Creating Awesome Videos for SEO

Anyone can make excellent, high quality, link worthy video. I'm serious. Over the past 5 years or so, the exponential ramp of technological progress has allowed the creation of high-quality film to become a viable consumer activity -- a hobby which requires only modest resource and experience to achieve impressive results. For any company seriously trying to enhance their web presence, producing high quality video is an absolute must: video results are appearing ever more frequently in SERPs, views on youtube are continually increasing and with ever expanding bandwidth capabilities; video is becoming a much more integrated and important part of the browsing experience.

Mirrors have been around for centuries, but it’s only in the past 10 years or so that we’ve all begun to regularly witness our behaviours outside of real-time. In the 20th century, actors became the guinea pigs for what we’re all now experiencing in the 21st – a strange narcissistic awareness that our actions are not simply temporal, unrepeatable instances of being; but often archived records of our experiences and choices, on display to the world, open 24/7 for unregulated comment and criticism. We’re today aware that the web has ensured privacy is a choice only for the most recluse individuals and that to succeed in this world of continually recorded existences – we need to embrace the publicity forced upon us.

The same is true for businesses; you will never be able to fully regulate the way your company/client is referenced through video online, so your best bet is to proactively ensure there is high quality content out there, presenting your brand in a positive light. Yet, for many companies, this sounds like a daunting task. People may feel the products and services their site offer don't fit comfortably into a filmic form or that the challenge of making a video not worth the potenital ROI. The vast majority of submissions to youtube a poor quality, get hardly any views and generate extremely few links, so is it really worth the effort?

Key Reasons for Making Video:

  1. Branding

  2. Links

  3. Competitive Advantage

  4. XML Video Sitemaps

Points one to three are fairly self-explanatory: video can help you stand out from your competitors. However, its probably worth expanding on the incredible bad-assery of Xml sitemaps for video. Video sitemap files allow search engines to crawl video content on your site and rank it under the video results section of SERPs. Through an XML sitemap, you can choose your own thumbnail, title tag and ensure any Google results direct visitors straight to a video player on your site, rather than on an external player i.e Youtube. These things are awesome, for more info check out Google's guide

What Makes a Great Video?

There are clearly some technical aspects of video creation which aid success - such as quality, size and buffer-speed, but there are also a number of artistic reasons why certain videos generate traction and views. This weekend, i decided to spend several hours with a platter of sandwiches and biscuits, studying the dramaturgy of successful linkbait videos. Through this beard-stroking rumination binge, i've surmised that there are three main functions which videos provide than allow them to be conducive to a high quantity of views and links.

Successful videos always do one of the following:

  1. Entertain

  2. Instruct

  3. Provide useful or interesting information

Because attention spans on the web are fickle and frighteningly short, successful videos will rarely be above the length of an average pop-song. Because of this brevity, i've found that highly viewed videos only really provide one of the above dramaturgical purposes, in a self contained and integrated whole. By this, i mean that most good videos appear to be constructed with a clear purpose in mind, instantly clear to an audience, offering a compelling and rich reason why people should stick out the content to the end.

Entertaining videos normally offer one or a combination of the following elements: humour, visual aesthetic appeal or an impressive display of skill.

Humorous viral videos usually keep simple to a simple structure, following either a repeated gag in numerous different circumstances.

Or follow a traditional aural joke structure with a narrative build-up to a single punch-line as demonstrated below.

Videos created with the primary aim of providing aesthetic appeal are normally extremely high quality edits, displaying directorial vision of a single visual idea executed with precision. The appeal for these is in the display of skill and artistry.

Nuit Blanche from Spy Films on Vimeo.

Videos showing an impressive display of skill normally focus on prowess within a given field and are stylistically born out of popular skateboarding and extreme sports videos of the 90's. Most of these rely on the incredulity of the audience, presenting something extremely impressive by nature of it's trickiness to achieve.

Instructional videos are much more simple and uniform than videos designed for entertainment and focus simply on explaining concisely and effectively how to achieve something seemingly complex or difficult that many people would want to achieve. The key aspect of these videos is that they fulfill a need individuals have to learn a specific skill; they are only valuable in as much as they relate to an in demand search-query or common problem.

