The Easy Way To Embed Videos

I’ve written previously about 11 common online video mistakes and then six steps to developing an effective video strategy. It’s time now to look at some of the mechanics of displaying videos on websites and how they might affect the choices you make.Before we start, I’ll warn you: if you thought having to deal with Internet Explorer was your worst coding nightmare, think again.

Any web developer who wants to (or has to) ride what is an increasingly popular wave of interest in online video has to figure out the best way to embed this type of content to ensure that it’s playable on as many devices and browsers as possible.

Clients can be demanding when it comes to video, too, and they might not understand just how difficult coding a self-hosted video into a webpage really is.

Here are some principles to keep in mind when you’re considering whether and how to embed videos in your web development projects. We’ll start with the simple way to do it.

The Simple Way to Embed Videos

In my personal opinion, the absolute easiest way (and best way) to embed videos on your clients’ websites is to host them with YouTube. I’m sure this won’t come as any surprise, as most people use YouTube for their video hosting/embedding needs these days but there really is a good reason for this: it’s easy. YouTube does all the work for you.

Here’s a few reasons why embedding YouTube videos is your best option:

It Works on All Browsers and Devices

When hosting video content yourself and/or using a self-hosted video player, the biggest hassle is ensuring that the video works on all devices. YouTube takes away this problem as they’ve done all the hard work for you. Their videos play on PCs, tablets and Smartphones (including the iPhone and iPad) and basically all browsers. All you need to do is copy and paste an embed code. Simple.

There’s No Cost

Hosting video yourself can be expensive (well, expensive for your client) as you’re going to have to make sure you’ve got a fast server and adequate bandwidth to support a good user experience. The time saved by using YouTube (rather than self-hosting) will also decrease development costs for the client.

People Trust YouTube

Effectively, 99% of people who use the web will have come across YouTube videos, either on its own site or embedded on a site like yours. Because of this repeated exposure, people  trust it. Strangely, I think using YouTube’s branded player actually increases the visitors’ trust in your/your client’s website.

What If I Can’t Use YouTube?

Obviously, YouTube does have a few drawbacks (e.g. limited rich snippets abilities, forced YouTube branding etc) and in some cases, clients are going to request that you do self-host the video and video player.

If this is the case, here’s a few guidelines to help you through the development process.

1 – Don’t Use a Flash Video Player (if you can help it)

A few years ago, Flash was massive; people were creating Flash games, uploading Flash videos and even creating entire websites in Flash (much to the dismay of SEOs around the world).

These days, it’s a completely different story, almost entirely thanks to Apple.

For whatever reason, Apple hates Flash and therefore, they don’t allow Flash content to be viewed at all on their iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad devices. They also don’t pre-install Flash on many of their Mac computers either.

With these Apple devices making up a huge chunk of the mobile market, you need to keep this fact in mind when it comes to coding your websites. As a web developer in the modern world, you need to be optimixing for mobile devices (unless your client has specified – for whatever reason – that this isn’t a requirement) and therefore, you really shouldn’t be bothering with Flash video players at all.

It’s not just Apple devices, though. Microsoft is also limiting the functionality of Flash on their latest Windows 8 operating system within the don’t-call-it-Metro interface. Although Windows 8 currently doesn’t make up much of the market, it will do soon as new PCs will soon come preinstalled with Windows 8 as standard. So, it makes sense to prepare for it now.

The bottom line is that Flash just isn’t the way to go anymore, at least not for videos. Flash is slowly being replaced by newer technology (e.g. HTML5) so it makes sense to primarily opt for this style of video player instead.

What’s more, there’s been countless times when I’ve personally viewed content through generic self-hosted Flash players on a PC and found the performance to be poor. This is not something you want your clients (or more importantly, your clients’ website visitors) to have to deal with.

2 – Do Use a HTML5 Video Player

At this stage, you might be wondering what you should be using if you shouldn’t use Flash and, basically, the answer is a HTML5 video player.

To cut a long story short, HTML5 is the future of the web. Many of you will already be coding in HTML5 and many sites are now using HTML5 to play web videos. Even YouTube is currently experimenting with (and perfecting) a HTML5 video player.

