Online videos: Engaging your users

Online video is big business nowadays. Websites dedicated to video like Youtube, BBC iPlayer and 4oD have taken off in a big way, and an increasing number of websites are introducing video content to keep users engaged. This spread of online videos is in no small part due to the ever improving connection speeds – 90% of internet connections in the UK are through broadband (source: UK Statistics Authority). However, if you’re considering introducing video content to your site or looking to make the best of your existing video content, you must put the user experience at the forefront of your proposition. Here are some guidelines to enhance the usability of online video:

It’s a video…

The first step to getting your users to play the video is letting them know that it is in fact a video and not an image or text. Obvious as this may seem, it’s particularly important on websites where users aren’t expecting to see video content. When using a still as a thumbnail, provide a big, clear play button in the middle of it to show that it’s a video. If it’s a link, you can still use a play button in line with the link text to differentiate it from a regular link.

The MSN video site has an unmissable play button in the middle of the still.

The BBC effectively indicates links that lead to videos or audio files.

Descriptive title & summary

Set users’ expectations as to what’s in the video, what its purpose is and why they should spend their time watching it. Convey the essence by providing videos with descriptive titles that contain keywords. You must use relevant keywords which are good for search engine optimisation (SEO) as well as usability, as these are likely to be the terms people are typing in searches. Offer a summary of selling points to persuade users to watch it. This summary should be no more than a couple of lines or bullet points so it’s quick and easy for the eye to scan.

The BBC News website makes good use of descriptive titles and summaries.

Show & tell (thumbnail & length)

Choose a meaningful still that’s enticing and reflective of the content to pique interest and lure users into exploring the video. While it may be easier to let a program auto-generate stills, carefully selected thumbnails persuade better.

The BBC iPlayer shows select stills.

State how long the video is so your users can make an informed decision as to how much time they’re committing. Note that online videos lasting any more than a few minutes are unlikely to succeed, unless they’re immensely popular TV shows or films.

YouTube displays the length of its videos at the outset.

Relevance & context

Ensure any videos are relevant and add value to the existing site content. Bring context to the videos to make them more compelling. Place the video in surroundings of relevant information and/or product promotion. For example a video demonstrating a new gadget and its scale is best placed on the product page.

ZDNet promotes its review videos on the related product page.


It’s essential that the videos are of sufficiently good quality. Remember that all content, no matter what guise it may take, reflects on your brand. And people tend to spread the word about negative experiences faster than positive ones. When it comes to videos, if they’re worth doing at all, they’re worth doing well.


Create an alternative, text version of the video so that the content is accessible not only to the visually impaired but also to the search engines. A transcript also gives you the means to a decent site search including videos, boosting your SEO as well as helping users find what they’re looking for.


After all that hard work creating the video and putting it up on your site, you want people to know about it. Consider syndicating your content to other sites and/or promoting teasers on sites such as YouTube and DailyMotion to increase awareness of your offering.

Internally within your website, promote other related videos and/or products in the same way as an ecommerce site might. Engage in contextual cross-promotion at the end of the video as well as on-page MPUs, offering users options on how to proceed next while increasing awareness of your proposition and/or revenue stream.

In a nutshell

Videos can be powerful but only if they’re made and promoted well, as part of a wider strategy to engage users. Entice your users to explore the videos and remember the videos themselves have to add value and be relevant as well as within context.

This article was written by Mrudula Kodali. Mru’s crazy about usability – so crazy that she works for Webcredible, an industry leading user experience consultancy, helping to make the Internet a better place for everyone. She’s very good at eye tracking and extremely talented at information architecture.