Video SEO Winners & Losers – How Martha Stewart Drinks Your Milkshake

We’ll look at major video publishers and identify whether they use Video XML Sitemaps, Video Schema.org, Transcripts, and self-hosted or 3rd party video players and then use Search Metrics to measure their Universal Results (Video) Visibility.

“Film will only become an art when its materials are as inexpensive as pencil and paper.” – Jean Cocteau,  French Poet, Novelist, Artist & Filmmaker

While perhaps not as inexpensive as pencil and paper, video production and more specifically digital video publishing has become more and more mainstream. Coincidentally, Video Results have been pretty popular since Google rolled out its so-called ‘Universal Results’. A recent study (2012) by Searchmetrics shows that even though Video Results saw a slight decline, they still lead the pack as far as Universal Results go.


Not surprisingly, Youtube.com typically dominates amongst video publishers being featured with the coveted video thumbnail snippet. According to their study YouTube shows up 80% of the time!


So why bother investing in the infrastructure necessary to compete in Video SEO? Well according to a study done by eMarketer earlier this year seems to indicate that fellow marketing professionals find Video to be the second best type of content as far as ROI goes.


If you look through the eMarketer study though you’ll notice that many marketing pros also find Video to be ‘overpriced’ and complex to work with. As such, I wanted to delve a bit deeper and uncover what exactly some of the top video publishers on the web are doing as far as Video SEO, how that translates into Universal Results Visibility (as measured by Searchmetrics), and what steps we can take away from that as far as necessary action items.

Video SEO Best Practices

Best practices are just that, best practices. For the sake of space I won’t get into heavy detail about each of these, but essentially the following are known tactics that increase the chances of getting Video Assets to appear in Google’s Universal Search Results:

  1. Self-hosting the video or using a 3rd Party platform that won’t compete with you for your video assets (think Wistia, Vimeo Pro, Brightcove, etc.)
  2. Embedding the videos using HTML5 Players or Flash players while avoiding iFrame video players
  3. Creating Video XML Sitemaps
  4. Adding Video semantic markup to the video detail pages (Schema.org, RDFa, Microformats)
  5. Add text copy that serves as a description of the video, near where the video lives on the page
  6. Adding Video Transcripts to the video detail page in a way that is crawlable and indexable
  7. Creating video thumbnail images that represent the video
  8. Using Facebook OpenGraph and/or Twitter Video Cards with the video property
  9. Adding Closed Caption or Subtitles with the appropriate SRT file

For a really good comprehensive post breaking down the tactics I’d emplore you to read through Phil Nottingham’s work over at Distilled:

Ok so those are the known factors. What are the facts on the ground? To understand this a bit more, I’ve decided (quite randomly) to inspect the inner workings of the following domains:

  1. hulu.com
  2. huffingtonpost.com
  3. cnn.com
  4. espn.go.com
  5. marthastewart.com

While the list may seem all over the place, there is some method to the madness. For instance they have all been featured on MediaPost’s Top 100 Most Important Online Publishers and the type of content they produce is highly likely to get featured in a Universal Result with video thumbnails – timely videos triggered by QDF (query deserves freshness) or explainer videos triggered by long-tail search queries (‘how do you…’).

So, how did they fare? Let’s see.



It appears as though Hulu.com is making use of the following:

  • Flash player
  • Video RDFa markup
  • Facebook OG Video tag
  • Video description beneath video

It’s tough to say whether a publisher is making use of Video XML Sitemaps. I typically go to their robots.txt to see if they reference a sitemap and in this case Hulu does reference a sitemap_index.xml which contains 4 XML sitemaps within it, each one a massive file referencing their video detail pages, but not Video XML Sitemaps.

Takeaway: It looks like in this case Hulu is relying on plain old XML Sitemaps and traditional internal linking to get video detail pages indexed and Video semantic markup to help search engines know that the page in question has video content. In other words, they’re letting RDFa do the heavy lifting.



Somewhat of a disappointing year for HuffPo video from the looks of the chart – all the more intriguing how they approach Video SEO.

