Can viral video clips drive targeted traffic to your web site?


Tens of millions of people watch these short videos, but how effective are they at driving qualified traffic to web sites?

We recently released the audio recording of our clinic on this topic. You can listen to a recording of this clinic here:

Can Viral Videos Drive Targeted Traffic To Your Web Site?

There are millions of short video clips on the web, produced both by professionals and amateurs.

The amateurs publish their video clips for fun and notoriety, and the professionals produce and publish them in order to drive traffic to their web sites and sell more of their products or services.

Tens of millions of people watch these short videos, but how effective are they at driving qualified traffic to web sites?

The question, for many marketers, is how to take advantage of the video opportunity for the sake of their own marketing objectives and goals.

Using YouTube and Google Video we published a series of short videos, measured the number of times they were viewed, how many clickthoughs were generated, and how many site visitors converted to subscribers.

These are just the first set of results form a large scale project we are undertaking on this topic.

But these preliminary results do give a clear sense of the potential of video clips as a means to generate new customers and subscribers.


For a long time people were trying to use the internet to do things that it simply was not capable of doing. Often, in the past, we have been able to optimize processes and improve conversion by reducing the complexity of the multimedia on the site.

When Flash first came out it was exciting and every designer wanted to use it. However, many times we were able to increase conversion by cutting out the use of video and audio.

That is changing.

Look at the evolution from where the internet first started. It started out with everything being free.  Natural search was first starting. You could actually go to the top of a natural search engine within a day or two of launching a site and start getting traffic almost immediately.

Since then the world has changed. Paid search has emerged and Natural Search has become extremely competitive. ROI has become much more important. People stopped offering everything for free, and marketers’ expectations about potential performance rose dramatically as they recognized the potential.

Now, we are in an era where search – paid search and natural search – is a commodity.  If you are not doing it well, you must improve quickly. ROI is driving the marketing. Nothing is free.  The war on SPAM is waged daily, and the legislative environment is changing daily.

Viral marketing is now one of the most powerful ways to market online. This is what the Internet was designed for, multimedia as mainstream. This has come about primarily because of the adoption of broadband.

Depending on the report about 50% of the houses in the U.S. have broadband, and that trend is continuing across the world. 80% to 90% of businesses are now using broadband.

Time Spent on Recreational Media Activities per Day
Activity Time Spent
Recreational Internet Surfing 3.6 Hours
Watching Television 2.5 Hours
Online Chat 1 Hour


What you need to understand: Recreational Internet Surfing has recently overtaken television as the largest recreational activity.

KEY POINT: By the end of 2006 it is estimated that more than 6 billion people will be using the internet. It took more than 50 years for television to get to this point.

Most readers have probably heard about the YouTube acquisition. After one year in business, they were acquired for $1.65 billion by Google. Starting from zero about a year ago, YouTube is now getting more traffic than MySpace,, and Ebay. This is a testament to the growth of video and its viral nature.


We created a total of 28 videos ranging in length from 15 seconds to 8 minutes. Each video had a 3-5 second promotion at the end of it, specifying a URL which indicated that there was a website that may be interesting or relevant to the viewer.

Videos where placed on YouTube and Google Video, and where possible, a link was provided on the same page as the video, which drove traffic back to the main website.

Each of the videos was in one of these categories:

– Personal Blog (global issues, spirituality, current events)

– Comedy (spoofs, skits, celebrity parody)

All of the video clips we shot were deliberately “amateurish” in their approach and production.

We purchased off-the-shelf video-editing software for a PC, started filming, and edited all of the videos ourselves.  The total estimated investment for this project (all 28 videos) was $9,600.

Our intention was not to test the performance of the glossy, high-production videos you might expect from an advertising agency. What we wanted to understand the viral potential of videos of the kind created by individuals on the web.

To give you a sense of what we did, here are two of the videos.

The MEC Certification Video

The Ben Harper Parody Video

Both videos were humorous, and more importantly, neither one was promotional. There was no sales message, no product placement, no clever segue to a sales pitch on a landing page.

We ran the videos during August and September of this year and tracked the number of times each video was viewed, in addition to clickthroughs to the sites and subscription sign-ups.

Here are the results, using combined figures from all 28 videos:

Using Video Clips to drive traffic and acquire subscribers
August Sept 60 Day Total
Views of videos 88,589 235,601 324,190
Clicks through to site 732 3,430 4,162
Clickthrough rate 0.88% 1.46% 1.28%
Conversion to subscribers 1.49%


What you need to understand: Although the video clips had no promotional message or content, 1.49% of viewers went on to become newsletter subscribers. In Just 60 Days, our videos were viewed over 324,000 times at no cost to us.

