Clear and Compelling Video Thumbnails Can Boost SEO Rankings

Jan 27, 2012 1:23 AM  By

It hasn’t been easy for online merchants to maintain SEO rankings on Google in recent months, thanks to Google’s ongoing updates. No doubt you’re looking for any edge you can get in order to get highly ranked links.

Google has opened the door to one method for improving search rankings: a higher profile for videos, and as of late 2011, Google started showcasing larger video thumbnail images.

In the aftermath of Panda, many online merchants found that their rankings diminished dramatically. Video has offered one way for site owners to recoup some of these SEO losses: Google appears to be giving more prominence to video search results, an added boost for retailers whose sites feature videos.

As we noticed last summer, online retailers can boost SEO through video: online wholesaler Dollar Days created videos and submitted a sitemap following the Google Panda changes, and saw its videos appear on the first page of Google search results, immediately improving both viewing and conversion rates.

Another change you can use to your advantage is that Google recently increased the size of the video thumbnail images that appear within natural search results, making them more noticeable and appealing to people conducting searches.

So now, not only do your videos help boost your rankings, but the larger thumbnails should also generate higher click-throughs (although we don’t have specific numbers to support this, most of our retail clients give anecdotal evidence that this is true).

However, you need to pay special attention to creating, tagging, and submitting thumbnail images that show off your videos to best advantage – otherwise, you’re leaving it to Google’s random selection, and you could end up losing the value of your videos if the thumbnail image that Google chooses doesn’t show off your product in the best way.

You can see the placement given to videos by looking at a search result listing for catalog company Miles Kimball. A search for “solid colored braided chair pads” shows the Miles Kimball product about halfway down the first page of results, complete with a thumbnail image and video “play” button. The video-related search results typically appear as one of the first two or three results in the “shopping” section of combined search results on Google.

While you can’t entirely control where or how your product video will turn up in a Google search, you can make sure that the thumbnail image you make available to Google will highlight your product as effectively as possible. In fact, you should make it a regular practice to include a thumbnail image when you create a video sitemap for Google. For guidelines on including thumbnail images in the video sitemap, click here.

Some tips for creating effective video thumbnail images:

Make sure they’re in focus
This may sound obvious, but images taken from video can be blurry. Choose from only sharpest stills you can gather. If the image is blurry it loses its appeal.

Insert marketing messages
NFLShop.com adds text to its videos to deliver messages about product quality and exclusivity, and chooses thumbnails that illustrate these messages. For instance, the thumbnail for a “Faulk Jersey” includes the message “Order Today.” (On the other hand, don’t let messages take over space that you need for the product image, which is the most important factor in a video thumbnail.)

Choose a large, well-centered product image
A thumbnail is still a thumbnail, after all. Counteract the small size of the image by selecting a product shot – or a picture of someone using the product – that fills as much of the limited space as possible, and is properly centered so that it’s easy for the viewer to understand what it is. The thumbnail images for “drill pumps at the ToolKing.com website leave viewers in no doubt as to what the product is.

Test variations
Try out two or three thumbnail options to see which ones drive the highest click-through rates. You may find out that thumbnails featuring people perform better than straight product shots, or that a certain angle on a product draws more click-throughs than images from other vantage points.

Given Google’s affection for video, it makes sense to take advantage (and take control) of the ability to showcase your products as professionally as you can. Take the time to deliver thumbnails that are truly representative of your products – the effort will pay off in click-throughs and conversions.

Dr. Melody King is vice president of marketing at Treepodia.