Five reasons video won’t totally erase the written web page

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 voice over 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 and I got a surprise: there are lots of reasons I still prefer written web copy 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. 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? No. The speakers are weak. The screen is small. The YouTube interface a pain, while many video formats (like the BBC’s) still don’t work on iPhone. And if I don’t have wi-fi, I’ll be lucky 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 preppiest and most fresh-faced kids 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 he recovered

The interesting thing about all these points is that they feel counter-intuitive. It seems like video should be easier and more convenient than reading 300 words of web copy.

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. In 2012, radio is still going strong while MTV is just a collection of bad reality shows.

I don’t that will happen to web video. It’s here to stay. But with so much hype around video’s popularity, it’s important to remember that written web content can still more than hold its own.

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.

Last modified on July 17th, 2012 by Neil Wheatley
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The undisputed world's tallest freelance copywriter, since 2008. Please don't write in if you're taller. Technology, software, games and property are some of my favourite markets to write for. My time is split between Manchester and Sheffield, UK and I work with clients all over the world.

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  • SJ

    I prefer watching a video cos they entertain me. Theres a TON of people making videos who are amazing at what they do, that I don’t think this article gave much credit to. I recognized some of the reasons for reading too but you do come acorss defensive about your craft 😉 Good article tho

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I know a lot of people do prefer video in all cases and it’s nice to hear from one. I suppose more and more websites are going to have to start catering for both video and text lovers. It’ll be interesting to see how the web landscape develops over the next few years.

  • My Owl

    Your experience with that Google+ advice video sums the topic up pretty well for me. It’s just easier, faster and more convenient to scan a page of text for the information you want rather than sitting through a ‘How To’ video.

    Of course certain things can be illustrated by a video far better than in text or a still image, so it’s really a case of choosing the best medium for your message.

    • Yep, it’s horses for courses. Video is better for some topics, writing is better for others. But maybe writing is always better for sharing very detailed information, since people can take their time reading it.

  • Nick

    I think to have both – good video and well-written text is essential nowadays.

    • Agreed Nick, you especially need video when selling a very visual product like Cardissimo 🙂

  • kyle

    On the other hand your two minute video is also 2:30 seconds long because there is always a preceding advertisement that has nothing to do with what you are really interested in. Find myself more interested in text because if the ad catches my eye i can click on it, i am not forced to stare at it for 30 seconds before i can get to the information i was interested in

    • Yes I forgot about the ads, they’re becoming increasingly common on YouTube and larger websites aren’t they?