KEY POINT: With no additional work or money spent, we are projected to generate 382,444 views for October, which is more than we generated in the previous 2 months combined.

:: To create a context for these video clip results, we built a comparison chart to see how much it would cost to achieve the same results using Pay Per Click advertising.

These figures are based on the same number of views, the same clickthrough rates and the same conversion to subscribers. With regard to cost per click, we assumed a mid-range price of 30 cents.

Hypothetical Comparison of Video to PPC Traffic
Video 60 Day Total PPC Hypothetical
Views of Videos (Impressions) 324,190 324,190
Clicks through to site 4,162 4,162
Estimated Cost per Visitor NA $0.30
Clickthrough Rate 1.28% 1.28%
Conversion to Subscribers 1.49% 1.49%
Advertising Cost $0 $1,248.60
Cost per Subscriber $0 $20.14


What you need to understand: Had we used Pay Per Click advertising to acquire the same number of new subscribers, based on a cost-per-click of 30 cents, it would have cost us over $20 per subscriber.


Entertaining or provocative videos can quickly become viral, being shared by tens or even hundreds of thousands of viewers, most of them connected through online social networks.

However, it is important to understand the nature of the environment in which video clips are most widely distributed and shared.

If you simply add a video clip to your site or blog, and to YouTube, you will be taking advantage of only a small fraction of the opportunity that exists.

In the same way that you optimize your web sites and blogs for the major search engines like Google, Yahoo! and MSN, you also have to optimize the presentation of your video clips in order to be found through searches within social network community sites.

This process is called Social Media Optimization, or SMO.

Social Media Optimization is the process by which you optimize your online presence to be more visible through searches within online communities and community web sites.

It’s like SEO for social network sites. It’s how you make your sites, videos, podcasts, RSS feeds and blog entries more visible and searchable to tens of millions of people who are connected through sites like MySpace, YouTube, Del.icious, Technorati, Reddit, Facebook and dozens of others.

  • Traditional “connectors” for static sites comprise linking strategies and search engine marketing.
  • Social network “connectors” include use of bookmarks, tags, RSS feeds, trackbacks, reviews, comments, ratings and participation in networked community groups.

The essence of SMO is to increase the chances of your video – or any other portable, sharable content – being distributed more widely and being found more quickly though community search engines.

This is important when producing short videos, because it is within and across these networked community sites that video clips are most likely to be distributed and shared.

In other words, to maximize the chances of your video going viral, you have to optimize it for sharing across social network communities.

What does SMO “look like”?

As an example, if you post a video clip to your blog, you will want to increase the chances of the video being widely distributed.

The most basic step to take is to add a line of links to relevant social network sites. Here is an example of a typical list of links at the end of an optimized blog entry:

Add to: YouTube | blinklist | | digg | yahoo! | furl

These links allows people to quickly add your blog entry to the social network or community site or sites to which they belong.

Once the post has been added by one person, it will be available to every other member of that community through the site’s search function.

While some of these sites, like del.icious, Yahoo! and furl include categories that cover almost any topic and subject you can think of, other communities are more focused.

YouTube is clearly focused on short videos. In common with other social network sites, it has a number of features that enable members to vote for, rate, share and distribute the videos they like best.

This voting and rating process is an integral part of almost all social network community sites.

As a result, content rises to the surface through a “democratic” process, whereby the combined opinions of community members determine which content gets the greatest exposure.

In other words, social media search is driven not by algorithms, but by popular vote.

It is essential to understand this when you create your own videos. Your videos need to be compelling, entertaining or at least different in order to rise above the noise and be voted into “visibility”.


6 Essential Tips to maximize the Viral Potential of Your Videos

  1. Keep your video clips short, preferable under 5 minutes. Most people browse through a number of videos when visiting sites like YouTube and Google Video, and may be unwilling to give any one video too much of their time.
  2. Ensure that your video has interesting, entertaining or provocative content. If it doesn’t “wow” people, they will have little incentive to share it with other people they know, or across their social networks.
  3. Be cautious about including commercial or promotional content. The most powerful short videos are those which are purely entertaining. It’s when people click through to your site that the time is right to add your sales message.
  4. Don’t plan on creating just one video. It is hard, if not impossible, to accurately predict which videos will enjoy wide, viral distribution. Our own testing demonstrated that some videos were shared more than ten times as much as others. So plan on creating a series of clips, and learn from the one which performs the best.
  5. Optimize your video clips to maximize distribution across social network sites, use tags and bookmarking links to help people find, save and share your videos.
  6. Create videos that multiple people (possibly some of your customers) appear in. The best team of viral marketers you can hire are people who appear in your video and pass the video to their friends and family.

