Wistia for a while, I don’t know whether you want to elaborate on that. After you left Distilled, which is a company that many people in the SEO world will know because they put out a whole lot of good content for quite a while there, why did you move to Wistia? What was it that you did there?
Phil Nottingham: So I left Distilled and went to Wistia in Boston and helped them, to market to marketers essentially. I brought that understanding to formalize a bit more of Wistia’s content strategy and all the work that they were doing with video, they have a really good video team there. So I was able to bring a bit of strategic thinking to their production expertise and help them work out what to make, how to distribute it and how to approach marketing from a board perspective. Then also how to market their products, which were obviously around video itself to work on the product marketing side of that and the brand marketing side of that.
So yeah, I was doing that for about five years for Wistia and helping them grow into now quite a prominent platform within the video marketing space and help them solidify their position there. And yeah, left there at the end of the last year.
What makes Video SEO so hard?
Joost de Valk: And in all that time, you’ve positioned yourself pretty much as one of those go-to video SEO people. Because video SEO, everyone seems to know that it’s important, but the technicality of it is quite intriguing to a lot of people, I think. It is actually fairly hard to do this well. How come that’s so hard technically? Is that something that we created as an SEO industry or what is the problem here? Why is it so hard to do this, right?
Phil Nottingham: It’s a great question. I think it’s worth thinking about it in terms of progression over time. Initially, it was incredibly difficult to do anything video. You had to film stuff on an old school tape, you had to transfer it and encode it digitally, then had to edit it and get it onto a hosting platform, which usually required building your own little server and CDN. You then had to build a player to get it on your website. And all this stuff was like quite technical frontend development work. From there you had to somehow get it indexed and that took a great deal of work. It was only in like 2012 or something that Google actually had a kind of a method of allowing video indexation.
So all that took a very long time and it was very difficult to start. Particularly, Google bot was not very sophisticated in finding videos. You needed to provide all this information through video sitemaps and other sorts of data and really like the only thing that could be indexed was Flash embeds. You basically had to get Flash on your website and then provide all the detail around that. So it became a kind of laborious process to just get things up and running. Over time, Google has got more sophisticated. They’re able to find videos and infer more information about them. There’s still work to be done on the user side to make that work, but it’s got a lot simpler. I think where it’s got more complicated is less about the technicality, more about strategy.
To start with the technicality is very difficult in that it was strategically simple, you wanted a video indexed and you wanted to get traffic to it. But technically that was quite challenging just to get that base level sorted. Now that’s become a bit easier. There’s a lot of tools, including the Yoast video SEO tool that will allow you to do that sort of indexation side quite seamlessly, but the technical questions around how long should my video be? How does this integrate with different platforms? Where does YouTube figure in the mix? How does Facebook apply here? How should we be dealing with social media? What should we create? How should we deal with user generated stuff? What level of quality do we go for?
That kind of stuff has become more accessible, but as a consequence, more complicated from a strategic and planning perspective. I think the complexity has moved from the technical to the strategic at this point. Most people today are struggling with the questions around what should they create? How should they scale that up? How should they distribute and then measure it? That’s the stuff that’s something quite difficult today.
Scaling up with video
Joost de Valk: As you say, scale that up, does that also mean that you always have to create more or is it a less is more thing as well?
Phil Nottingham: Yeah, quite. When I think video first became a marketing tool for the digital age, it took its cue from TV. So everyone thought okay we need to create this one great big hero ad piece and then we’ll put that everywhere on our website, we’ll put that on all these social platforms and we’ll push that out loud to as many people as possible and hope that does something.
Usually spend a great deal of money on that core creative asset. If you could afford to get production you’d go down that route. And if you couldn’t afford your production, then you do your best you could with some off the shelf animation or something very simple with a talking head video.
That’s shifted as well, because as we’re doing right now and as companies do all the time, you can create simple videos very quickly and very cheaply and just screencasting tools and webcam recording tools enable this. The essential barrier to production has become so low that we’re all then talking about making video as an asset that has a value in itself.
