15 Steps to Create Great Blog Videos

by Joel Friedlander on July 23, 2012 · 16 comments

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Video is everywhere in blogs today. As many people predicted, when web surfers get broadband internet service, they want blog video and lots of it.

Let’s face it, we’ve all be raised on television in one way or another, and that’s got to be a powerful influence.

Lots of people enjoy learning through video lessons, and if it’s entertainment that drives your blog and your books, there’s no better way to deliver it than through video.

In order to deliver great content, it seems like you have to get your videos to look good, too. A year or two ago you could probably get away with bad-looking video if your content was good.

But the spread of video has also raised the bar as far as what looks “good” to the average viewer.

A few weeks ago a woman walked up to me at a publishing group meeting and introduced herself. “Actually,” she said, “I feel like I already know you since I’ve been watching your videos.”

Wow, that was great, because that’s just what I was aiming for. It’s also the way I feel about people I’ve watched on blog videos, and it’s a powerful testament to how we humans connect and how, if we invest ourselves in what we’re doing, it can really affect other people.

Which is Better, Video or Text?

Last week I posted a video instead of writing a post. At times I’ve wondered whether making a video takes more or less time than writing a typical 1,000-word article.

Over the past year I’ve acquired equipment for doing videos, gotten a ton of practice, and created hours of video for my online training course for authors, The Self-Publishing Roadmap.

So while I’m sitting at my desk pounding on my keyboard, right behind me are the lights, tripod, camera and a big whiteboard just waiting to be used.

The two processes—writing and making video—use completely different skills and equipment.

Writing a post is pretty straightforward:

  • outline
  • write
  • edit
  • format
  • add photo
  • post

With video, you get much more involved with technology and completely different kinds of processes. For short videos you might not need a script if you already know what you want to say, so at least you can avoid the writing part if you’re confident on your feet.

Of course, it’s far simpler to create screencasts where you make a movie of what’s happening on your screen, and you add your voiceover. I use a lot of these, too, but it’s the live action videos that I like the most.

With all that in mind, here’s my method of dealing with web video for blog posts, and for products and services that you might create from your blogging activity.

How to Create Blog Videos in 15 Steps

This is the basic process I go through—along with the tools I use—to make blog videos like the Book Marketing Continuum, a pretty simple whiteboard presentation that ran about 13 minutes:

  1. Outline content—there’s no way around this, and it’s very similar to outlining a written post. Regardless of how it looks, most people can’t just turn the camera on and start shooting impromptu and hope to get anything of quality out of it.
  2. Create a cheat sheet—I hang a single piece of paper on the front of the tripod so I can glance at it during filming. I do them with a Sharpie marker which makes creating diagrams very easy and quite visible from 4 feet away. I’ll use this as I work through the content. The illustration at the top of this article shows part of one of these sheets from a recent shoot.
  3. Adjust the lighting—On the recommendation of a cinematographer I bought a set of 2 “softboxes” on tripod stands. Unless you’re adept at shooting outdoors, you pretty much need to have lighting to get a good looking video.
  4. Check the microphone—You may have realized this, but while you can watch a video that’s not very well made and still get a lot from it, if the sound is bad, it’s likely you will stop watching. When I realized that microphones don’t have to cost that much, I got an Audio-Technica ATR-3350 microphone for less than $25, and it works great.
  5. Set the camera—Last year I made a bunch of videos using my iPhone. Although these came out better than expected, eventually I realized I needed a camcorder, and bought a Canon Vixia MF400. This allows me to zoom, adjust white balance and exposure, and generally takes great HD video.
  6. Shoot the video—Surprisingly, this part can be just a small part of the process. I know what I’m going to say, I’m all set up with equipment I’ve used a lot before, so I’m comfortable and just launch in. I was super pleased to find a tiny remote control that came with the camera, too. This allows me to flip the screen around so it’s facing front, which makes it easy to see if you’ve got the shot framed properly, then start filming with the remote. Love that.
  7. Transfer the video—My camera uses SD cards, so I’ve got a couple of those, and they are very cheap for mass storage. Not only that, I discovered the new Macintoshes now come standard with a slot for SD cards, making it very easy to get them onto my Mac.
  8. Convert the video—Unfortunately, I can’t use the videos in the format the camera uses (*.MTS) so the first thing I do is run them through a converter to get a .MOV file. I use Wondershare, a fast and capable program with lots of options.
  9. Edit the video—When I first got started with video I realized it would work for me if I could keep it simple. Like a lot of people I don’t have time to learn a ton of complicated new software. iMovie looked like what I wanted, but the interface was frustratingly hard to learn. Eventually I started using the editor in Screenflow, a fantastic screen recorder for Macintosh. I love this software for its simplicity, range of tools, and speed at getting video done without getting hung up in editing minutia. What a great program.
  10. Export the video—Once you’re finished adding titles and editing your video, you export it from Screenflow. You can send your videos straight to Youtube.com or Vimeo.com or just dump them to your drive in .MOV format. I’ve been hosting my videos on Amazon S3, a bulk hosting service. This means I’ve got another step to do.
  11. Convert the video again—The standard for web video is the MP4 format, and that’s the one that also plays on mobile devices like phones and tablets. So now I run the video through a great free product, Handbrake, to get them encoded properly for all kinds of uses.
  12. Upload the video—Since these files can get pretty big, you either have to use FTP software to transfer them to the server you’re using for hosting, or a special program. Right now I’m using a nifty free plugin for Firefox called S3 Organizer that does the job quickly and easily.
  13. Set permissions—By default all media files uploaded to the S3 servers are private, so you’ve got to go in and set the permissions through the ACL (access control list) because otherwise people will get an error when they press the “play” button.
  14. Create a player—If you use a host like Youtube.com you won’t have to worry about this, but for S3-hosted videos, you have to create the player that will actually show your video on your blog. I use the (paid) EzS3.com service to do this.
  15. Embed your video—Grab the code from your host (or EzS3.com player) and make sure it’s sized properly for your blog. The main content area on my blog is about 500 pixels wide, so I want to stay within those boundaries. Embedding is just a matter of putting the HTML code provided into your blog post.

