Does YouTube cannibalize product page SEO?


To YouTube or NOT to YouTube, that is the question for e-retailers pushing product videos. Is posting product videos up on YouTube complimentary or counterproductive to their own business goals? ReelSEO’s Mark Robertson shares his thoughts about the “YouTube cannibalization theory,” and offers some valuable tips for “hosted and posted” video strategies.

About ReelSEO’s Mark Robertson

Mark Robertson is the Publisher of ReelSEO, a news and commentary site dedicated to covering the business and technology of online video since 2007. Mark was also one of the featured speakers presenting at this year’s Video Commerce Summit in Seattle, hosted by LiveClicker. (Watch Mark’s 2010 Video Commerce Summit presentation on SlideShare.) The following is an edited transcript of our phone interview with Mark.

What is the YouTube cannibalization theory?

Mark: Some e-commerce retailers are hesitant to put videos about their products or their product videos on YouTube, for fear of YouTube dominating their own site search engine results pages. There’s the big concern that if they put videos of their own products up on YouTube, then the Google listing for that YouTube video is going to outrank their video on their own website; that’s because YouTube is such a large and popular site, has such a high Google page rank, and has been viewed as getting preferential treatment in Google’s search results. (Google is the parent company of YouTube.) So to these e-commerce retailers, the thought of putting product specific videos on YouTube, as one might also do on product pages on their e-commerce site, would be potentially damaging to their site’s own traffic performance, and ultimately undermine their business.

So do you buy into this theory?

Mark: Part of my hesitation to buy into it has to do with my experience working at a newspaper company, including for 3 years as the company’s Director of National and Local Search. Over there, we were constantly concerned about cannibalization. We had concerns like, what if we made an Internet website where people could actually search through our classified ads, but then nix doing it because what if people then would no longer buy our [print] newspaper? So we didn’t do that; and sure enough, other sites cannibalized it.

So using that analogy with YouTube, you appear to be saying that by not doing it, not optimizing your videos for YouTube, you’re leaving yourself open to your competitors to take over the traffic. Well, let’s talk specifically about e-commerce. What do you tell retailers who have this YouTube cannibalization theory on their brain?

Mark: At ReelSEO, we’ve followed trends with video in e-commerce for nearly 4 years now. My own research has shown to me that YouTube doesn’t necessarily lend itself well to product-specific videos, in the sense that I don’t believe the audiences are going to YouTube on a large scale and searching for specific products to find video reviews of. (At least, not yet.) So, you’re not likely to get as huge bang out of product-specific videos on YouTube, anyway.

Ultimately, the retailer should focus first on putting their videos – especially product page videos – on their own website and optimizing those videos; that’s in regards to SEO and overall visibility effort. It certainly is to the e-commerce retailer’s benefit when, someone is doing a search, they find video about a product for that business to end up on their own business website and not on YouTube.

So I understand the hesitancy retailers have, but I really believe that there isn’t any harm in putting up videos in both places. In fact, I think there’s somewhat of an advantage to doing so.

So what you’re basically saying is, Any e-commerce retailer with video should optimizing the video that they have on their own product pages first and foremost, and optimize videos on YouTube, afterwards?

Mark: Yes, I’ve found that to be much more likely to yield huge benefits, and will also help mitigate some of the potential out-rankings that YouTube videos could have on your own website.

ReelSEO's Mark Robertson speaking at the 2010 Video Commerce Summit, sponsored by Liveclicker

Your presentation at the Video Commerce consortium in Seattle kind of summed this up, about a “hosted with posted” video strategy. It’s not a “versus” issue like some have made it out to be. We saw that with examples from some of the other retail presenters who featured their own YouTube channels; they didn’t seem look at YouTube as cannibalizing.

Here’s what I think our audience would like to know: there are instances where you can have two image thumbnails of your same video appear in Google SERPs. For example, one image thumbnail can link to your own site or other hosted video space, and one can link to YouTube. Instead of cannibalization per se, could this be instead looked at as friendly duplication?  Is this type of multiple listings for the same video actually complementary for e-commerce?

Mark: Certainly. Now e-retailers can (and probably should) have a different marketing strategy with their YouTube channel than videos on their website; but having product videos in both areas should be looked at as an opportunity for e-commerce retailers, as opposed to the YouTube cannibalization theory (which treats it as a problem). There’s an increasing number of searches where you could do a search for a video or product on Google web search and a universal search box pops up showing two identical videos – One being on the e-commerce retailer’s website and the other being on YouTube.

But those making the cannibalization argument might still say, why give your audience one more choice to make? In the Google SERPs, wouldn’t having a YouTube video thumbnail alongside their website video thumbnail, just distract potential customers away from what they’re really trying to persuade them to do?

Mark: Obviously, e-retailers would prefer someone to click on the video going to their own website over somewhere else; and not having any videos on YouTube (or anywhere else) can help eliminate that problem. Potentially that’s where those that argue against cannibalization might find some evidence there. But I still recommend that e-retailers should do both. Having both videos on the same search engine results page does provide more visibility to your brand in particular and potentially your product.

But more visibility doesn’t always equate to more sales. If YouTube so incredibly big, how do you explain to e-retailers that the bigger fish (that is YouTube), won’t outrank and eat the little fish, and the not-so-big fish?

It’s not necessarily true that YouTube will outrank an e-retailer website. Let’s take the example of the popular e-retailer, Zappos, which has it’s own Zappos YouTube channel. Google understands that Zappos is very topically relevant to the term shoes; and knows semantically all sorts of different shoes and brands and makes; and typically Zappos will show up quite high in organic search rankings for shoe related searches. If Zappos were to optimize the videos on their website with that same meta data on YouTube, more than likely, even if their product page has a lower page rank than the YouTube website, their video should show up higher than the YouTube video because their site is so relevant to shoes. There’s where in e-Commerce, Google makes search results, especially with video listings, very verticalized.

So if it’s not cannibalization happening here, then it’s augmentation. But the only way you’re going to know that for sure is to do performance testing. E-retailers should focus on post-click-through metrics, or whatever performance measurement metric that’s further along the visitor funnel. They could simply set up their own analytics and use the analytics data from YouTube, and do a comparison report with the performance analytics of their self-hosted, on-site video. Basicially, you still should be doing every type of testing to see how your video is performing wherever it originates, YouTube or no YouTube.

Mark: Yes, and YouTube already it’s own analytics for videos hosted by them, called YouTube Insights. You can see exactly where people are discovering your videos, what their engagement levels are, audience demographics, and how popular those videos are relative to those of other uploaders.

So how would you summarize what you want to get across to e-commerce vendors about YouTube and the so-called cannibalization theory?

Mark: I think businesses should be using YouTube to compliment their the first and foremost priority – video on their own website. Also, they should really think about what is their YouTube strategy.

And that may not be so much as in necessarily duplicating product videos, but hosting some unique content on there, like the earlier example you gave of Zappos. They and other large retailers have really being doing a good amount of that, it seems.

Mark: Yes. For e-commerce and e-retailers, I think the opportunity with YouTube really lies more with brand awareness. So I would tell all the e-commerce vendors simply this: If and once you’ve already optimized the videos on your own website (and not before then), you should then leverage YouTube for brand awareness, and put your product videos on YouTube as well.

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