Whether you’re new to creating videos or they’re already a key part of your marketing or documentation strategy, there’s no denying the benefits that they can offer to your brand. Videos can help you build your community, entertain and inform your audience, and establish your brand as a trusted, credible source. If you’ve optimized your videos. Well-optimized videos offer a brilliant user experience.
On the other hand, poorly optimized videos have the opposite effect. When videos move at a snail’s pace, take an age to load, or stall throughout playback, they bore and frustrate your users—who don’t tend to come back.
But what is video optimization, how can you optimize your videos, and, even more importantly, how can optimized videos create a better user experience? Let’s find out.
What Is Video Optimization?
Video optimization refers to the processes and practices that are necessary to set your Web site’s videos up for success. It’s a deft blend of art and science that aims to do the following:
Reduce your videos’ buffer time, ensuring they load faster.
Increase the quality of your videos.
Help your videos rank higher in search engines.
Improve your videos’ accessibility for viewers with disabilities.
Engender trust in your audience.
What is one thing these UX benefits all have in common? They create a better user experience for the people interacting with the videos on your Web site. I’ll discuss these benefits in greater depth shortly. But first, let’s look at how you can optimize your site’s videos.
How Can You Optimize Your Videos?
There is a range of tools and techniques that you can use to optimize different aspects of your videos and achieve a wide array of positive outcomes.
Optimizing Videos for Speed and Size
To optimize your videos for speed, you first need to get up to speed about a little thing called a bitrate.
The term bitrate refers to how many bits—the units of data that videos comprise—your site can process or transfer within a given period of time—usually, per second. A bitrate is essentially your download speed—the rate at which users can play your video. (Do not confuse bitrate with resolution, which refers to the video’s level of detail—for example, 720 pixels.)
Bitrate refers to your video’s size. The higher the bitrate, the bigger the video. The videos’ size, in turn, correlates to quality. The bigger the video, the better the quality. However, quality isn’t everything because a high bitrate can negatively affect your Web page’s load time, which is bad for your user experience, bounce rates, and your site’s overall reputation.
So when you encode your videos, be sure to take the data shown in Figure 1 into account—and upload your videos at a size that matches their resolution.
When you encode your videos, you can choose between two types of bitrates, as follows:
Constant bitrate videos—These videos play at 10 Mbps throughout the video, so the entire video has the same quality. This bitrate is best for videos that require a higher-quality throughout and is the more consistent, compatible option.
Variable bitrate videos—These videos play at between 10 and 12 Mbps. VBR videos shift the bitrate level as the video plays—giving static or blank screens a lower bitrate and important scenes a higher bitrate to keep file sizes low. So these videos are perfect for uploading to YouTube, Vimeo, or your Web site.
The bottom line? To increase the speed of your videos and improve your site’s user experience, you need to know what bitrate is suitable for your videos’ resolution. You’ll also need to get to grips with which type of bitrate to choose.
How Optimized Videos Create a Better User Experience
Now that we’ve gotten the what and the how of video optimization out of the way, let’s look at the why. Why should you bother optimizing your site’s videos, and more importantly, why do optimized videos result in a better user experience on your site?
1. Optimized Videos Load More Quickly
Most importantly, optimized videos load faster. As you saw earlier, choosing the right bitrate type can help you strike the right balance between picture quality and file size. (Remember to choose constant bitrate videos if you require reliability and high quality. Choose variable bitrate videos if you’re uploading videos to YouTube or need to reduce your video’s file size.)
So what’s the big deal about reducing file size? Well, it helps your videos to load more quickly and helps the Web pages on which your videos reside to load more quickly, too. Big, heavy files—the kind that are associated with long, extremely high quality videos or poorly optimized videos—increase a Web page’s load time and slow its performance.
This is bad not only for the user experience but for conversions as well. Who likes waiting around, twiddling their thumbs, while a Web page loads? Data has shown that conversion rates drop by an average of 4.42% with every extra second of page-load time, during a user’s first five seconds on a page. So, when it comes to optimizing your videos, every second counts.
2. Optimized Videos Play Seamlessly
Another benefit of optimizing videos for the user is that this prevents videos from stalling, or stopping to buffer the content halfway through. (If you’ve ever had this happen to you when you’re halfway through a Netflix movie, you’ll be acutely attuned to this kind of pain.)
The need for smooth, uninterrupted video playback is simple from a user-experience perspective. Optimized videos are just much, much easier to watch! But this is especially important for businesses that rely on live streams and Webinars. In these cases, a slow, lagging, or broken video stream doesn’t just impair the quality of the user experience, it can cost you your audience. Again, when videos stutter and stagger, it’s usually down to their file size. So choosing the right bitrate for your video’s resolution is absolutely vital.
3. Optimized Videos Play Better on Mobile Devices
How your Web site looks on mobile is key. After all, the Internet’s users spend half of the time they spend online on their smartphone, and over half of all Web-site traffic comes from mobile devices. So it makes sense that your videos need to look good on mobile, too. Fortunately, optimizing your videos gives you more than a fighting chance. It’s half the battle.
