Understanding video in search
If you host or embed video on your website, then you have the opportunity to rank those videos and get the benefit of the content contained within them. If you aren’t using video on your site, then you should be!
Video results have evolved, along with Google’s ability to understand and index their content. Google is getting better at understanding the content contained within rich media and video is no different.
As Google becomes better at understanding video, it becomes a more important part of the search results. Google is now even looking at the visual content to identify ‘key moments’. So let’s take a look at Google’s video optimisation guidelines.
Google needs to be able to find and index videos in order to include them. Videos should be relatively easy to find for Google. A really good place to start is by checking the ‘Enhancements’ tab within Google Search Console.
This will only show where these are detected, so if you are not using any schema or detectable markup on your site, this will be missing from GSC. If this is the case it either means you aren’t currently using video on site, or Google is unable to detect it.
Making sure that pages where videos are embedded can be indexed is part of your site's broader SEO. But you can pay special attention to video pages via a video sitemap. This tells Google exactly where your video content is and ensures it’s getting found.
Google is only interested in videos which are part of the main content of the page. For example if you had a Popular Stories section with a video in it in the sidebar, that shouldn’t be included. Google has a great guide on video sitemaps, which you can find here:
Here are the main points from it:
- Don't list videos that are unrelated to the host page. For example, if the video is a small addendum to the page, or unrelated to the main text content.
- Each entry in a video sitemap includes a set of required, recommended, or optional values that you supply. Recommended and optional values provide useful metadata that can enhance your video results and improve Google's ability to include your video in search results. Refer to the list of sitemap tag definitions.
- Google might use text on the video landing page rather than the text you supply in your sitemap if the page text is deemed more useful than the information in the sitemap.
- Google can't guarantee when or if your videos will be indexed, as Google relies on complex indexing algorithms.
- If Google can't discover video content at the URL you provide, the sitemap entry is ignored.
- Each sitemap file that you provide must have no more than 50,000 URL elements. If you have more than 50,000 videos, you can submit multiple sitemaps and a sitemap index file. You can't nest sitemap index files. Keep in mind that if you are adding optional tags, you may reach the 50MB uncompressed limit before you reach the 50,000 video limit.
- Google must be able to access the source file or player (that is, the file or player can't be blocked by robots.txt, require a login, or be otherwise inaccessible to Googlebot). Metafiles that require a download of the source via streaming protocols are not supported.
- All files must be accessible to Googlebot. If you want to prevent spammers from accessing your video content at the <player_loc> or <content_loc> URLs, verify that any bots accessing your server are really Googlebot.
- Make sure that your robots.txt file isn't blocking any of the items (including the host page URL, the video URL, and the thumbnail URL) included in each sitemap entry. More information about robots.txt.
- Google verifies that the information you provide for each video matches what is on the site. If not, your video might not be indexed.
- You can specify pages from different sites in one sitemap. All sites, including the one containing your sitemap, must be verified in Search Console. More information about managing sitemaps for multiple sites.
Displaying your video
Google needs three main things to be able to index and display your video. These are:
1. A thumbnail
Google states that this is for indexing, but think of it in terms of what gets displayed within the search results. Google wants you to host a thumbnail image on a static non-expiring URL which it can crawl and index.
Google’s advice here is a little unclear, what they say is:
“To be eligible to appear in Google video features, a video must have a valid thumbnail image”
“You can allow Google to generate a thumbnail, or provide one in one of the supported ways”
What they mean by this is that if you don’t provide a thumbnail, but you have taken the proper steps to allow video indexing, they will be able to generate one for you.
They list these steps as the following:
- If you're using the <video> HTML tag, specify the poster attribute.
- In a video sitemap, specify the <video:thumbnail_loc> tag.
- In structured data, specify the thumbnailUrl property.
- If you allow Google to fetch your video content files, Google can generate a thumbnail for you.
We’ll loop back to that last point in a bit. But my recommendation is to use a proper thumbnail at a dedicated URL and flag that via the thumbnailUrl schema.
2. To understand your video content
Did I mention Google is getting better at understanding media content? Well Google isn’t just happy with you telling them what that media is about any more. They want to be able to see it for themselves.
This is why they require that any video content is hosted on a dedicated, accessible, static URL and in a format they can understand such as:
3GP, 3G2, ASF, AVI, DivX, M2V, M3U, M3U8, M4V, MKV, MOV, MP4, MPEG, OGV, QVT, RAM, RM, VOB, WebM, WMV, XAP.
3. For the video to be properly marked up
Using schema you can outline to Google the main pieces of information about the video. There is a lot of available schema and there are almost endless ways to mark up a piece of content with a multitude of different tags available.
Focusing on the most important schema for a video:
name: The title of the video, so something succint and descriptive.
description: Gives a brief synopsis of the video content.
uploadDate: This uses the standard schema date object, so needs to be given in ISO 8601 date format.
duration: Given in seconds, using the ISO 8601 date format.
contentUrl: As previously mentioned, this is the static URL the video is hosted on.
thumbnailUrl: The URL the thumbnail can be found on.
I strongly recommend checking out Google's full guidance on Video Schema where they break down the various implementations with examples:
You can find the full scope of the videoObject schema here:
Google is doing something really cool with video in the search results these days. Here's an explainer video from them:
Insights allow for an interactive search result where the user can watch the content or skip to certain parts of it. These will only show where the video forms the main part of the page content. Think of it like a YouTube video's page. So getitng these working for your videos only requires a couple of additional tweaks in addition to what we've already covered:
- If your video is hosted on your web page, there are two ways that you can enable key moments:
Clipstructured data: Specify the exact start and end point to each segment, and what label to display for each segment.
SeekToActionstructured data: Tell Google where timestamps typically go in your URL structure, so that Google can automatically identify key moments and link users to those points within the video.
- If your video is hosted on YouTube, you can specify the exact timestamps and labels in the video description on YouTube. Check out the best practices for marking timestamps in YouTube descriptions.
In case you're wondering, Google identifies 'key moments' through a combination of reading the video text, listening to the audio, and now they are even beginning to understand the visual images.
Ultimately, the decision to do this work is going to come down to how easy it is to implement these changes on your site and how important video traffic is to you. Where you are already using schema, or have a CMS which allows for a great deal of flexibility such as Wordpress, this is likely going to be a no-brainer. For others though, it might be worth considering the cost-benefit of implementing these sorts of changes.
But one thing is certain, Google is getting better at understanding video content and the better they get, the more they are going to push it into the search results.