The Ultimate Guide to Getting Started with Online Video

This post is all about teaching you everything you need to create your own videos and use them on your site. We’ve decided to create this post because despite video being an incredibly powerful tool, we couldn’t find a single comprehensive resource that explained the fundamentals of video creation, video players and delivery in a simple, easy-to-use guide that anyone can pick up and run with.  We expect that you’ll need to bookmark this page and refer back to it as and when you go through the process of creating your first video.

Even if you’re a beginner, by the end of this post you’ll know more than 90% of people about how to create, upload and play videos on your web site for increased engagement, conversions and connection with your audience.

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Video Creation

The most important thing to keep in mind about video creation is to “just do it”, as an overly popular brand likes to state.

If you’ve never created a video before, then the first time you do it, it will seem awkward and difficult. And your fist video will almost certainly suck. In fact, your first five videos will probably suck. But that doesn’t matter. Everything’s difficult, the first time you do it, so don’t worry about it.

Having said that, here are two mini-guides to creating videos for absolute beginners.

Creating Screencast Videos

Screencast Monitor ImageScreencast videos (recordings of your computer screen) are very easy to create and they don’t even require a camera. Since you are reading this online, you probably already have everything you need to create a screencast video. In fact, you should hop on over to screenr right now, click on that record button and give it a go! It’s completely free!

All you need, in terms of hardware, is a microphone. There will be one built-in on your notebook. If you’re on a desktop computer, you’ll probably have to add an external one.

There are two types of screencast videos you can make:

  1. Demonstration videos.
  2. Slideshow videos.

A demonstration video is a video where you record yourself using some software application, for example a demonstration of how to create a certain effect in Photoshop. This is the easiest kind of screencast video to make and works great for any kind of software product.

For a slideshow video, you first need to create a presentation, using something like PowerPoint, Keynote, Google Docs, Prezi or whatever else you like to use. You then record the slideshow, while you narrate. The main advantage to this is that you can make a slideshow video on any topic at all.

To start out, simply record a short screencast video of yourself explaining some software program that you are familiar with. Treat the first video as practice and simply make it to demonstrate to yourself that it’s not that it can be done. Then, move on to creating presentations or tutorials that answer common questions people in your target market have.

When you’re ready to step it up a notch, I recommend Camtasia or Screenflow for screencast recording and editing.

Creating Live Videos

Live video“Me?! On camera!?!” is the reaction most people have to the suggestion of recording a live video.

“Get over it.” is my response.

If you’re camera phobic, it’s probably because you’ve seen yourself on video and you thought you looked terrible. Your voice sounded weird to you, your face was not the one you’re used to (because it’s not a mirrored image, on video) and, if you’re so inclined, you noticed all kinds of flaws and mistakes and found yourself entirely unlikable and ugly, on video. I have some bittersweet news for you: A) you’re exaggerating and B) nobody else cares so much that they’d notice all the details that caught your eye.

For your first live video, don’t worry about equipment. Your notebook comes with a built-in webcam and you probably have a webcam with your desktop computer as well. Use any recording software that came with your cam or simply use YouTube to record a video of yourself talking about a topic you like to talk about.

Treat your first video as practice and simply get used to recording yourself and seeing yourself on video.

Make sure that you are either lit by daylight or by artificial light, but not a mix of both and make sure that your face is well lit and more brightly lit than the background.

Now, are you ready for the amazing video secret?

Here it is: video is an incredibly powerful skill-building tool. If you want to become more eloquent, have a stronger voice, learn to make a better impression or become a better presenter and speaker, video is the fastest way to get there. Record yourself, watch the recording, then record yourself again, paying attention to one aspect that you want to improve.

Remember how I said your first video would suck? It will. But follow this simple procedure and your 100th video will be pretty damn awesome.

When you’re ready to take it further, consider getting a simple HD camcorder or a good DSLR camera, along with a clip-on mic. Currently, a good DSLR is cheaper than a semi-professional video camera and DSLR can shoot very nice videos, these days. Also consider Sony Vegas or Adobe Premier for video editing.

Now, let’s move on to the technicalities of getting your video to display on your website.

The Three Key Aspects to Online Video

There are three elements that you have to consider when you want to add video to your web site:

  1. The file format of your video
  2. The video player
  3. Video delivery

The file format is all about choosing the right file type: for instance, choosing between an MP4 video file and a WMV video file.  Each file type has their own set of advantages and disadvantages so it’s an important consideration.