In HuffPo’s case, it looks like there was a transition moving video assets to a video subdomain earlier this year. The video detail pages contain no semantic markup that I could see, nor could I find a Video XML Sitemap (this doesn’t mean they don’t have one, just that I couldn’t find it).

What are they making use of?

  • Flash player

That’s it. No video description, no transcripts, no video title above the video. No social metadata. Nothing – just the video on a video detail page.

Takeaway: Better to be safe than sorry and not just rely on Google or Bing to understand that there is a video on a page. Provide more structured data in the form of semantic markup or Video XML Sitemaps.



So CNN is a bit interesting because they make use of so many different subdomains across the site each representing a different sub-brand. For instance there is money.cnn.com, sportsillustrated.cnn.com, etc.

As such, this may be a limited expose into their inner workings. At a high level though, here is what I could gather about CNN’s video SEO tactics:

  • Flash players
  • Schema.org VideoObject markup
  • Provide Thumbnail URL
  • Provide Video Title & Description (albeit short description)
  • Video XML Sitemap

If CNN is hitting all the major marks on the Best Practices, why the decline in visibility for Universal Video Results?

I don’t have a good answer. It could be that the Searchmetrics Visibility chart for cnn.com does not take into account all of their respective subdomains into the performance chart. It could be that CNN just simply doesn’t provide enough context to the videos in the form of textual copy on the page. Or it could just be the incredibly competitive landscape of Big News and the aforementioned dominance of Youtube.com in Universal Results, even when those YouTube results are pirated versions of major publishers’ video assets.

Takeaway: Take nothing for granted and constantly ask yourself – “am I providing as much detail as possible for search engines to contextually understand my video assets?”



Well, well. WebMD has seen a dramatic lift as of late in their Universal Results visibility. Let’s take a deeper look, shall we?

Similar to CNN, WebMD uses many different subdomains where video assets live. Dissimilar however, is the complete lack of attention paid to Video SEO Best Practices. What are they doing correctly?

  • Using Flash Player
  • Closed Caption

As far as I could tell that’s it in terms of Video optimization. No semantic markup, no transcripts, subtitles, no social metadata or any Video XML sitemaps that I could find.

Takeaway: As a stark contrast to CNN and the level of attention they pay to Video SEO vs. WebMD, this should strengthen the previous thought that it may have everything to do with competition and types of search queries that are triggering video results. A few times I found video thumbnail snippets for WebMD listings but upon clicking onto the page there was no video. Either there is something shady happening or Google is being funky in the way its deciding whether to show a video thumbnail in its SERPs. Still, better to be diligent than hope for luck or shortcuts.



Looks like Ol’ Martha is doing alright for herself.

Sidenote: My poorly kept secret is that I’m a huge Martha Stewart fan. Not of her TV show (I don’t own a TV, and I’m not even sure she has a show, does she?!) but I am a fan of the site. And not for SEO reasons either, I mean I just like the recipes on her site. You see although I love cooking I absolutely suck at baking and her recipes are precise and deliver as promised. So go ahead, laugh, while I enjoy these perfect profiteroles.

But what about her Video SEO? Right, let’s get on to that…

  • Schema.org VideoObject
  • Thumbnail Image provided
  • Flash Player
  • Very clean URLs, 1 step away from the root domain with keywords in URL (not video SEO per se but can’t hurt for helping indexation and boosting relevancy of page content including video asset to match a given search query)

Different subdomains have their own XML Sitemap as well. In Martha’s case she doesn’t need everything because she is going for the big wins.

Takeaway: Focus on big wins if resources demand being choosy. Transcripts and subtitles just won’t move the needle in some competitive niches as much as just getting video detail pages indexed and providing structured data in the form of an XML Sitemap or Schema.org (or any of the other markup vocabularies)

Try to think about how you can begin to incorporate video into your marketing mix if you haven’t already, and look at the big boys (and girls) on the web to see how their internal teams tackle Video SEO.

Share your comments on what tactics work for you and which ones have been a complete waste of time.

responses to “Video SEO Winners & Losers – How Martha Stewart Drinks Your Milkshake”

  1. DanE says:

    This is an amazing analysis and it’s greatly appreciated. Thanks for sharing the quick list of video optimization best practices!