Videos can be a powerful tool in business websites, but all too often it’s used badly and without thought. Here are some things to consider before you use video on your website.
Done badly, video has the power to annoy your website visitors and drive them away. Even at best the video may be ignored or stopped after a few seconds.
Often when drawing up a specification for a new website the client will tell us they ‘want a video’, usually on the homepage.
But often they don’t have an idea of what should be in that video and how it will help the website achieve its aims (which is always to get more customers in one way or another).
They will often point to a competitor’s website where a YouTube video they have had made sits on the homepage. Our first reaction is to look at how many people have viewed it – and the number is usually pitifully low.
Though understandable, this ‘we want a video’ mentality is the wrong way of thinking about it, putting the cart before the horse and limiting your options before you’ve even started.
Every website such have its main goal, and the problem is how to achieve it.
Once your website project has its focus, then it’s time to look at the tools to use. Video is just another tool at your disposal but it’s not the first one to consider.
Good old fashioned text is still the most effective way to get a message across and achieve your aims. And as far as search results count, text is the overriding factor.
If you have video on your site, Google doesn’t know what’s on it other than the text descriptions added to the video. If the most important messages of your site only appear in videos and not in the text, then you’re in trouble.
When to use video on a website
There are times when only video will do – and video can say what text can’t.
Trying to explain in writing something that involves movement in particular, especially an unfamiliar concept, is sometimes just not possible.
Video can be awe-inspiring, it can bring empathy and understanding in a way no other medium can do, but it’s not the tool for every job.
Of the many websites we’ve built for businesses, we’ve only used video a handful of times and each time it’s been for maximum impact.
Video for impact: The Bike Experience
The Bike Experience is a charity that helps disabled former motorcyclists ride a motorbike again. But somehow just saying that wasn’t enough, and didn’t convey the essence, the true emotion involved.
For their website, video was the only way to get it across in a few seconds – to see what the charity does. So visitors to the Bike Experience website (no longer available 2020) are greeted with a three minute, professionally produced video.
In three minutes it tells the inspiring story of the founder’s battle after an accident left him in a wheelchair, to how the charity now helps others overcome similar battles.
While the website is not available as of 2020, the video is still on YouTube, and remains a great example of how video should be on a website – short and sweet, and full of impact. Here it is:
At the time of writing, that video has had over 3,300 views – quite respectable, but still a low proportion of site visitors, which brings us to….
Why online video is ignored
But despite your best efforts, most people will not view your video. Here’s why:
With the obvious exception of video sites like YouTube – the difference is people go to YouTube specifically to watch videos – most video on websites is ignored, thanks in part to banner blindness.
As advertisers took over websites with big images and, indeed, video, we all started learning to ignore adverts.
Tests have shown users don’t even see many adverts, and anything that looks like an advert at first glance, is treated the same way.
Users often don’t play videos because they haven’t seen them, even if they occupy a prominent place in a page. The same problem also renders sliders (or carousels) largely useless.
A lot of people don’t have sound
On business to business websites, many visitors will be using an office PC that doesn’t have sound.
If they do have sound they may not want to share your video with the whole room or wherever else they are.
I don’t have the time to watch that!
Remember, users are mostly impatient, and online video should be short – 2-3 minutes, maximum – to stand a chance of being viewed.
On a business website you’re doing well if people stay on your site for longer than 2-3 minutes in total!
Online video is often annoying
If you’re going to use video, be careful not to fall into the traps that turn well-intentioned video into car crash TV (only online).
Here are some pointers to help you avoid annoying video.
Television and website video are not the same
There’s plenty of research around that demonstrates that TV and online video are used in completely different ways.
TV is a passive medium. You sit there and it all washes over you – you don’t even have to pay attention and you watch what’s in front of you, even adverts. People don’t watch TV impatiently.
Websites are different. People are on your site because something they did (following a link, usually) brought them there. You have their attention, but only for a short time.
Your website visitor is impatient and time poor, and on a hunt for information. Video that works on TV just doesn’t work on websites.
That’s why online adverts let you skip to the end after a few seconds.
The popular TV ‘talking head’ format is tried and tested on TV, but fails on websites – abandonment is high if anyone clicks on it in the first place.
Have a professional video made
To work online, video must be short (2-3 minutes at most) and tightly-edited. Time is at a premium and every shot must count.
Your video needs to look professional and that’s not easy to do. It is, however, easy to look unprofessional and that’s why we recommend hiring someone with sound experience in producing video online, and who understands the limitations of web video.
Before you put your video online you need to review it objectively, as if seeing it for the first time – how does it support the goals of the website? Does it have the right tone? Is it even necessary?
Don’t make people wait
Your website will be viewed by people on all kinds of devices with huge variations in connection speed.
YouTube compresses videos to a small file size for you, but over slow connections even a YouTube video won’t load.
If you host videos directly on your site you must compress them otherwise even those on faster connections will struggle and your video will be useless, no matter how good it is.
Never, EVER autoplay when the user arrives on the page
One of the things that makes websites different from TV is the user is in control. Except they won’t be when they land on your web page and it immediately starts playing a video at them.
It’s genuinely alarming when this happens to you!
Many won’t hang around long enough to figure out how to stop or mute the video. They will be gone.
Why does YouTube use autoplay? Because people go there to watch videos so people expect it to play. But YouTube’s homepage does not play a video at you for a good reason.
Always allow the user to control the video
It’s up to them whether to play your video or not. Respect that.
Allow them to press play and provide controls to allow them to pause, wind forwards or backwards, or stop the video.
Always display the length of your video clip.
Of course, YouTube does this for you.
Don’t use video for search engine optimisation (SEO)
Doing anything purely for SEO is always a bad idea, and there is a myth that just having videos on your site will help your site in search.
If that were ever true it isn’t now, as Google quietly dropped video SEO in 2014.
Website videos: Conclusion
Your website’s message or goals should never be overshadowed by the medium you choose to express it.
Video is a tool like any other but like any tool it can be misused. Get it wrong and you can end up stepping on your own marketing message.
NN Group: Talking-Head Video Is Boring Online
“Eyetracking data show that users are easily distracted when watching video on websites, especially when the video shows a talking head and is optimized for broadcast rather than online viewing.”
Yoast: The demise of video SEO
NN Group: Video Usability
“Video content is helpful only if users have control over it, understand what’s contained within it, and have an alternate way to access it.”
Photo by Joseph.Morris
Photo by ronploof