On Smashing Magazine, Doug Sillers shares an anecdote that’s relevant here. When looking for a pumpkin patch in which to spend a family afternoon, he found a Web site with beautiful 4K drone footage of the field, showing its sweeping, inviting orange vista. He watched the video on his computer and loved it. The only issue? When he tried opening the video on his mobile phone, he couldn’t view it. The video started, stalled, started, stalled, and, finally, stopped.
After doing a deep dive to understand what was happening, Doug realized that the drone footage was 157 MB, with a bitrate of 20 Mbps. Therefore, for the video to play unencumbered and without lags, he’d have to be streaming it at a rate of over 20 Mbps. That’s why playback was a struggle on his mobile device.
The pumpkin-patch proprietors didn’t ensure that the video’s bitrate and resolution matched up, so didn’t attain the Holy Grail of quality and speed. The video provided a poor user experience and, as a result, the site lost viewers—with those accessing the video on their smartphone missing out most.
4. Optimized Videos Rank Higher in Search Engines
“As far as SEO (search-engine optimization) goes, optimizing your videos can help them rank higher in search-engine results pages, which can lead to more views and engagement. This increases your chances of getting your message across, increasing your visibility, and ultimately, driving more traffic to your Web site.”—Serg Aspidoff, Founder and CEO of Shoutcart
Videos aren’t just beneficial for your site’s user experience. They’re important to how you interact with and connect to your customers—as well as how you build your brand and your community. Videos are not just handy for entertaining and engaging your existing audience but also for introducing your products and services to an ever-widening circle of new customers.
That’s because optimized videos contribute significantly to your videos’ SEO. How? There are many aspects to video SEO optimization. Here are a few surefire tips to get you started:
Optimize your video titles and descriptions for the keywords you’re targeting. Make sure they’re concise, inviting, and descriptive.
Create compelling thumbnails. This is the equivalent of placing your video in a shop window, so it’s worth spending the time to get it right!
Provide video transcripts. This lets even people who are watching your videos without headphones or access to sound to enjoy them. (Transcripts are important for video accessibility, too—something we’ll get to in a second!)
When you optimize your videos to create a better experience for your users, we’re not talking about just part of your users. We’re talking about all users. That means it’s vital that you ensure that your Web site’s videos are accessible to and capable of being watched and enjoyed by people with disabilities.
Fortunately, optimizing videos for accessibility benefits not only your brand reputation and levels of consumer trust but also your rankings and conversions. Plus, many of the things you can do to increase your videos’ accessibility overlap with the techniques you can harness to set them up for SEO success.
One example? Providing transcripts of your videos. In addition to giving people with hearing disabilities another way of accessing your video content, they also provide an additional avenue through which people who are new to your brand can discover and delve into your content.
Another example? Adding captions to your videos. Gen Z, in particular, loves watching movies with captions. But transcripts are also good for accessibility, usability, and your business. A PLY Media study discovered that, while only 66% of participants watched uncaptioned videos to the end, a staggering 91% saw the captioned videos through. Of course, adding captions to your videos ensures that people who are hard of hearing are just as able to enjoy them. Because the UX matters—and should benefit everyone.
Top Video Optimization Tips
To optimize your videos, employ the following tips.
Do Not Set Your Videos To Start Playing Automatically
Do I really need to tell you to avoid playing videos automatically? I certainly hope not, but here’s a statistic anyway: 80% of viewers react negatively to videos that start playing automatically—especially if they do so with the sound on. (I reckon that must be more like 100%!) Automatically playing videos is automatically annoying and provides an extremely poor user experience. As a rule, you should avoid this.
Contextualize Your Videos Within a Page
Optimizing your videos to improve the user experience isn’t just about the videos themselves. It also matters how the videos slot contextually into a page. What’s the point of creating the most efficiently optimized video in the world if it’s at the bottom of a page, where no one can see it? What if the video’s content feels out of place on the page or fails to add value to what’s there? The user experience and video optimization are both about looking at the whole rather than the individual parts. So ensure that you intelligently integrate your videos into your pages rather than tacking them on as an afterthought.
Optimize Your Web Site, Too
It’s not just the video itself that you need to optimize but also the Web page and site on which it resides. Placing an optimized video on a poorly optimized page is akin to hanging the original Mona Lisa in a dilapidated shack. Of course, the painting is beautiful, but if everything that is going on around it is in a shambles, people won’t be able to appreciate it! Take care to optimize your entire site for speed, interactivity, and cohesion. To assess your success, Google’s Core Web Vitals is a good place to start. Consider the following ranking factors:
how long pages take to load
how long pages take to become interactive
whether the elements on pages have any unexpected movement
For on-site videos, this last tip is particularly important. How many times have you been viewing a Web page on your smartphone only to have the page jump around? Or thought you were zooming in, but inadvertently ended up opening a video? Or were trying to scroll down the page, but winded up clicking a link to another site instead?
Rob is passionate about empowering your online brand with the tools, skills, and knowledge you need to drive a better user experience—and boost your bottom line. He has been writing Web content for more than seven years. Rob graduated with a BA (Hons) from Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. When he’s not reading, writing, and editing, you can find him curled up in a sunny spot or watching football in the company of close friends while enjoying cold beer. Read More