Getting smart with video distribution: video SEO & video sharing services

For some time we’ve touted the merits of video distribution in video commerce.  I believe video distribution is more important now than ever for e-commerce merchants.  Unfortunately, I also think most online retailers misunderstand video distribution and therefore are at risk of implementing poor video distribution strategies.

Why distribute e-commerce video?

Video distribution is important because it enables retailers to multiply the effectiveness of video assets without additional investment in video production.  I often tell e-commerce merchants, “a video on the product page and the product page alone is a terrible waste of revenue potential.”

Over the last year and a half, my thinking around video distribution has become increasingly nuanced as I’ve witnessed more retailers employ distribution in their video commerce strategies.  While I remain a huge proponent of video distribution, there are now more case studies to draw upon that illustrate where video works, where it doesn’t, and why.  Here are some of my key findings:

Video distribution multiplies the positive or negative impact of video on site traffic.

This point can not be overstated.  While a good product video (one that produces higher conversion rates, engages viewers to make a purchase, and delivers incremental revenue) can be especially effective when syndicated across channels, poorly performing videos can harm a site’s conversion rate and reduce the number of buyers.  Distribution enhances the impact either way, making it a dangerous tool for e-commerce sites that don’t know how to make videos that sell and an incredible revenue driver for those that do.

The first key to making video distribution work is to figure out what makes video work.

Figuring out what makes video “work” requires testing and optimizing video content.  Generally, I believe a retailer with enough budget to produce 10 videos would be better off creating 5 videos of the same product, each with different production styles, length of video, host (if applicable) or order of content presentation.  Once the best formula is found, that production “template” would then be rolled out across five different products in the same category (for a total of 10 videos, 6 of which actually make it to “go live.”).  Then, the winning videos would be syndicated.  It isn’t necessary to get content perfect the first go-around.  Optimizing video is an incremental process.  The name of the game is test, test, test.

The use of automated e-commerce video optimization technologies can help improve a product video’s performance, and I recommend retailers adopt them aggressively as a way of improving distribution value and overall video performance.  Still, retailers need to be careful of growing overly reliant on video optimization tools.  Optimization can’t solve underlying problems with video content. Lipstick on a pig is still lipstick on a pig.

Intelligent video syndication is different than vanilla video distribution.

Beware of SEO “experts” who tout the benefits of distributing product videos to many different video sharing services without strong knowledge of the e-commerce space.  While the positive impact of placing videos on sharing sites like YouTube may be clearer for media companies or entertainment content intended for the broadest possible audience, I think retailers should remain wary of video sharing sites.  When done improperly, distributing product videos to video sharing services can dilute a retailer’s SEO initiatives.  That’s because positive SEO value for a video on video sharing services like YouTube, Metacafe, Google Video, Viddler, Vimeo, Dailymotion and others can drive traffic away from a retailer’s e-commerce site by placing videos outside the purchase path of a shopper.  Worse, some sites will run ads in your content, potentially driving viewers to a competitor’s site.

The two exception sites I still consistently recommend syndicating retail product videos to are a) YouTube, but only if the retailer is participating in YouTube’s promoted video program ($$) with CPC overlay links enabled ($$), or b) a retailer’s own branded video destination site optimized for SEO.  Such sites may feature interactive videos that place shoppers on the path to purchase.

I will also sometimes recommend that retailers syndicate product videos to YouTube – even if the retailer is not participating in the YouTube Promoted Videos program with CPC links enabled.  In these cases, it is because SEO value can still be achieved for a retailer’s product pages by linking from the YouTube video page (in the “More Info” section) back to the retail site itself.  However, SEO value gained for product pages needs to be carefully weighed against possible YouTube-originated SEO cannibalization and the relative paucity of YouTube video viewers that will click to product pages from the “More Info” section on the site.

Other video sharing services may help a retailer increase awareness and generate some SEO “value” (quotes intentional) but I have yet to see a Top 100 retailer driving any amount of consequential revenue from other video sharing sites (e.g. Metacafe, Dailymotion, Viddler).  In fact, I have yet to meet a Top 100 retailer driving any amount of INconsequential revenue from these sites.  Even YouTube Promoted Videos with CPC links seem to yield only small amounts of revenue for most retailers (anyone that has a different experience, please comment).  In fairness, I’m sure clicks will improve over time as retailers create more persuasive content.

The lesson here?  Syndicate to video sharing services at your own peril and always seek out sites that allow you to place the shopper on a path to purchase.

We’ll follow up this post with Part II: “Smart Video Channel Enablement for Online Retailers.”

Until next time…

Happy Selling!