Marketing Digital Report: Moving pictures bring search to life

The growth of online video has led search engines to move to integrate rich media into their offerings. Adam Woods asks digital experts how brands can benefit from this evolution.

Online video is far from new, but when YouTube and Yahoo! both move within weeks of each other to stimulate rich-media advertising activity among brands, it is safe to assume that a sea change is taking place.

In January, Google unveiled a series of homepage ad offers on YouTube, including expandable click-to-play ads, mastheads and 30-second auto-rolls.

Adding to the sense of progression was last month's launch of Yahoo!'s Rich Ads In Search platform, which allows brands to serve video, images and custom search boxes within paid search ads.

The common thread running through both initiatives is that of online media owners using the possibilities of video to draw brands into areas where, traditionally, they might have been slow to invest.

Yahoo! is clearly aiming to hook big brands into paid search, having invited Pepsi, Pedigree and Staples to participate in its pre-launch trials last year. Google, meanwhile, is aiming to make money out of YouTube and give brands safe access to its booming audience.

In some respects, Yahoo!'s development is more significant, as it represents a big step forward for the marriage of video and search. Search ad revenues are holding up well, and developing a platform that builds branding tools into paid links is an appealing prospect for all parties.

'Traditionally, paid search is all about direct response, and the text ads are about calls to action and return on investment,' says Steph Carr, managing director of search marketing consultancy The Search Works. 'But if you add video into that, you are talking about the brand and you are educating, which I think is a really good thing.'

It is true that video, in the right places, is increasingly powerful. Brands such as T-Mobile and Barclaycard have successfully seeded TV creative onto the web, imparting a viral element to an offline idea.

Many others have created online-only properties - Specsavers even spoofed Barclaycard's 'Waterslide' ad - and the rise in our consumption of rich media has led to greater viewing figures.

It would be a stretch of the imagination to suggest that brands are making full use of online video, but they are certainly moving in the right direction.

'There are two reasons why brands are doing more video,' says Andrew Girdwood, head of search at digital agency Bigmouth-media. 'One, it's much cheaper to do now, and two, you get a lot more back from it these days.'

The starting point for the growth of online video was the May 2007 launch of Google's Universal Search, comprising the offer of video and images alongside standard text links. As Girdwood says: 'The first thing brands noticed was that there is a brand impact to be had here.'

Google does not serve video with every search and it continues to test its Universal offering. Likewise, many brands have so far failed to put development of rich-media content at the heart of their online strategy.

'In terms of Universal Search and people making the most of the content they have available today, there is a huge gap,' says Chris Lewis, SEM director at digital agency LBi. '(Brands and producers) need to make sure that when people are searching for their content, they are seeing the official version, rather then the YouTube copy.'

Where video does appear in response to a search, there is evidence that brands putting such content at the heart of their strategy can potentially cut through to an exceptional degree.

Figures released by Searchmetrics show that in January 2009, 30% of all Google search terms delivered a video result among the first 10 links. More significantly, videos on that first page command a click-through rate of 10% to 30% - the same as the second-ranking text link.

'What's going to make it really exciting for brands is that those videos can be of a commercial nature, with the focus on conversion, not unreliable viral gimmicks,' says Kun Dang, head of natural search at integrated digital agency Agenda 21.

Digital agencies' fondness for fun virals is well known, but from a marketer's point of view, tailoring video to search is a very different game.

'To get the most out of video, you need to be very clear about your objectives,' says Matt Roberts, founder of debt advice service TalkAboutDebt. 'Ours is a highly competitive search engine optimisation (SEO) arena and our primary objective is to use video to achieve page-one search rankings.'

Clearly, content has to be in place for such a strategy to have an effect, and video designed to work with search has to address the aim of that search. 'Strategies and creative treatments are very different for viral videos than for video used to achieve universal search rankings,' says Roberts.

So, what of the future of web video and search? Online advertising was hailed as the end of TV long before it actually began to gain traction, and the rise of online video has raised that prospect once again.

Google head of agencies Bruce Daisley recently compared YouTube's 6m-plus daily homepage views to top-performing TV shows. Meanwhile, on YouTube alone, the two most-viewed versions of T-Mobile's 'Life's for sharing' ad - one uploaded by T-Mobile itself, the other not - shared more than 8m views at the time of writing.

Online obviously has complementary advantages besides comparable scale. 'On some video platforms, you have actual play metrics,' says Girdwood. 'If you buy a TV ad, you have no idea whether someone is watching that ad or making a cup of tea.'

There are still issues with online video. Video SEO remains an inexact science, and big brands like certainties. However, once all search is universal and video is a fundamental part of the mix, online video will truly come to life as a format in its own right.

'That is when we are going to start to see a lot more creativity,' says Carr. 'When you get to the point where you can immediately present a video to someone who types in your brand, the opportunities are endless.'

WYNDHAM HOTELS - PUTTING WORDS INTO ACTION

Some people still like to read and some would rather watch, so in these transitional times, a clever brand needs to speak both languages.

In a push for its Ramada Encore chain of business hotels last December, Wyndham Hotels backed a PR campaign focusing on the concept of 'buffling' (to babble incoherently in business jargon) with a pair of comic videos designed to illustrate the point.

As a prop for the story, or as a stand-alone item, the videos found their way onto the websites of various national newspapers, including The Sun, The Daily Telegraph and The Independent. Meanwhile, they also led a life of their own on video-sharing sites, promoted through blogs and Twitter posts.

'On Twitter, you have only got so many characters to get your message through, so we had a lot of people tweeting about it, giving the link and passing it on,' says James Fitzgerald, joint managing director of online PR agency onlinefire, which created the campaign.

Because several newspapers embedded the video, full viewing figures are not available. YouTube, however, recorded more than 10,000 views for the two spots.

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