Based on the new plugins and apps I’ve seen advertised in the past few weeks, it’s pretty clear that video is hot.
Sales pages, blog posts, information products, and even podcasts are all using video. Maybe you’re even thinking about using it on your site.
But even though you can find dozens of tools and tutorials for creating video, there’s something missing. Judging by the email I’m getting, people are confused. How does your awesome video make it from your camera or cell phone onto your website?
The first thing you need to understand is that there are two separate pieces of the video puzzle that need to fit together so that you can show videos on your site. One piece is storage – where your video files are going to live. The second piece is the player, or the code that allows your video to be displayed on the page.
Part One: What to Do With Your Video Files
Obviously, no one can watch your video if it’s still on your computer. It needs to be uploaded to a server somewhere, whether that’s one you own and control, or a public option. Like everything in life and business, there are dozens of ways to store your video files for easy viewing by your audience.
Store Videos on Your Server
All the files that make up your website – all the images, your theme, all your text, and WordPress itself – live on a server. A server is nothing more than a sophisticated computer which is networked with dozens or hundreds of other computers. The small part that you own is your hosting account. You can access your files via your cPanel interface (if your host offers it) or via FTP with a client such as Filezilla or CuteFTP.
You have several options for uploading video to your server. However, this is not the most efficient method. Here’s why.
Video is a resource hog. Every person watching your video is taking a piece of your allotted bandwidth, and if enough people are all watching your video at one time, your website speed (and that of every other site on that server) will be effected. Get enough visitors trying to watch a single video, and it simply will not play. Unless you’re on a powerful (and expensive) private server, you likely don’t have the bandwidth available to host a popular video.
If you do decide to go this route, though, there are two ways to move your video files to the server.
Upload via the media uploader. Just like an image, you can use WordPress’ built-in media uploader to add video to your site. Just click the “add media” button in your post editing screen, browse for the video file, and click “Insert into post.”
Pros: The benefit of this method is that it’s very simple and happens right within WordPress as you’re editing your post. Click – click – click, and done! What could be easier?
Cons: While this will work for very short videos, the upload limit in WordPress (a security measure to prevent unauthorized uploads of malicious files) restricts file size, making all but the shortest of videos incompatible with this method. This method is also hosting your video on your own web server, which is inefficient for other reasons, which we’ll look at more in the next video storing option.
Upload via FTP or cPanel to your hosting account. If you’ve ever moved a file on your computer from one folder to another, you’re ready to use FTP. The principles are exactly the same. You’re simply copying a file from your computer (one folder) to your server (a different folder). All you need to do is log into your hosting account or fire up your favorite FTP client, browse to the file on your computer, and click upload.
Pros: Relatively easy to do if you’re comfortable with FTP or cPanel, plus you’re already paying for your hosting account, so there are generally no additional charges incurred (unless you exceed your storage limits).
Cons: Hosting companies like to say you have “unlimited” storage and bandwidth, but the reality is there are limits, and hosting video on your server is the fastest way to find out what those limits are. In addition, user experience will likely suffer, especially if you get a surge in traffic. Get a big enough surge in traffic on a shared hosting account, and your hosting company may disable your site, because it will negatively effect all the other sites on that server as well.
Add Them to YouTube or Vimeo
In terms of ease of use, YouTube is probably the best in the business. If you have a Google account, you have a YouTube account, and uploading videos to your channel is intuitive and fast. Vimeo is another hosting option that offers both free and paid accounts. But they’re not without their downsides.
Pros: Easy to use and familiar to many. Great option for hosting videos you hope will attract a wider audience. YouTube or Vimeo provides the player code, which makes it easy for you (and everyone else) to show your video on any website. All you have to do is copy and paste the code.
Cons: Lack of privacy is probably the biggest con. If you’re using video as part of a paid product, there is no way to do it with YouTube or with a free Vimeo account. Your video will be publicly available on the site. You can make your video “unlisted” but that will not prevent others from embedding your video on their site if they know the URL. You can also make your video “private” but then you must individually invite people to watch it. Free Vimeo accounts do not have the option for privacy, although paid accounts do.