It’s a case of, okay we know we need to use video across all our different marketing channels in different ways. How do we do that? How do we create stuff? Where do we bring in perhaps greater investment to have some external help improving production? Where can we get away with just doing DIY stuff? On what topics should we be creating? There’s that kind of broader mix where video is a media type, much like text and image, that you need to be using on all the different channels that you’re working with and then understanding what kind of video goes where is the difficult part.
Joost de Valk: It’s the difficult part, but is there anything simple to say about that?
Phil Nottingham: Yeah, I think so. So essentially in terms of production quality, the core question I think is how good is it needs to be? That sort of scales with the amount of people that are going to see it. So if you’re creating a little kind of product tutorial solution, that’s maybe just for a specific subset of your customers, whether you’re a software company or a manufacturer or something. If that’s only going to be viewed by a few people, then it really doesn’t need to be super high in production. You can get away with something that’s quite low fire and people are gonna appreciate your authenticity of the fact that you’ve put the effort in to make something very personal for them. Similarly, if you’re just doing a video for one person, maybe via email or something, or a sales video, you can get away with making that very scrappy because it’s personal, because it’s thought through and people are gonna appreciate that one to one connection.
Whereas if you’re creating an ad that you’ve got to push a lot of people or, big hero campaign, obviously that’s where you need to start to think about investing in additional production support. So that scales quite linearly.
There’s also different types of content in terms of length. Obviously if you’re creating ads, they’re going to fit formats of like 30 seconds and a minute and that kind of thing. The preordained formats that Google and Facebook allow us to use. But also there’s a lot more space now for longer form content. So podcasts and video series and conversations and all that sort of content, that’s perhaps a bit more conceptual and intellectual in its nature. But a lot of people are consuming and really enjoying that longer form media as well. So there’s become a whole new, different types of videos you can start to create.
If you think about different TV formats, each one of those probably has a various form of execution that you can think about in the marketing world as well. It’s about applying the things that we know have worked historically in the entertainment space to the marketing space as well and seeing how we can play that out.
Hosting your videos on YouTube
Joost de Valk: A lot of companies are basically using YouTube to host all of their videos. I think we certainly are to a certain extent. Is that a smart thing to do?
Phil Nottingham: I would say generally not. There’s a couple of reasons for this. First is that it’s not great, a YouTube experience. If you think about YouTube, yes it’s a search engine in a sense, but it’s also a social network and a community platform. The channels that really work well on YouTube are those channels that are very focused, have a clear value proposition and you know what you’re gonna expect. They’re often very consistent in what they’re putting out. The way in which you’re going to drive more engagement in YouTube over the long term is by generating a lot of subscribers and a lot of returning visitors. If somebody has subscribed on YouTube, every time they log in they’re going to see your content come up. They’re going to get notifications on their phone, all this stuff. That interaction with subscribers in terms of that repeating engagement is very critical if you’re trying to build an audience on YouTube. That means being very considered about what kind of content you’re putting out there.
What doesn’t tend to work very well is just having a brand to frame the value proposition of their YouTube channel as: this is our brand’s YouTube channel. Because no one cares. What people really need is to know, is why do I need to be tuning in? What’s the content type that I’m getting regularly for this content?
The moment you understand YouTube as a social network or a community platform, you start to be a little bit more editorial in decisions of what goes out. In much the same way that you do on every other social network. You’re quite thoughtful. You don’t just create a new page on your website and then immediately share that on Facebook. Facebook is for certain kinds of blog posts and different kinds of content that go on there you’re quite editorially minded and the same needs to be true of YouTube. You need to have that consistency and considered approach to what you’re putting out there.
The simple thing, the way I would advise companies is to think about this as you need a sort of sub brand for each channel and it can’t just be my business’s YouTube channel. You need what am I getting from this? Provide something additional in the name that makes it clear what the content strategy is. You can have multiple YouTube channels. If you have multiple different audiences and multiple different kind of content strategies within that. Cause you want to be generating subscribers.
The other flaw with putting everything on YouTube, not just from the YouTube optimization perspective, is also in terms of traffic or acquisition. For certain content, it’s much more important that you generate the traffic yourself and drive it to your website.