One thing to note is that there are limitations with HTML5 players; notably that some versions of Firefox and Opera require the video to be in the WebM format in order to play it through a HTML5 player. Firefox and Opera between have quite a large market share (approximately 23% in January) when it comes to PC users so it’s important to ensure that your video plays correctly in these browser.

One thing you can do is to use a HTML5 player as a Flash fallback (i.e. it will be used if Flash isn’t supported). This way, you can ensure that your videos play on virtually all devices and browsers.

3 – Use WebM or H.264 Codec

Another thing that you really need to think about when hosting video yourself is the file format of your video. When you upload a video to YouTube or another video sharing site, you generally don’t have to worry about this as YouTube does all the work for you (i.e. converts it to the optimum format etc) but when hosting it yourself and using a self-hosted video player, it needs to take priority.

The main reason you need to get the format of your video right is because some video formats can comprise much larger files than others. Although internet speeds around the world are getting faster, they are still pretty poor in some areas, including some parts of the US and the UK. For example, I’m in the UK living just 10 miles away from a major city and my average speed is 2mbps. At this speed, it would take me approximately 4 minutes to fully stream a 48mb video file meaning that if video files are too large (i.e. in a low compression format), it’s going to hinder my user experience.

H.264 and WebM are great formats as they generally retain high video quality even when highly compressed. H.264 is currently the standard web video format but, as I mentioned previously, there are issues with this format and certain browsers when used with a HTML5 video player so in some instances, WebM may need to be used.

At the moment, H.264 and WebM are going through a similar process to HD-DVD and Blu-Ray a few years back. Microsoft, Apple, Google, Mozilla and many other companies have all taken a particular “side” and therefore are making it quite difficult for web developers. You can read more about which companies are supporting which formats with regard to HTML5 video here.

Conclusion

Developing a website with video content is certainly no easy task and although the points raised in this post need to be taken on board, it’s important to remember that ultimately, your clients’ goals and priorities should drive your decision.

If you’re designing and developing a landing page for a large, well-known client and need to embed a sales video, it might be important that the video features their branding. They might also have the budget to host the video themselves and pay for the added development costs without any problems. In this case, self-hosting is the way to go.

However, if you’re developing a website for a relatively small business, YouTube offers an inexpensive video hosting solution that is going to keep costs down for your client and make your life easier as a developer.

10 Online Video Marketing Mistakes

More businesses than ever are incorporating online video into their marketing strategies; and for good reason too. There’s a ton of statistics out there underscoring many of the potential benefits online video can bring to a business. In real-life terms, all these statistics boil down to one simple fact: people love watching videos online and, clearly, would much prefer to watch a video than sift through pages of boring text about a company.The fact many people don’t realise (or perhaps forget) is that simply producing and uploading a video isn’t enough. Millions of videos are uploaded every day and, sadly, a huge percentage of these are ineffective, usually because easily avoidable mistakes are made when it comes to the production or implementation of the video.

I see these mistakes far too often and so, with the aim of helping SMEs around the word find greater success with their online videos, I’ve compiled a list of 12 common online video marketing mistakes, plus some tips on how to avoid them.

1 – Overly Promotional

Believe it or not, people don’t visit websites to watch ads; they get to see enough of those on TV. While it’s important that a video effectively promotes a product or service, it’s just as important that it’s not overdone. No-one likes a salesperson who gives the hard-sell, so why would anyone want to watch an online video applying the same techniques?

If you’ve ever seen any of those annoying ads on shopping channels, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Similarly, if you’ve ever seen the commercial for Windows 1.0 featuring the current Microsoft CEO; Steve Ballmer, you’ll also have a pretty good idea what I mean.

2 – Not Promotional Enough

Although overly promotional videos are much more common, a lot of videos actually aren’t promotional enough for their intended use.

For example, if you’re producing a video for a landing page, it needs to quickly demonstrate the benefits of the product or service and effectively lead the visitors to make a purchase.

3 – Too Lengthy

The competition to hold the attention of people on the web is intense. If your video is too long, the fact that other more interesting content is just one click away will often lead to visitors navigating away from your content.

4 – Poor Website Placement

Even if you’re working to a tight budget, video production isn’t cheap, so what’s the point in spending a vast sum of money producing a great video that people never see? I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen great videos embedded on website pages that people rarely visit and aren’t well-indexed, such  as most deep-linked pages.