Videos designed to provide interesting or useful information follow broadly two paths - either they provide data on a specific topic of interest - such as a product release or they follow an infographic style model - comparing already accessible data to provide new insights into a specific field.

When deciding what sort of video you are going to make for your client/company, the initial starting point for a brainstorm needs to be an understanding what you want to achieve with the video from a business perspective. Are you making something simply for linkbait purposes? do you want to achieve more conversions in a certain area? Are you trying to just increase brand trust and awareness? Once this has been clarified, the next step is to decide who you are going to try and generate results from - who is your target audience? As with all products, no video is going to appeal to everybody and you need to specifically identify who you want to watch your video before you begin the creative process. Factors for considering your audience include age, gender, social demographic, personal interests and individuals vs companies. In most cases, the target audience for your video will be the same audience that you are trying to drive to your site on a day to day basis; so pull out your analytics and check to see what strategies are working for you at the moment and use this experience to inform your creative decision making process. If you know what sort of thing your users/customers will want, then all you need to do is format a plan to give it to them. Once you've done your research and know who you're targeting and for what purpose, you can start to get creative. I find that the following questions provide excellent impetus to get the ball rolling in a creative brainstorming session:

1. Is there anything my target audience require, not currently provided on the internet?

2. Where do my target audience hang out on the web?

3. What unique information/service can i provide through video?

4. What is my companies/clients USP?

5. What features of my brand are appealing to a potential customer/client?

6. Would this idea still be good if created by another company, or am i currently relying on my brands standing to generate interest?


After settling on an idea for a video - check it against the categories of successful content - will it entertain, Instruct or provoke interest? Here, its worth running your ideas past a set of honest and independent adjudicators; so pick a few people who fit the criteria of your target audience and get their feedback.

Tips for the Creative Process

When creating a short marketing or viral video, there are broadly three types of content you’re likely to end up working with -- "Animated content", "Performed content" and "Recorded events". The following are a few tips for undertaking some of the most common work required of anyone producing a video with these types of content.

1. Getting Actors

If you're making content heavily focussed on performed content, you'll likely need to employ some actors for your creation. As the vast majority of actors work as freelancers – it’s usually remarkably easy to hire excellent people at short notice, without it costing you too much (or even anything at all in some instances). This is especially true if you live in a big theatre/film industry hub such as London, New York or Los Angeles. If you don’t have a specific actor in mind for the content you are creating, normally the best way to get a selection of decent applicants is by putting an advert up on a web casting directory. In the UK, You can advertise on Equity’s website for free or similarly Casting Call Pro allow you to place an advert in seconds. Spotlight is probably the best resource, as a directory of almost all professional actors in the UK; however it does requires you to pay a modest subscription fee for their service. For film makers in the US,  Breakdown Express is a good casting directory and Casting Call Pro US offers the same features as the UK version.

These resources are fantastic if you're looking to receive applications from interested actors who meet your casting specifications. If, however, in your creative brainstorming you have come up with a wish-list of specific actors who you’d love to get for your video – its definitely possible for you to go out and get them. Be ambitious and think big with your choice of actors. Even the most well-known of actors spend a considerable amount of the year out of work and if you’re making something interesting which wouldn’t take up too much of their time - little projects can be a welcome fun break. Either by going through Spotlight/Breakdown Express, or just by doing a bit of a clever googling, its easy to find out who an actor's agent is and to drop them a phone-call. I believe its always best to get in touch with an actor through their agent where-possible, as requests sent through a professional avenue will always carry an air of legitimacy unsolicited requests often lack. I would certainly avoid trying to contact actors on facebook or through their official sites – as many have facebook pseudonyms and don’t read mail sent to public addresses (because a lot of it is spam from crazy-stalker-people).

While it’s true that you may struggle to get Judi Dench to appear in an advert for, you really shouldn’t be scared to approach well-known performers if you have something creatively inetersting which they may want to get involved with – no matter your resources or the quality of your output.

2. Hiring a crew

If you need to record a lecture, film some actors or even just need helping lighting a venue, Mandy is a great place to scout for any production staff you may need for on-site filming. Alternatively, if you're tight on time, its always possible to contact local production houses with your requirements and suggestions, then compare quotes to find the best deal.

