4 video marketing tips in the era of autoplay

I assume by now you’ve noticed that videos are appearing in greater and greater frequency in your Facebook timeline. From buckets of ice to upcoming movies to everything else that humanity can imagine or capture, it’s showing up for you. Over the weekend, as I was watching yet another round of ice bucket dumpings go by, a few thoughts occurred to me about autoplay videos on Facebook.

_1__Facebook

First, if you’re a video creator, does your work stand alone without the audio? Obviously, there are some video types where audio is mandatory. A video of Andre Rieu or Joshua Bell needs audio. But for most commercial videos, particularly for advertisements, the question remains: does your video tell a strong enough story that it can convey the point without audio?

Second, what’s in the first 3 seconds of your video? As we scroll by on Facebook, we see only a few tiny seconds of video content. Those first 3 seconds had better be compelling enough to get us to stop scrolling by. Even the first frame of the video matters, because that’s the image placeholder.

Third, are your calls to action in sync with your video? One of the key criticisms of the recent ice bucket challenges was that people were dumping buckets of water and ice over their heads without a whole lot of context. Very few of the friends and colleagues who made those videos put calls to action to donate to ALSA in the video itself or in the accompanying text to actively solicit donations. Now, if the video’s purpose isn’t for the viewer to take action of some kind, then a call to action isn’t that important, but even a simple “Learn more here: URL” statement could have made a much greater impact.

Fourth, is your video accessible? Upload closed caption files to your YouTube videos (the service supports it VERY well), and expect to add them to Facebook videos in the relatively near future. As Facebook’s video platform takes on greater importance, I would anticipate calls for additional accessibility to be part and parcel of the expansion, including being shown in autoplay. Closed captioning isn’t just a “nice to have if you have the time” – when you provide closed captioning, at least on YouTube, your video has text content that accompanies that, and text is what search engines like YouTube’s owner, Google, use to return results. Get those captions in!

Take action on these four simple ways to improve your videos.


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3 steps to diagnosing declining website traffic

I’ll let you in on a little secret. My website hasn’t been doing as well lately. In fact, performance of the site has been downright poor in the last 3 months compared to the past. Are the glory days over? Has my writing substantially declined in quality? I needed to find out what was going on.

The path to understanding your website traffic, good or ill, is straightforward: audience, acquisition, behavior.

The first step is to understand the audience. Which audience are you losing? I fired up Google Analytics and looked at the two most basic segments of audience, new and returning users. Briefly, if new users are declining, it typically means you have an acquisition problem. If returning users are declining, it typically means you have a content problem. If both are declining, you typically have a structural problem behind the scenes. New users have been substantially down:

Audience_Overview_-_Google_Analytics

But then, so have returning users:

Audience_Overview_-_Google_Analytics

Something’s amiss, and I suspect it’s structural. The next step is to look at acquisition. Where am I losing my traffic from?

All_Traffic_-_Google_Analytics

It would seem I’m losing my traffic from direct and organic search for returning users, which means people have lost bookmarks, forgot to type in my domain name as part of their daily reading, or don’t find me again through search.

Let’s check out new users now. Where am I losing them from?

All_Traffic_-_Google_Analytics

The same two culprits, but on a much larger scale. I lost half of my organic search traffic. Yikes! I think it’s safe to say we found the problem: search. Both new and returning users rely heavily on search to get to my website.

Knowing that there’s a search problem, the next question is: what kind of search problem. For that, we head to Google’s Webmaster Tools. I looked at the dashboard and it said I have 1,289 URLs indexed under the Sitemaps panel.

Full stop. I know there’s more content on the website than that. There are thousands of pages on this site. What gives?

I looked a little more closely. My sitemap wasn’t reporting most of the URLs on my site. It turns out that when I updated an SEO plugin, it munched my previous settings for sitemaps, and was only reporting 1 out of every 5 actual URLs. I resubmitted my sitemaps to Webmaster Tools, and you can see the difference:

Webmaster_Tools_-_Sitemaps_-_http___www_christopherspenn_com_

That’s a pretty substantial difference right there. 75% of my work wasn’t indexed by Google because it didn’t know about it. Now it does, and I’ll expect to see an increase in the number of pages crawled and indexed in search results in the near future, which should translate into bringing people back to my website.

When you face a situation where you’ve got declining traffic, follow the same framework. Which part of your audience is ailing? Where do they come from? What do they do? By following that structure, you’ll quickly identify what’s broken and the solution to fix it may leap out at you.


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The tactical advantage of new things

A very brief strategic thought about why you shouldn’t wait to try new things in the world of marketing. New things capture the attention of the early adopters but the laggards and the mainstream are slow to catch on. There are thousands of marketing managers out there waiting for the case study to come out, and when it does, they’ll flock to the not-so-new thing like lemmings, causing considerably more poor performance. The best time to exact incredible performance from something new is before the masses arrive.

For example, when LinkedIn Sponsored Updates first hit the marketing world, very few brands were trying it. As part of my work at SHIFT Communications, I jumped in with both feet (and corporate credit card), and got some astonishingly good results from it. Just a week later, so many more of the rest of the crowd was trying them out that performance was a full 20% lower. The space got crowded quickly.

Here’s one of the few guarantees of marketing: if you’re waiting for the case study of the industry leader, you are guaranteed not to be that industry leader. Jump in as resources and time permit, experiment, and constantly be ahead of the crowd, ahead of the competition. You don’t have to go all-in and put all your chips across the line on every new thing, but you do need to at least ante up.

Where do you go to find new things? Search the final frontier. Read lots of blogs. Read developer notes. Use developer sites. The new stuff is always happening in development first, and eventually finds its way to marketing.


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