Sure, online videos often have slightly different objectives from a marketing point of view and therefore, some videos might be better suited to pages other than the home page (an informative video on an ‘About Us’ page would be an example) but in most cases, it pays to place your video where most visitors will be looking; on the home page.

5 – No Clear Audience

Trying to appeal to too many demographics is a common mistake, especially with online ads. Any online video needs to be focused and produced in a way that effectively appeals to your target market (like this one).

6 – Boring

Think about it. How many times have you clicked away from a video simply because you became bored? If a video isn’t interesting enough, people aren’t going to watch it. It’s as simple as that.

7 – Information Overload

It’s easy to pile far too much information into a video and this is often one of the major contributing factors leading to boredom.

Keep the message clear and direct, and include only the most important information in your video. Otherwise, even a short video will end up feeling long and boring.

 8 – Too Much Focus On “Going Viral”

Every company seems to love the idea of their video “going viral” but, often, too much emphasis is placed on achieving this, even when it doesn’t make sense commercially.

Hits (or video views) are often used as a metric of success but from a marketing point of view, this is a poor way to define success. A video could rack up millions of hits but only bring in $1,000 of revenue whereas a more targeted video could see just 10,000 hits bring in $20,000 of revenue.

It’s also important that you consider whether or not a viral video would suit your business. For example, a video produced for a small-town plumbing company is unlikely to lead to an influx of business even if people around the globe see it.

9 – Confusing Concept

Not every online video is a straightforward promo; sometimes videos revolve around a certain concept. It’s important that this concept is clear and doesn’t confuse people.

Some of the most successful online ads and viral videos have revolved around a central, simple concept that is effectively linked to a brand. If you’re running a global distribution company, a “cute cat” video is only going to confuse people and most likely won’t promote your company effectively.

10 – Poor Quality Production

Finally, you need to ensure that the video used is of a high quality; both in terms of content and the way it’s presented onscreen.

The quality of the online video production will affect people’s perception of a brand. Poor quality video creates an instant perception of “small time” and does more damage than all the other mistakes combined. That’s true even though sometimes a hefty sum of money has been invested.

Conclusion

The main point to take away from this is that getting real benefit from the use of online video requires a pragmatic, considered, professional approach.

5 Steps To Online Video Success

It doesn’t take much Googling to reach the conclusion that video marketing is expected to be one of the biggest online marketing trends in the coming year.As companies start to realise they need an effective content marketing strategy in order to be successful online, video marketing will become more and more popular. It isn’t only with large businesses: SMEs are also part of this trend.

The problem is that so many business owners are jumping into the world of online video without enough planning – they are simply getting their video produced, uploading it to YouTube, embedding it on their site and expecting magic to happen.

Unfortunately, it really isn’t this simple and without creating an effective strategy, it’s likely that your online video will fail to generate a significant return-on-investment. In my last article, I wrote about 11 common online video mistakes, so to build on that I’ve created a six-step guide that will help you avoid those mistakes.

The Key is to Work Backwards

Rather than heading straight into the production process, you need to start by deciding what you want your video to achieve and then work backwards.

Defining  aspects such as your target audience, end-goals and budget before production is of paramount importance in creating a successful online video.

If you’re running a multi-national corporation with a huge video production budget, doing all this is pretty straightforward: just hire a leading advertising agency to create the concept and then a video production company to make that idea work. Unfortunately, most of us don’t have such a large budget so if you’re looking to do things yourself, follow these steps.

1 – Decide What You Want to Achieve

Most businesses are now viewing online video as something that they simply need to have in order to stay in the game. Many will see their competitors producing online videos and quickly come to the conclusion that they also need to have one – often without stopping to think what the aim of their particular video might be.

Identifying your goals is a hugely important step as failure to do so will make the video production process much harder. Here are a few thing you might want to achieve:

  • increase brand awareness
  • increase landing page conversion rates (this informative video from DropBox does this well)
  • educate potential customers about your business
  • educate potential customers about the market (i.e. why they might need services similar to yours)
  • build trust

You may have slightly different goals to these, but the important thing to remember is that you must identify them as they define the overall style and content of your video. For example, a video that increases brand awareness (like this one) will probably have a different style to a video that increases landing page conversion rates like the one from DropBox.

