<< by on July 28th, 2010
Earlier this year at the Google I/O conference, Google announced a product with limited fanfare they’ve titled “Google TV.” Moments later, thousands of tech heads started spinning up with ideas of how, exactly, Google was going to conquer the cable industry and bring content delivery/management back to the user! Unfortunately, most of our heads are still spinning.
As far as most can tell, the nitty-gritty details have yet to be worked out. We know there’s going to be software (Google TV) that will work with current hardware (TV’s, set-top boxes, cable boxes/DVR’s), and stand-alone hardware (Google TV box?) that will also work with that same hardware. How Google is going to manage to get all that hardware and software to play nicely is still murky (it sounds to me like it’ll be similar to trying to get Philly fans to be nice). Despite all the uncertainty, or perhaps because of it, I think Google TV could change search dramatically. Like the iPad in its pre-release and possibly current state, I believe the platform holds enormous potential to smash through some of the stale industry norms and ambiguous search evolution rhetoric, if utilized correctly. Nay says you? Consider the following:
For this particular post, let’s stick to the software/UI implications, and assume compatibility kinks get ironed out, which admittedly, is a bit of an assumption to make. That being said…
-Nothing like Google TV currently exists. Sure, there are plenty of sites that allow users to search and organize video content (Feedbeat, Youtube, Hulu, etc.), but I don’t think any of these are close to being truly comprehensive of all web video. Also, none of them include user’s local TV listings. I’ll get into why this is great but paradoxical for site owners and content publishers in just a bit.
-People are watching a significant amount of video online. There is increasing evidence showing people are watching an unprecedented amount of video on the web, and that this trend has no signs of slowing down (See Online Video Market Continues Ascent and Time Spent Viewing Online Video Up 13%). The video that’s available can be unorganized, hard to manage, and confined to the relatively small screen of your computer. Yes I, along with some of you currently reading this, know that it’s entirely possible to connect a computer to your TV, but it’s a disruptive and time consuming process. Plus, making this easier/convenient is expensive. Instead, imagine if all this online video was easier to reach, easier to sort through, and watchable from the supreme relaxation zone of your couch on the big-screen TV and surround sound system you just spent all that money on. Bingo.
-Content publishers are starting to figure out what works and what doesn’t. Once a user has found the content s/he wants to view on the web, the video itself can still be a crapshoot. The video could be of very poor quality and considered unwatchable, or too high a quality for the user’s internet connection and fail to load fast enough. The ads can be irrelevant and even obnoxious, causing users to leave the site. The video could be in a strange format, and so on. But good news! Publishers and creators are finally starting to create some web standards about the format of video, the ads in the videos, and the overall experience for online viewing. What does all this mean? The infrastructure is in place, it’s improving, and people are excited about it.
So fine, great; people are going to be searching for video to watch on their TV, on their TV. How does this change search again? Right – First, we must take notice that there are a good many questions without answers as to how or why a similar video will rank better than another. Currently, Google uses a combination of things to determine how a website would rank in a given search including: inbound links, anchor text, site authority, content relevancy, etc.
The problem with the current formula is for videos, content cannot be analyzed in the same way text content is currently examined to determine site relevance to the query. So how is Google going to know what the video is about? Trust the title, or the tags to be accurate (um, no)? Also, if web publishers (and advertisers) are going to try and take viewers from the cable companies, I would think they would want their video listing ranking higher in the search than say, the cable channel with the content on it. The question becomes, which ranks higher? If you’re searching for a particular episode of a television program, and it’s available online, it seems as though it should come first. However, cable listings of shows seem to be showing up highest in any search. What if this listing is for 4:00 pm, and the search was conducted at 2:30? The online version should rank highest, and an option to set a reminder or program a DVR for 4:00 pm should be lower. I hope for the sake of content publishers everywhere, something fair gets worked out.
Meanwhile, at the Search Engine Optimization Lab
While those and other dilemmas are getting sorted out, here are a few tips on what you as a publisher or site owner can do to ensure your videos will be ready for the big(ger) screen:
-Video sitemaps will be key. As Google attempts to discover, categorize, and rank all the video on the web, it’s recognized that it may need a little help to stay up date. If you want your video indexed and ranking as quickly as possible, make sure you’re using video sitemaps to show Google what content is where. Also, don’t forget to keep your sitemaps up-to-date as you add more content. When creating and submitting your site maps make sure to have these five elements for each video: Title, Description, the play page URL, the thumbnail image URL, and the raw video file location. For more information about video site maps, see Google’s Webmaster Blog: Video Sitemaps 101: Making your videos searchable.
-If your content is in Flash, be sure to have something indexable too. One of the major battles being fought in the world of online video is Flash vs HTML5. Before I go off on a tangent about which is better, remember that Flash content cannot be seen by the search engine bots (the software that indexes content on Google). Thousands of hours of video posted on the internet are in Flash, and very difficult to search efficiently. Providing some noscript HTML code on the page simply identifying the video and describing what it’s about could go a long way in helping your content make its way to the first page.
-In-bound links are your friend. The more links you have from other sites that point back to your content, the better your search ranking is likely to be. With the addition of social media content in search results, it’s becoming easier than ever to acquire these in-bound links. The trade-off with social media, of course, is that you most likely won’t get any anchor text to go with it. The links do serve almost as a “vote of confidence” in the value of your video content, and Google has started to recognize that for many people, a retweet on Twitter or a public status update on Facebook can be valuable input.
The ability to use precise searches for video content across multiple platforms online and off, has the potential to change the way we watch television. Changing the way we watch television could change the advertising we see as well. Furthermore, it may even spark a change in price models as content providers and advertisers compete to attract the most eyeballs consistently. Being in the middle of all this really excites me, and I’m anxious to see how it all unfolds. Then, maybe I’ll find some time to actually watch TV. Stay tuned.