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Video Backgrounds and SEO

Over the last few years, using video instead of a large static image is an increasingly popular design element. So what exactly is the impact of video backgrounds and SEO? Here are a few considerations when using video for your website’s background image.

Design and User Experience

When done well, background video can differentiate a site, make it feel more dynamic and add a dimension that a static image simply cannot. However, if implemented poorly, it could detract from the user experience.

As an example, Richard Cardona, who owns Hypno Design, Inc. (a Philadelphia area web design firm) feels background videos are most effective when subtle and of course, relevant to the site. For example a sleeping dog which shows slight movement or perhaps a slow moving sky.

An example of video being less effective would be on a site that is heavy on content and requires concentration. Visitors to a news site, for example, might find a video background more of a distraction than an enhancement.

Hendrik-Jan Francke from Bright Orange Thread wrote an article covering video backgrounds and when NOT to use them, it’s worth reading.

But you say, I thought this article was about SEO – why all the design talk? Well, in my opinion, search engines like Google consider user metrics a factor in organic rankings. Strong user metrics can positively influence rankings – not to mention, it’s enhancing the user experience!

Background Video and SEO – Page Load Speed

Page Load Speed and Background VideoFirst, let’s make the assumption that, in search results, Google demotes websites that are very slow to load. Although recently, Barry Schwartz from Search Engine Roundtable posted an article where John Mueller suggested Google is less concerned about page load speed.

For the purpose of this article, let’s presume faster sites are better for search engines and users.

I’ll start by saying there are many factors that can affect how a video or image file loads, but all things being equal, it’s fair to say a video file takes longer to load than a static image. Therefore, running a background video on your site will, to some degree, increase the load time of the page. Keep in mind 40% of visitors abandon a site if it takes more than 3 seconds to load.

If you are convinced you want a video background, despite its impact on load speed, consider running your finished site through a tool like Pingdom to identify ways to improve your page load speed.

Technical Challenge #2 Impacting SEO – Responsive Design and Mobile Devices

Video on mobile devices presents its own set of challenges…Background Video and Mobile Experience

Load speed is even more important on a mobile device as mobile users typically expect a fast response. Since video is a larger file size, it will load more slowly.

iOS and some other operating systems do not support video auto play, so consider that if your background video plays automatically.

And then there is the issue of responsive design. To do this correctly, you will need someone who can write the correct scripts so the aspect ratio of the video responds to the device’s screen size.

For these reasons, I do not think video backgrounds typically make a good fit for mobile devices. Again, if you are set on a video background, consider serving a static image to mobile devices. Adding a static image also allows you to add an alt tag which is beneficial for SEO. Save your mobile background for desktops and tablets.

Conclusion

There is no doubt that video backgrounds are becoming more popular as design elements. And while there is no right or wrong answer to how they should be used, it’s important to be aware of what a video background will do.

You can expect your video background to:

  1. Increase load time versus a static image
  2. Complicate developing responsive design
  3. Prevent auto play on iOS
  4. Impact user experience

How you execute #4 is perhaps the most important piece because the impact could be positive or negative. If the use of a video background really enhances the user experience (UX), and by really I mean your analytic’s metrics improve, then it might make sense. If the video background is a distraction, reduces load time and creates mobile compatibility issues, you would be better off with a static image.

So if you choose to run a video background, make it great from a user perspective and consider serving a static image to your mobile users.

Written by Duncan Lauder, president of Marketing Practicality, LLC.

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