Extra steps can include creating an MP3 audio file for those readers who would rather listen than watch, and that has its own conversion and uploading chores, too.

Is all that faster than writing a blog post? I don’t think so, but if you want to get the benefits of a great connection with your readers and the ability to explain complex or visual tasks, it’s really worth it. This whole process probably took me about 2 hours to produce that 13-minute video.

Have you thought of trying out video on your blog? Have you been able to streamline the process?

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    { 12 comments… read them below or add one }

    Austin Briggs November 13, 2012 at 4:16 am

    I’m considering videos for my website, now that my content is mounting up.

    The issue is, I don’t only hate my voice, I also hate how I look on videos.

    I’m thinking to go the voice-over route: speak my text into a mike, send it together with the outline to a video contractor on Elance, get back the final product with my voice, animated bullet points and what not. Three steps.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander November 13, 2012 at 11:06 am

    Austin,

    Most people start off with screencasts and they work great. They are also very easy to do if you have some screen recording software. You can use anything on your screen, so you could even do your bullets in Word and just flip the pages as you talk. Good luck getting going.

    Reply

    Jessica Vargas October 2, 2012 at 9:25 pm

    Fantastic article, very helpful and definitely did improvements on my blog!

    Reply

    Patti Ryan July 23, 2012 at 5:14 pm

    Fantastic article. I just shot our first video to promote our book, so the timing was perfect for me. I always appreciate when someone tells me what is working for them. That way I can start there and know I can get throught the first effort. You always learn so much my actually doing it.
    — Patti

    Reply

    Lindsay B July 23, 2012 at 4:10 pm

    I’ve tried a couple of screencasts, but shooting video seems pretty challenging if you’re a lone-wolf operation. Maybe I’m just cowardly (and shy) though. ;)

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander July 23, 2012 at 5:21 pm

    You mean you don’t have green skin?

    It is challenging, Lindsay, until you get it set up properly. I spent months on this and took 2 courses last year to try to figure it out. As an “old print guy” it was quite a leap, but I’m glad I’ve done it. Now, I can just get up and make a video any time I want and I love having that flexibility. And it would work well with screencasts, too.

    Reply

    Linton Robinson July 23, 2012 at 8:46 am

    Well, of course it takes longer to do a video than to write an article.

    But the main thing is, it takes longer to access the information. And the “reader” has no control over the speed at which to absorb, and can’t skim or evaluate.

    Video is useful for things that require visual input. Screenshots for computer tutorials, as one example. They are a highly inferior way of presenting verbal information.
    Their use to just say something that could be written is what is known as “inappropriate technology”.
    I almost never watch videos that want to tell me something that could have just been written. It’s actually rather insulting, as well as inefficient and poor use of time resources.

