SEO professionals often say that "search engines don’t read pages the same way users do." This phrase is typically used to impress upon a client the value of a technical SEO recommendation. Through implementing a test on our pharmaceutical client’s site, we were able to show that our recommendation to improve the engine’s ability to digest or read a page’s content truly did have an impact on their business’s goal of driving online consumer engagement.
For the test, we embedded videos on our client’s site in HTML5 and coded with Schema.org markup. In one month, the video had a 14.5% increase in organic views. The steps involved in the test have since been adopted by the company as the new standard for all new site launches. Since updating video players to HTML5 and implementing schema, we have helped our client increase video views from organic traffic by an average of 16% MOM.
Maximizing Website Engagement Metrics
By implementing Schema.org video markup and HTML5 coded video players, we were able to show value and scale the recommendation across all of the client’s domains to increase their business KPI of online engagement. Here’s how we did it:
1. Use business KPIs to drive strategies & prioritizationThis specific client uses on-site engagement metrics as a key performance indicator, so any recommendation that influences video views, online registrations, or file downloads is prioritized. Understanding their business drivers allows us to make decisions that show we are a true partner. To fully understand their business, we’ve subscribed to industry blogs, set up Google news alerts for the client’s brand and competitors, and researched common industry challenges.
There is no "one size fits all" recommendation or best practice for organic search optimization, especially in highly regulated industries like the pharmaceutical and financial verticals, where legal restrictions are even more stringent. Thinking of organic search as just one puzzle piece that fits into an overall marketing strategy in such a regulated environment helps us to understand the bigger picture and greatly influences what strategies or best practices are the “right fit.”
Helping our client increase online user engagement isn’t just a strategy for the organic search channel — hosting videos in HTML 5 on the client’s site rather than YouTube to drive visits and KPI completions helped us increase visits from other channels like direct mail and email. By updating creative pieces to include the client’s URL, we were able to keep users on the site rather than driving them to content hosted by a third party.
2. Develop a testing plan to prove value
Testing this implementation before scaling across the business allowed us to show the value of this SEO strategy. Additionally, it helped us drive home the importance of allocating resources to make these updates site-wide. An important aspect of implementing lasting SEO best practices within a company is to fully evangelize them throughout the team. Institutionalizing SEO steps across website team members gives accountability to individuals for major accomplishments. This, in turn, has the power to champion the SEO best practices to more employees within the company.
Providing case studies or examples of data from a past client can be a great idea, but because of the newness of the technology, it was not an option. The test allowed our client the safety of a small scale implementation, short-lived to reduce the impact on overall KPIs. Having a clear plan of action, including forecasted ROI, helped to push our case forward as well.
As mentioned, the first test saw a 14.5% MOM increase in video views. In April, the test was confirmed and implemented, scaling the code changes to all videos on the site. By the next month, we saw a 20% jump in organic video views, which continued to improve over time.
3. Use technical savvy to improve engagement
HTML5 is a great advancement for SEO because it is a move toward a more standardized way of coding videos, as over 80% of browsers support HTML5 video. Another benefit of HTML5 is that it allows clients to host videos on their own server rather than on sites like YouTube or Vimeo. While there are pros and cons to any video strategy, we prioritized self-hosted videos to maximize link-building signals. Embedding videos from third party hosting services like YouTube or Vimeo may maximize total views, but it may also detract from the link-building signals, a portion of Google’s organic ranking algorithm.
Search engines have a hard time accessing content in flash videos on websites, making it difficult for them to find the content and index the videos. Without on-page elements such as HTML content and video XML Sitemaps, brands often experience difficulty in having their videos indexed. HTML5 provides markup language that explains the video capabilities via the <video> tags.
We recommend adding Schema.org video markup in addition to the HTML5 code to make it even easier for engines to digest the content on the page and display the video results to users in search results (see image on right). Along with a Video Sitemap, implementing Schema.org video markup can influence Google to display a rich snippet of the video thumbnail in search results, which may increase click through rates.
Schema.org markup for videos can be used to identify the name, description, thumbnail, location, and duration of the video — all helping Google to "understand" or "read" the content on your page and serve users with the best possible search results. The client increased organic video views by an average of 16% MOM after moving to HTML5 and using Schema.org markup for videos.
In addition to HTML5 and Schema.org markup, we always recommend creating a video XML sitemap in to further help Google crawl video content on your site.
Maximizing website engagement metrics does not have to be a daunting task. Start by understanding business KPIs and how search can help fulfill those needs. Then, use research and data to test industry-approved tactics that show value. Finally, scale across the site or refine the test based on data. An unexpected outcome is not always a bad thing; find ways to learn and try again!