I've been a full time filmmaker since the beginning of 2012, but even before that I've been working on YouTube since 2007 and video editing since 2004. Eating & breathing video for well over a decade can sometimes make me forget what it's like to be new to the world of video. So, I thought it may be helpful for those who don't really care to know everything all at once to begin with something simple, like just getting a rundown of the various places you can put your videos online.
This isn't a ranking, just a way to get familiar with the main players. The pros, cons, the whys and common uses of the notable online video websites. Let us begin!
We all know YouTube is the place we all go to when we want to find a video, no matter the type of video. Since YouTube is owned by Google it makes sense that YouTube videos display in the Google search results. If you have any important videos you want to be found by casual viewers then you should be using YouTube.
YouTube is free. No matter how many videos you want to upload you don't have to worry about being charged for the upload or the bandwidth when the video gets viewed.
Great playback quality. There is rarely any buffering of the video or site downtime, it's a very reliable site.
Huge community and traffic. If you make quality content then over time you'll likely find an audience. The community on YouTube is well-versed in subscribing, liking, and sharing, so there's not usually a lot of handholding to do with your audience.
Lots of free tools. There are tons of free tools to help you manage your YouTube account, both within YouTube itself and also as part of the internet community. For instance, I like to use VidIQ to help me with YouTube SEO.
Ads. It's easy to qualify as a partner and start running ads over your content.
Embedding. Perhaps you don't really care about linkbacks or taking advantage of the YT community. Instead, all you really want is to put videos on your website. This is very easy to do with YouTube as most website builders like Squarespace & WordPress recognize the YouTube URLs and do all the embedding work for you once you paste the link into your page. However, even if you're coding with raw HTML it's still rather easy since YouTube gives you the embed code right underneath the video itself. It's also easy to share on Facebook, iMessage, and a plethora of other social platforms, because it is playable right in those platforms and doesn't require the viewer to go to YouTube.com to watch the video.
Privacy options. Controlling who sees your video is very easy to do in case you don't want it visible to the whole world. You can set it to private where no one can see it, or have the link unlisted so that only people with the URL can see the video. There are a variety of reasons to do both!
Live streaming. YouTube has a pretty easy setup for Live Streaming (having never live streamed before I was able to get it running within a few minutes), and they also send an email notice to your subscribers, making it pretty seamless to get live and have your audience tuned in.
- URLs are terrible. In order for YouTube to deal with such incredibly massive numbers of videos uploaded each day they've created video URLs that are not memory-friendly (to say the least). However, for your channel's homepage they do provide vanity URLs to make it a little easier to guide someone to your channel, so you can tell someone to go to youtube.com/icarusfilmschool, which isn't too bad I suppose.
- No updating your video. Let's say that you have a very popular video, it's linked on all kinds of blogs and has 200k views. Not bad! Unfortunately, if you wanted to update your video for some reason (perhaps your website has changed, or a section of the video is no longer relevant or accurate and you'd like to edit it out) then the only real solution is to delete your video and upload a new one. Of course, by doing this you would lose those 200k views and all of those beautiful linkbacks and SEO power the rest of your YouTube channel gets from it. A little frustrating.
- Fingerprinting. This is the system that allows YouTube to track down people who are illegally using content, and it could just as easily be on the "Pros" list, but more often than not it's us little people who get dinged for copyright infringements. This isn't a common problem, but thanks to the overwhelming power of large corporations the appropriate Fair Use rules often fall in their favor. Sometimes, there's simply a mistake thanks to all of the Royalty free music out there, or maybe you recorded a video in public and somewhere in the background of that Starbucks there's a Katy Perry song playing. The point is you have to very tightly regulate your videos to ensure you're doing it by the books and can prove it, otherwise your video could be deleted and your account could get a strike against it (and you only get three strikes before they take your channel down).
- Ads. While you can make money off of your ads, it can get tiresome to deal with them as a viewer.
- Crowded. 300 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute. That can be a little intimidating. While there is certainly an appetite for video, I wouldn't rely solely on YouTube to build your audience as it is easy to get lost in the crowd.
- Clunky experience. I've been a YouTube guy since Google bought them, and in many ways they've made some amazing strides but they have also made the user experience rather clunky. Sometimes, just finding your list of videos can be awkward -- I have to click on my user image, then "Creator Studio" and then "Video Manager"?? What madness is this? It doesn't get easier when editing your channel art...
Bottom line: YouTube is a catchall for online video. Whatever type of content you have to offer there's plenty of room for it on YouTube, and if you pay attention to your SEO then there's a good chance it'll be found by the relevant audience. It's free and easy to use so there's no real cost/benefit analysis to be done here, everyone uses YouTube and it should probably fit into your video goals one way or another.
