Winning the Video Thumbnail in Google Universal Search

Posted by mybinding1

Have you noticed that more and more video results are showing up in Google search results? Everywhere I turn, it seems that Google is providing me with options of videos to watch on the first page of their search results. As a user, I appreciate the video content and will often click on the video results. As a marketer, I am incredibly jealous of those placements and am constantly searching for ways to capture that traffic for my site. This post highlights the five most important factors I've found that play the largest role in when and where a thumbnail is awarded.

1. Index Status

This may seem like a no-brainer, but if your videos are not included in the video index, then you will not be eligible for the video thumbnail. That makes getting the video content on your site indexed your first priority.

If you want to check to see if your videos are included in the index, simply do a site search for your domain and click the Videos tab in Google. Below is an example of the list of videos included in the index for SEOmoz. As you know, the site feature of Google is not entirely reliable (not everything will show). However, it does give you an idea of the videos that Google includes in the index along with their thumbnails, titles, and descriptions, which can be incredibly helpful.

Video Index for Seomoz.org

If you have a video sitemap submitted inside of your Google webmaster tools account, you will be able to see the number of videos that you submitted along with the number of videos that have been indexed. Again, I have found the numbers to be less than comprehensive, but it is another tool to use in checking whether your videos have been indexed.

Getting your videos indexed by the search engines doesn’t have to be difficult. There have been some awesome blog posts here on SEOmoz about that, including this one titled An SEO's Guide to Video Hosting and Embedding and this one called Video Sitemap Guide for Vimeo and YouTube. There are also some excellent resources directly from Google, such as this section of their Webmaster help on Video Best Practices. Here is a screenshot of that page from their site:

Google Video Best Practices

Check these resources out when you have time, they are definitely worth the read. If you are struggling with getting your videos indexed, you might want to consider using a hosting provider with built in SEO features such as Wistia (they will take care of most of the heavy lifting for you). In the meantime, here is a quick overview of what you need to do in order to get videos in the index.

  1. Create and submit a video sitemap: Make sure that your sitemap includes a unique title, description, embed location, thumbnail, and content location for each video on your site. The keyword phrase and description should match with the content on the page where you have embedded your video.
  2. Embed your videos using a simple SEO friendly embed code: The embed code that you use on your page needs to be SEO friendly. Google needs to be able to verify the information from your sitemap entries to ensure that the video is actually embedded on the page and that the information is accurate. Most SEO friendly embed codes will include all or most of the information from the sitemap. However, several hosting providers are also starting to integrate schema.org info into embeds to make information even more visible to the search engines.
  3. Get your page found: Standard SEO principles also apply in video SEO. Googlebot needs to be able to find the page where you have embedded the video and in order to get that page to rank, you are going to need to make sure that it has pagerank passed to it through internal linking, external linking, or both.

If you are embedding your videos on pages that are already indexed or on a domain that is regularly crawled by googlebot, it shouldn’t take long for you to see new videos show up in the index (1-3 days for our site).

2. Competition

Once your videos are included in the index and eligible for video thumbnails, the next major factor to consider is competition. Winning the video thumbnail result is highly dependent on how competitive the search term is for which you are trying to rank. If you want to beat out the competition, here are a few things to consider:

Are you competing with your Video Hosting Provider for the thumbnail result? If you are embedding videos from YouTube, Vimeo, Metacafe, or other public video sharing sites onto your site, you are fighting an uphill battle to win the video thumbnail. Until about a year ago, it was difficult to get Google to index these videos on your site. Now they will index them (in the case of YouTube you don’t really even need to submit a video sitemap). However, given the choice between your site and YouTube, Google seems to choose YouTube 9 times out of 10. The same is true to a lesser degree from sites such as Vimeo or Metacafe. For this reason, you are really better off hosting your videos with a hosting solution such as Wistia, Vzaar, Brightcove, Limelight, or using a custom player such as JW Player. Phil Nottingham provided a great overview of the features of these different options in the blog post I linked to above. Here is a screenshot:

Paid Hosting Package Analysis

If you have your video hosting situation figured out, the next thing you need to figure out is what type of competition do you have on YouTube? Currently, the vast majority of video thumbnail results that are awarded seem to be given to YouTube videos. It probably has something to do with the fact that they are the largest repository of video content on the web. However, it doesn’t hurt that they are owned by Google. Topics that have large amounts of high quality video content on YouTube will be very difficult to crack using your own website. Keep this in mind when choosing key phrases and creating content.