3. Choosing a Camera

If you’re shooting the content yourself - rather than hiring someone to do it professionally, it’s worth investing in using a decent camera – which really doesn’t cost the earth. Here are my current favourites:

Canon 5D MK II

If you’re doing a creative project and don’t require any shots lasting longer than 12 minutes, then a DSLR is definitely the way to go. These cameras are extremely portable, record onto compact flash memory and footage can be uploaded into an editing programme in minutes. Last year the BBC approved content shot on Canon 5D & 7D cameras for a broadcast programme, which should speak volumes about the results you can achieve using relatively modest equipment. Puchasing a Canon 5D Mk II with a decent lens will set you back about $3000

Sony EX1R

Fantastic all-round professional quality camcorder with stunning picture quality and options to shoot in both SD and HD. This camera is perfect if you're shooting a lecture/conference or performance lasting for an extended period with varying light conditions. An EX1R retails for $7,790

Sony HVR-V1U

Slightly lower end, but still excellent all-round professional HD Sony Camcorder, costing around $3000

Sony - HDR-XR160

Good little consumer end HDD camera, which will more than suffice for simple video projects & webcasts - $399

Nokia N8

Honestly, if you've got nothing else, this camera-phone will do the job admirably. The UI on the phone is a bit pants, but the camera is awsome for a little machine.- $379

4. Choosing a filming location

It can be tricky to find the locations you want. I’d recommend writing down loads of potential options and then approaching them all in order of preference. If you want to film in an outdoors space – you can almost certainly just go and do it. If you want to use a pricey bar or venue for a shoot but don’t have a huge budget- you may need to think creatively to get access to desired spaces. Think of securing a video as similar to as similar to a link-building excercise – work out what the owner of a location might value from you and see if you can give it to them in exchange for using their space for your film. – could you offer them any SEO favours of their own?

5. Screencasting

If you're making a animated tutorial video which requires you to record your computer screen while working on it, then i highly recommend the program Camtastia Studio. Camtastia is extremely intuitive and very easy to use. There's a PC and a MAC version, both of which are completely free for 30 days, so i recommend that everyone considering creating any screencasts downloads the software and has a play.

6. Editing

Once you've captured any footage you require for your video, you're going to need to enter the exciting world of video editing. There’s a bit of steep divide between the consumer and professional end of editing programs. If you're creating something short and simple, then Apple iMovie, Adobe Premier Elements and Cyberlink PowerDirector are all decent bits of software that can be snapped up for under the $100 mark. I would personally try to avoid Windows Live Movie Maker where possible, as whilst being free, the software can extremely glitchy and the native .wmv format it users suffers from a lot of compatibility issues.

If you're making anything a bit more complex or considering doing more video further in the future, then i would highly recommend going to town on a professional editing program and set it up on a high-spec machine. For $800 you can get yourself a copy of the stalwart industry standard Final Cut Pro - from Apple. Final cut is fantastic for people who have a little bit of editing experience, but are far from experts, as it is extremely simple to use for the basic stuff. Then, if you want to progress and experiment with advanced effects, it feels like a progressive jump from newbie to guru without swamping you with tons of confusing parameters at play. Its easy to play around with and there is TONS of help online. If you're an agreived and angry windows user with an allergic reaction to apple products then Avid Media Composer, costing $2000 is another superb industry standard editing programme, available for both PC and Mac. When editing on any programe, any problem you ever come across has almost certainly happened to other people before, people who have gone on forums and asked about it. is a particularly good resource for editing troubles, but there are many other forums also providing superb tutorial information.

One particularly important thing to consider when video editing is the specification of the machine you will be using for the edit. Unfortunately, if you're planning on using a netbook to edit and develop your content, you may need to think again. Encoding and processing HQ video is a much bigger processing task than even the most extravagant selection of circular excel formulas and if you're not careful, you can easily topple even the most high-spec of modern machines through carelessly requesting huge encoding tasks. I would recommend using a machine with at least one intel quad-core processor if you're planning on handling a significant quantity of uncompressed HD footage. Take your time and save regularly.

If editing in-house sounds like a bit more hassle than its worth for the video you have in mind, then it's always posisble to outsource the process and hire an editor.  The standard price for an editor in the UK tends to be around £250 per day.