For example, for anything that’s centered around lead generation or anything that might be around direct customer acquisition or around help videos. Providing that additional content context where people can sign up for your product or they can have a chat interaction with someone through a chat bot or something. That experience if you put the content on YouTube, what you often find is the content on YouTube will rank higher than your website. Then your traffic goes there, where people can’t necessarily have that deeper interaction, and they’re not then going from YouTube to your website. That kind of becomes a problem.
Then there’s another question about which hosting platform you use to host the videos on your website. A lot of people go for YouTube because it’s simple, you’re using YouTube anyway. It’s all integrated. But there is a kind of problem with that as well, because you don’t get something for nothing. And while YouTube is free, they do now force on embedded videos, recommended videos that come up at the end and those can be from anywhere. Usually they’re tailored to the user and their personalized videos that have nothing to do with your content, but sometimes they might be competitors’ videos, it might be something else. Whenever somebody clicks that they bounce off your website and onto YouTube.
So with YouTube embeds, you’re really creating a kind of a link and a window that just sends people outside your website, so it can leak traffic. Also end of last year YouTube changed that terms of conditions to mean that anytime you embed a YouTube video, they can set up an ad on top of that if they want. So you then run the risk of people advertising on your website as well, which you may not want.
There’s a trade off there about whether you want YouTube as the hosting platform on your website or whether you want to pay for a premium service like Vimeo or Wistia or something else.
Joost de Valk: Those are the two big ones, right? Vimeo, Wistia. Are there any other ones that we should recommend to people or is it just those two?
Phil Nottingham: Those are the ones I would recommend people to go for. There’s others out there. Wistia has more features than Vimeo, but is more expensive. That’s the kind of trade off that you have. Wistia is I think great for B2B companies particularly, maybe for B2C companies or smaller businesses Vimeo might be the best bet.
Combining multiple content forms in a strategy
Joost de Valk: Okay, cool. You end up with a lot of content in a lot of different formats and places. How do you tie all of this together? Is there one thing that you should combine all of this on? Or is that just your website?
Phil Nottingham: I think it’s about thinking about the platform first. In the same way that maybe you don’t have a location that holds all your content elsewhere, you tend to create stuff for Facebook or for Twitter or for your website. Creating a concept for the platform, I think, is ultimately the best way to think about video from the ground up.
That said, let’s say you’re building a central asset of a video series or a podcast. Within that, you’re going to have a lot of supporting content. You’re going to have that core creative asset, then you might have clips that you chop up and put on different platforms as well. You can have snippets, you’re going to have little images that you make to support that. I think you can think about video the same way. You’re going to chop it up. You can have clips that you may seed on different social media platforms. Then you think about having a central home for that particular content or that particular series or whatever it might be.
Certainly with video, let’s say you have a load of product videos. I think it can make sense to build a kind of hub for that on your website. You can do that with some tools that allow you to build a channel that allows people to have that more in-depth experience of exploring creative video content. A bit like they do on Netflix, where they can be clicking through and then move on from one thing to the next automatically. On YouTube, for example, if you have a YouTube strategy that you’re doing a load of help videos or you’re doing quick interviews or something, if you’ve chosen YouTube as the platform to really build that on, then you might make that the central home.
I think the key thing is with all the content strategies that you’re engaging in, you decide what the primary platform is and where you’re ultimately trying to build the audience to drive traffic. You use all the other platforms that you have and the channels that you have at your disposal to support that and help drive ultimate engagement in that core central platform.
For most companies that care about lead acquisition, so for B2B businesses generally, that should be your website. That’s your central asset. That’s where you’re making money. I would always advise that, I don’t think you can lose out when you make that the hub that you wanna drive people to. Maybe for some other businesses, like in fashion that might be Instagram. For some other B2C products or for fast-moving goods, then YouTube might be the one because you’re just trying to capture interest over a short period for a product that people buy in the supermarkets or something.
It all depends on your industry and your goals, but you need to decide on that home, I think.
Video strategies for Facebook
Joost de Valk: We’ve talked about YouTube a lot, but is Facebook different in this regard? Do you have specific video strategies for Facebook?
Phil Nottingham: I think Facebook is as important as YouTube. Even though it doesn’t get as much interest. Facebook video came out in 2017, I think, or the beginning of 2017. It’s a lot younger than YouTube. But it’s increasingly becoming enormously dominant and we do watch a lot of video on Facebook.
