Online video can be a great way to present information more persuasively than plain text. Recent studies in the US suggest that the average person spends far, far longer watching television than reading each day, and that approximately 100,000,000 Americans watch video online every day.

As the cost of video production continues to fall, it’s becoming more viable for smaller companies to explore the use of video on their website—but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be effective.

For instance, think about low-budget TV commercials you’ve seen for local small businesses, and how painful it is to watch some of them. Either they’re poorly lit, or the sound is muffled or distorted, or they’re just plain cheesy. Perhaps the concept is just over-ambitious, or it’s directed by an amateur using techniques they consider ‘professional’ but which actually became clichéd years ago. The worse the commercial, the worse the impression it makes on the viewer. And bad impressions definitely contribute to a poor user experience.

Few people expect high production values from online video. The rise of YouTube has made broadcast of low-budget video productions acceptable, as long as they are interesting or entertaining. Any small business can get hold of a video camera and budget-friendly editing software, and post their efforts to websites such as YouTube and Vimeo at no cost. But there must be value in the content.

What’s the Purpose of Your Video?

If you’re thinking of creating some videos for the web, what purpose will they serve? Will they be directly promotional, describing or demonstrating products or services offered by your business, or perhaps teasing future offerings? Will they be testimonials from satisfied customers? Will they include news, helpful tips or useful advice? Maybe they’ll just be fun, and you’re perhaps hoping they’ll ‘go viral.’

These are all great and you may well have other, more original uses of video in mind. But the other consideration should be context—where, when and how people will engage with them.

Where Will Your Video Be Seen?

If you’re posting a promotional video for a certain product on your website, it’ll obviously work well on a page that aims to market that product… but perhaps not on a page intended to support owners of that product. Similarly, a support-oriented video might not be too useful on the marketing page if the video is intended for owners already familiar with the product, rather than prospective purchasers. Get the most benefit out of your video by only suggesting visitors watch it at the appropriate point in their visit. They’ll be more engaged and you’ll avoid wasting their time.

You also might consider posting your promotional video to YouTube to be discovered there, as well as on your website. But bear in mind that your website allows you to position the video just the way you want to, whereas content on YouTube can be discovered randomly.

Maybe you need an alternate edit of the video for YouTube, including a little more positioning if viewers might need to understand what you’re about to show them. You can provide a text description for your video when you upload it, but once your video is playing, viewers may not even look at that description. Also, if you want people to take action on your website after watching the video on YouTube, the video should provide a simple, memorable URL that remains on-screen for a while (don’t force viewers to rewind because they didn’t have time to remember it).

You may also want to share your video on social networks like Facebook or Google+. There, you can position the video and provide a call to action. But once someone shares the video link in your post, there’s no guarantee they’ll also share the positioning and CTA unless it is embedded in the video itself.

And even on those social networks, you’re probably communicating with a mix of customers and non-customers. Will the video have value for all of them? Maybe consider making a video that on the surface appears to be aimed at customers, but looks sufficiently interesting to encourage non-customers to click and watch—or vice versa.

Concise, On-Target Content

Just as it’s important to keep web text short, video content should be concise. Drift off-topic or take too long to reveal the promised information and you risk disengaging the viewer. With video, achieving the appropriate brevity is usually a two-step process.

First, before filming anything, plan carefully how best to quickly cover the necessary items in an interesting way. Keep any opening introductions brief and get quickly to the point, ending with a closing message if you want viewers to take action after watching.

Second, when editing your footage, try to create and maintain a suitably brisk pace. Piece together the scenes as planned, and then review every second, removing pauses in the action (unless they’re deliberately included for effect). Consider using custom transitions between scenes or partial scenes if this will assist the momentum, but avoid using anything too ‘cheesy’… unless of course you’re planning an amusing video that’s so bad it’s good, like Twitter’s recent recruiting video:

Low Budget? Keep It Simple

If your business can’t afford dedicated video professionals and you’re producing video in-house, recognize the limitations of what you can achieve and focus on making the best possible use of your resources.

A one-minute scene of someone speaking directly to the camera can be just as effective as a lavish, million-dollar TV commercial—it largely depends on the quality and tone of the content, judicious editing, plus a few basic essentials like good lighting, clear sound, and attention to the visual appearance of the ‘stars’ and the environment in which they are presented.

If your video requires on-screen text or graphical elements, use professional fonts and high quality images, timed to appear on the screen when and where they will not distract from any other important action.

Incidental music can enhance your video, but if you’re making a series of videos that someone might watch together, avoid using the same music in all of them—it could just become an annoying distraction. Also, try to maintain a good audio balance, ensuring that the background accompaniment doesn’t compete with the main message.

Of course, budgetary constraints can work in your favor, if you regard them as a challenge to produce something new and original within your enforced limitations. That originality might be just what you need to set your video apart from your competitors’ efforts.

Also, bear in mind that first impressions count for a lot. If your first video isn’t that great, viewers may not take the time to watch videos you create in the future. It’s usually better to just scrap below-par efforts that might hurt your brand.

Accessibility and Mobile Considerations

Video is a great medium for most web users, but any message that relies on sound is a lot less effective when encountered by someone with hearing difficulties. Similarly, any message that relies on visuals won’t mean much to blind or partially sighted users.

You can help viewers with impaired hearing by providing closed captions (here’s an interesting article on that subject), but if the message of the video is important, offer a link to a text version of the message if the video is hosted on one of your web pages. This potentially benefits everyone, because even visitors with good vision and hearing may be unable to watch the video if they experience browser or bandwidth issues.

Also, certain video formats just won’t play on some mobile devices. Furthermore, your mobile viewers may be relying on a weak 3G signal, which can ruin playback of streaming video. If you need technical advice in this area, take a look at this article.


OK, tune in again next time… that’s all, folks! :)

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