The video player is the tool that the visitor uses to control the video – it’s otherwise known as the controller.  This allows the user to play the video, pause the video and do other things such as view in full screen.  There are a huge number of players with a variety of functionality – we’ll discuss the ins and outs of what you should look for and give some recommendations for you.

Finally, video delivery is essentially another name for hosting.  You need to make sure that the video is delivered in a fast way so that the end user experience is good.  There’s nothing worse than trying to watch a video that has poor content delivery such that it takes a few minutes to load or the buffer size is not set correctly so the video has to keep pausing to catch up.

Take a look at this video (from my Video Marketing Blueprints product) for a quick guide to everything you need to know about the three components of online video:

 

Let’s take a closer look at the three factors:

Video Encoding

Handbrake logo... clearly and obviously related to video encoding.For online use, here are the ideal video file format and encoding guidelines:

  • MP4 File Format
  • H.264 Codec
  • 450-1,000 kbps Bitrate
  • Framerate Same as Source
  • 2-Pass Encode

Depending on what software you use to create your videos, you may or may not have to worry about all of these settings. Many video editing tools come with a pre-made “web optimized” setting, which should take care of everything.

However, if you don’t have a setting like that to use or you want to upload a raw camera file without editing, my recommendation is to use the free tool Handbrake and apply the above settings.

Concerning bitrate, the ideal setting depends on the type of video you are encoding. Low bitrate means more video compression and lower quality, but it also reduces the size of the video file. Choosing the right bitrate is a question of finding a balance between size and quality of a video.

If you’re working on a screencast video, then 450 kbps (kilo-bits per second) should be enough to create a video with no visible compromise in quality. For live video, it depends mainly on how much movement the video contains. Fast camera pans, cuts and otherwise action heavy video will suffer more from low bitrate than a simple “talking into my webcam” style video. For web publishing, I recommend a first encoding run at 1,000 kbps. If you aren’t happy with the resulting video quality, gradually increase it, trying to find the lowest possible bitrate that leads to a good, watchable video.

Also make sure to select a two-pass encoding feature, whenever possible. This means that the process will essentially take twice as long, but the win in quality is worth it.

For audio encoding, you can usually stick to the settings of the source file, assuming you are not using professional gear, where the audio quality and size would be too high for online publishing.

Video Players

Video Players IconThe video player is the simplest part of the equation. A quick search is all it takes to find more free players than you’d know what to do with, such as Flowplayer, JW Player, JPlayer, VideoJS, FlareVideo and many, many more.

The important criteria for video players are:

  • HTML5 video support and flash video fallback (this ensure compatibility with all devices and browsers).
  • Fast loading player (because if you make people wait, they leave).
  • Customization options.
  • Ease of use.

The last two points are where many of the free players become inaccessible to non-coders: while most of them are customizable, many can only be used and truly customized if you have at least some basic programming skills. My recommendations for video players to use follow further down.

Video Delivery

As mentioned in the video above, the main issue with video delivery is that of size. Video files are gigantic, compared to text, image and even audio files, so while any cheap server can easily handle thousands of visitors viewing a “regular” web page, the same is not true for video views.

One important thing to realize is that there is no such thing as a free online video solution. You will always either have to pay by giving up your rights to your content and allowing ads and other forms of monetization (YouTube and Co.) or pay for the resources consumed by video hosting and delivery.

Now, let’s look at a premium all-in-one solution as well as a potentially cheaper do-it-yourself solution, taking everything we’ve learned about online video into account.

The Simple Solution

Wistia LogoIf you want all the components of online video automatically taken care of for you, I recommend you use Wistia. Wistia is the video service that I use for all of my videos and it’s the solution that came out on top after I compared dozens of services and DIY solutions over a long period of time.

There are two main reasons I prefer Wistia over any other solution:

1) The Done for You Factor

All you have to do is upload your video file, set up your easily customizable player and then add an embed code to your page. Video encoding is automatically done for you (and done excellently as well). The video delivery takes place over a high-performance content distribution network, which is specifically made for video delivery, ensuring fast and seamless video for all your viewers. The videos are automatically compatible with mobile devices and switch between HTML5 and Flash, if necessary. And the player is very easily customizable and comes with pretty much every feature you could possibly want, already built in.

2) The Money Factor

Wistia features the best video analytics I’ve ever seen. Most importantly, you can see exactly which parts of your videos are re-watched the most often and at which points in the video most people stop watching.

