Explainer Video

The SEO Hunt for Explainer Video

Shawn 03.25.2014

Last month I conducted some quick SEO research on a few targeted keywords to see what our competitors were up to. It’s pretty basic stuff, so I wasn’t expecting any revolutionary info – I just wanted to check out our market.

I searched “explainer video” – a common keyword term – and expected to find sleek, well-made videos dominating the front page of Google. I found the opposite.

The top ten results were a mess of sketchy landing pages and DIY garbage including a Mashable article from 2010 called “6 Free Sites for Creating Your Own Animations.”

I was shocked.

The article was four years old (WHAT?!), and featured sites like Dvolver Moviemaker – a DIY animation creator with eight backgrounds, four storylines, and less than thirty stock characters to choose from. Needless to say, I’ve yet to see a “Dvolver” video on someone’s site.

The “best” offering was from Go Animate, and while I’ll admit it wasn’t terrible, the site only features one style (that looks a lot like Family Guy). If your message doesn’t sound great coming out of Quagmire’s mouth, you’re out of luck.

The point is: Google’s featured search results favored quick, cheap, user-generated videos – and they looked like it.bad character design

It got me thinking – how are these terrible video sites getting on the front page of Google? Do people really not care what their videos look like? Are we doing something wrong? What does explainer video – specifically animated explainer video – really accomplishes on a website?

I’d always thought animated videos existed to capture the imagination and inspire people with new concepts and ideas. I wasn’t ready to accept the mediocre results. So I kept searching.

I found animated explainer videos that launched amazing revolutionary Kickstarter campaigns and birthed a totally new cell phone. I found experimental design and solid RSA style craftsmanship. I consumed more and more explainer video, and I started to love it. Why?

Because animated explainer video captivates.


Every video I was drawn to featured unique, lively characters, and well-written scripts and storylines. I appreciated the depth of effort that went into a great explainer video, and that awareness finally made me realize what differentiated the “good” videos from the “amazing” ones.

Amazing explainer videos are designed to be invisible.

People aren’t supposed to know they’re watching a video – they’re just supposed to watch. The real magic of animation is engagement. You don’t question the character sprinting on the screen – you’re not thinking about frame rates or pacing – because he moves flawlessly. If he moves well, he’s a real boy not a puppet, and you never see the strings.

My favorite Steve Jobs  quote is about designing the user experience:

“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”

I love applying that idea to animation. Great explainer videos are crafted and designed by professionals, which means they’re meant to do some kind of “work.” They’re built for a purpose, and for explainer videos it’s to captivate and convert. Explainers keep people on the site and walk them through difficult concepts. Explainers sell ideas. Explainers work.

So what happens when your video falls short and doesn’t work? What happens when people “see the strings?”

People stop watching.

The average online attention span is 7 seconds. Animated video is the first thing a visitor to your site sees, and if it’s clunky or forgettable – they’re gone, no questions asked. A poorly made video draws attention to itself as a marketing tool, and no one likes being marketed to.

How do I know?

I Googled it.

I revisited that first Google search for “explainer video,” from just a month ago, curious to see if anyone else was inspired by great work. Turns out, they were.

Gone is the Mashable article from 2010. Gone is Dvolver’s Moviemaker and the appeal of “DIYing It.” What I found just one month later was a front page full of thoughtful videos, articles, and lists delineating what makes a great animated explainer video. Once again, I was shocked.

So, what does the front page of Google have to say about animated explainer video these days?

Make your video great.

Sounds like good advice to me.


Born in Southern California, Shawn grew up surfing, eating In-N-Out, and growing his hair long. After graduating with a Liberal Arts degree from CSU Long Beach in 2005 he left the crowded freeways behind and spent the better part of a decade traveling the world living for stretches in Rome, Hawaii, Australia, New Zealand, and Brooklyn. He writes novels as well as copy, loves learning keyboard shortcuts, and plays his grandpa’s old lap steel guitar. You can hear his band at ponieswillbiteyou.com

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