Video has great power to motivate and influence people. This much has been understood for decades, which is why television is still considered the most effective—yet outrageously expensive—way to convey any message to a widely dispersed audience.
The costs to produce professional quality video content for the internet is about the same as the cost for producing a television commercial (so an outlay of at least a four figure sum is required if you take the operation seriously). The key difference is in the cost of distribution, where a TV ad could cost many thousands or even millions of additional dollars to run, internet video costs next to nothing, and it can be shown for an indefinite amount of time.
Another factor is that expectations of internet audiences are a little lower, and they’ll be a little more tolerant of lower quality productions, although in truth you should always aim to produce the best quality that will fit the budget.
But there are a lot of different ways to show video on the internet, and the wrong choices could be just as bad as not using video at all. In this article, we’ll talk about the better approaches to internet video and the problems that can result from the wrong approaches.
Why is video something to consider?
Online video used on ordinary websites (not dedicated video sites like YouTube or Vimeo) has gotten a bit of a bad rap from many commentators, and for understandable grievances. A lot of people are annoyed by inappropriate use of online video, so much so that the number two complaint given about website usability is the inappropriate use of autoplay video content. That’s pretty significant… you don’t get to number two on the list of complaints without being pretty gosh darn annoying! The key word here is “inappropriate”. When video is used appropriately, it can be just as effective as TV advertising, and probably even more so.
We’ll talk a little more about what makes video use appropriate in a moment, but for now it’s just important to know that if you use it inappropriately, you’re just going to achieve the opposite of what you were hoping for. Or if that’s too extreme, you at least won’t be doing as well as you could be if you refocused your efforts on appropriate video usage.
It isn’t exactly news that online video is effective. The Online Publisher’s Association (OPA) released a study way back in 2007 showing the effectiveness of online video to get results. Not just that people watched the videos, but they responded to them in the way the content publisher wanted them to, which you can confirm on page 15 of the report.
So clearly that’s not news, but the results of that study created a problem because a lot of online content publishers then went out and started using video indiscriminately, which is basically turning the whole thing into a turkey shoot. It’s like trying to strike oil by just going around randomly digging holes. Professional oil companies invest in geological surveys to determine where they’re more likely to find oil. They dig their holes strategically.
Your online video production has to be strategic like that, or you’ll just get lost in the blur. Video that doesn’t grab attention in the right way will fail, and may even turn people against you. That’s not what you want. Use video the right way and you’ll get the kind of results the original OPA study promised.
Advantages of including video
Search engines have started returning video results as part of their result sets, and nearly all search engines include thumbnails of embedded video content, often also including a play button that lets the user immediately launch the video without actually visiting your site. That last can be both a blessing and a curse. You need to make sure that the video is good enough to prompt the user to take the next step after the video has concluded.
Video content is also made to be shared, and gives great potential for virality because people love to share great video content on their social media. The best video content is going to reach a lot of people because it will be spread around by the audience itself.
How video can go wrong
It’s not all smooth sailing. You can make mistakes, as many others have already done. Hopefully by being aware of the mistakes they have made, you can avoid those same mistakes.
1. Being pushy and intrusive
The golden rule for video content is that in general, unless you have something really sure-fire and that’s also very low bandwidth, it must be “on demand” video. You should never force it on your users, bar in those rare cases where it enhances the page in some way. Very low bandwidth animation on background content can work, but low bandwidth consumption is essential, especially in the age of mobile internet connectivity.
Once you have consent from the user to show them your video content, bandwidth is less of an issue, because it is content they’ve actually requested from you. From that point, it’s a matter of not letting them down. Make the video be every bit as good as what they expected to see when they clicked the play button.
2. Forgetting to be accessible
The more accessible you make your content (not just video content, for that matter) the more success you’re going to enjoy. This is very simple, because it means you’re excluding less people. So for a start, it’s a good idea to include closed captions as an option for hearing impaired users, and to include subtitles in as many languages as you can afford to provide.
You’ll notice that there was an economic component to that statement, and that’s because you should never user auto-captioning or auto-translation for your content. You must purchase official translations made by professionals who know what they are doing. Auto-captioning is lazy and doesn’t help you or the users. Your message can be lost in the garbage that is produced by these systems.
Audio descriptions for vision impaired users are also not a bad idea, although vision impaired users can be expected to be much less likely to be persuaded to take action based on video content alone than other users might be, for obvious reasons.
3. Having low quality production values
It’s quite obvious that if your video looks cheap and trashy, that’s a reflection that either you aren’t doing so well in business or that you simply don’t care about the quality of what you produce. If you don’t care about the quality of your video content, consumers will make the jump to concluding that you don’t care about the quality of whatever it is you’re selling. As was stated earlier, it is actually better to not use video at all than to use video with poor production values.