I think the key thing to bear in mind with Facebook is the type of video that works on Facebook is almost the polar opposite of the kind of thing that works on YouTube. YouTube is really good for more conceptual and oral content. So stuff that has audio as its main feature. Lectures, tutorials, unboxing, stuff where people are talking. That kind of thing. Whereas Facebook 95% of videos are viewed silently. So the kind of content that works on Facebook is almost inevitably silent, it’s very visual in its nature. That kind of leads you to two different types of content that needs to be creating and optimizing and changing things to work on each platform.
I do think Facebook needs to be considered as important. It’s a great way of acquiring the interest of customers. People just sit on there and scroll on their mobile and watch all these things. It has a different world in that there isn’t really a search function within Facebook to discover video. It’s all about kind of short term, quick, put it out there, get the views and then move on. Usually that means a slightly lower investment element of production if you’re making stuff specifically for Facebook, usually shorter and usually very visual in its nature. But it’s just as important as video channel as YouTube is; it just requires a slightly different creative strategy.
Facebook live and YouTube live
Joost de Valk: Yeah, and how does Facebook live play into all of that? Are Facebook live and YouTube live very much the same type of thing, or is that different too?
Phil Nottingham: I think they are fairly similar. It’s an interesting point. I’m not sure Facebook live has quite worked out its home in that world. YouTube live is clearly, it’s very simply like a longer form YouTube experience. Usually there’s super chat and things engaging for people that want to make it more like a conversation with their audience.
Whereas Facebook seems like it’s not quite found the same home, in that people tend to join it quite sporadically if there’s a live on Facebook and there’s a thing going on, they might chip in and have a quick look. I would probably, if you’re doing a live stream source, use them both, but YouTube strikes me as the platform that right now has that more sorted out essentially. I’m not a hundred percent sure what Facebook live is gonna add to the mix in the long-term, except that it obviously gives you access to a new audience at the moment.
Joost de Valk: The funny thing I always find with Facebook live and YouTube live that we take for granted now, but I remember paying tens of thousands of euros to do live streaming on that scale and now it’s just free.
Phil Nottingham: Yeah it’s mad.
Joost de Valk: It’s absolutely ridiculous how expensive that used to.
Phil Nottingham: It’s crazy. I remember setting up a livestream for a conference six, seven years ago and it was so expensive. Thousands of dollars and we needed all these cameras, any of these great big live streaming boxes and this internet connection. And now everyone has it in their pocket. It’s a huge game changer that I, candidly, I don’t really know what to do with, because it’s such a tool that we will have at our disposal. It just seems that the big challenge is the creative strategy to support it.
Long-form live video content
Joost de Valk: Can we see a daily live show on YouTube being a thing? I think that would be the next level of a whole lot of these things.
Phil Nottingham: Yeah. A thought for particularly manufacturing companies that have really interesting factories or whatever. There’s a lot of people out there who will really be very nerdy about that kind of stuff and I would love to go watch your day just as BMW employees just livestream what they’re doing if they’re building something interesting. There’s a lot of people who would love that. I think there’s a great content strategy there for some companies. But the challenge with that is often the stuff that we’d all love to see is the stuff that’s a closely guarded secret in these worlds. There’s a balance there between how much you give away and how much you need to hide from the competition.
Joost de Valk: It is an interesting thing. When I look at Clubhouse and all these new tools, I go okay, where does this live thing stop? Because it is weird how we’re moving more and more to these long form content things that take a lot of time, when everyone’s complaining about not having time.
Phil Nottingham: It’s a strange paradox isn’t it? Attention spans simultaneously become shorter and longer and we’re able to sit down and just engage with sort of asinine, very slow moving, not clear engagements on all these platforms, as well as being reluctant to watch anything and only sit on an ad for about three seconds. So there’s some sort of contradictions at play here, yeah.
Joost de Valk: Say, we as we’re 23 minutes into a 45 minute podcast and people will listen to this. Hi, thank you for listening. Please do subscribe.