    Reply

    Tracy July 23, 2012 at 5:18 am

    Joel,
    Videos are great for getting across human expression and covering a lot of ground quickly. There is a place for them and they do work for a lot of people. From my standpoint, video on the web can be a problem though, for websites I visit daily like news or blogs. I, like many others, are behind a work firewall that blocks video content. It’s not just YouTube, but virtually all forms of streaming video just won’t work. In addition, there are plenty of people who also work in environments where they can’t listen in peace, making a video a bit of a challenge.

    Now, you may think I’m going to say that video for bloggers is a bad idea. I don’t think that is the case. I just think that every video should have a written component that is either, a summary of the video content, or the full script of the production included with the post. Instead of catering to one group who prefers video, by posting the written content along side, gets both groups on-board. On top of that, the written material will also supplement and underline the video.

    That’s just my 2 cents, but I have been frustrate to no end at news websites, like even CNN, who will have video only content for many articles. I have to go elsewhere if I want to read the story. Yahoo Finance on the other hand, they always post both the video and the article at the same time in the same post. This is wonderful, as I can get what I need without the video.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander July 23, 2012 at 5:19 pm

    Good point, Tracy. What I like about video is that it has become possible for solo bloggers to offer content in many forms—video, audio, text—and thereby reach more people.

    Reply

    Michael N. Marcus July 23, 2012 at 3:13 am

    The worst mistake I see in amateur videos is bad camera angle. Often a camera is mounted on top of a monitor and emphasizes the top of the head, or else the camera is on the desk and focuses on neck and chin. Backgrounds often include distractions, but some people try to hide them by hanging up a wrinkled bed sheet — not much of an improvement.

    If there’s a lot of crap in the background, a good camera can throw it out of focus. Spend a hundred bucks on professional lighting to eliminate ugly shadows. Don’t let your nose cast a shadow on your cheek, or a piece of furniture block out the sun on your entire face.

    It would be nice to have a video composed from multiple camera angles, like a news report in a TV studio. Watch some newscasts. See how the anchor or reporter turns to face another camera (deliberately done wrong on Weekend Update on SNL).

    Wear simple clothes that will not clash with the background. Avoid patterns that will cause a moire (this happens on network news shows sometimes).

    Learn how to edit and combine multiple takes. If you are doing a five-minute video, it is unlikely that all 300 seconds will be perfect. Try to make multiple excellent short segments — maybe even done in different locations.

    Beware of background noises like dogs barking, trucks rumbling by, air conditioner starting, music in adjacent rooms, washing machine beeping.

    Look in the mirror. Make sure that buttons that should be buttoned are buttoned, and that you don’t skip a button hole. Wash your face. Keep the environment cool enough so you don’t perspire.

    If you’re a woman, do not show so much cleavage that people don’t look into your face. http://bookmakingblog.blogspot.com/2010/12/warning-beware-of-distractions-in-your.html

    If you wear glasses, make sure the lighting doesn’t make them glare, and that there is no obvious dirt on them and the glasses are not crooked.

    If a pimple shows up on your nose just before you are ready to make the video, postpone the shoot. No one expects you to have a Hollywood makeup crew to make you beautiful, but do your best to eliminate facial distractions.

    Experiment with recording in stereo. A pair of microphones will pick up some natural room ambiance, and the sound will follow your face as you turn.

    Don’t rustle papers like Rush Limbaugh or bang on the desk.

    If you have to cough, sneeze, belch or fart — STOP recording.

    Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse.

    Michael N. Marcus
    http://www.bookmakingblog.blogspot.com
    http://www.SilverSandsBooks.com
    http://www.BookFur.com
    http://www.Facebook.com/SilverSandsBooks

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander July 23, 2012 at 5:18 pm

    All great suggestions, Michael, especially the “look in the mirror” one which you forget at your peril.

    Watch out for backgrounds because it’s super easy to end up with a video where it looks like something is sticking out of your head.

    Reply

    patti ryan July 23, 2012 at 5:26 pm

    Michael –
    What I notice most often in amatuer videos is BAD audio! Followed by BAD lighting.
    The video hobbyist doesn’t bother with using a lav mic, they may not even know there is a mic input on the camera.
    I’m a former corporate video producer, I know that good audio is just as import as the image.
    You have lots of good pointers.
    Patti

    Reply

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