How can a small company build visibility for a product or service in a big marketplace?  Uploading video to websites such as YouTube can be a surprisingly powerful tool for gaining visibility in search engines. Businesses who've tried it report this strategy offers huge advantages over simply the hosting video within their own website.

"In our small software company, we use video to generate leads that will bring us new business," reports Michael E. Williams, director of marketing at BillQuick Software

BillQuick Software. It wasn't always that way. Before Williams joined the company about a year and a half ago, instructional videos were hosted on BillQuick's site, as part of its support content. "A lot of time and effort goes into creating those videos," Williams says. "Keeping them behind a firewall on a support site is ridiculous." The problem is that search engine "spider" software can't look behind the firewall to see how many times a video's been viewed. Since viewings lead to search engine a prominence, without this information, the spider won't give the video a high search ranking.

So when the company launched BillQuick 2008, Williams used TubeMogul to upload video to a variety of video-sharing sites, including YouTube, Brightcove, and Metacafe. "We started seeing a tremendous amount of viewings," he reports, more than 2,500 viewings in one day. The reason is that the video drew search engine prominence. "If you typed in 'BillQuick 2008,' the video would come up higher than our own site," he notes.

Getting video SEO right

Uploading content to sites like YouTube is a start, but there are many additional methods for leveraging video's to lift search engine rankings. Here are some of the most effective:

1 Take advantage of text. Most search engines can't tell what content is actually contained in the video, so they use the accompanying text to determine its relevance. Most people don't put much thought into the text that accompanies videos, so this step alone can provide competitive advantage. Carefully craft the text that accompanies the video, the title of the video (which should be relevant but short), and the video's keyword tags.

Don't neglect the actual video filename. "A lot of files are called things like 'video1.wmv," notes Suranga Chandratillake, CEO of the video search engine Blinkx. That's a wasted opportunity, he says, because many search engines also consider the actual name of the file when determining a video's relevance.

To truly take advantage of the power of text to boost video's search engine optimization (SEO), consider providing a transcript of what's said in the video. In fact, that's the only way to gain search engine ranking for a privately hosted video, says Aaron Wall, author of, an online SEO resource. "That way, the search engines have the text to rank against," he says.

2. Build traffic to the video. That is, to the video hosted on a service, so the search engine will be able to track those viewings. "If you have a popular blog or newsletter for customers and you can use those things to link to the video, that helps a lot," Wall says.

One effective way to build traffic to a video hosted on YouTube or another service is to embed a link to the video on your site, rather than hosting it at all. This has the added advantage of saving you bandwidth and giving viewers a better experience at the same time. "The video sharing sites have better load balancing than you do, so the video loads really quickly," Williams says.

Some businesses, he adds, might hesitate to embed a video with the YouTube logo on it. But Brightcove and some other services offer the option to embed a video link with no logo, and will even allow you to customize the video player appearance to match your site, he says.

3. Provide quality content. This doesn't necessarily mean spending a ton on production. For instance Printable Promotions, which provides promotional giveaways such as reusable grocery bags, achieved significant search engine prominence with videos shot using the video feature of an inexpensive digital camera.

"I make sure to add value," explains Stacie Long, operations manager. "I'm not talking about price, or saying 'Buy, buy, buy!' I'm giving you information about the product." For instance, one popular Printable Promotions video shows how to fold the reusable bag into its own inner pouch, making it easy to carry in a pocket. "A still picture wouldn't really explain it," she says.

Needless to say, you should avoid the depressingly common practice of putting tags on videos that may boost SEO prominence, but have little or no relationship to the video's actual content. "Some people use tags of popular search terms such as 'Britney Spears' to bring viewers to a video about their product or service," Chandratillake says. Blinkx is fighting back, he notes, with voice-recognition software that can actually tell what's being said in the video. "If we find a video where the tags talk about one thing, and the video is actually about something else, it will be penalized in relevance," he says.

4. Track your results. TubeMogul provides details analysis of how many times a video is watched, and YouTube has a similar feature. Williams also recommends adding a query string the URL link from the video to your site, so that you can tell when traffic arrives from a particular video site. By using this system, Williams learned that the video hosted on  Sclipo, a video sharing site devoted to instructional videos, had a higher clickthrough rate than the other sites, though a lower number of viewings overall.

And Long found a useful new search term. "We sell reusable grocery bags that people can put their logos on," she says. That's how she'd always thought of them, but by reviewing YouTube data she discovered many viewers had searched "supermarket bag" instead. "I had not thought of using the word 'supermarket," she says. "I now know to update our product pages so they have the keyword 'supermarket' in them."