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Optimize for organic Views, pay if you must

I once ran a large video ad campaign for an agriculture company, where the goal was ‘completed views’ of the 15-second ad. A brisk glance at the results showed a resounding success! But once I looked deeper, I saw a very different story…

The video had been served through a YouTube channel for toddlers. We paid to reach their parents (our intended audience) but instead reached kids watching fuzzy dinosaurs on their parents’ YouTube account. Those completed views didn’t come from a captivated audience. They were too young to know how to skip the ad.

Side note: YouTube has improved their system, but this whack-a-mole game statistically can’t end.

Objective reached!

On a surface level, we reached our goal. But unless those toddlers gave us a strong word of mouth, it’s unlikely that campaign garnered the results we were hoping for. You’ve probably never targeted a water drainage system to a 3-year-old. But if your business is investing in video marketing (and by now, you really should be), then one of the biggest decisions you’ll make is deciding how you value ‘views’.

Pushing a video through a paid campaign and watching the views counter shoot to the moon can feel good. Unfortunately, that feeling is sometimes the only return you’ll see on your investment. Even worse is creating a thoughtful video that could earn organic traffic and tucking it away in the About Us page of your website, hidden below the fold, waiting for someone, anyone, to find it.

So what’s the solution? How do you make sure you’re focusing on views that matter and give your video the best chance at success?  I always go back to the same mantra.

“Optimize for organic. Pay if you must.”

Advertisers talk about dwindling attention spans when they suggest an attention-grabbing paid campaign, but these self-promotions don’t mention the other side of the equation — the tendency of marketers to push paid advertising rather than invest the time to meaningfully reach the audience they’ve already earned. These folks are already invested in your business. If you create something of value for them, and ensure it’s easy to find, they’ll come to you — and be happier for it.

Earn your views

When we talk about ‘organic’, we’re really talking about ‘earned.’ Investing in quality content and a thoughtful strategy for an earned audience builds trust over time and leads to real returns. After all, nine times out of ten it is the organic audience that drives the lion’s share of valuable conversions, or meaningful interactions, with your business.

With that in mind, your primary focus should start with effective storytelling techniques that work beyond the digital ad framework. Aim to reach business objectives through human connection (businesses are collections of humans) to kindle an emotional response within your defined audience. This will drive action. Knowing the objective and audience is the starting point in developing the story worth telling, and conveniently this is also the starting point when developing an organic distribution strategy.

How to optimize for organic

Failing to optimize first for ‘earned’ viewership is like planting a tree without thinking first to set it near sunlight and a water source, but still expecting it to grow because that’s what you want it to do.

Answer these questions to help identify important distribution methods that will earn views:

  1. Where will the video live out its days? Can we surrounded it with complementary resources and copy that will work in tandem to drive results?
  2. Is your video accessible? Does the intended audience require accessibility options to be available for proper viewing? Some provinces demand it from certain businesses.
  3. Have you done keyword research, or know what keywords people will use to get to your content? If you know your keywords, you can format your landing page or social post appropriately.
  4. Is the or call-to-action within reach of the video so that the next step is clear and concise?
  5. Are modern SEO elements in place? Video SEO methods like structured data markup, transcripts, subtitles and captions will help you rank organically in search.
  6. Can we map out the user flow within your buyer’s journey? What comes before and after a video view can reveal waypoints for future videos that support your existing video and fill in gaps. Analytics data can help with this.
  7. On what secondary, tertiary and offline platforms will the video play? Answering this question will help outline the different video formats, sizes and lengths that perform better on those individual platforms.
  8. Should we develop supporting assets like thumbnails or looping GIFs that support lead-ins to the main video? In my experience, an email newsletter linking to a video will get far more click-throughs when using animated GIFs compared to static thumbnails.

When should you pay?

Before I continue chipping away at the $400 billion a year digital ad industry, let’s talk about situations when paying for views can offer great value (when coupled with a robust campaign strategy).

Paid views seem cheap and are often measured in cents; the wide net they throw includes everyone in your targeted audience with access to the internet. For brand awareness videos (and consumer-facing brands) this strategy offers unprecedented reach, leveraging the power of large numbers. This scale almost guarantees a positive return when the value of each interaction is factored positively against the overall cost to get that interaction.

Small business, retail and consumer product categories see incredible benefits using video to generate a lot of business they wouldn’t see otherwise. When I get to see a product solving my problem in 15 seconds or less with an accompanying ‘Buy Now’ button, I can’t reach for my credit card fast enough. Because of this, video advertising has created entire businesses. This power may not fully transfer to your ball bearing or widget manufacturing business, but the point remains that video is a powerful profit generator and can be supercharged with a paid campaign.

I am also taken by surprise by the new and innovative ways YouTube and Facebook serve video ads, like video ad sequencing. Video sequencing allows us to tell your product or brand story by showing potential customers a series of videos in the order that we define. I have yet to see a case study where this tool was fully leveraged, but it is brilliant and has the potential for storytelling and incredible creativity. See this video produced by YouTube about the feature:

Promoting your content to your followers on social networks is my favourite form of paid promotion because it surfaces your content to people who have already signalled some sort of interest or investment in your company’s page. Often you get the best interactions and engagements on these posts. This used to happen organically, but I’m not going to criticize these networks for finding easy profits.

Understand your views

Simply put, views are only as valuable as what comes after. If you ultimately want to foster a strong relationship with a customer that’s loyal and engaged, then paying for a wide spread of ad interruptions probably isn’t your best way forward. Elevate your existing audience and earn their attention before hitting that ‘easy’ button.

Jason Krahn is Tripwire’s Digital Strategy Manager