November 1, 2010, 12:00 AM

And ... Action!

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A provider gives a retailer a few lines of code to embed on the page in which a video will be presented. Not having to download a video on the page improves site performance, and not having to download a player gives shoppers a better video experience. When a shopper hits Play, the retailer's site calls the server of the provider, which then streams the video to the site.

"It all comes down to your choice of player and how well it streams the video," says Comerford of Moosejaw Mountaineering. "Almost everybody is using some form of outside provider for video. It's not like when you are loading a product page you are loading video with it; it's an extra line or two of code, that's not a lot of weight."

How well video streams is indeed key. Providers use varying techniques to ensure good performance, such as employing device-detection technology and videos of varying visual quality.

"Video files can be very large, and it can be tricky to figure out the balance between quality and performance," says Jeff Whatcott, senior vice president of marketing at Brightcove, an online video technology provider. "A retailer uploads to our system the high-definition version of a video and we create six different versions, from a low-bandwidth version to HD quality. Our player detects what the end user's hardware and network connection capabilities are, and we send the resolution that best fits those capabilities."

In another move to ensure solid video performance, Brightcove, like other video providers, works with numerous content delivery networks to store video files as close to the end user as possible. So, for example, a shopper in New York viewing a video is getting the file sent to her browser from a server in New York, not San Francisco, greatly minimizing the time it takes for the file to load.

Click it

Having addressed the performance issues, an increasing number of merchants next want video to produce sales. Many are making that happen by placing Buy Now buttons on videos that transport a shopper from a video on a category page, blog post or social media page to a checkout page.

Airgun Depot features a Buy Now button in the lower right portion of the screen. It cross-sells by floating tabs on the sides of some videos enabling shoppers to buy accessories that match the product being demonstrated.

"A shopper can have an interactive experience rather than just watch a video," says Thomas of Airgun Depot. "We have found that helps increase conversion rates."

Moosejaw Mountaineering is working on "clickability" right now. It plans to add a Buy button and other interactive features to its custom-made videos.

"That is very exciting, especially when a video moves off of your site," Comerford says. "If you can get a video on other sites, like on YouTube or a blog, viewers can click on it and come directly to your site. And we can use videos like this on pages on our site that are not product pages, things like a gear guide."

Video and SEO

When done well, video can do more than boost conversion: it can bump a retailer up in search engine results. Search engines give more weight to pages with video because they see video as an indicator of web site quality. Forrester Research Inc. estimates a company is 50 times more likely to show up on the first page of search engine results if a page has video that is embedded in a search engine-friendly way.

To make video and search engines friends, a retailer must include in and around the space allotted for a video meta-data; in other words, text telling what the video is about. But perhaps more important, a retailer should use search engines' webmaster tools to submit to the engines a video site map, just as they submit a web site map, to ensure search engines properly index the site's video content.

"A video site map is a lot of detailed information, including the video meta-data, that tells the search engine where the video resides and what the video is about," says Craig Wax, CEO of Invodo. "If you don't submit a video map to the search engine, it will have no idea about your videos. Search engine crawlers can't go in and read video like they can read text."

Thomas of Airgun Depot saw for himself how effective a video site map can be. "We did an experiment and put a brand new video up and uploaded the video site map to Google, and two hours later it was near the top of the natural search results first page," he says. "Google Webmaster Tools is a suite of tools for free to web site owners, and part of that is your normal site map so they can index your site more effectively. Now they also have implemented video site maps, and that allows you to very effectively use video to improve organic search results."

Improving search results is just one of the benefits video can offer an e-retailer. Some retailers have shown that video—on e-commerce sites, in e-mails, on a social media page—can be an effective tool to boost conversion and sales. Video is making its mark in web retailing, and merchants should take note of its power.

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