Why online video isn’t always right for your users

“If it were five years in the future, would you be reading this article or would you be watching it?”
Chris Trimble, Guardian Small Business Network

I’ve seen a lot of articles over the past year telling me that online video is a Good Thing. Readers can’t stop hitting that play button. And when they do, they stay watching: 65% of viewers watch more than three-quarters of a given video.

But that doesn’t take into account the people who never start watching at all.

Online video is great for some things.

We’ve all heard about ‘show, don’t tell’. Some things are much easier to explain with a video. How to set up and maintain your product, for instance.

Video can also be a great alternative to written blogging. If your readers are in the mood for entertainment, you can maybe have more fun with a video blog than a text post. Your readers get to see who you are, and can feel like they have a more personal relationship with you.

But for some readers, video is a terrible medium.

Watching at work can be tricky.

If you work in an open plan space (like most office workers), video is difficult. You can’t listen through your speakers because you’ll disturb everyone else. So you have to find a quiet place or dig out your headphones. No spontaneous click-to-play for you!

(Autoplay is even worse.)

Finally, you find that dusty pair of earbuds and settle down to watch. And you realise the video soundtrack is just lift music and you could have muted the whole thing.


Read it later doesn’t work for video

If you commute or travel a lot, you may use 'read it later' services like Pocket. You can add online videos to these services. But unlike text articles, these services don’t usually download video. When you come to watch, you’re going to need an internet connection.

The whole point of Pocket is to let you catch up with your reading on the go, often when your connection is slow or unreliable. Video just doesn’t fit into the workflow.

For this reason, I rarely watch video blogs.

Video makes for a terrible reference guide.

I’m all for show rather than tell. When I first set up a new gadget or software product, I’m happy to watch the tutorials and see how it all works.

But when I come back a few days later to check one specific setting, I don’t want to watch a five-minute video to find the answer.

Video is a great addition to your help section, but please don’t make it the only help you offer.

It’s hard to speed read a video

Written articles are flexible things. You can stop after the title, or the opening paragraph. You can skim the subheadings, or read right to the end. News sites structure their articles to offer a huge amount of flexibility to readers.

With a video, we lose that flexibility. We have to wait while you to say what you want to say, in your own good time. And if we don’t have the time to spare, we won’t watch any of it.

A useful tip for impatient viewers of online video: speed things up from the setting menu. You can play many videos at 1.25 speed without it sounding strange. On Youtube, you control this from the settings menu - the cog at the bottom of the picture. Udemy courses have a similar setting.

Don’t make video the ONLY way to get the information.

Give users a choice. If it’s a video blog, add show notes to highlight the important points. If it’s a marketing video, pair it with a PDF brochure. If it’s a how-to video, add a text reference guide as well.

Tell people what they’re going to get from the video, so they can decide if it’s worth watching. If the soundtrack is just music, and the video would be fine on mute, say so.

What do you think? Do you love watching online videos, or do you prefer to read?

If you’re interested in using online video on your website, you can find some ideas on how to get started here.