If YouTube is the catchall for video, then Vimeo is where the auteurs like to get away from the crowds. Vimeo is a site to host videos and a great place to find cool videos, as you'll find that the Vimeo community is more thoughtful with each video uploaded. Expect higher production quality, more artistic films, and less policing of content.
- No ads. No waiting for an ad to finish before you can watch your video.
- Update your video. Replace the video file without losing your stats or URL.
- Privacy settings galore. There is a high degree of control over your privacy settings. YouTube has three options, but on Vimeo you can finetune it in a variety of ways. You can hide your video from Vimeo but still embed it onto your website. You can password protect the video. I often use the private link (similar to YouTube's "unlisted" setting) to send clients a first edit, and thanks to being able to update the video there isn't a ton of confusing random video URLs to send back & forth when I update the video.
- Vanity URLs for videos. You can give your video a specific link.
- Enhanced embed settings. You can tailor how you want a video to look when it gets embedded. For instance, you may want a particular video to only have a play button and nothing else when it's embedded on your website; or maybe you want it to display your profile pic, the video title, volume bar, etc, these are all customizable options for when you embed the video player on your site (or anyone else's).
- Limited free use. With the basic free account you can upload up to 500MB of video each week, and you can password protect your videos. To get 5GB of video uploads per week and the more advanced privacy & embed settings you need to at least pay $7/month.
- Extra encoding time. Also, with the free account you get bumped to the back of the line once your video is uploaded and being encoded for playback. Practically speaking, this translates to maybe an extra 5 or 10 minutes of waiting for your video to finish before being able to hit play.
- Not a ton of search traffic. Vimeo is a great community or artists, and a good place to host quality content, but it is not a place where you're likely to be stumbled upon by your target audience.
- Playback buffering. Maybe this one is just me (doubt it), but I do often find Vimeo to not buffer very fast, which means I'll be getting into the rhythm of a very cool video only to have it pause while it is waiting to download more of the video. Incredibly frustrating experience.
Bottom line: This is a stomping ground for filmmakers, and they even have robust On Demand capabilities if you want to sell or distribute PPV videos. However, this may not be a good time investment for online business owners since there's no huge community to gain traffic from, no SEO payoffs, and it could lead to a poor user experience with playback.
Facebook is an upcoming powerhouse in video. Having the entire world on your platform gives you a lot of advantages, but they don't have it all figured out yet.
- Shareable. Posting a video from YouTube is easy, but you're likely posting it to Facebook anyway, so the tools that make it easy for YouTube make it even easier when you're already in the Facebook ecosystem. Sharing, tagging, commenting, it all makes it easy to get your video visible and to find traffic.
- Live streaming. Facebook, like YouTube, has a very easy live streaming setup and since it's Facebook it's also easy to notify your audience to get them tuned in.
- Free. Nothing to add here, pun intended.
- No search engine. Discoverability on Facebook is incredibly painful for video. While YouTube is built for letting you find what you want, Facebook controls your user experience through algorithms. This means that there is no reason nor expectation that you'd want to dig through Facebook to find a specific video, and even if you did there's no convenient & obvious way to do it anyway.
- Pirated content. There is no real way to control your content. I see content repurposed dozens of times every single day. One Facebook page likes a video so they download it and reupload it to their page and get fresh content without ever actually creating anything themselves. This can make it difficult for content creators to increase their footprint (assuming there's no attribution, which there often isn't), and surfacing fresh content is harder to do since the same videos seem to be recycled ad nauseam.
- Low attention span. Everyone on FB basically has ADD, it's designed to be that way, so capturing an audience can be difficult. Short form content rules, stick to less than 2 minutes, even better if it's under a minute, and then you'll also want to run it as an ad to get in front of your target audience.
Bottom line: Facebook is a great place to put your videos, just make sure you have a purpose and use a Call To Action in the video itself along with the post it's attached to. The content on FB is quickly forgotten, so resurfacing old videos can be useful and rather harmless. Building a community around your cool original videos is a huge mountain to climb -- trust me, I've seen businesses with gobs of money and massive followings fail to kickstart a FB following -- so my advice is to use Facebook videos as part of a larger, specific business strategy. Until Facebook rolls out a better & more holistic video experience for users and creators alike, it should be used with great intent.
Instagram isn't too unlike Facebook in that there's a huge community, easy ability for exposure, yet just as effervescent and forgettable, because there's always something new to see.
- Exposure. It's pretty easy to research relevant tags and create a gameplan for gaining views.
- Huge community.
- Live streaming. You can live stream on IG, I'm not certain it's a great user experience since it's entirely through your smartphone but I suppose being able to easily get in front of your followers is always a great thing.
