Guest Post from Jason Falls, Founder of Social Media Explorer
If your business has been on the World Wide Web for more than about 12 minutes, you understand that the most powerful and proven way to attract customers online is through search. That’s so much the case that an entire industry evolved to help businesses optimize for Google, Bing, Yahoo and friends. SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is a powerful driver of traffic. Since the two primary ways to make money online are to increase traffic or increase conversions, well … it’s important.
But social media has thrown SEO for a bit of a loop. Now, instead of bouncing around the Internet from website to website, perhaps stopping on the occasional message board or forum, people are spending time on social networks. And when they’re on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and the like, they’re doing something they didn’t do before: They’re leaving content in their wake. The search engines know this, and know this content — in the form of Tweets, Facebook posts and even YouTube comments — is perhaps more valuable to consider in search algorithms since it comes from actual consumers having conversations. Thus, the term and practice of “Social Search,” has emerged. Now, in addition to traffic, links and directory listings, your web content’s search engine rankings can also be affected by “likes, retweets, +1s on and so on. These social signals add a layer of human verification that a link or piece of content are worth seeing. The more social proof a given piece of content has, the better chance it has of ranking higher than competing content, provided all other entries in the algorithm for each are the same.
Like written content, video can be optimized for search. But it can also be optimized for social. While the two tactics are similar, there are some subtle differences, too. To understand them, we first need to understand the two audiences you’re optimizing for.
Spiders And Spies
Optimizing your content — video or otherwise — in the context of search engines means you’re optimizing it for two audiences. I call them Spiders and Spies. Spiders — the web bots that crawl and index websites — are the ones that most SEO professionals focus on. If Google’s spiders index your site and it is set up to give those spiders strong, optimized information for the keywords for which you wish to rank well, you have a good chance of doing just that. Certainly, there are other factors involved — traffic, in-bound links, age of site and so on — but feeding clear information to Google, Bing, Yahoo and other web indexes so they know how and what to rank your site for is the main execution.
Spies, in my labeling, implies people who are viewing your content. You have to optimize for human beings too. Not only does your content have to be readable, you have to remember that you can rank No. 1 for a given search term, but if the No. 2 ranked item has a sexier headline, it may get more clicks. Once the search engine result page (SERP) is presented, bots no longer matter. It’s people that actually click.
Similarly, bots don’t share your content on social networks. People do. And it’s these people and their sharing, liking, thumb-upping (Is that a word?) and so on — sends the all-important social signals to search engines about your content. Those social signals help produce more relevant results for the searcher.
The One Key To Optimization
There are thousands of articles and blogs and even entire companies founded upon teaching people how to optimize their website and online content for search. You probably can’t navigate through less than five random pages from any handful of websites in the world without seeing an ad, a blog post or some other enticement to show you how to optimize your online presence. And knowing and understanding SEO and all of its intricacies can certainly help your business.
Similarly, there are thousands of blogs and advice-givers in the world of social media. And they can help you understand what social media is, how content is used there and how you can optimize social media for your business.
But at the end of the day, I’ve found that only one real tactic matters in winning search — both via bot and person — and the all-important battle of share with your online content. The one thing you need to do every time you post, tweet, publish a video and more is to simply create compelling content.
If your content is such that your audience reads, sees or watches it and says, “Holy Smokes!” then you’ve won. They might say, “Holy Smokes! That’s awesome!” or “Holy Smokes! That’s Interesting!” or sad, funny, informative, entertaining and so on. But if you can elicit an emotional response (i.e. — making them say, “Holy Smokes!”) then everything else takes care of itself. Why? Because when the content is “Holy Smokes” content, people link to it, share it, plus-one it and the like.
The Rest Of The Optimizing Story
The absolute worst thing you can do as a business, then, is produce boring content. This applies to your video content as well, even more so. Think about it: How many times have you hit “Play” on a YouTube video, only to quickly stop, jump to a different one or navigate away altogether? If the first few seconds don’t grab your attention and don’t make you perhaps anticipate a little, “Holy Smokes,” you’ll bail.
So the first step in optimizing your video content is making sure the content itself is awesome. You do this by thinking of your target audience, putting yourself in their shoes and asking, “What can we put in this video — script, action or otherwise — that will make me say, ‘Holy Smokes?'” If the video isn’t compelling to Spies … not Spiders … it won’t be shared, or perhaps even watched more than a few times, in the first place.
You also want to ensure the video title and description are clear in conveying to the human viewer what the video is about and perhaps entices them to view it. “Arachnid Copulatory Practices In South American Rain Forests,” is not quite as compelling as a title like, “Watch Brazilian Spiders Have Sex!” … depending upon your target audience, of course. We’ll call this the “People” headline. It also helps to keep the gist of the video in the first 50 characters of the title. That’s all that will show in a main Google search result page.
The next step is making sure the video is also compelling to the Spiders … the bots, not the Brazilian ones. You do this in a few ways:
- Make sure your title contains the primary keyword for which you wish to rank.
- Make sure your video META data (the video description and tags) include the primary and perhaps even some complimentary or secondary keywords you’re targeting.
- Where relevant, add the date and location of the video. Search engines reward recency and if you’re a local business, local searchers will find you in priority over non-local businesses.
- If you post or embed your videos to a website, as well as YouTube or similar video sharing sites, look into creating (or have your web developer create) a video site map to submit to the search engines. If you use Google Webmaster Tools, you can find instructions on how to do this in their help area.
- After your video has run for a few weeks, or even a month or two, return to it and edit your “People” headline to be more search engine friendly. The initial unveiling of the video will attract more views because of social shares. After they’ve died down, your primary traffic driver will be the search engines. Make it more bot friendly after the sizzle has worn off.
- Now you’re ready to post, but your optimization job isn’t done! Remember those social signals that also feed the search algorithm? Well, they won’t manufacture themselves. Certainly, if you have a big online audience already subscribed to your YouTube channel or blog, you’re way ahead of the game, but most content needs promotional help as well. My friend and author Jay Baer likes to say, “You have to market your marketing!”
Promote your video (or the blog post or page where it is embedded) on your social channels. If you have a group of loyal customers or fans, email them and ask them to share the video with their networks (if they like it, of course). And, quite frankly, if you really want to boost the traction of your web videos, you can also budget some dollars for Facebook or Pay-Per-Click advertising to the page as well.
(INSIDER TIP: Most of the “Viral” videos on YouTube are either promoted by celebrities or views are paid for to get the view count over 100,000 or more. It’s black-hat/unethical in many people’s minds, but that’s the big secret to “virality.” The content has to be good, but you also often have to pay for it.)
The more people you get your video in front of, the more social traction you’ll get. The more social traction you get, the more people will see it, the better it will rank in search and the more long-tail traffic you’ll see on the video as a result.
Don’t Forget The One Key To Optimization
Regardless of the minutia of keyword-ing this and back-linking that, the one true key to optimizing any web content is making sure the content itself rocks. Keep that “Holy Smokes!” rule in mind when you’re creating your videos, Tweeting, blogging or even writing copy for your Web redesign or landing page and, in general, you’ll be successful.
Thanks Jason! Really great information on a topic that can be confusing for a lot of people and especially small businesses. For more information on Jason, take a look at his website, buy his books and check out his social profiles. Jason is really one of the true thought leaders in the marketing/emerging trends space, as the Founder of Social Media Explorer, and you can learn a lot from reading his posts there and Twitter feed.