Search Focus: Optimize It and They Will Come

Engines, not portals, put marketers in the driver's seat

by Bryan Wiener

Google placed a big bet by acquiring YouTube for nearly $1.65 billion, but it anticipates a healthy return on its investment. The acquisition comes as marketers and agencies are eager to try out new distribution strategies for online video. Yet people still discover most video content, especially the free stuff, via the main search engines. By optimizing video for the main search engines rather than video portals, marketers will achieve the widest potential reach while retaining their audience, instead of surrendering traffic to third-party distribution partners.

Online video only began to emerge in earnest a year ago. Groundbreaking campaigns like Dove's Calming Night with Felicity Huffman launched this past spring. The video iPod debuted only a year ago, and AOL's In2TV entertainment site and the Google Video Store arrived early in 2006. YouTube, which Google acquired last month, publicly launched in December 2005.

Even with all these new brands, marketers shouldn't divert their focus from the main search engines. The top three engines consistently command up to 90 percent of search traffic. Even as Google, Yahoo, and MSN launch and acquire vertical properties covering local information, shopping, financial services, travel, and other categories, the most popular route to the content on those vertical sites is through the main engines. This is also true of video.

A visitor who comes across a marketer's video on YouTube might forward the video to a friend; YouTube reaps all the benefits. But when searchers find videos through the main engines, they come to the marketer's site first, where they might view other content, sign up for e-mail lists, make purchases, or forward a link to friends.

Of course, marketers that produce videos can benefit from the popularity of sites such as YouTube and MySpace, but they should be used as supplemental channels. Google has said that YouTube will operate independently. So a marketer's top priority should be to continue to optimize video content for the main search engines.

In any good video search engine optimization campaign, marketers should address the following:

>Web page optimization. Adhere to best practices for formatting HTML, Flash, and other elements on pages hosting video. Keep each video on a separate page with a unique URL containing source-coded keywords for the video. A site with a Flash player hosting multiple videos can employ other optimization methods.

>Video file formatting and encoding. Tag and encode the video files so they're readily accessible for search engines. Include elements such as a description of the content, the creation date, the length of the video, and meta keyword information.

>Syndication. Use RSS and Media RSS (MRSS) to widely distribute multimedia content descriptions and links. Syndication can attract new users, especially if the RSS feeds are submitted to search engines. This can help you foster stronger relationships with existing users who want to know as soon as new content gets created and published.

>Submissions. Upload video content directly to search engine video catalogs, and then consider additional submissions to iTunes, YouTube, Blinkx, and AOL's SingingFish and Truveo.

>Tracking. Monitor the campaign's success, paying attention to which engines and other channels are most effective in referring traffic.

With these pieces in place, marketers can position their video content where it needs to be: front and center in search engines' natural search listings.

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