• Insights Aplenty from How-to Video Category

    One of the hottest corners of the broadband video market is the ad-supported "how-to" category. How-to lends itself well to video because, if a picture's worth a thousand words, a video is surely worth a million. Recognizing this, there's now a host of start-ups in this category which together have raised tens of millions of dollars. I wrote about some of this a couple months ago.

    Several recent calls with industry participants got me to thinking the how-to category actually offers many valuable insights for all broadband industry participants. These fall into 3 key areas: content development, traffic acquisition and monetization.

    1. Content: "Build Our Own" or "Offer a Superstore of Others' Videos"?

    Players like Expert Village, 5Min, VideoJug and MonkeySee are pursuing the "build our own" video library approach, incenting individual "experts" to contribute to their sites. On the other hand, sites like WonderHowTo (WHT) and SuTree rely primarily on scouring user-generated video sites like YouTube, plus those above to aggregate the best videos available. With how-to being the ultimate "Long Tail" space, WHT's Stephen Chao told me in a recent briefing that trying to cover the infinite number of niches would be impossible. So to be comprehensive, relevant and high-quality, WHT curates what its crawlers return with a small in-house team and presents the cream of the crop to users, complete with a range of community-building features.

    Here's one non-statistically significant example that illustrates the two approach's results: I did a search for "bbq steak video" on Expert Village, which bills itself as the "World's Largest How-to Video Site" and on WHT. EV returned 15 results, regrettably not one of which was relevant. WHT returned 357 results, and on the first page of 20 results alone, at least 12 looked relevant. These came from a wide variety of sources. Try doing a few searches and see what you find - my guess is your experience will be consistent with mine.

    2. Traffic acquistion: Syndication or SEO?

    All of these sites are ad-supported, so traffic is key. The sites with private libraries can syndicate to heavily-trafficked partners. Ordinarily, as a big syndication fan, I'd say that sounds like an advantageous traffic generating plan. But how-to may have a different traffic acquisition dynamic. It may well be that far more traffic will always come to these how-to video sites via searches at Google and other search sites, as compared with the sum of various syndication deals. That's because, absent a household brand-name in how-to, default consumer behavior may well be to simply type their how-to video query into Google.

    If that's the case, then it will actually be those sites which have the most highly-optimized pages for all the niche videos that will gain greater traffic. Though I'm not an SEO expert, it seems to me that, taking my "bbq steak videos" example, WHT, with 357 related videos can optimize better than say EV with 15. And sure enough, when I ran the "bbq steak video" search on Google, right on the first page is a result from WHT, whereas nothing shows up for EV even after 5 pages. Bottom line: more relevant videos = more zero cost, Google-driven traffic.

    3. Monetization: Video ads or Keyword-driven text/display ads?

    Last but not least is monetization. How-to sites have lots of contextual ad potential. In my "bbq steak" example, any company that sells grills, steaks, sauces, etc, would love to advertise to me. It's tempting to believe that those with their own video libraries have more profit potential, because they can sell pre-roll or overlay ads, whereas a superstore site like WHT or SuTree cannot, because they're linking off to the source sites.

    But consider this: how many of these potential advertisers will actually have video ads or the budget to create them? Unlike entertainment video, how-to, with its Long Tail character, seems to lend itself more to a low cost keyword ad approach which can be pursued by even the smallest advertiser. So say WHT or SuTree can build traffic in all those video niches and surround the video with keyword-driven text or display ads, all automated through a bidding system. Though yielding lower revenue per ad, my bet is that the total revenue for all ads with the keyword approach would be greater.


    The how-to category is nascent and dynamic. I'm not suggesting for a second that it's a winner-take-all space or that all of the above are strictly "either/or." But I do believe the above analysis raises valuable points all industry participants should consider when developing their content, traffic and monetization strategies.

    What do you think? Post a comment now!