Sustainable websites – tip #4 – get rid of autoplaying videos

July 17, 2022


Videos are amazing! Since Dialymotion and YouTube were introduced to the world in 2005 (and we all got broadband), video has revolutionised how we consume content and share nonsense with each other on the internet.

Videos are a powerful way to convey your message and your culture and values to your audience in a way that text and images just can’t. A picture is worth a thousand words… and a video is worth a thousand pictures.

They’re perfect for educational and instructional purposes. They’re one of the best marketing tools you can use. There’s so much research and stats on how brand and product videos can significantly increase sales regardless of whether you’re buying a pair of shoes, a washing machine or a house. And of course videos are entertaining. I don’t need to say more. We all know videos are amazing and they enhance our online experiences.

So when it comes to sustainability, the problem isn’t videos as such, it’s the use of autoplaying videos, specifically in the hero area of your homepage.

Usability and accessibility

I’ve tried to find proper research to see what the users think when they arrive at a homepage and a video starts autoplaying. Do they generally speaking get annoyed and leave immediately or do they somehow connect with your brand better because of it? However, most of what I’ve found are opinion pieces with a few articles pointing to performance issues and a few (usually from marketing and web design companies) arguing that they help your website appear more dynamic and help connect with users.

Where there is concrete evidence is that autoplaying videos are bad for usability and accessibility. This article from Neilsen Norman Group dates back to 2014 but I think the sentence below still holds true:

“When users arrive at a webpage, they don’t appreciate being surprised by video or audio content that begins playing without their consent. Video, and the accompanying audio, can confuse or distract users, and can interfere with their consumption of content on the page.”

Autoplaying videos create a cognitive load (the amount of mental effort required to do something) and any decent UX person will tell you this bad for usability. I’m sure TikTok and Facebook will disagree with this statement on some level but we’re talking about a website experience and the other thing to bear in mind is that by taking control away from the user to pause and play a video, you are failing on basic accessibility as well.

There’s also some evidence from Wistia where removing the autoplaying video from their homepage actually improved conversions on the website (and remember Wistia’s business is to provide video streaming services):

Performance issues

Autoplaying videos cause performance issues for your website. Videos are bandwidth intensive and slow down your webpage and in a world where Page Speed is king, this is a big problem. Using an asynchronously embedded video through a service like Vimeo or YouTube means that the core elements of your webpage are not affected by loading issues but you’re still making the user download data and on a slow connection, this has a negative impact on the user experience.

You’re also forcing the user to download data they might not want to be downloading and you’re basically making the assumption that all your users have unlimited data packages and a fast connection. We work with a lot of charities and I look at a lot of charity websites on any given day and I’m always amazed when I see a charity that’s helping vulnerable people or people living in poverty with an autoplaying video on their homepage.

The sustainability case

I’m not a huge fan of carbon calculators although some context is always useful when you’re highlighting issues of CO2 emissions. There are always contradicting views and calculations which are at best estimated and probably hugely exaggerated so I’m not going to offer any numbers here (although I can see the dramatic impact removing a video or animated gif makes on our server stats). I watch Netflix and rewatch Ian Wright goals when I need a pick-me-up and I don’t want to get into pros and cons of video conferencing. But videos are definitely energy consuming both from the streaming side and for your device and they definitely result in CO2 emissions and have a climate impact.

As always, I’m advocating for a balanced point of view and I see autoplaying homepage videos like the unnecessary plastic packaging that some fruit and vegetables come in. You just don’t need them so it’s an easy win to ditch them. Plus, as I’ve highlighted above, they cause issues with usability, accessibility and performance so all in all, your website is better off without them.

If you’d like to talk to us about your website or our sustainability journey in general, please get in touch!

Photo by Benjamin Brunner on Unsplash

Wistia Photo Wistia Learning Centre