Of course, any analytics data is only as useful as the changes you make, based on it. If you have a sales page with a video on it, here’s a simple procedure: put the video on Wistia and check the engagement metrics after a while. Find out if there are any parts of the video where you are losing a lot of viewers and fix them. Upload the new, fixed video and repeat the process. If you do this, it’s an almost sure-fire way to put more money in your pockets.

The Do-it-Yourself Solution

If you don’t want to use Wistia and you know better than to use YouTube for business related videos, here’s my recommended solution:

Amazon Web Services LogoFor video delivery, we’ll use Amazon Web Services. This is by far the cheapest and most effective solution you can find, for online video delivery. We’ll be using Amazon S3 for storing our video files and Amazon CloudFront for streaming the videos. Both of these are pay-as-you-go services with extremely low rates.

To do so, go to Amazon Web Services and sign up for an account. Initially, this costs nothing, as there are no flat fees. You will only pay for your actual usage of the services.

Once you’ve signed up, there are a few steps involved in setting up your video files.

Go to your AWS Console and select the S3 tab:

Amazon S3 Tab

Now, click on the “Create Bucket” button an give it any name (a bucket is like a folder on your S3 account). Note that not all names will be available, so you might have to get creative. You can leave the region setting as it is.

Amazon S3 Bucket Example

Click on the “Create” button to create your new bucket.

CloudFront Setup

Now, we are going to create a CloudFront distribution for this bucket, which simply means that files from this bucket will be served over the CloudFront distribution network. This whole setup only needs to be done once.

Click on the CloudFront tab and sign up/agree to the terms:

Amazon CloudFront Tab

Then, click on the “Create Distribution” button in the CloudFront tab. In the window that pops up, select “Streaming” as the distribution method and select the previously created bucket as the origin:

How to Set Up CloudFront

In the next step of the setup process, you don’t have to change anything. Simply click on the “Continue” button and then click on the “Create Distribution” button. That’s all there is to it. All files from your specified bucket will now be streamed through CloudFront.

Video Files

The following process is what you can do for all of your videos you upload and want to display on your site.

Now, click on the “Upload” button in the top left. A window will pop up and you can select one or multiple video files to upload. Once you’ve selected your files, click on the “Set Details” button in the bottom right, ignore the next screen and then click on the “Set Permissions” button.

Create a permission for “Everyone” to “Open/Download”:

Setting the file permissions

This is necessary for the video to be playable by your visitors. Without this permission, only you can access the video and only when you’re logged into your AWS account.

Once you’ve set this permission, click on the “Upload” button.

When the upload is complete, the files will appear in your bucket listing. Right click on a video file and select “Properties”:

Properties

In the tab that opens up, you can now find the URL for this video file:

This is the link we will use with the video player, in the next step.

Video Player

VideoJS logoAs mentioned earlier, there are plenty of video players to choose from, many of them free. I recommend VideoJS, because it’s very easy to use and it comes with all of the most essential features we’re looking for.

To use the player on a WordPress site, simply install the VideoJS plugin. Once it’s activated, you can add your video via shortcode. Here’s an example of what the shortcode could look like:

video mp4="https://s3.amazonaws.com/bucketname/filename.mp4" width="640" height="360" preload="auto"

Replace the URL with the file location of your video file on Amazon S3. Change the height and width as needed.

You can find a description of all the shortcode parameters here.

If you are not using WordPress, check out the VideoJS homepage to find the code snippets you need to add to your page, to display the video.

Conclusion

You now know more about how to correctly add videos to your website than most people ever will. Video is possibly the most potent attention-getting tool at your disposal, as an online marketer, so I recommend you make use of it right away. Yes, it can seem a bit complicated and daunting at first, but remember: everything’s simply a matter of practice and those obstacles are only there to keep your competitors back.

If you want to learn the quickest and easiest way I use to create highly compelling screencast videos or you are interested in creating highly converting promo-videos and sales videos, check out my Video Marketing Blueprints product!

Do you have any further questions? Please let us know by leaving a comment! Also don’t forget to share this post, if you found some value in it!

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About the Author Shane Melaugh

I'm the founder of ActiveGrowth and Thrive Themes and over the last years, I've created and marketed a dozen different software, information and SaaS products. Apart from running my business, I spend most of my time reading, learning, developing skills and helping other people develop theirs. On ActiveGrowth, I want to help you become a better marketer and product creator. Read more about my story here.

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