Website Usability: YouTube Player vs. Self-Hosted Video


Terry Smith

August 4, 2015

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Video content can have a great impact on your target audience and can be the perfect medium to showcase your products and services online.  A study shows that using video on landing pages can increase conversion by 80%.

There are 2 main methods to integrate videos on a web page. Webmasters can opt for video self-hosting, which means  they need to upload a video file to their server, and get the code to embed it. Alternatively, they can leverage YouTube or another streaming service, where they upload a video and then integrate it on a website via URL or embed code copy-paste. Leaving aside the implementation difficulty, let’s review the usability issues of both means.

YouTube Player vs. Self-Hosted Video: Which is better for website usability?

User Engagement and Distraction

YouTube video has one definite drawback: once you upload it to the platform, it no longer belongs to you, but to YouTube. Hereof, your site visitors may experience the following problems.

  1. If you use the third-party audio track in your video, YouTube will be displaying ads at the bottom of your video because of copyright infringement issue. As YouTube states, there is no way to directly disable ads just on embedded videos. So your site visitors will be distracted by overlay ads and may even abandon your site if they find the offer interesting.

  2. If you use the default embed code from YouTube, the option “Show suggested videos when the video finishes” is automatically enabled. Therefore, without digging into YouTube embed settings, you risk to lose your site visitors because of related videos appearing at the end of your clip.

  3. Some people can be more comfortable to click on the little YouTube logo and continue watching the embedded video on the hosting platform. Such visitors are unlikely to return to the referring site.

Youtube and distractions

With self-hosted videos, you will never face these problems. There are no ads, no suggested videos, and no YouTube logo visible. Therefore, there are no temptations and distractions for the users of your site.

Winner: Self-Hosted Video

Mobile Playback

If a good part of your audience comes from mobile devices, you have to take care of mobile video playback. Before 2015 there was a real problem to stream video on portable devices. Apple banned Flash from the iOS and webmasters had to start using HTML5 video standard instead. Without special encoding software like free Freemake Video Converter, it was hard to prepare video files in three HTML5 compatible versions for self-hosting. YouTube didn’t provide HTML5 option for all videos, either. Fortunately, early in 2015 YouTube announced that it would default to the HTML5 video. This means that now any video embedded from YouTube will be equally well streamed on desktop and mobile devices.

Mobile video compatibility

For self-hosted videos, mobile playback is still a problem if they are streamed in Flash format, not HTML5. So here the YouTube player is a better option.

Winner: YouTube Player 

Streaming and Loading Times

Video files are quite large in size. Unlike images, a 1-minute HD video can exceed 100 MB. Now, imagine what will happen to your hosting server when dozens of folks try to watch this video at the same time. With low-cost hosting plans, you are unlikely to engage your visitors with self-hosted videos because of slow buffering and constant interruptions. The obvious solution here is to upload a smaller video file to your server.  But in this case how do you maintain video quality?  Low-resolution videos aren’t good for usability in any way.

slow video streaming

YouTube seems to be a better option for sites with unreliable hosting. The embedded player loads as an ordinary image file and YouTube servers are unlikely to go down.

Winner: YouTube Player 

Interactivity and Customization

YouTube embed player provides few options for customization. You may only adjust the player size and controls, turn off suggested videos and edit the video title. Any call-to-actions are limited to YouTube captions which allow users to link only to some other YouTube content. So if you need a custom video player to fit your website design and to interact further with your audience, YouTube is a bad option here.

video customization

Depending on your budget and coding skills, you may use free and commercial HTML5 video players like VideoJS or Projekktor which can incorporate your company colors as well as features like pop-up players, lightboxes, captions, subtitles, logos, playlists and social sharing. They also allow you to add interactive functions within the video which help improve the user experience and can boost conversions.

Winner: Self-Hosted Video


All in all, we see that the choice between YouTube player and self-hosted video for website usability is a question of business priorities. Those who aim for a better user experience via high retention and extended video playback options should opt for self-hosting video solutions. For website owners who have limited webmastering resources, the YouTube player seems to be the best option.

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