How to Make High Quality Screencasts to Improve Traffic and Conversions

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Videos are an awesome way to promote products and engage visitors to your site. A while back I wrote an article about why you should be using videos as part of your marketing toolset.

This week I want to follow up on that article in more detail, and provide you with the best products to use and helpful tips to create amazing videos, specifically screencasts.

Screencasts are where you record your desktop, rather than create an animated video.

Often this type of video is used for tutorial purposes, but you can also use it to video through a PowerPoint presentation to make an effective marketing video, or show your browser to review a product.

Quality vs. Cost

Anyone can create a video in this day and age, since access to a cheap yet reasonable quality video camera is easy for anyone with a modern phone or camera.

The issue is always about quality. If the video or sound quality is sub-par people will click away to find something better. Plus recording screencasts from your phone won’t be easy!

Most people can’t afford professional level products and that’s fine, but expect to invest some money into your initial setup. It doesn’t have to be a huge amount, maybe $200 or so if you have no equipment already, though you can probably get it cheaper too.

Hardware

At the very least you need a computer and a microphone. Depending on the sort of video you want to create a webcam may be needed too, but it isn’t strictly necessary.

I am assuming that being interested in online marketing and reading this article that you have a computer, so let’s take that as a given.

Microphones are really the most important part of the setup. As with most things, you tend to pay for what you get, and while professional pay tens of thousands of dollars for microphones, you don’t need to.

Here is a list of some of the best, affordable microphones:

Blue Microphones Yeti Mic

A personal favourite of mine, this mic has really good quality sound for its price range.

Price approx. $100

Blue Yeti Microphone

Blue Microphones Snowball Mic

Price approx. $50

Blue Snowball Microphone

Creative Fatal1ty Gaming Headset

This wired headset is intended for gamers, but it is light and has a fairly decent quality microphone. Plus it is really reliable (I’ve had the same one for about 5 years now).

Price approx. $30

Creative Fatal1ty headset

Of course there are hundreds of other types of microphones out there to choose from. Just remember that whatever you buy, make sure you check out its sound quality if you can (there are a lot of reviews out there that provide sound snippets). You want to be able to be heard and with limited crackles and noise.

Software

As with hardware you can pay a lot of money for video software, but it isn’t really necessary. Keep in mind that you are not going to be making the next Star Wars, so having the ability to do a million different effects is kind of pointless.

In my opinion some of the key aspects for choosing video software are the ability to add basic and images (annotations) on top of the video and to be able to easily edit bits out.

There are two broad types of software available: proprietary software (where you buy it and install it on your computer) and online services.

Both are good in different ways. For example proprietary software tends to have more features and bells and whistles, but online services can be used form pretty much any computer.

Camtasia

This is probably the best video editing software for bloggers that I have come across, while staying (relatively) affordable. It has a learning curve, what doesn’t, but once you get the hang of it it’s easy to edit your video, add annotations, intro’s, etc.

Windows users will be dismayed at the price ($299) but mac users get it for much cheaper at $99 though with less features.

ScreenFlow

A Mac only product, ScreenFlow is also quite expensive at $99 but has numerous features.

Screenr

This is a free online screencast service with a premium side to it (starting at $19/month). While it’s a good system, the cost will mount up over time.

Screencast-o-matic

The cheapest option here at only $15 per year, Screencast-o-matic is powerful and really easy to use. I did find the editing aspects of it quite fiddly, but for the price it’s almost to be expected.

Windows Movie Maker

Ships with windows or is available from Microsoft for free. Windows Movie Maker is…, well let’s just say if you really can’t afford $15 a year for Screencast-o-matic then you could use Windows Movie Maker to create a screencast.

Audacity

Bonus! Audacity isn’t for videos but instead is a high quality free audio editor. I tend to use this in conjunction with Camtasia as it allows you to reduce background noise as well as easily chop and change the audio.

Have a Script Prepared

I can’t stress this enough: before you press the record button write a script!

A script can be as simple as some notes to stop you from getting side-lined, or it can be the full blown video word for word.

Personally I tend to write the full script out and if needed ad lib as I am going.

The benefit of having a script is that it reduces the “uhm err” factor. When people talk naturally and need a moment to think about a subject or phrase, they fill the gap with an uhm or an err or similar sound.

This is fine in day to day speech but becomes irritating when listening to it on a video, and it also reduces how professional you sound.

Having a script will reduce these dramatically. You will still find some in there, but that’s fine so long as it isn’t every other word!

The other good thing about having a script (no matter how simple it is) is that it gets the content of the video straight in your mind before recording it. This can help make sure that everything will be in the right order and that nothing has been left out.

Location, Location, Location

This might go without saying but when you are ready to record your video, make sure that you are in a quiet place, which is guaranteed to be distraction free.

If you live near a road, close your window.

If your computer is loud, try to quieten it (mine has a fan at the top which gets a heavy book placed on top of it) or move the mic away from it.

It isn’t always possible to do anything about computer noise so don’t fret about it too much. If you are using software such as Audacity you can remove some of the background noise later.

Screencasting Dos

  • Do test your sound quality before recording the video. It’s amazing how much the sound quality can drop if the mic is two inches too far or too close.
  • Read your script out loud off camera. It will help you get a feel for the words and highlight any difficult passages.
  • Close all other unnecessary programs. If you use Instant Messaging or have notifications pop up, turn them off.
  • Do take your time. While you shouldn’t be too slow, it also isn’t a race. Pacing your speech will make it easier for people to understand you, especially if you have a drawl or a heavy accent.
  • Do keep it short. On average a 5 minute video is long enough to get your point/information across without losing the viewers’ attention.

Screencasting Don’ts

  • Don’t have a small window showing a picture of yourself via your webcam. Seriously, these tend to look unprofessional. Generally you can’t get the lighting right and maybe people just don’t want to see your face all the time.
  • Instead maybe show your picture near the start or go all out and do a full standing up presentation (green screen will be required!).
  • Don’t use jargon unnecessarily. The only time you should, is if you are certain your audience understands it. It’s sometimes useful to add an annotation at these points explaining the jargon, just in case.
  • Don’t use slang! Remember that your audience may have never heard that term before.

The Bottom Line

You now have everything you need to get started with making marketing videos: the knowledge that they are important, ideas for hardware and software and a bunch of tips.

The question is, will you make videos?

If so what sort of videos will you make? Let me know in the comments!

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