The Marketing Value of YouTube
April 1st, 2013 – Posted by Phil Nottingham to Vertical SEO: Video, Image, Local
The author’s posts are entirely his or her own (excluding the unlikely event of hypnosis) and may not always reflect the views of Moz.
One of the earliest questions considered by any business, large or small, investing in video marketing will certainly be, “Should I have a YouTube channel?”
The answer: probably.
…..but it depends on the type of business you are, the kind of content you’re creating and the goals you have for your videos.
In this post, I’m going to expand on that answer and outline the core values most businesses can hope to gain from YouTube as a marketing channel – detailing how those values can best be achieved, and by inference, when YouTube is an appropriate platform to host your videos.
What can YouTube do for me?
YouTube is an interesting beast to varying degrees: a search engine, a hosting service, an advertising platform, a social network, and a community site.
Yet, it’s identity from a user perspective is that it’s much less convoluted. The main reason people go to YouTube: to find and watch videos on the internet.
YouTube is like “Inbound TV.”
No matter how users get to YouTube – through Google universal search, via social media or by navigating directly to youtube.com in their browser – the intent is the same: watch a video.
By and large, people don’t go to YouTube to find products or services to buy; they don’t go there to get news, restaurant recommendations, or travel directions. They go there for one reason – to watch a video, with the goal of finding something informative or entertaining.
Search Term Global Monthly Search Volume – Google Global Monthly Search Volume – YouTube
Insurance 55,600,000 9,000
Funny Cats 368,000 349,400
In order to get benefit from having a presence YouTube as a marketer, your strategy needs to harness the nature of user intent, rather than work against it.
This means you either need to serve user intent by creating content that will inform, instruct, or entertain; or support user intent by creating ads which can be served as preroll content to users watching videos relevant to your business.
The primary value your business can gain from investing in such content:
With the right content, those watching informational/entertaining videos can get to know your brand better and in a positive light; while ads, in precisely the TV advertising vein, can improve brand recall, perceived legitimacy, and overall reputation.
There are also some secondary, smaller benefits a presence on YouTube can provide.
Social network integration
Google+, Facebook, and Twitter all integrate YouTube embeds into their platform framework, allowing users to watch videos directly from their feeds without having to leave the social networks themselves.
Video remarketing opportunities
If you’re running a PPC campaign, having a YouTube channel allows you to remarket to individuals who have watched your YouTube videos with ads on YouTube and across the Google Display Network (GDN).
More effective PR campaigns
Video news releases (VNR’s) can be a great way of getting coverage and links from high authority news sites, as the added media element helps to ensure that your press release makes it to the top of a journalist’s pile. YouTube is the ideal platform with which to provide video news releases, since the majority of journalists and editors are familiar with how YouTube works, know how to embed YouTube videos, and are typically happy including YouTube videos on their site.
What kind of content should I be creating for YouTube?
As YouTube is as much a community site as a search engine, successful video content needs to be created for the platform, not just simply uploaded there by default.
If your company are creating videos and the default position is that all your videos (irrespective of content type or target audience) automatically get uploaded to YouTube, then you’re doing it wrong and potentially cannibalizing the benefit you should be getting from your videos.
As Greg Jarboe aptly indicated in this post about the channel-ization of YouTube, “In order to be successful on YouTube in 2013, you need a coherent channel strategy.”
Really great YouTube campaigns are generally not comprised of one-hit wonders and a lot of supporting content that hasn’t done as well. Great channels (e.g. The Slow Mo Guys and Old Spice) have successful release after successful release, building upon quality video after quality video. Your channel strategy should essentially mirror a blogging strategy. Successful blogs like SEOmoz are not built off the back of a single quality post and then filled with mediocre content the rest of the way; the readership compounds over time with continued quality over time.