The qualities of a good production
Making good video is incredibly easy, as long as you’re not taking a miserly approach to the task. Good productions cost money, and there’s no escaping that, but they will repay your investment many times over. The essential points of a good production are:
- It has a professionally written script
- The cast and crew are professionals
- Proper equipment is used
- The video is professionally edited
- It has working subtitles and accurate translations
- On-screen text and graphics look professional
- Any sound effects or music are professionally produced and properly licensed
Make sure the video supports your other content rather than replacing it
Video content is always helpful in gaining more conversions, but it shouldn’t be your only strategy. You should also have great quality text content to support the video, which provides you with SEO benefits and it’s also true that not all users prefer video content. Quite a lot of them would rather read something at their own pace than be forced to sit through your entire presentation just to get to the information they wanted to know. Therefore it’s best to provide the choice between the two different formats.
Video backgrounds should be used sparingly and strategically
It’s completely true that video backgrounds look cool, but they can be a pain when they’re not implemented well. Designers love them because it’s a great way to show off, but users can be annoyed if they find the video background too distracting, if the background takes too long to load, or if it consumes too much bandwidth. And users are especially annoyed if your video background emits sound. Any kind of noise made by your site definitely must be “on demand”. Video backgrounds should always be short (5 seconds or less) and should loop perfectly with no noticeable cut between the start and end of a loop.
Video backgrounds are still a novelty, but it won’t take long before people become more fed up with them and in the end they could prove to be a costly inclusion unless they’re really so fantastic that they overcome user bias. Typically video backgrounds aren’t there to offer any benefit to the user, they are purely ego-fuel for the designer or the company marketing team. As such, you need to make a really conscious decision about whether you’re going to go ahead and include a video background or not.
Finally, video backgrounds may work on a website, but they shouldn’t be used on landing pages. The whole point of landing pages is to send users some place you want them to go. Video backgrounds will just get in the way of this process.
Case Study Examples
1. Three Sixty Property Group Home Page
The first thing you’ll notice is that the Three Sixty site won an award. That’s wonderful, but it must be kept in mind that the criteria the judges for these awards use is quite different to the criteria the rest of the world judges websites by.
The site opens with a large animated hero unit at the top, which contains short clips from various shots purportedly depicting a behind-the-scenes glimpse of life inside the Three Sixty circle. Page loading time was fair, even on a poor quality connection. The premise of this set up was pretty good, but where it is suffering a bit is in the disjointedness of the transitions between scenes, giving the presentation a laggy feel, where there actually isn’t any real lag present.
Following the link to “watch our story” doesn’t really provide any new information. We get taken to a series of rapid cuts just giving us a few more of those behind-the-scenes glimpses. Overall the quality of production is quite professional, but where it is let down is in the lack of an actual story. The scenes we’re given don’t join together in a coherent journey, so what you get is a series of unrelated cuts that execute too rapidly and feel incomplete.
What you can learn from it is that a slick presentation isn’t everything. You need to have a good script that carries the viewer to a new understanding of your company. Ideally you want an emotional connection to be formed. The idea seems to have been to portray the company as very professional and competent, and on that basis it works. Unfortunately there’s no attempt to connect the audience more closely to the company. It’s also lacking subtitles and translations, which is pretty bad for a short clip.
The web page holding all this is very brief, containing little supporting information and preferring to let the pictures do the talking. Despite the well-shot video scenes, the greatest sin lies in the method used to display the background hero unit video, which consumes far too much resources. In summary, love the idea, hate the execution.
2. NASA GeneLab About Page
The NASA GeneLab page uses a video background in a most innovative way. It has the same kind of effect as those old aquarium screensavers, people can sit and watch the loop multiple times before getting bored. The loop is very simple, and the video itself is very short. It loads in next to no time, doesn’t behave obnoxiously, and adds value to the page by bringing the page’s theme of genetic research to life. In short, it’s a spectacular masterpiece of video background usage.
Deep down on the page, you’ll find a link to “watch our story”. That link is a little understated, it could do more to attract attention to itself. The video is like the Three Sixty video, a montage of unrelated scenes, but in this case the cuts are not so rapid, so they feel more complete. The cuts tie well with the narration, and there’s a transcript available for reading. Usability could be better, and the use of real timed captions would have been an enhancement. There are no translations, either, and translations of the content may have helped make the site more inclusive. It also would have been nice to give the user simple control over the video resolution.
NASA’s use of video, as you would expect, is very professional and the quality of the video production is outstanding. Although there’s no story to the video, it does have flow and doesn’t feel disjointed, so overall it works effectively.
3. Dollar Shave Club
This is an excellent example of using video well to promote a product, brand, or service. The Dollar Shave Club video is produced on a proper script, with a clear narrative, and follows a storyline. This is no mere montage of cut scenes, but a journey we are taken on by the video protagonist. The use of humor and not taking itself too seriously also adds something to the effect of the video, and helped to ensure its virality. But beware… this kind of offbeat humor is not appropriate for all corporate sites. It does fit nicely with DSC’s image of being a bit rebellious, the little guys standing up to big industry to bring you savings and value. So this video is a winner.
As with most videos, it’s let down by the lack of subtitles, which means they’re potentially missing a connection with up to 20% of their audience. The lack of translations also means they’re missing out on another large segment of the potential market.
The video also uses the familiar YouTube player interface, which is both positive and negative. It’s positive because it’s easy for users to understand, and negative because it places ads to look at other videos right at the end, which is a distraction away from a call to action you might make at the conclusion of your video content.
header image courtesy of freestocks.org