General applicable forms of video content
In all these things, is there a particular form of content where you say, okay that’s a form of content that every company should have? Or is it really specific to every different group?
Phil Nottingham: Gosh, that’s a very good question. I think every company is going to have expertise within the organization, that is a domain level of expertise that other people are really interested in. That it’s going to manifest in some form of conversational content. So some form of like what we’re doing now, a conversation between people who are really passionate about a certain niche topic. That’s always going to be really interesting for outsiders and potential customers and the individuals who often influence your customers.
So I think that the phrase we used in Wistia a lot was like, find your nerds. If you can find your nerds in the company who are really passionate about something with a very niche interest and a great level of expertise, you want to find a way to get that out there and into the world. That might be shorter videos, like whiteboard videos or something if it’s a technical intellectual discipline. It could be a product demo for someone who’s really an expert in the world of cars, there’s people who are really interested in car manufacturing and know a lot about that are going to be very interesting to have on camera and show what they know. So it’s about, find that knowledge that’s there in your organization that’s unique to other people would love to have a bit of, but don’t have it and get it out there and share it with the world. I think everyone has a bit of that somewhere, no matter what company you’re in.
Joost de Valk: Related to this, something I recently realized as we were working more and more on our hiring pages, as Yoast as a company is growing and we’re hiring more and more people, is that you want video content in your hiring strategy as well. You want videos of what your company looks like and how you interact. That’s probably one of the things that almost every company could have, like a demo of who you are and why I should work there.
Phil Nottingham: That’s a great example. I completely agree. Yes, absolutely. Every company should certainly have a few types of hygiene videos. One is like an about us video on your about page that has the CEO or whomever saying: Hey, welcome to the company. This is what we’re all about. Shows a bit about who you are, provides that kind of level of personality and interaction that allows people to trust you more.
One of the challenges with the web is we’re all more accessible to one another, but we maybe don’t have the personal connections that we should. We’re away from one another and we don’t have that face to face interaction. That was always the whole mark of business only 20 years ago. So how can we break that barrier? Video is a great way to do that. It allows you to be more personal, to be more open about who you are, and show your face to other people. And certainly on the about us page or on the hiring pages to show your hiring strategy, your commitment to your values or whatever that might be, show real employees going: Hey, I work here and I really like it and you should come too. Well, that kind of stuff. I think everyone should have one of those.
Joost de Valk: One of the things that then become a cool requirement for people being recorded is that they are actually able to act naturally in front of the camera, which is incredibly hard for some people. Do you have any tips on how to do that with people that are maybe not as happy to do that?
Phil Nottingham: It’s interesting. I think part of it is a generational shift. If we think about how it used to be the case that only one person could write for the company. Any official release is always in the voice of the head of a department. Very few people would be allowed to be the public face of an organization. Then with social media and stuff, that shifted. Now many people are allowed to talk about the company and then it’s shifted even further to the next level, which is that everyone’s expected to be on camera for the organization. I think that younger people are used to it cause they’re filming on their phones. Communication via video is as natural to them as communication on the phone is to me or communication via email. So I think there’s that sort of shift. And for the rest of us that haven’t grown up with that, I think there’s a bit of just trying to practice and learn how to be on camera.
So a few tips would be: Focus on your breathing. If you can get good at practicing slower breath and being recomposed that’s where often a lot of camera presence comes from is good breathing. So to practice that and to do a bit of yoga, basically, can be very helpful. Also if you’re going to be on camera, shake it out and get rid of some of that nervous energy before you start.
That might be something as practical as going for a run or it might just be just having a quick shake and massage in your face and getting rid of some of that as well. Always look into the camera if you can, if you’re recording, you want to look into the camera and show your face to people. If you get practiced at that and you understand how that works, just the more you do it, the more it becomes second nature and feels more natural to you. But yeah, it’s a mixture of a few classic performance technique techniques and then also trying to get practice in so that it feels less weird and less nervous.
I suppose this year has been a crash course on that for everybody, because we’ve all been on Zoom all the time. Everyone’s probably got a bit more experienced doing that. It’s the same thing essentially.