7. Animation

Whether you want to do a few little flashy things with graphics, or layer your actors on a new planet after filming using a greenscreen; then there are really two programs i would recommend looking at.

The first is Apple Motion – which comes included with the final cut studio package ($800) is a fantastic little program to give you some excellent looking 3D effects and graphical manipulation. It can be extremely fiddly to use if you’re doing anything particularly complex, but sorting out basic stuff is a piece of cake. Its filled with presets which you can just drag and drop very simply into a time-line and create some extremely cool effects with little effort. The second program worth considering for animation is Adobe After Effects. AE is an industry standard 3D effects programme which comes with Adobe Creative Suite Production Edition ($1,499) and whilst its a little tricky to get to grips with, the quality of the content you can produce is outstanding.

An additional quick tip for animation -- All high-end editing programs can handle vector-based Adobe Illustrator files straight, so if you have a designer in-house, you can string to together any image files they have previously put together for your website into a timeline, add some text overlays and fades to create a reasonable looking branded video ident in a matter of minutes.

8. Encoding

The main question i expect most people will want to ask related to encoding is HD or SD? My advice would be to ensure you always film your content in 1080p25 (Broadcast Quality HD) for future proofing and flexibility, then to generally export your content in 720p HD. Youtube favours HD content and the HD tag on a video usually indicates higher quality to a user - even when this isn't neccessarily the case. When exporting HD video for the web – i would generally suggest encoding in H.264, limiting your image size to 1280x720 and slamming your bitrate down to about 2mbps. H.264 is the encoder used for Blu-ray discs and is great for web content as it allows you to plow out HD footage at low-bitrates while still retaining high quality and smooth pictures. While i suggest 2mbps as a suitable bitrate for quality HD footage, If you have created very simple and clean content without many fast movements, then you can probably get away with using a lower rate without generating lossy image quality.The general rule with bitrates is, to quote Einstein: "Things should be as simple as possible, but no simpler".

If you're uploading to youtube - follow this guide religiously to achieve the best possible results.

9. Hosting

Your main choice regarding hosting is whether to store your content locally or externally. Youtube is the obvious primary avenue if you're looking for your video to go viral, but if you're not concerned about ensuring any links you get direct to a single source, then don't forget to submit also to Yahoo video, metacafe, dailymotion and any other online video sites which fit the bill for the content you've made. Vimeo is a great network for placing artistic and entertaining videos, but be aware that they don't accept overly commercial content

If you want to host your video locally, then you can always add an embedded adobe flash player to your site, however this will prevent users on an Apple iOS device from viewing the content on your site. A better option, in my opinion is to pay a small fee for the service offered by, an excellent cloud based video hosting solution, which even encodes your videos for you during upload and allows you to embed content exclusively on your site in high definition, with an excellent iOS optimised playback feature.

10. Promoting Your Video

Blogging about your content, posting it on facebook and tweeting about it is not a promotion strategy. I’m sorry, but if you want to get views and links, that’s simply not going to cut it. Remember when, prior to creating the video, you indentified your target audience? Find the sites where these people hang out and find a way of get them to embed your video. You’ll find many people are perfectly happy to embed a video & simultaneously link back to you if the content is decent. You also need to ensure your internal site structure is set-up effectively to help users locate your video.

If you’ve created content which instructs or tells people how to do something interesting then make sure you send it out to anyone who may find it useful. Put it everywhere that has a nofollow link. Google queries related to your content and see if you can find a way to get a link on all the pages which rank. Post it on forums, Q&A sites, blogs & find channels on youtube which relate to the topic and post as a video comment. Just get your stuff out there to be seen.

11. Feedback and Criticism

If you've posted your video to Youtube, then youtube insight is a fantastic tool for measuring audience reception. For more information, check out Dave's Sottimano's post

If you're hosting your video locally, then ensure your analytics client is set-up to measure the views and bounces on your video.

Now Go Have Fun and Get Creative

I Hope this post has been food for thought and that you took some interesting points away from it. If you've made it to the end, but are still not convinced that you want to take the leap and try your hand at a bit of film-making, then one other thing you can think about doing is finding people who’ve already made excellent content, then offering to buy it off them/pay them a fee to use it for your promotional purposes.

Any questions, please feel free to drop me an email or a tweet: @philnottingham

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