I recently spent some time creating an explainer video for one of my commercial plugins, Wisdom, and thought it would be useful to share what I learned during the process. The video I made is at the top of this post, so you can see how it turned out.
What is an explainer video?
Well, the clue is very much in the name. An explainer video explains what your product does (up to a point). Typically, explainer videos are between 60 and 90 seconds and provide a high level view of your product.
There are several styles of video, including:
- Live action
- Kinetic typography
- Whiteboard animations
- Or combinations of any or all of the above
What are the benefits of an explainer video?
There are many reasons for you to start considering explainer videos for your products or projects:
- According to this post on Backlinko, video is becoming increasingly important for SEO. People are increasingly searching for content on YouTube and bypassing Google altogether, which means that you need to have content on YouTube if you want to get found by those people.
- The same article quotes a study that shows that 55% of all searches on Google contain at least one video
- Having video embedded on your page will also increase users’ dwell time on the page (the amount of time a user spends on your page), which is a significant ranking signal for Google
- According to this Kissmetrics article, viewers are between 64% and 85% more likely to buy your product after viewing a video (I don’t have any stats to bear this out so take it with a pinch of salt perhaps)
- Video is very shareable, so an explainer video can reach people who otherwise wouldn’t have seen your product
- Perhaps most importantly, it’s possible to create a strong emotional connection with your customer through video
Explainer videos for WordPress products
Let’s imagine you’re a WordPress plugin author selling your products on your own site. You might have a page per product with text and a featured image. Speaking personally, I have often found it difficult to know how best to represent my plugins with a featured image. A screenshot of the WordPress dashboard showing the plugin’s settings isn’t that pretty and a generic stock image won’t convey what the plugin does.
Videos get round this problem by providing visual interest for the user, which is one of the main functions of the featured image, plus they provide information about the product, which is difficult to achieve with a single screenshot. Videos are perfect for explaining complex products in an engaging way.
Here’s an example from Barn2 Media who build and sell WordPress plugins. The video is an explainer for one of their WooCommerce plugins:
What does an explainer video cost?
The video I made cost nothing, except my time. I think you can define likely costs by breaking explainer videos down into three broad categories:
- Production companies: high-end productions created by professional filmmakers. The cost here is likely to be several thousand of whatever currency you care to mention
- Specialist explainer video companies: there are many companies specializing in explainer videos. Often, they use custom or templated animated elements with professional voiceover. Costs will be less than with a live action production company, but still significant.
- Do it yourself – here you have several options to keep the cost down. If you’re making explainer videos for WordPress plugins or themes, the chances are that you don’t have a huge budget to play with. It’s this category that I’m concentrating on for the purposes of this article.
How to make an explainer video for WordPress
Here is the process I followed when making an explainer video for a WordPress plugin:
Start with the script
The script is the single most important element of your video. I strongly recommend you spend some time working out your script before you start work on the other elements. You can always tweak it later but having it written first serves as a good foundation for everything that follows.
Typical script structure
Many explainer videos use a similar three-part structure to tell their story. The script will often follow this pattern:
- State the problem. There must be some kind of problem that your users are facing (otherwise, why would your product exist?). Show the problem through the eyes of your character – how does it make them feel? The problem is possibly the most important single part of your video – it’s the hook that pulls the viewer in. If they recognise the problem as something they experience, they’re going to keep watching.
- Introduce your product: once you’ve defined the problem then you can present the solution. This is the turning point of your video.
- Show how your product solves the problem. One good tip here is to avoid detail – you don’t need to list every feature of your product, just explain how it solves the problem. At this point, the connection between your video and the viewer should be emotional: they’ve recognised a problem that they share and now you’ve shown them a solution. They don’t need to know technical detail.
In most cases, this can all be wrapped up within 90 seconds, if not less. The key, I think, is not to get into too much detail and stick rigidly to the point. Don’t digress…The problem is the hook that pulls in the viewer in your explainer video. If they share the same problem, they'll keep watching. Click To Tweet
Create a character
Having a central character in your video makes it relatable to your customer. Think about who you are trying to appeal to: if your customers are WordPress developers, make your character a WordPress developer.
The exceptions here are videos which are based on whiteboards or use typography. These are fine – and often you can find templates or affordable freelance services for this style of video. However, I feel they’re not as effective as live action or animated videos that feature relatable characters. And that’s simply because human beings are naturally empathetic – if you can create an emotional connection between your viewer and your video’s character, you’ll have more chance of selling your product.
