Usability Standards for Web Video (Where The Hell Are They??)

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Grants RantMost companies producing online video content aren’t giving enough consideration to the end user’s experience with the video they’re watching. Despite the huge business growth of online video, not a single major usability organization or video solutions provider has put out any publicly available ‘best practices’ information on the web video experience for the end user!

Listen to my podcast on web video usability.


Intro – Grant’s bad user experience with a web video company

Oh, it was so traumatic! (OK, it was really one of many experiences I’ve had with video on a website not working properly on multiple levels and left me with a less-favorable impression of the site owner.)

What is ‘web video usability?’

My definition: The user’s experience with meeting their web-based objectives with video, and matching the intended goals of the video owner. In short, the quality of an online video engagement experience. We’re not just talking ‘viewing,’ which is a passive state. We’re also talking ‘engagement’ which is an active state. If you’re online watching video, you are much more likely to take some kind of action (including an immediate action) than with a television.

Why usability is important in web video

You can’t assume that your experience is everyone else’s experience. If you don’t know what’s involved with other people’s experience (What goes into that is not just hardware and software, but also human ability and subjectivity -i.e., human preference.)

If people have a bad experience, it leaves them with a bad impression, and can not only waste all your efforts up to that point, but leaves the opposite effect of what you originally intended.

Anyone who’s producing and promoting video should be thinking about how to measure the quality of an online video viewing experience. This is why we need a best practices for usability in web video. Best practices allows for us to have universal standards. When we have standards, its easier for both video owners, and video users, to follow.

The dearth of usability information for web video

Being a usability professional myself (meaning, I’ve produced usability reports and conducted user testing and focus groups for clients for many years now), I checked with a number of the most well-known usability organizations: Nielsen/Norman Group (NN/G), Human Factors International (HFI), User Interface Engineering (UIE), and even the Usability Professionals Association (UPA).  I also contacted some of the panelists on the recent Search Engine Strategies Chicago conference who spoken on a usability panel.

I asked both of these groups if any of them either possessed or knew of any reports, presentations, articles, white papers, podcasts, seminars, experts, or tools on usability with web video.

My answer: ZERO. All of the companies were unable to provide me with a single resource they either had or knew of. (The UPA’s Director of Member & Vendor Relations submitted my request to their board of directors several weeks ago, and today informed me that no response has been provided by them yet.)

Pretty shocking, that neither usability firms or online marketing firms can supply any information around web video, don’t you think? There are three reasons I can think of for this: 1) Combining usability with web video is multi-faceted and can be rather intimidating, 2) It exists, but its not being shared, and 3) There’s a perception by these companies that the public really isn’t interested in hearing about it yet.

I would argue that last possibility. I do believe that web video is no different from website usability when it comes to its importance, and I do believe the business community would demand it if they were just made aware of it. So where does it start? How about with some ideas on what areas of usability really matter to web video…

Areas of web video usability

These are just a few of the areas with web video usability that should be included

Location of the video

  • On a website and web page.
  • In a stand-alone media player

Features of the video

  • The video player
  • Navigation
  • Accessibility
  • Search
  • Image and audio quality
  • Length
  • Content
  • Delivery (Including speed)
  • Conversions
  • Completion


  • Lab testing
  • User testing
  • Analytics

Resources which ARE available on web video usability

sitepointThe Usability Kit, by the SitePoint. This is a ‘web usability toolkit’ in binder format and CD-ROM. The very last chapter of the book offers 8 page of information and tips for web video and audio content. The report is over 2 years old, and while all of the tips still apply today, much web video development has happened since. (Sitepoint says that their company has no plans to put out any new reports on web video usability.)

Eyetracking Report –  Below is slide from ReelSEO Publisher’s Mark Robertson presentation given at PubCon with myself, detailing an eyetracking study that shows we naturally navigate towards where we see video and video icons on a search results page.


Shelly Palmer, His article, “What does quality online video look like?”Offers some good suggestions for online video quality. While the suggestions are largely dedicated to broadcast-quality websites, it’s a good basis for what could be applicable to small-to-medium size businesses (SMBs) as well.

producing_video_podcastsProducing Video Podcasts – A Guide for Media Professionals. This book by Focal Press, with authors Richard Harrington and Mark Weiser of RHED Pixel, is an excellent guide on video podcasting, from preproduction to delivery. However it’s not meant to serve as an analysis or testing platform for users’ experiences with video on the web. (I also encourage readers to check out their companion site,, and their free podcast series on iTunes, Producing Video Podcasts, where some of their tips are indirectly helpful for usability.)

And lastly, my own article,  “Call for video professionals to decide online video standards.”

Calling again for web video usability standards

Right on the home page of the Usability Association Professionals’ web site is an article titled, What is the value of usability? Well, if neither usability industry themselves nor marketing professional cancome up with a body of information on usability for web video, and one that matches the explosive growth of web video, then I would argue that the value of both usability AND web video risks to be seriously diminished.


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