Joost de Valk: It is and it isn’t though, because one of the things that annoys me when I’m on Zoom is that I’m looking at my screen where everybody is looking at their own screen and nobody’s looking at the camera. Projecting yourself at the camera is something that fairly few people do. It’s also incredibly hard because none of us have the setup to do this well. What I would want is my camera to be behind my screen. But it isn’t there.
Using an autocue or not?
In all of this, what do you think about autocue? Do you think that is something that people should be using or?
Phil Nottingham: I would advise against autocue if you can. For the simple reason that unless you are really experienced at it, it’s going to come across as quite stilted and quite unnatural. Even people who use autocue, politicians or whatever, often it’s there as a bit of a support. As a prompt if they forget their lines or needs a bit more going on.
Most of the time if you’re recording videos, it’s probably not scripted or it’s not scripted too strictly. You’ve got that essential structure that you’ve written down and you’re going to improvise off that. I think that just learning it line by line and shooting, if it’s a scripted piece, is going to give you that more natural approach and is going to feel more authentic. I think that’s a better way to do it.
Also, if you’re close up to the camera and you’re looking into it, people can still see your eyes moving back and forth across the text, which is not as engaging as when you’re just looking into the camera and naturally communicating. So I am against autocue. What I would do as I said is get a laptop or an iPad near you with the text on. You can quickly look down and read before your take and then stop and then do your take.
Joost de Valk: Cool. This is something that we’ll have to discuss, because we do a lot of autocue. Although to be fair, that is mostly in our courses. They’re are a lot longer, it takes a lot more time. I do love autocue but I do have to admit I’ve probably had quite a bit of practice.
Phil Nottingham: I think for course content, it all depends on the use case. I can see for course content if you’ve written it and you’re reading off might make a ton of sense. I guess it depends, but if you’re making like a quick introductory video or something, I’d try not to.
Joost de Valk: I agree. Even if you are into course content, you do have to prep it. If it’s the first time you read that text and then it’s not going to work. There has to be some rehearsal and knowing where you’re going to break your head over a particular line.
Phil Nottingham: I also think with rehearsals, generally, you tend to find some of the lines that look good on paper, that when you speak them, they don’t flow and that’s when you can change it and adjust it and tweak it.
Joost de Valk: One of the things that I’m just now thinking of, our readability analysis that actually helps you write shorter sentences, it’s one of the things it does, is probably very good for writing copy for screen as well, because people write far too long sentences and then they have to speak them and they go Oh shit, this doesn’t actually work. I can’t talk like that.
Phil Nottingham: Yeah, massively so. I think that’s probably a very good use case for it.
Joost de Valk: We should get that out in a separate app at some point. There’s loads of things to be said about video strategy.
Technical side of Video SEO
Let’s go to the technical side a bit. As you said, we have a Yoast video SEO plugin that does a lot of this, but one of the things that always baffled me, I have to admit I coded the video SEO plugin probably about a decade ago now and it hasn’t changed all that much since then in how it works, but you have to give Google the URL of the video file. Which is something that most platforms will not give you. Is that still needed or can we do away with that actually?
From some tests I’ve done, I’m pretty confident they’re now getting to the point that they can see it sometimes. I’ve found plenty of instances now where videos will occasionally be indexed just from the crawler without me giving them any additional metadata. However, often quite inconsistently and often with incorrect thumbnail attribution or they’ve pulled the wrong text of the title, that kind of thing. From what I can see, it’s getting there and I’m sure within the next couple of years that will become something that’s a bit more reliably automated.
I imagine for the foreseeable future, you’re still gonna want to give that information to Google about the embed URL and the title, the thumbnail and the description, just so you can have more control on how it appears in search results rather than relying on them choosing it all for you essentially.
Joost de Valk: Yeah. So luckily if you use Yoast SEO, our video SEO plugin does this for you. One of the things that the plugin has to do is actually retrieve those details from the original source so that you can use them in your output. It is baffling in how hard that is. At the same time, embedding videos has become a lot easier due to how WordPress does that. You basically just drop the URL of a video in a post and it works. Is there a problem with that and all the site speed stuff that Google is doing?
