May 31, 2011, 5:24 PM

The Lure of Motion

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Saber rattling

YouTube is a great way to help consumers stumble upon products they might not have known or thought about, says ThinkGeek's Grove. That's particularly true for ThinkGeek because the retailer has unique products like Star Wars light saber Popsicle molds that a consumer could discover while searching for anything Star Wars-related on the site.

But that isn't the only reason the retailer uses YouTube to host its videos. YouTube keeps expenses down, Grove says, because it offers a free way to display video on a retailer's site. "Zero fees are pretty hard to beat," he says. Other video-hosting systems the retailer has considered have started at around $150,000 a year.

YouTube is also flexible, enabling the retailer to quickly embed videos on its site and in e-mails. It's easy to embed the video in either location, he says. After loading the video on YouTube, he clicks the Share button located under the video. He then clicks the Embed button, copies the code that appears in an expanded box below and pastes that coding into the e-mail or web site.

Embedding videos in e-mails boosts consumers' engagement with those messages, says Grove. That's why the retailer has e-mail open rates that Grove says are far higher than the industry average, which is 22.1% according to the most recent report from marketing services firm Epsilon and the Email Experience Council. Grove declined to disclose the specific open rate.

Moreover, videos bolster customer engagement with those e-mails, he says. As more consumers viewed videos featured in its e-mails, ThinkGeek increased the number of videos in the e-mails. The effect continued. That's led to the retailer's e-mails being extremely long. So long, in fact, that if a consumer printed out the retailer's pre-Easter message it would total 12 pages. "We find that when our e-mails get longer the response rate actually goes up," he says. "And that's because people are into what we're doing."

That's because the videos are primarily focused on entertaining shoppers, he says. "Buying ultimately happens as an ancillary benefit of entertaining someone," says Grove.

Putting video links into marketing e-mail also enables ThinkGeek to convey its enthusiasm for its merchandise. "If you buy thousands of units of a product, you have to feel positive about it," Grove says. "Videos allow us to showcase and explain why we're excited about it. And, while we're at, they allow us to show that we're a little crazy and like to have fun."

A natural boost

Featuring videos on its site, as well as on YouTube, is helping consumers find 1800lighting, says Eric Lebersfeld, president and chief marketing officer for Capitol Lighting, which operates the site. In part that's because a February change to Google's formula for determining search rankings emphasized the value of original content, such as videos. Google said at the time the move would affect nearly 12% of searches.

For the change has helped boost the site's organic search traffic 24%, thanks partly to its videos, says Lebersfeld. "Search engine optimization is an art and a science," he says. "The changes were right in line with what we were already doing with video, as well as everything else on our site, from our blog to social media efforts to our on-site articles."

While search engine spiders—the crawlers that comb through the content from web sites and add it to search engine indexes—cannot usually decipher video, works with consulting firm Big Couch Media Group to circumvent that problem. For each of the site's videos, the retailer includes a detailed summary featuring numerous words or phrases that consumers might search for in the video's description. The retailer also tags the videos and adds category descriptions, which provides more content that can be indexed by search engines.

There's also another factor that helps the retailer's videos show up higher in searches on Google, the dominant search engine, which, according to comScore, accounted for 68.2% of searches on web search engines in March. When a retailer like posts a video to YouTube, a Google search result for the product portrayed in the clip will show a thumbnail of the video with a button the consumer can click to launch it. For instance, a Google search on "Fredrick Ramond flair collection" brings up on the first page a link to with a clickable thumbnail of the retailer's video about that lighting line.

The thumbnail images make it more likely a consumer will notice the link, says Georgianne Brown, co-founder and managing partner of Big Couch. "It draws people's attention," she says.

Off-site videos are just that, about attracting consumers' attention, says Lebersfeld. "It's not about people coming to you," he says. "It can't be about that. You have to give consumers something to engage with."

The retailer has found that if a consumer watches a video, she is more likely to convert, says Lebersfeld. While that result may be skewed because consumers serious about making a purchase may be more likely than others to devote the time to watch the video, it demonstrates the power of video, he says. As the number of consumers searching for, and watching, videos continues to increase, retailers won't be able to ignore video's unique appeal, or YouTube's position as the superstar of web video sites.

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