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Video Search Best Practices

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2006 marks the year that online video content and search became a powerful, popular and very fast growing segment of the online advertising industry. The promise of online video is confirmed by a recent study from the American Advertising Federation which highlighted that by 2010 more than 20 percent of advertising budgets allotted to broadcast TV will shift to online video.


Today the challenge with online video content is a needle in the haystack scenario. The explosion of online video over the last two years has created a huge demand for the search capabilities needed to help users find the content for which they are looking. If you are the needle in the haystack -- if you create the content and want consumers to find it easily -- there are specific steps and techniques marketers can apply to web pages and the video content itself that will increase the likelihood of content being found.


Video content creators have two primary means to increase the ability for their videos to be viewed: site maps and metadata. Somewhat ironically, both approaches focus on textual descriptions of video files that are video search engines' sole source of information regarding the contents of those files. 


First, it is key to have a strong site map where the online video content resides. This will point to and reinforce the context of the actual video or videos. A site map is an important part of any large website. It provides visitors and search engines with a high-level view of a site's contents by providing a list of direct links to all pages. Visitors can go to a site map page to quickly find pages with information that might not be obvious from the main site navigation.


Search engines, too, find site maps useful because they allow them to crawl and index a website's content. Indexation makes it possible for a site to appear within the natural listings on a search engine results page. When building a site map, there are six important factors to keep in mind.


Six tips for video site maps



  1. Always use text-based links
    Use plain html text links that contain descriptive keywords related to the video content -- not javascript or image links -- to ensure search engines can read them.

  2. Link to the video site map from all over the website
    A link to the video site map should be added to every page of the website.

  3. Keyword synergy
    Build context for the video files by ensuring that the keywords in the links leading off the site map tie into the overall keywords for the page.

  4. Rule of 100
    Research indicates that search engines stop using hyperlinks to index a single page when the number of hyperlinks on those pages is over 100.

  5. Use static, persistent URLs
    Keeping links persistent will make it easier for search engines to crawl the website and maintain overall ranks for the pages.

  6. Keep it fresh
    Although often overlooked, it is critical to keep the site map updated-- next to the homepage, the site map is the page that search engines crawl the most.

Next: What comes after the site map

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After the site map, the next step to increasing the visibility of online video content is metadata. Essentially, metadata is the contextual information that is associated with or contained in the video file itself.


Metadata information for a video file can include such information as the names of the video's producers or directors, the location where the video was shot or even a transcript of the audio. In the world of online video, metadata refers to information that describes the subject matter, contents and images appearing in the video.


The challenge with metadata for most online video creators is the lack of standards for the information fields and formats. Therefore a metadata information field in a .wmv file might not have an exact counterpart in an .avi file.


Additionally, varying degrees of importance will be assigned to different metadata fields depending on the search engine crawling the video file. This limits the number of informational fields within video metadata that can be optimized and places the burden on the content creator to be as thorough and accurate with their metadata information as possible.


Despite the challenges, there are some very fundamental best practices for using metadata to increase content visibility. For example, the file name should be specific to the content of the online video file, not an internal naming convention. If the video is about Hurricane Katrina, use those two keywords in the title, not a nondescript title such as "050809_katrina_430pm.wmv."


It's critical that metadata files such as "title" tags, "comments," "keywords," "description" and "thumbnail" fields, which allow for additional contextual data, include information and keywords that are relevant to the images, content and subject matter of the online video. It is also important to consider terms that consumers will use when searching for the video and replicate those within metadata files if possible.


While each search engine has different rules that determine whether it looks at only web page and site map information, only video metadata information, or both, by implementing these two practices you will be covering the primary means by which today's top search engines as well as specific video search engines crawl for content. Google Video, for example, hosts video files on its own servers. Google Video acquires video content from people who elect to upload their videos onto the servers, and during the upload process users will enter in their own metadata for the video file. 


Specific video search engines such as BlinkX or SingingFish provide users with either links to the websites on which the videos are located -- and therefore may use both the web page context of the embedded video and the video metadata file to sort and rank search results -- or a combination of the two.


If 2006 marked the year for online video content explosion, 2007 will mark the year that video search becomes a crucial tool for the marketers of online content to reach consumers.


Over the next 12 to 18 months, new face and speech recognition technology, frame tagging capabilities and visual analysis tools will come to market and aid in the ability of search engines to yield more accurate results for users. Until that time and even beyond, video search engines will continue to rely on textual data -- derived from site maps and metadata -- to supply search results. 


As the universe of online video content becomes even more complex and competitive, marketers can be sure their videos have the best chance of being found by consumers by following the best practices for video search. It's crucial to design a comprehensive site map and pay close attention to metadata today, in order to be prepared for the limitless possibilities for video search tomorrow.


Stuart Larkins is the vice president of search for Performics. Read full bio.

Stuart Larkins leads Performics' partner development initiatives including optimizing existing partner relationships, acquiring new partners, overseeing the company's search management services and identifying emerging online distribution trends.

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