Are you competing with yourself? If you create a lot of video, the temptation is very strong to distribute it everywhere (YouTube, Vimeo, Metacafe, etc.). This is a valid strategy for some companies. However, it is important to note that you will most likely be competing with your own content on these platforms for the video thumbnails. At MyBinding we have a huge YouTube channel, and we run into this problem all the time. Our YouTube videos outrank the videos on our own site. Ultimately you need to decide whether that is worthwhile for you or if you want to try and attempt to rank on different platforms for different keywords. This decision is going to be based on your business case and is going to vary from company to company.

Finally, remember that you are competing for a space on the first page of the Google search rankings. If the page where you embed your video doesn’t deserve to rank on the first page of Google for your chosen keyword, then winning the thumbnail will be difficult. That isn’t to say that video results don’t jump up the rankings occasionally. However, it is far easier to try and get a thumbnail added to an awesome page that is already ranking than it is to get a weaker page to skyrocket in the rankings.

3. Keyword Intent

It is difficult to define exactly which key phrases will qualify for video rich snippets in Google universal search results. It appears that virtually any key phrase could be awarded a video thumbnail. However, certain phrases are far more likely to have video results than others. The best way to think about this is to consider keyword intent. Search terms that include words such as demo, demonstration, review, tutorial, video, test, lesson, or how commonly return video search results. Google has determined that these words represent “intent” by the searcher that fits with video results. These type of search terms tend to be the easiest to dominate with video thumbnails.

Below is a search results page for the term “Wire Binding Machine Demo” (something from my industry and probably not exciting to most of you). However, you will notice that the first three results are all videos (one from Metacafe and two from YouTube). Of the other results on this page, four others are video related.

Wire Binding Machine Demo SERP

Recently, I have also noticed that more and more specific product names are also returning video results in universal search. I suspect that moving forward, Google will continue to expand the search results that receive weighting for video thumbnail results. That being said, it is always a good idea to stick with the terms that are more likely to produce video results.

4. Page Placement

According to Google’s best practices for video, they are looking for you to “Create a great user experience on your video pages.” Specifically, they state that they are looking for sites to create a standalone landing page for each video. With this in mind, the page where you embed your video should only have one video on it and that video should only be embedded on one page on your site (again don’t compete with yourself). The page should also include descriptive text, title, captions, and other information to help make your video stand out. Google can’t watch your video (yet), so they will often rank it based on the other information surrounding it on the page. Adding other media elements such as images along with text will not only provide a better user experience, but will also help you to rank your videos better.

Here is the exact wording from Google on this issue:

Great Video Experiance Google Guidelines

In addition to the content on the page along with your video, Google has also stated that they are looking for a “Prominently Placed” embedded video player on the page. As we know from the Page Layout algo update in January 2012, Google is able to understand the placement of various elements on the page and use that information as a ranking factor. If at all possible, look to place your videos towards the top of your blog posts or pages.

5. High Quality Relevant Thumbnails

The final element to consider when trying to win the video thumbnail in universal search is the thumbnail itself. You have the opportunity to define the thumbnail for your video in your video sitemap that you provide to Google. When it comes choosing a thumbnail, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. It should be high quality. Google’s guidelines says at least 160×90 and up to 1920×1080. I suggest going with a 16:9 aspect ratio.
  2. It should be representative of your content. Google is looking for thumbnails that reflect the content of your video. If your thumbnail is generic or unrelated to your video, it is possible that you may have problems keeping your videos in the index.
  3. It should be unique. Using the exact same image for multiple thumbnails is similar to trying to include the same video twice in the same video sitemap and can cause indexing problems. Make each thumbnail unique and save yourself the hassle.
  4. Choose your thumbnail with CTR in mind. This is your best chance to help yourself and get users to click on your content. Make sure that your thumbnail is awesome and that users will want to click on.

These are five of the most important factors that I have noticed in attempting to win the video thumbnail in Google. Have you seen others? Are you having success in these areas? Leave a comment and let's help each other get better in the area of video SEO.

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August 7, 2012  Tags: , , , , ,   Posted in: SEO / Traffic / Marketing

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