Google is also trending towards ranking more “channel results” in the YouTube and Google universal search (e.g. this SERP for “downhill mountain biking”), as well as ranking individual video pages. This channel-focused ranking means that If you have videos that aren’t performing, then they will be dragging down the perceived algorithmic value of the rest of your channel and preventing it (and the videos held within) from ranking as well as they should. Your YouTube channel should, therefore, be “lean and mean,” containing only content relevant and interesting for users who don’t necessarily have prior knowledge of your brand. If you integrate this principle into a wider video marketing strategy, it should look something like:
Content that you want your site to rank for (conversion focused) is self hosted/hosted with a paid online video platform.
Content that you want to share with those who aren’t yet part of the conversion funnel (branding focused) is be placed on YouTube.
Your YouTube channel needs to have series of content that people will actively seek out and want to watch. This could take any of the following forms:
1. Thought leadership
Display your company as thought leaders in a specific industry by offering free information that demonstrates your skills/intelligence and provides genuine value for users. This can be done either by presenting strategic, academic thought leadership content (such as speeches/seminars), or by offering tips about a given field of knowledge, as demonstrated in this example from Sophos offering quick 1 minute IT security tips.
Has someone in your company recently delivered a presentation at a conference? Try running a Google+ hangout on air to run through your presentation again, specifically for wider remote audience. All it takes is a laptop and a webcam.
2. Tutorials and how-to’s
YouTube is a fantastic place to find how-to’s and many people prefer to get instruction from a video, rather than a text-heavy blog post. As with the thought leadership example, if you have specific and uncommon knowledge within your organization that others would likely benefit from learning about, simple tutorials can be a fantastic asset.
This channel from PartSelect is a fantastic low-budget example. PartSelect sell parts for appliances, and they’ve given away tons of in-depth tutorials about how to install said parts for consumer appliances, alongside some wider advice for maintenance. While the content is closely related to what they sell, the videos are relevant for anyone trying fix a consumer appliance, not only their customers. This makes it appropriate and valuable for an audience on YouTube.
Paying for video views through YouTube advertising is a completely legitimate way to generate traction on YouTube. Paid views will increase your overall view count, and while this won’t help your content to rank better, it can help to make your channel appear more authoritative and well-trafficked than it would have been without the ad spend. Bear in mind that, dependent on the type of ad placement, users will be able to skip pre-roll ads at 5, 15, or 30 seconds, so ensure your video captures the imagination and attention of your audience. If you have a video that takes a couple of minutes to get going before the core message is reached, then it’s not going to be suitable for this sort of advertising placement.
4. Creative stories attached to your brand
This definition relates to what is perhaps more commonly referred to as “viral” content within marketing circles, but i dislike this phrase because content that goes viral but provides no positive reinforcement of a message around your brand, and ultimately won’t convert to sales or revenue.
As a business, you should not be trying to replicate the success of Rebecca Black’s “Friday” or “I want to hug every single cat” since there would be no commercial benefit from you doing so. “Going viral” is only beneficial if you can attach your brand to the messaging, but to actually make the content sharable, there will need to be a story integrated, too. Check out this example from Air New Zealand:
So, how do I know if my business should have a YouTube channel?
If your customers, or the influencers of your customers are watching videos on YouTube related to your industry, then you should have a YouTube channel.
Every company has something to be gained from building their brand, notoriety, and reputation. YouTube can be a fantastic channel to help achieve that goal, but only if you have a great idea for content that a specific brand-agnostic user group will genuinely value.
If you’re doing paid search, YouTube can be valuable addition to an integrated campaign; if you’re doing PR, YouTube can help you get to the top of the pile on a journalist’s desk; and if you’re engaging with users through social media, YouTube can help to boost the engagements with your posts and campaigns.
When is YouTube not the appropriate platform for my videos?
When the content is heavily “product focused” and the videos only really make sense in the context of users who are, at least, initially familiar with your business and are therefore part of the way through a conversion funnel, it might not make the best video content.