As part of our research, we have prepared a review of the best Internet resources on this topic.

Rating System

These sites were rated for usefulness and clarity, but alas, the rating is purely subjective.

* = Decent | ** = Good | *** = Excellent | **** = Indispensable

  • Raising the Bar on Viral Web Ads ****This article retraces the viral video boom to an ad executive, Ed Robinson, who produced a viral video ad 6 years ago that drove 500,000 visitors to his web site in 3 months.  The author says that viral video marketing has exploded, expanding “from a negligible piece of the advertising pie to a $100 million to $150 million industry.”  According to the article, the freshness of online videos is wearing off due to an abundance of amateur viral videos, forcing companies to spend huge amounts in order to compete.
  • Interview with Brendon Sinclair: Web Video Quadruples Conversion Rates ***In this article, the author questions Brendon Sinclair, author of Web Design Business Kit on SitePoint, about online video and its effect on conversion rates.  Sinclair explains that he can provide better understanding of a product via video through using graphs, graphics, and audio.  Video allows him to demonstrate passion and credibility.  Sinclair then explains the process of using video online.
  • Marketers are into YouTube ***This article states that big corporations such as Nike, Warner Bros., MTV2, and Dimension Films are “seeding [YouTube] with commercial clips.”  Why?  Because the advertising cost relatively inexpensive.  Companies shoot a video, and then simply upload it for free.  For example, Deep Focus, a marketing firm that represents film companies, placed Scary Movie 4 on YouTube and received a million views within a week.
  • Viral Ads: It’s an Epidemic ***This article explores the potential for online videos to be used as viral ads.  The author presents the idea that marketers can advertise their product to millions very inexpensively if they produce a video that is funny enough for viewers to send to all of their friends and colleagues.  The problem is deciphering between content that is “pass-around worthy” and content that is merely crap.
  • Online Video Advertising Builds Momentum ***This article sees online video as a way to “engage the audience.”  Dorian Sweet, of Tribal DDB, suggests that the internet is being used for access more than information and that people will explore a website more deeply because they want to be entertained.  The article indicates that there is a new target audience called the “V” or video generation.  The article also presents the idea of using “viral video to build buzz for brands.”
  • How To Create an Unstoppable, Never-Ending Marketing Virus ***This article tells the story of how an online data storage company, LineVault, made a big splash with very little money: hire someone famous and make a viral video.  By sending out an email blast and purchasing a few banner ads, the video has been viewed by over 300,000 people.  The author provides links to examples of viral videos and explains characteristics of a successful viral video.   One, it needs to be buzzworthy (funny, weird, gross, shocking, helpful, sexy, inspiring).  Two, it needs to be able to be passed around easily (the press, newsletters, email).
  • How To Drive Traffic To Your Website Using Funny Videos **This article posits that companies can “easily incorporate [viral videos] into their own eCommerce websites.”  The author suggests that having a video on your site sets you apart from the competition, resulting in new traffic and repeat visitors.  A company can use video for comedic effect to drive traffic or for instructional purposes to make their product more understandable.
  • ‘Dove Evolution’ Goes Viral, with Triple the Traffic of Super Bowl Spot **The message here is straightforward: Dove received a jump in traffic from a free advertisement uploaded on to YouTube that tripled that of a 30-second Super Bowl commercial that cost $2.5 million.
  • High-Tech Marketing “Goes Viral” **This article posits that today’s consumers are harder to reach because of new technologies emerging such as TiVo, and that the solution is viral video.  The author says, “Instead of interrupting the viewer’s entertainment experience with ads, the ads are the entertainment.”  Next the article gives examples of how this new medium actually increases conversion rather than merely producing a laugh.
  • Online Video Growing at 71% Clip **This article focuses on the growing popularity of online video on sites such as YouTube, Google Video, and Yahoo Video (YouTube had a growth of 0 to 20 million users in a year).  The article recommends that marketers take advantage of this “enormous growth in online video activity.”


Editor — Flint McGlaughlin

Writer — Nick Usborne

Contributors — Jalali Hartman
Aaron Rosenthal
Jimmy Ellis

HTML Designer — Cliff Rainer

You might also like

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.