A video on my YouTube channel recently passed half a million views, in just over a year since I put it up. By viral video standards, that’s not going to make any top ten lists, but it is impressive for a few reasons.
The first reason is the video in question is unoriginal. In fact, it’s a copy of a widely available video that was shown on the news hundreds of times back in 2002 and 2003. Because it was a news event, there are many, many copies of this video all over YouTube, and copies of it exist on just about every other major video site.
The second reason is my YouTube channel (of which I bet many of you weren’t aware) has very few subscribers and only a few thousand views of other videos. So it had no built-in audience to create those views.
The third reason it’s interesting (and no doubt the source of many of the views) is my copy of this video is the now the number one hit on Google for many relevant searches. In just a year I managed to usurp all those other copies in several search engines.
So what was the video? And how did I do it? The secret is metadata. Read on.
The video is the one embedded below. Most skeptics will probably recognize it.
It’s the famous “Buzz Aldrin punch” video. In the fall of 2012 the tenth anniversary of this incident was coming up, and I wanted to link to it for my daily Skeptic History post. But when I searched on YouTube, most copies of the video had misleading titles, or referred to conspiracy theories in the description, or had other flaws. I didn’t want any confusion as to what I was saying about this incident, so I didn’t want to link to those copies. (As I’ve written many times including recently, skeptics need to be careful how they link both on the web and on social media).
One of the flawed copies of the video had the “remix this video” button on YouTube enabled below it, which permits you to create your own version. I’m not absolutely sure that channel had permission to do that with this video, but I figured I’d try this out as an experiment. What the heck, if the video gets taken down, by then the anniversary tweet would be long forgotten. (That bet has turned out pretty well so far).
Simply creating a modified video isn’t enough, I figured I would add something to make it better. The key to that is in all those fields below the video when you hit the edit. Here’s the basic information for my copy of this video, just as I see it when I hit the edit button:
All the fields marked with arrows are good opportunities to make your video more visible to search engines. The title should describe the content and include relevant keywords – in this case “Buzz Aldrin” and “punch” among others. The description lets you elaborate on that, and include more keywords that you couldn’t fit in the title. Don’t forget to link back to your own website as I advised last week, and as you can see above. And finally the tags area lets you mark up topics that might help YouTube match this video with other related videos, as well as keywords that you couldn’t work into the description.
Also don’t forget the Advanced Settings tab:
Allowing comments can also be a good way to generate activity (and text) below your video – assuming you want to deal with the inevitable idiocy. I try to moderate the comments on my videos, and admittedly it can be tedious.
But the two advanced features I really want to point out are on the right. The location and date are particularly useful for a news-related video like this one. Setting the location can cause your video to automatically appear in mapping programs at the relevant location (as I described in my presentation way back at TAM6). And filling out as many fields as possible is certainly going to help provide things for search engines to match.
But there’s one additional place you can add metadata to your video that many publishers ignore.
Captioning your videos makes them more accessible to those who cannot hear or have trouble understanding the soundtrack. Search engines will also index videos based on the closed captions that are supplied with them. This can be a huge advantage to your video if it has extensive dialog or narration.
But relying on YouTube’s automatic captioning is not ideal – because those algorithmically-created captions are so hilariously bad they’ve inspired their own Internet meme. So if you are willing to take the time to create your own captions, you can give your video a huge advantage.
I knew correctly written captions would add much to this video. So I used Amara.org to create captions for it – you can see the video embedded in their interface where I did it and explore the features they offer. Amara provides a very easy-to-use web interface to let you type in captions and synchronize them to the video. They also facilitate translating the captions into other languages. It is a bit of work, but it can be well worth it. Amara provides a video tutorial right on their home page.
Once you’ve created the captions on Amara, you can use their special embedding code to display them synchronized to the video on your site. It also allows other people to help with the captions, such as with translating them to another language.
But you can also download the finished captions as a file from Amara and upload them into YouTube itself. That’s what I did. That way they attach directly to the original video in all playback situations, such as on mobile devices and so on. (Amara’s special embed only works on the web).
As I write this, Amara is beta testing a new feature that makes that even easier. The new feature allows you to link your Amara account to YouTube for direct upload. If you are willing to let the Amara community create captions for your videos, this could be an awesome way to apply the power of crowdsourcing to captioning and translating the videos in your channel. (Or you can recruit your own helpers, and direct them to Amara to log in and do the work).
Another interesting recent wrinkle in the captioning area occurred earlier this month. The competing video site Vimeo just enabled captioning on their content as well. I haven’t experimented with this yet, but if you like Vimeo’s alternative to YouTube this is a huge step to making videos more accessible to all, regardless of hearing ability, language and so on.
I’m not recommending here that you make a habit of remixing videos for views – that just happens to be how I created this one. Creating and posting your own unique content is a much better strategy.
But I wrote this because I believe it was the combination of good metadata (title, description, tags) as well as captions, that allowed this copy of an oft-copied video to achieve a very high search engine placement and reach a large audience. It may not guarantee a half million views, but it will at least give your content some visibility.
When you post a YouTube (or Vimeo, or any other online media content) with an empty description, a poorly chosen title and no captions – you are passing up a huge opportunity. Making that extra effort to add metadata to your content reaps huge search engine benefits.
Oh, and Happy Birthday to Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin who turns 84 today!
Update July 17, 2014: The video got a huge surge of views this week, here’s the realtime stats from Google’s cool new YouTube Creator Studio iOS app (which is also available for Android of course). As you can see the video has been viewed over 72,000 times in the last two days, for a total of over 766,000 views as I write this.
This is of course due to it being the 45th anniversary of Apollo 11, so several sites linked to this video. And how did they choose this video to link? Google results, of course. The meta-data put this content in the right place at the right time once again.
Update July 21, 2014: Over the weekend the views on this video nearly doubled, it now has 1.3 million views – the highest view count on any copy of this video I can find.