When you wish to get video rich snippets for any commercially focused page on your site. YouTube videos will often outrank your site in universal search, which cannibalizes your potential traffic and splitting potential link equity between YouTube and your site.
When your main goal is to build links or social shares directly back to pages on your own site through video embeds. Embedded YouTube videos only link back to YouTube.
In all such instances, you’re better off hosting your videos yourself or with a paid online video platform that will allow you to restrict where your videos can be embedded, and thereby drive all traffic and links back to your own site.
How do I measure the success of my YouTube marketing campaigns?
The single, most important indicator of success for a YouTube campaign is: branded search volume.
This is true whether you are running an ad campaign through YouTube Advertising, whether you’re seeding the content socially to generate traction among your community, or whether you’re doing YouTube SEO to try and optimize the rankings of your video in YouTube and Google organic search results.
If individuals are getting to know your business and are specifically searching for you in Google and Bing more frequently than before, you’ll know your videos have had a positive effect. Unfortunately, (not provided) will skew your ability to accurately measure the amount of traffic your site gets from branded keywords. However, by tracking percentages increases in branded traffic, movements on Google trends, and looking at “search queries” in Google webmaster tools, you should be able to get a flavour for any positive trends. Alternatively, if you’re doing PPC for your brand name (which you probably should be), then ensure you’re buying unlimited exact match impressions for your brand name and look for an increase in impressions over time.
Brand mentions should also be tracked. This can be done elegantly with the new Fresh Web Explorer. Enterprise-level companies can even run brand recognition surveys and aim to see an increase in unprompted recall.
There are some secondary indicators of success, which should predate any notable increase in branded traffic or branded search volume. These include:
Referring traffic from YouTube
Any referring traffic you do get from YouTube will almost certainly be a very small number compared with the individuals who have watched your videos. Nonetheless, it can be a small indicator of the traction and interest your videos are providing, since users who actively leave YouTube to explore a different site have clearly been intrigued by the offering in your video content.
There’s three ways you can include links back to your site from YouTube videos:
Include a link in the description, just as a naked URL with no anchor text.
Set up the content for advertising and get an Ad overlay link.
Get approved YouTube partner status (by allowing pre-roll ads form other companies on your videos) and then include links back to your site within your annotation.
Engagement on YouTube
YouTube Analytics has a “Relative audience retention” report, which gives you a snap shot into how good Google thinks your video is, based on how many people have started watching your video and then continued all the way to the end.
This graph is one of the major ranking factors which Google/YouTube use to determine the placement of a video in the search engine results, and you should continually be improving and optimizing your content to try and minimise the drops and thereby retain as many viewers as possible to the end of your video. Your goal here is to see the “average view duration” percentage remaining high across all your uploads.
If you have some videos which have dramatically lower average view duration than others, it’s a pretty clear indicator this content is not up to scratch, and you should, therefore, think about removing that content to boost the overall relative performance of your channel.
Don’t measure views. No, really, don’t measure views.
YouTube view counters are essentially the equivalent of “hits” on a website and are triggered when someone loads up a video, whether or not they actually watch the content through.
In judging the performance of our own sites, we’ve moved away from measuring website hits to look at more meaningful metrics of success, such as unique non-bouncing visits, time on site, and conversion rate. For some reason, the majority of us seem to subconsciously assume that YouTube videos should be judged based on the number of views in the counter. Raw views have not been a significant ranking factor on YouTube for years and they don’t indicate anything other than a page load. As such, they are a vanity metric that we use to replace “audience numbers” from the traditional TV model.
The YouTube “estimated minutes watched” report and “average view duration” figures are a a much more useful indicator of overall success that counts for bouncing visits.
FAQ about YouTube and video marketing
“Can’t YouTube also drive a lot of traffic to my site, as well as help to build my brand?”