If you’re struggling to identify your goals, keep it simple. You just need to figure out what is likely to bring the most revenue for your business (as this should be any business’s end goal – online or offline). If you think building trust will lead to an influx of customers, opt for this. If you think you’d have more customers if they understood your business better, opt for an informative video.

2 – Identify the Target Audience

This is a hugely important factor that a lot of businesses (big and small) often forget or get wrong. So many businesses try to make their online videos far too generic and often, this can backfire, leading to a video that doesn’t effectively appeal to any target audience at all.

Often, the target audience for a video is anyone that may be a potential customer, so think about whether these people are:

  • predominantly male or female
  • young or old
  • customers or clients (i.e. general public or business-minded customers)

Your target audience will have a dramatic effect on the content of your video and the style in which it’s produced so it’s important to identify them.

3 – Idea/Concept Creation

Essentially, your video is the vehicle that drives potential customers to the next part of your sales funnel. Creating a successful concept for your video defines whether or not this process happens effectively.

In order to create a successful concept, you need to keep in mind your target audience and end-goals. It’s possible that your online video might have quite an elaborate concept, especially if the idea of the video is to raise brand awareness as, often, these kind of videos are more “ad-like”. It’s also possible that it might be quite straightforward. For example, it might be a simple explainer video with the aim of informing the visitor so that they are more inclined to make a purchase.

A good example of this done correctly is the DollarShaveClub.com viral video (view it here). Not only did they effectively identify their target audience (almost any adult male) but they also kept their goal of raising brand awareness in mind throughout. The video is informative but not boring and the fact that it’s funny led to thousands of people sharing it on social networks, increasing brand awareness even further.

Sure, not every concept will be this elaborate and if you have a particularly low budget, then it shouldn’t be this elaborate either. You may just want a simple video that builds trust, but the point is your concept is defined by your target audience and end-goals.

4 – Production

Only at this stage should you seriously start thinking about who is going to produce your video. Because you now know what you want your video to achieve, who the audience is, what your budget is and hopefully what the concept will be, you can target your search for a video production company more effectively.

Always search for companies that specialize in your particular video style. For example, if you’ve got a viral concept, hire a company that has a proven track record of producing effective viral videos. If you want a corporate style video produced, choose a company that specializes in this style.

No matter what style your video is, you need to ensure that it’s high quality, well-produced, consistent with your brand and not too lengthy (otherwise it may alienate your audience).

5 – Distribution

So, you’ve created your video and it looks great. Now what? Surprisingly, this is where a lot of businesses ‘slip up’ which is unfortunate as they’re often so close to success.

Once you’ve produced your video, you only need one thing: viewers. As a bare minimum, you should embed your video on a relevant page of your website and upload to YouTube as it has a huge audience and it’s free. You should also consider uploading to other video sharing websites such as Vimeo and Dailymotion as this will only increase visibility.

Remember, your video is an embeddable piece of content which makes it extremely shareable. Try to share your video on social networking websites so it gains traction. You can do this by posting a YouTube link on Facebook/Twitter and other social networks. You can share it on your blog and forums by copying and pasting the YouTube embed code.

Try and think outside the box, as the more ground you can gain for your video initially, the more chance it has of being a success (especially if it’s a viral video concept).

Conclusion

By working to the steps outlined in this post, you can ensure that you never lose track of why you’re producing a video in the first place.

This will help you produce something that your target audience will love and that has a much better chance of being successful online.

9 Crazy Freelancing Myths Debunked

A lot of designers have wild misconceptions about freelancing and what it’s actually like. Despite what many people think, it’s not all fun and games and working in your PJs.

At some point in their career, every designer is going to consider the possibility of going freelance. Before you make that decision, there are a few things you need to get straight…

1) You have total freedom

This is a big one. While it may be true that you have the freedom to live where you want, and you can work remotely, there are some restrictions: you have to work where there’s an Internet connection for example. In terms of creative freedom, it will be a long time before your business is successful enough to take on the projects you want. In the beginning, you’ll end up taking on any project that comes across your desk in order to keep the lights on and put food on the table.