Store Them on a Media Server
With much better bandwidth, no storage caps, and no option for the public to browse your files, a media server is the best option for storing videos and other large, private files. Perhaps the easiest and most commonly used is Amazon’s S3 servers. For a very small fee (at the time of this writing, I pay about $2 per month for my Amazon S3 account) you can store any digital file, including video, on one of Amazon’s servers.
Pros: Besides being lightning fast and having no bandwidth caps, the biggest advantage of using Amazon is that it’s not on your hosting account. Accidents happen. Sites get hacked. Backups fail. When you store your important files off-site, it’s one less thing you’ll need to worry about in the event of catastrophe. (I also recommend storing your backup files on Amazon.)
Cons: There is an additional cost involved, but they do offer 12 months for free (limited storage space). Navigating their interface can be confusing, as well, but with a tool such as Cloudberry (PC only), S3 Fox (cross-platform), or Cyberduck (Mac only) uploading files is as easy as using FTP.
Part Two: How to Play Video Files on Your Website
Storing your videos is only the first piece of the puzzle. Before anyone can view them, you have to have a way to play them on your page. This used to be rather techy and difficult to manage, but now WordPress makes it much easier.
Use the WordPress Built-In Video/Audio Player
Starting with version 3.6, WordPress now includes a built-in HTML 5 media player. It is extremely simple to use, and for most browsers, requires only that you put a link to the video or audio into your post. That’s it. Just the link, and WordPress does the rest.
Pros: Easy to use, works on both desktop and mobile browsers. Works no matter where you store your videos.
Cons: Your theme must be HTML 5 compliant or the player will not work. While most themes are, there are some notable exceptions, such as some older Studio Press themes. If you want to have more control, such as adding a splash screen or enabling auto-play, you’ll need to use the short code instead.
Use YouTube’s or Vimeo’s Player
If you host your videos on either of these services, they provide code that you can just copy and paste into your site to create the player.
Cons: Requires that your video be stored on their service. In the case of YouTube, that means your video will be publicly discoverable on YouTube.com. It also means that others can embed your video on their site. The same is true for Vimeo free accounts as well, although paid accounts have the option of keeping your video private.
Use a Third Party Plugin
There’s no shortage of options when it comes to video plugins for WordPress. They range from super-simple free players (likely no longer relevant since WordPress 3.6) to highly sophisticated (and expensive) players designed to keep stats, hide the controls, and redirect viewers after the video is complete. Which you choose is largely dependent on your needs and level of technical expertise. Some of the most common are:
Easy Video Suite
This is not a plugin, but rather a full-featured video management suite. You upload videos right through the dashboard, then Easy Video Suite generates the necessary code to create the player for you (similar to what YouTube does). It connects with your Amazon S3 account for video storage, tracks views and sales resulting from those views, and will play YouTube videos as well. There is a one-time purchase fee and it requires installation and configuration before you can upload your first video.
Pros: All-in-one solution allows you to upload and create the player in one place.
Cons: Cost is prohibitive, and installation can be tricky.
Media Element JS
This plugin is free and compatible with most browsers. While you do have some control over looping, auto-play, and splash images, with a little knowledge of shortcodes, you can do the same thing with the WordPress built-in media player.
Pros: Cost and ease of use.
Cons: A bit redundant since WordPress 3.6.
Simple S3 Video Player**
This is a new plugin from David Perdew at MyNAMS.com. It’s not free, but in terms of functionality and ease of use, it’s the best value of all the paid players. Simple S3 Video Player allows you to play videos from a variety of sources, add pop-up elements such as buy buttons, and redirect users after viewing.
Pros: Flexibility and the option to use many different video formats, including YouTube.
Cons: Has a bit of a learning curve.
** Full disclosure: David is a client of mine, so I have intimate knowledge of this plugin.
These are by no means the only video players or storage options available to you. But the bottom line is this:
Find the storage/player combination that makes sense for your site and audience. If you have only a few viewers and need your videos to be private, uploading to your host and using WordPress’ built-in player might work for you. If you have a lot of viewers and don’t care if your videos are public, YouTube is a great choice for both storage and the player. When you’re ready for larger audiences and need true flexibility, definitely check into Amazon and a more fully-featured video player.
Do you have questions about video storage and players? Leave a note in the comments and I’ll do my best to help you out!