Should You Use Autoplay for Videos on Your Website?

Hold on, when did websites start using video anyway? 

The first time a website hosted a video was way back in 1997 on a site called shareyourworld.com (now defunct, so you might end up in a risky site if you try to find it), which was similar to present-day YouTube. 

Talk about a brilliant idea in the wrong timeline! 

In those days, bandwidth was slow, online transcoding was not yet available (which meant huge limitations for uploading video) and people hadn’t even begun to think about advertiser support or making a profit from web video.

My, how things have changed.

 

So what exactly is autoplay?

As the name implies, autoplay is when a video embedded into a webpage automatically starts playing after you’ve loaded the page.

Let’s say you land on a page and there’s a video just sitting there waiting for you to click play. This is set up by the website owner with the intent to use the video as a positive point of contact with you, the audience. 

But if the video doesn’t immediately interest you and you’re not that invested in the brand or their site, are you really that likely to take that extra step to hit play and engage? 

That’s where autoplay comes in -- to remove that extra step and automatically engage you. 

 

Why should you use autoplay?

Well, it’s become more and more popular in recent years. It’s an awesome way to introduce your website to new visitors, get your latest content the playtime it deserves and create a more fluid and cohesive web experience for the user.

But most of all, it immediately grabs the user’s attention.

According to Animoto, four times as many people would rather watch a video about a product than read about it, and one in four consumers will lose interest in a company site altogether if it doesn’t have video.

Harsh, but true! Most people find video much more engaging than a written post. 

By using autoplay, you’re streamlining the process for the viewer to enjoy your most desirable content. This will lead to a greater number of people engaging with you by watching your video to the end, pausing or scrubbing through your video or clicking on an annotation.

One of the best cases in which to use autoplay is when a user fills out a form to view a video. This would be the perfect time to land them on a page where an autoplay video is ready to go.

Be mindful though, in some situations autoplay can be challenging (read: annoying). 

Let’s say your content topic is personal or confidential, like a video about a medical procedure. Your website visitors may not want a video with sensitive audio to play out loud without their consent - especially if there are other people around. 

Many people want the choice to press play at their leisure. They might want to make sure the volume is just right or they might want to read the information on the page without the distraction of a video in the background.  

man-sitting-in-chair-wearing-headphones-using-laptop

 

Often, users will open pages in a new tab to watch later and don't want videos automatically playing and distracting them from the page they’re interested in. 

The biggest hurdle of applying autoplay is making sure your video content and quality are good enough to snag your viewer’s attention and hold it.

Your message and production value may not be enough to keep them watching to the end — especially if you’re not reaching the right audience. In that case, your message simply comes across as an interruption and creates a negative perception of your brand within the viewer. 

That’s why there’s a need for thorough planning and target-audience consideration in order for your content to create real, valuable engagement.

 

Auto-play nice! What browsers does autoplay work with?

The browser plays a big role. Here’s why:

Every browser has a set of default rules for media and the only way to override these is by accessing the advanced options and customizing them to fit your needs. Although this works natively in most HTML5-based players, it won’t block the older Adobe Flash Player format without using plugins/extensions.

Then there’s Chrome.

When Google released Chrome 66, it blocked autoplay videos by default unless the video was soundless, which required third-party extensions until April 2018. Now, Chrome allows autoplay as long as the video is muted if the user has a history of interaction with the site or if the user has added the site to their home screen on mobile or installed Progressive Web App on desktop. 

Firefox on the other hand, completely overhauled its rules to prevent unwanted videos from playing automatically. 

Sorry Apple users, Safari has implemented the blocking of auto-played videos since 2017.

There are many reasons why browsers block autoplay; it stops you from having to search for which tab the pesky sound is coming from if several tabs are open, it prevents you from burning precious cellular data and it enhances online privacy for videos that are packaged with tracking technology to keep video search results confidential.

 

Questions to answer before you use autoplay on your website

Where do you host your videos? Is your video stored on your webserver? How many videos do you have? Before you set up autoplay, there are some things you should consider.

The first is your server bandwidth. Too many requests for a single large file like a video will quickly exceed your server limits. Then you have to consider storage size. A simple video is at least 100 megabytes, so without ample storage, you simply won’t fit your content where you need it and your hosted video will load slowly or freeze.

A final topic to consider is browser support for videos. Safari will play H.264 (MP4) formats, but not WebM or Ogg. Firefox will play Ogg or WebM videos, but not H.264. Luckily, Chrome plays all the major video formats.

Good job, Chrome.

To set yourself up for success and ready your site for autoplay, you need to host your video on a server. But don’t worry, there’s no need to set up a new one! 

There are video hosting servers like Brightcove and Vimeo which take on all your audience’s requests to view your videos and keep your website free from congestion. 

Services like this automatically convert videos to different renditions and formats, ensuring your content will play on different devices, browsers and platforms.

The most important thing is no longer the video format, or even the video quality anymore, it’s actually the type of player you use.

Having an intelligent video player is a game-changer. Here, you can set your autoplay features, measure your engagement and even determine if your users are connected to WiFi or cellular data, which will automatically dictate if your video autoplays or not to avoid excessive data usage. 

It also provides video quality based on your internet connection speed. The greater your bandwidth, the better video quality you’ll get. 

 

The Final Verdict?

While autoplay is an effective means of reaching your audience, it can be a double-edged sword. 

The most important thing is making sure that you’re providing everyone with an optimal user experience, including people living with disabilities. 

Autoplay can present a glaring issue for users living with disabilities. Having video or audio that starts quickly and without warning could be startling and inconvenient to turn off. Good, modern web design is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act and the W3 Consortium – a series of standards that aim to create a positive experience for all users. Their guidance for autoplay is that video or audio should include an easy to spot and readily available mute or pause function accessible through a keyboard alone.

You'll also benefit from setting up a system and/or player that can accurately measure viewer engagement. You want to know what’s getting watched, when and by who.

Lastly, understand that video is just a piece of your content strategy and you need to be able to deliver a holistic experience to engage and retain your members. 

Don’t let your content go unnoticed. Contact us to help elevate your content strategy and engage your members now!

 

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