Phil Nottingham: I don’t think so. It’s been amazing how easy it is now on WordPress and all the integrations. It’s so easy, it blows my mind how difficult it used to be to get video on and now it’s just simple in terms of formats as well. In terms of site speed. I think there’s a few general points for consideration. The first is that if it’s an I-frame on a page or just an HTML5 video tag or something that’s not really going to cause you too many problems I would say in most cases. Unless you’re trying to load natively and enormously high bit rate, massive video. So don’t do that. If you’re using an external hosting provider, they’re going to raincoat anything uploaded and make sure that the bit rates are relatively low and that it’s well compressed.
Once you’ve got the compression sorted, which is mostly a solved problem, now it’s a case of just making sure you’re not overloading things. One of the mistakes I often see is like lots of auto-playing background videos that load up, and they’re usually enormous and go on, that can really hamper your site speed.
If it’s render blocking, if you’re forcing someone to basically load a video in order to see other assets on the page, that’s going to be a problem. The solution there is if you are doing something that has a high amount of video assets loading at once or auto playing just try and do it asynchronously, if you can. So that you’re not blocking the rest of the render and then you’re gonna avoid most of the sites’ speed problems, because Google is still gonna be able to see everything and users are still going to have a mostly functional experience before the video loads. If they’re on lower connections, the first paint will be fine. Just maybe without the level of interaction you’d like.
Joost de Valk: One of the things we did recently was add a functionality that only loads the YouTube player when people click play. So it replaces them entirely, which GDPR wise and privacy wise is probably a good thing to do because it means that there’s no YouTube tracking loading for every one of your users visiting that page.
Phil Nottingham: I think that’s actually a really undersold benefit of the plugin because it, YouTube is great and everything, but it does load a lot of ad scripts and tracking stuff. Fixing that is a huge benefit, I think, to any companies who are embedding YouTube videos.
Joost de Valk: Yeah, it also plays into why you probably shouldn’t use YouTube for all of your hosting of videos. There’s a lot to be said for your about us page where you want to show who you are, to actually host that video somewhere else.
How Phil keeps up with video developments
It’s funny how within this conversation we’ve basically crossed the whole gamut. You’ve shown you’re pretty darn good at all of it. How do you keep up with all of this? How do you do that? Is that just being passionate and reading everything there is to see?
Phil Nottingham: Yeah I think so. I guess I’m just interested in it and that forces me to learn and want to know more that’s going on. I think the other thing is always getting asked interesting questions. Particularly at conferences, I can’t wait for them to come back, on conferences you always end up having conversations with interesting people. Like someone who’s had a particularly unique problem that maybe I’ve not come across before. I’m always really interested to have those conversations and then going to the bottom of that problem and work out what’s going on. I think just following that has forced me to go down different rabbit holes of understanding the creative side and the technical side.
Obviously, when I was at Wistia they had a great creative team and a great engineering team, so I was able to straddle the two a bit. I spent a lot of time with the engineers to solve some of the problems there. Then also with the creative team to understand some of the challenges they were having. I think just taking that high level, I’m always interested in finding the principles and that just sends me down the rabbit holes. That means that I have to learn different disciplines, I guess.
Joost de Valk: It is interesting. It’s one of the things that it’s very hard to teach people how to become an expert at something other than find your passion and go deep.
Phil Nottingham: I think so. I’ve always been a big believer as well, that all knowledge follows a similar principle. If you can get quite good at learning things as a practice, then everything is quite easy to pick up on. Drilling down to the essentials and then you’re not worrying about the excess and the specifics too much, and then you can learn things quite quickly. I always try to do that with everything.
Joost de Valk: Cool. I think that actually is the most natural ending to the show that I could have ever created. So I’m just going to do it. Phil, thank you very much. This has been an incredibly entertaining conversation. Thanks for sharing your wisdom. And I hope you will be back on the show at some point.
Phil Nottingham: Thank you, it was great to chat with you!
Want to read more about Video SEO?
If you’re not done with learning about video SEO yet, you can read more about how it works and our Video SEO plugin here:
- Video SEO: How to rank your videos in Google
- How does Video SEO work?
- Our Video SEO for WordPress plugin
- On-page video SEO: how to optimize your video pages
- How to optimize an auto-playing video background in WordPress