- Poor user experience. You can't control the video at all, you can't get it to start at the beginning, you have no idea how long it's going to run, you can't switch to landscape, you miss the audio at the beginning, it's nearly impossible to find a specific video... Y'know what, it's not just an awful user experience, it's the worst video experience on the entire internet.
- Hard to convert viewers to doers. At this moment, it's very difficult to motivate your audience to take an action beyond hitting the heart and maybe dropping a comment.
- Poor content control. Uploading videos can be rather difficult if it's something you've produced outside of your cellphone. You can't upload on the IG website, and you can't use an app to do it for you. If you have a lot of videos to schedule, the best middle ground seems to use Later, you upload the video(s) to their site and schedule them, then when it's time the Later app will prep the video for you in Instagram and you only need to hit publish, which costs you at least $9/month. Womp womp.
Bottom line: Instagram isn't a perfect place for video. You're capped at 60 seconds and it's not a great video experience. While I wouldn't dedicate time creating original videos specifically for Instagram -- unless you have a large following already or have an IG strategy -- I think it can make a great deal of sense to repurpose videos for Instagram. That 3-minute video you made for your new blog? Great, cut it into a 20-second teaser and throw it on Instagram, or chop it into 3 1-minute videos. It's not a bad place to reconnect with your audience and remind them of your existence, I would just be cautious about using IG as a first line of audience-building.
I've never personally used Wistia before, which is unfamiliar territory for me as I've used just about every video platform the internet has ever offered (at one point I was managing roughly 1000 videos on MySpace, yeah, that MySpace, and yeah, they had a video section eons before Facebook, and yeah, it was a flop). Wistia is aimed at online business owners, and for good reason. After doing some research they seem like a great fit for online marketing.
- Great SEO value. They seem to have done some excellent coding for video; when your web page shows up in Google search results they display the video's thumbnail to indicate that it's a video page. This is similar to what Google does for YouTube videos in the search results, but better, because using Wistia means that your website is getting the link juice instead of YouTube. When you embed a YouTube video in your page you're basically signaling that the YouTube video is significant, which is good if you're trying to rank your YouTube video higher in search results, but normally we would like our own website to get the SEO benefits. So, anyone who wants to share your video has to share your website's URL, which is awesome SEO for that web page and your whole website.
- Reusing captions for extra SEO. If you create closed captions (not merely subtitles but the actual closed captions that can be turned on/off by the user) for your video then they insert the transcript into the metadata for another SEO boost.
- Fast loading. Usually when you want to watch a video you hit play and then it starts loading, but Wistia apparently starts loading the video when the page itself is being loaded so that when you hit play there's no delay, it just starts playing. Very cool, and also a good signal to Google for more SEO value.
- Lead generation tools. Wistia has "timeline tools" that let you capture emails within the video player itself, or simply add a Call To Action with text or annotation links.
- Data galore. You can see very detailed analysis of how users are interacting with your video. What they clicked, when they clicked, when they stopped watching, etc. Pretty helpful stats to use for improving your videos.
- Custom branding. It's nice to embed your logo and colors directly into the video player to keep everything on your site cohesive.
- The free plan allows for 3 videos. The free plan also means the Wistia branding is on the player, though you can still customize the rest of the video player.
- Cheapest paid plan is $99/mo. With this plan you get 10 videos, and each extra video is another $0.25/mo.
Bottom line: I plan on taking Wistia out for a test run to see how I like it, and to see if they deliver on these lofty promises. I see a ton of benefit to this setup, but also think paying $99/mo to remove the branding of a company that no one has heard of can be rather steep. People expect to see YouTube and Vimeo branding on a video and probably won't even notice it before hitting play, but I don't look forward to having "Wistia" sitting alongside my content. More importantly, I want to see their video hosting setup & ecosystem, and whether they stream reliably. Expect an update on this in the coming months.
The Last Word
There are other ways to put video online, such as:
Twitter - 140 second time limit, 512mb size limit; no major appeal unless you have a good following on Twitter. Even less half-life than Instagram or Facebook.
Snapchat - Even more difficult to utilize than Instagram or Twitter as there is absolutely no in-app discovery model; no clear reason to prioritize Snapchat into your video plans.
DailyMotion - A "competitor" to YouTube. They have a significant video library, but not nearly the traffic or SEO power of YouTube. I'm not aware of any smart reason to use DailyMotion unless you just want to cover all of the bases.
Unless you're willing to pony up the money for Wistia, I think it makes a great deal of sense to prioritize YouTube as the main place for your video, followed closely by Facebook. Then decide the best way to repurpose your videos for Instagram if that platform makes sense for your business.
Below you can find a free cheat sheet with the pros & cons of today's blog post. Enjoy!