Online videos: Engaging your users

  • 29 July 2019

Online video is big business nowadays.

Websites dedicated to video like Youtube and Vimeo have taken off in a big way. If you're considering introducing video content to your website 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:

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.

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. 

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.


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 hearing impaired users but also 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 website, you want people to know about it. Consider promoting teasers on sites such as YouTube, Facebook and Instagram to increase awareness.

Internally within your website, promote other related videos and/or products in the same way as a shopping website might. 

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.

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