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Pivoting to video, the user-friendly way

 

Is anybody watching? Did the pivot to video online pay off?

There are two kinds of video online: Pure entertainment video, and practical video that is meant to train employees, citizens, researchers, students, mechanics, engineers. This post is about those practical videos – the ones that must instruct, train, communicate.

Images of web tutorials

Screen shot of web tutorials from Google search, June 2021. Users cannot anticipate what they will see in each tutorial.

“Pivoting to video” was all the rage for a few years, led by Facebook’s incredible promises of exponential growth – incredible being the key word.

A September 2016 paper suggests that format – video versus text – does not significantly impact user comprehension.

As it turned out, those mouth-watering online video statistics were inflated by as much as 80%. Where YouTube designated conversions successful after 30 seconds of viewing, Facebook shaved that down to 3 seconds – the equivalent of a digital drive-by.

Following the Pied Piper – right off the video cliff?

While interaction and conversion numbers rose to new heights based on those metrics, many businesses pivoted – hard – to video. Often these pivots came at the expense of existing departments and roles. Employees were let go, new roles created, budgets reallocated. However, the actual return on investment never quite seemed to be there. We now know that the base numbers and projections for online video engagement pushed by Facebook were faulty from the start. But many organizations shoulder their own share of the blame, by rushing to join the online video trend without adequate planning or strategy.

What science says about video versus text

Ironically, the “pivot to video” bandwagon did not account for research. A September 2016 paper suggests that format – video versus text – does not significantly impact user comprehension. “Given this finding, educators and instructional designers are best advised to minimize the effort and cost involved in creating and implementing tutorials,” writes Guido Lang in “The Relative Efficacy of Video and Text Tutorials in Online Computing Education”. Hmm.

Time is the critical factor

Recent user testing (2021) of research scientists suggests that users equate video with a longer, non-searchable experience. Google search is the default information-finding tool used by researchers – and everyone else we have tested in the last 10 years. Even when using complex data repositories, scientists demonstrated a preference for quick search over video tutorials. The biggest reasons: the speed of scanning text over scrubbing video, and the searchability of text. Apply these findings when deciding on the optimal format for your content.

While a video tutorial may seem like the quick and easy way to explain a function to your users, our research shows that users often say, “I’m not going to watch a video to figure this out.”

Using online video selectively

Some topics lend themselves more naturally to video. But the real question is – does more video automatically equal happier users? It does when the video enhances your users’ experience. While a video tutorial may seem like the quick and easy way to explain a function to your users, our research shows that users often say, “I’m not going to watch a video to figure this out.”

From a budgeting perspective, video content introduces complexity: images, audio, production values, copyright. Video also introduces a new set of user expectations you will need to meet.

Here are five things users want from online video

Based upon our user testing. Think like a user!

  1. “Where am I?” Does the video display a title to identify the topic of the video? Is this video embedded in the website or does the link lead to YouTube? Can I see a chyron to explain what I am looking at? Where does this content come from? Let users know when a video link is taking them offsite. Make sure the source of the video is evident.
  2. “Did I ask for that?” Display video runtime. Give the user control over when to start instead of auto-loading or auto-playing videos. Default audio setting should be MUTE. Think about users who may have lower bandwidth, or who are accessing video from a public setting. Reduce visual noise as much as possible to keep the focus where it belongs: on the video.
  3. “What can I do with it?” Users want to control video speed and scrub forwards or backwards. Force-fed videos lead to quickly closed tabs. Talking heads with no supporting elements onscreen rarely engage users. Don’t forget about users with spotty connections, low bandwidth, or older equipment. Assume your users are on mobile devices.
  4. “Does this matter to me?” Does this video provide on-screen text to support the audio track? (Remember, users may be in noisy environments.) Can I see chapters, or a sequence of videos in a playlist? Does this content *need* to be a video? In user testing we find that people prefer a text FAQ over a video tutorials when trying to solve a problem.
  5. “How long will this take me?” What is the runtime? How large is the video file? Can a see load status percentage? Can the video be downloaded to watch later, or is streaming the only option? Is there a transcript I can skim?

Revisiting these evidence-based best practices for delivering video with a purpose can make a tremendous difference to existing and future users. Try it!