I know what you’re thinking: “Aah, he’s a web copywriter. Of course he wants us to think web copy is better than web video. He’s scared! Look at the chicken copywriter who’s afriad of what video might do to his business! Buuu-ck buck buck!”
Well, you can stop your taunts. I like video and I’ve written quite a few voiceover scripts.
I was actually inspired to write this post by something I saw on Google+. It was an advice video, made by Google, on what to do if your site is underperforming in search.
It sounded pretty interesting, but it didn’t get my click. I didn’t want to watch a video you see, I wanted to read about it instead. Then I started thinking about why I wanted to read instead of watch. And I got a surprise: there are lots of reasons I still prefer written web pages over video.
So I’m going to share those reasons with you, and you can decide for yourself whether you agree.
1. Jump around
When writing web pages I often break the message up into small pieces, each with its own heading. This helps readers find what they want fast. They can read the sections in any order. They can skip bits they aren’t interested in. They can re-read bits they like.
You can’t do that with video. It’s totally linear. If you don’t watch it all, you’ll never know if you missed something important.
2. Read at your own pace
If the average video is around two minutes long, then watching it will always take up two minutes of your time.
But what if you’re a fast reader? What if you just want to scan a page for the essentials? Or, what if you really like to take your time? None of those options are possible with video. It’s those two minutes or nothing.
3. Silence is golden
Most videos feature a voiceover or someone talking. You need to be able to hear the sound to get the benefit. Many videos also have subtitles, but then you’re back to reading.
Well, what if you’re on a noisy train and you can’t hear it? Or you’re in a quiet library and you don’t want to disturb the silence? What if you’re listening to music?
Good old web pages never have sound problems.
4. The little picture
I can watch video on my iPhone, but do I want to? Not especially, and definitely not for a long time. The speakers are weak. The screen is small. The YouTube interface is a pain, while many video formats still don’t work without Flash. And if I’m out of the office, I need a decent signal to see anything at all.
But text-based web pages? I’ve been reading those on my mobile for years.
5. Everything’s great! Everything’s exciting!
When choosing presenters for web videos, producers always seem to hire the peppiest and most fresh-faced people they can find. Well, I don’t know about you, but I often find the boundless enthusiasm of these ‘personalities’ a bit annoying.
Written web pages are a lot less in-your-face, and I like it that way.
Video injured the radio star, but she recovered
The interesting thing about all these points is how surprising they are. Watching a video should be easier and more convenient than reading 300 words on a web page. But it often isn’t.
There’s also a lot of evidence showing the huge rise in popularity of web video. But what types of video? Do people go to to YouTube just to watch entertainment, or to learn about products and other things? I’m sure it’s both, but I bet the majority are movie trailers, music videos, TV clips and so on. Things that video does best.
The rise of web video is indisputable. But I’m reminded of the first video that ever played on Music Television. Today, radio is still going strong while MTV is just a collection of bad reality shows.
Web video is here to stay. But with so much hype around video’s popularity, it’s important to remember that written web content still has a very important job to do.
I’d love to know what you think about web video. Do you want more video and less text on the Web, or have we reached a good balance already? Do you prefer reading web pages instead of watching video, or the other way around? Share your thoughts below.
This post was updated in October 2017.