One of my SEO clients, a plastic surgeon who specializes in facial cosmetic surgery, wants to increase traffic to his website. His site has something that most plastic surgeons and medical aesthetic practitioners have…
Videos. Lots of them.
We all know that visuals are essential in plastic surgery. Images are effective, but videos are more effective and credible. They engage more senses and dimensionalize the experience as opposed to an otherwise static image.
This plastic surgeon has multiple procedure pages with videos. But some pages contain many videos, such as before-and-after clips from hundreds of patients.
He doesn’t host any of his videos and has them all up on YouTube. However, he doesn’t embed them on his page or link to them directly. Instead, his page has thumbnail images of each video with “play button” overlays. When people click on a thumbnail, the video opens up in a fixed Lightbox popup window.
(Lightbox is a script that opens an image, audio, or video in a popup. It often dims the background and shows controls such as a close button in a corner.)
This is a good practice to a degree. The issue is that most videos in Lightbox popups are hard to use, especially on a mobile device. Texts and video controls are tiny and hard to click. If you accidentally click outside the tap area, you risk closing the popup and having to restart the video from the beginning.
This can become a user experience (UX) issue.
Lightbox may be helpful on a desktop. But it may not be as helpful on a mobile device. Google is looking at UX as a ranking factor and has recently moved to mobile-only. So if a piece of content is unusable on a mobile device or creates more issues, it may be wise to avoid them.
I told him to embed his videos directly on his pages. However, for a page with many videos, using thumbnails that link to them is a good practice. But using Lightbox (this one in particular as there are many types), for mobile, is not.
So when I told this plastic surgeon to avoid using Lightbox windows and embed videos on the page, he wondered if it would be better to host the videos directly on his server instead of YouTube.
A popular opinion among SEOs is that it’s better to host your own videos. That may have been the case before (that self-hosted videos are better for SEO). But I’m uncertain that it is true now. In fact, with many of my clients, I’m seeing that it’s becoming less and less true.
It is better to have videos hosted elsewhere.
Even if you hosted your own videos, chances are you’re using a content distribution network (CDN), which caches your videos at multiple locations around the world for faster loading. (If you don’t use one, you should.) Using a third-party platform to host your videos does not differ from using a CDN.
Entirely hosting and embedding your own videos will hurt your pagespeed. With UX soon becoming a ranking factor, slow loading times will hurt your SEO, too.
Hosting your videos on an external platform such as YouTube, Wistia, Vimeo, Vidyard, and so on, and then re-embedding them on your website, is like a CDN. Embedding your videos will also boost your rankings for four reasons:
- You engage viewers and therefore increase dwell times, lower bounce rates, and reduce pogosticking (i.e., when users bounce back to Google, which tells Google that your content did not satisfy the user’s query, which may affect your ranking for that query in the future).
- The video provides additional content and adds context (and vice versa, meaning that the surrounding content gives the video with additional context, too), which will both help SEO indirectly.
- Aside from YouTube SEO or video SEO (which is a topic deserving its own article for another time), a properly optimized video will include keywords, brand mentions, and links back to your site in the video’s description.
- By having backlinks and brand mentions from wherever you host the video, and embedding the same video on your site, it will give you relevancy and an SEO boost to your brand.
Also, an added benefit is that external platforms have sensors that can detect a viewer’s device, browser (or app), and connection speed, and will autoselect the appropriate video size and quality, thus improving the experience.
However, if you have a page with a lot of videos, embedding them will slow the page loading time, even if they’re externally hosted. So it might be best to use thumbnail images, just as my client has done, and link the images to the videos.
On a desktop, Lightbox is fine. But on a mobile device, skip the Lightbox and open the video in it’s own window, or have the Lightbox open the video as a fullscreen window. This way, the video is bigger, easier to see and manipulate, and prevents any accidental closures.
But one best practice is to embed just one video on that page and link the rest. Embedding is important for the reasons I expressed earlier. But also, Google only shows one video per page in the SERPs. So choose your best video and embed it on the page, and you can use linked video thumbnails for the rest.
Add a video transcript to the page. Not only does it provide an additional modality for those who prefer to read, but also it creates additional content, context for the video, and keywords that may rank for more queries.
Also, add links within the transcript to other pages on your site.
Transcripts provide an opportunity to increase Internal linking and SEO signals. When linking, choose anchor texts that connect with their related pages. This will create topical relationships and pass on equity to those pages.
Speaking of transcripts, to increase your videos’ visibility and help Google better understand them, add video schema markup to your page’s HTML. It’s a snippet of code that will contain all the important data about your videos, including the titles, descriptions, and transcripts, as well as URLs:
- The embed URL (the externally hosted video such as YouTube);
- The content URL (the locally hosted video file, such as an MP4);
- The thumbnail URL (the image, whether or not you host locally).
Finally, create an XML sitemap file to all your videos.
Just like a typical sitemap file that lists all the URLs of all your pages (with WordPress, most SEO plugins will create one for you automatically), create a sitemap of all your videos. This will help Google find your videos faster.
Coincidentally, last week Google has just clarified their position about videos: “Videos embedded from other sources have the same SEO value as videos natively hosted on a website,” according to Google’s John Mueller.
So if you were wondering if hosting your own videos may provide some SEO benefit, now you know it doesn’t matter. I would add that the added UX benefits and SEO signals you get from hosting them elsewhere (e.g., more engagement, lower bounces, less pogosticking, etc) will more than likely help your SEO.