Check out this example of how a character draws us in from the very first second and immediately presents us with relatable likes and dislikes:
Build the video
With your script ready, you can start to put together the video. I looked at the following online explainer video tools and software where you can avoid the higher costs of professional production companies and make the video yourself.
Explainer software tools and software
GoAnimate is an online tool that uses pre-made scenes and templates that you can drop onto a timeline to create your video. You can change the appearance of characters, give them actions, and provide them with dialogue. At the moment, it requires Flash. Pricing starts at $49 per month.
Animaker is another online video making tool. Like GoAnimate, it has several styles you can choose from, including animated character videos, infographics, typography and whiteboard videos. Pricing starts at $19 per month – though you can also create a free account with a limited feature set by way of a trial.
Raw Shorts use a more templated approach. You pick one of their pre-built templates, then just add your own media and text. Although the end result is less impressive than the tools above, it’s a much simpler process. Pricing starts at $8 per exported video – with a free trial option as well.
Render Forest is another online video maker. Again, you choose pre-built scenes and templates and populate them with your own content. Pricing starts at $49 per month, with the possibility to pay per export instead, and a free trial.
Biteable describes itself as the world’s simplest video maker. Its style of character is slightly different from the tools above, more cartoon-y, less anthropomorphic. Biteable has a free trial, and paid plans start at $19 per month.
Animatron Studio is an online HTML5 video maker. It has a free plan, with paid plans starting at $30 per month. It differs slightly from other tools in that it has an advanced version and a lite version for beginners.
Video Scribe is a tool to create animated whiteboard explainers. You can add graphic and text elements which will automatically animate. Whiteboard explainers are probably less emotionally engaging than character-based videos but still do a good job of explaining difficult concepts simply. Prices start at £18 per month with a free trial available.
All these tools look like they can do a good job. The main drawback that I associated with them was the time required to learn how to use the tools – some are more complex than others but they all take a certain amount of time to become proficient in.
In the end, I decided to go with Adobe Spark, which I happened to have a subscription to as part of an Adobe package so it was effectively free to use (though its paid plan is only $9 / month). It is simpler than the tools listed above but more limited in what you can do. However, I was able to quickly put together a simple words and images video that told the story I wanted and without any cost.
Given fewer time and budget constraints I may well have chosen one of the other tools and will most probably spend some more time with them at a later date.
A key element in any explainer video is the quality of graphics. Many of the tools I found had their own graphics libraries; however, several, including Spark, allow you to upload your own. I found a set of character illustrations on Freepik that featured the same character in different situations and with different emotions which I was able to thread into my video’s story. Freepik’s graphics are mostly free with attribution. You can always try Graphic River or similar if you don’t mind paying.
Record the voiceover
Always record the voiceover last. This ensures that you’ve got all the other aspects lined up correctly, like the script and the visuals. You don’t want to record the voiceover, then decide you want to change the script which will mean you have to re-record.
Always use a professional voiceover. If you can’t afford one, I think it’s far better to do without a voiceover than to try it yourself – unless you have experience in recording and speaking.
Resources for finding professional voiceover artists include:
If you don’t have the budget or prefer not to use a voiceover, then you can incorporate your narration into on-screen text, like I did.
Here’s a good example of a simple voiceover. Note how brief the script is – it’s only a few lines just to create the connection between what we’re seeing and what is being promoted.
Why you need text as well
According to this post, as much as 85% of video on Facebook is viewed without sound. So don’t rely on the audio narration to tell the story.
Where to find ideas
If writing scripts and thinking about characters doesn’t come naturally to you, then I suggest that watching other people’s videos is the best way to get good ideas for your own.
One useful recommendation that I have would be not just to watch finished videos, but also to look at some templates offered by some of the video software companies. Some companies offer example videos in different styles, like example product explainer videos, which don’t have finished content but do help enormously with the ideal structure, timing and format.
Here is a template from Raw Shorts that forms a good starting point for a product explainer.
Hosting your video
Once you’ve made and exported your video, you need to host it somewhere. Going right back to the start of this article, one of the main reasons for using video was SEO and being found on YouTube so the obvious choice for hosting would be YouTube. However, you can also use sites like Vimeo or Wistia if YouTube isn’t your thing.
WordPress video themes
Finally, with your video made and hosted, you can think about how best to display it on your site. You can easily paste its URL into your page or post in WordPress and it’ll automatically get rendered. However, if you are selling plugins or other WordPress products, you might like to consider using Showcase, which is an Easy Digital Downloads theme with video support. That’s the theme I’m using on this site and it allows you to place a featured video over a background image alongside the page title and message. This works on posts, pages and for your downloads.