2) You set your own schedule

This is rarely true. Some articles on the web have grossly exaggerated the freedom you have when working for yourself. You’ll have to have some sort of set schedule, so clients know when to contact you. Otherwise, they’ll contact you day and night, or they’ll expect you to work day and night. Another issue is consistency: clients want someone they know they can count on to be there, and not someone who flies by the seat of their pants.

3) You work whenever you want to

This definitely comes up as a big “nope.” Just like a regular day job, you’ll have deadlines you need to meet. If you don’t meet those deadlines, you may be paying for the damages out of your own pocket. Your clients will also expect projects to be completed in a reasonable timeframe; I just acquired a new business partner, due to the simple fact that his old partner would take 4-6 weeks to deliver a 5 page website.

4) You get to focus on what you like doing

While you do get to do what you love, you’ll also be doing everything else. You’re going to be the IT person, solving technical difficulties. You’ll also be the bookkeeper, because you’ll have to handle the accounting, budgeting, and paying the bills. You’ll also be the bill collector, chasing after people to pay you. You’ll be the office maintenance person, the janitor, and the secretary scheduling appointments with clients. You’ll even be the tea boy (or girl).

5) Work will come flowing in

It’s a common misconception that once you set up shop, you can just sit back and people will come pouring in looking for your services. While this is a nice thought, it’s merely a pleasant dream. It will take you a while to build a clientele. Simply building a portfolio online and hoping people show up there is wishful thinking.

You’ll have to be your biggest promoter, utilizing every strategy you can come up with to get the word out. You’ll need to learn social media skills, learn where you can advertise for free, and learn how to handle paid advertising that actually works. These same skills will be the ones you’ll be using to promote your clients’ businesses, so it’s a good idea to get good at them.

6) You’ll get to dress in your PJs every day

Not quite. At least, not if you want to actually succeed. You’re going to be meeting with clients, business owners, and business partners. People are actually going to want to meet you face to face before they hire you. You can’t throw away your suit and tie, or dress skirt. You’ll need those for presentations, and to look professional in meetings.

You only get to dress how you want when you’re in production mode at home. Even then, you may find yourself dressing up for work — a lot of freelancers find that changing outfits is a good way to shift mental gears between home-home and work-home.

7) You’ll have more free time

100% wrong. You’ll feel like you don’t have enough time. Between client meetings, bookkeeping, accounting, promoting, and everything else, you’ll be wondering when you’re actually supposed to sit down and do the design work. What’s worse is that even when there is a quiet period, you’ll be working harder to shorten that quiet period.

It can be a bit overwhelming at first; but as you get into the swing of things and develop your own system, that goes away.

8) You don’t have to work with people you don’t like

That’s definitely wishful thinking. You’ll work with people you like, don’t like, despise, hate, cherish, love, adore, admire, and more. You’ll work with just about anyone (or at least you’d better learn to) and you’ll be glad to do it. The flipside of the coin is that you’ll be more willing to do it, because all of the money’s going in your pocket. You aren’t working to make someone else wealthier.

9) Working from home is like working in paradise

This may be true if you’re single, live in a quiet neighborhood or apartment, and you have no pets. In reality, your stress level will go through the roof when working from home, especially if you have a spouse, kids, or pets. I started off working from home, and found I couldn’t concentrate. I was constantly interrupted, the kids needed to tiptoe (which never happened) and every neighbor in my area became barking dog owners all of a sudden.

Many freelancers are surprised how lonely they find the experience of working at home, especially at first, before you establish business connections of your own. Why do you think so many freelancers spend time in coffee shops? Because they’re productive work environments?

Working from home can also put stress on your relationships; and it can be difficult for those close to you to understand when you’re approachable and when you’re off limits. I eventually found an affordable office space, which was a lifesaver for my nerves, productivity, and my sanity.

Conclusion

Despite all of the freelancing myths out there, it can still be a rewarding experience. Working as a freelancer gives you the ability to control your career, potentially leading to the freedom that you’ve always wanted.

It can be tough when starting out, but if you hang in there, you’ll eventually develop your own system, giving you the potential to set your own work hours, determine your own income, and work with the companies you’ve always dreamt of. Understanding the difference between myths and reality will help you to set realistic goals, and to have realistic expectations for your freelance career.