An anonymous Distilled client, who had set up advertising annotations, put links in the video descriptions and included annotations on the video linking back to their site – all with the goal of driving traffic from YouTube. They recently got 415,000 views across all their videos for the month of December 2012. From these views, they received a grand total of 19 referrals from YouTube.com, which comes in at a click through rate of 0.005%. This is, admittedly, a relatively extreme example, but I am yet to see an example of a channel that gets greater than 1% click through rate.
So, yes, YouTube can drive some traffic, but it’s almost always going to be a secondary value to the branding and reputation built through video views.
Hosting video on YouTube with the specific goal of driving traffic is, therefore, likely a poor strategy and one where where securely hosting your content with a paid provider and submitting a video sitemap to get your videos indexed with rich snippets on your own site is likely a better option.
“Google owns YouTube. Therefore, is embedding YouTube videos on my site, rather than self-hosting my videos better for SEO? Will having YouTube videos embedded on my site help me to rank better?”
No, I don’t think so, as there is no barrier to entry to embed YouTube videos. If one person can embed a video, then anyone can embed said video – and the methods currently in place to determine “ownership” of YouTube videos with regards to a specific site are fairly rudimentary.
YouTube videos are, by and large, embedded in i-frames since this is a lightweight, reliable, and mobile-friendly solution. When reading i-frames, Google attribute the content to the original source if this page is index-able (i.e. not blocked via robots.txt).
Therefore, when You embed a YouTube video, you should essentially think of it as like a “vote,” or a link to that video on YouTube.com. There are many reasons why this is a good thing. Since embeds and links are definitely a ranking factor on YouTube, meaning embedding your YouTube videos will help them to rank better in YouTube and in Google universal search….but for the youtube.com URL, and not your own site.
I don’t see this trend changing any time soon. Google want marketers to use YouTube to host all their videos, but so they can drive more traffic to (and thereby serve more ads from) their own properties, rather than your website.
Conversely, when you use a secure third party video hosting provider (e.g. Wistia) or choose to self host your videos, embedding restrictions will allow you to ensure the video is only visible on your site and thereby show off “unique content” to Googlebot, especially when a crawlable encapsulated version of your video file is referenced in the content_loc tag of a video sitemap. Through such a process, you can defacto “canonicalise” your own page with regards to a specific video embed, which you are unable to do using free social video platforms such as YouTube, Vimeo, etc.
That’s not to say that either self hosting or hosting with YouTube is “better for SEO,” but rather that Google has much more to gain from ranking their own platform in the SERPs, rather than ranking a user’s own website. However, that doesn’t mean YouTube is inherently “preferred” in the search results and self-hosted videos can rank just as well as YouTube videos, provident that they’re embedded on a fairly strong page and a video sitemap is submitted. If you want to drive traffic back to your site through rich snippets in the search results, then self hosting or securely hosting is undoubtedly the way to go.
“YouTube is the world’s second biggest search engine. If I decide YouTube is not a good platform for me, am I not cutting off a huge potential customer base?”
There is a common misconception rooted in the fact that YouTube has 1 billion unique visitors per month. The myth is that if you don’t have any content on YouTube, you’re missing out on marketing to a demographic three times the size of the population of the entire United States.
The argument above is a complete misnomer. The “YouTube community” is not a discrete bunch of individuals who only spend time on YouTube, but rather a wider spread group of general web users watching videos on the website.
While lacking a YouTube presence may be prevent you from marketing through this specific channel, it does not prevent you from marketing to a specific demographic. Especially since the Google account integration with YouTube last year, the overwhelming majority of YouTube users are also Google users, and visa-versa. In layman’s terms, not being on YouTube doesn’t prevent you from marketing to a certain group of people, but it does prevent you from marketing to them in this specific way.
I hope you found this post useful. If you have any other questions I haven’t covered about YouTube or the wider field of video SEO and video marketing, please do feel free to ask in the comments and I’ll do my best to help you out.
About PhilNottingham — Phil is a Consultant at Distilled in London, where he specialises in video, impersonating a pirate and complaining about poor design.
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