How Multimedia & Rich Media Affect SEO

Multimedia and rich media represent similar ideas, but serve different purposes. Rich media refers to specific types of ads, while multimedia is more broadly applicable.

Multimedia vs Rich Media: What’s the Difference?

Different types of media are used widely across the internet in basically every way that you can think of. Pictures, text, blog posts, music, podcasts — the list goes on. As a form of communication, media online has evolved in several different ways. Two of these evolutions are rich media and multimedia. Rich media and multimedia are representative of similar ideas and media types, but may subtly serve different purposes. Multimedia is an umbrella term that can apply to many different kinds of compound media — including rich media. However, rich media describes a more specific set of multimedia features on the web. Below you can find more about multimedia, rich media, and the different ways that they are used.

What Is Multimedia?

Multimedia is communicative media that typically uses more than one medium simultaneously. Multimedia has actually existed long before the internet — the concept dates back to the 1960s. It has evolved as film, art, and now the internet, and continues to progress and change the way that we view and interact with media. Videos, infographics, movies, and other presentations like these are all examples of multimedia.

Multimedia is used in a variety of contexts: entertainment, education, marketing, ads, art — even political campaigns and government agencies use multimedia. Perhaps one of the reasons that multimedia is so widely used is because it is incredibly easy to make. There are several apps, online programs, and even the built-in settings on your phone or computer that can help you make multimedia in a snap.

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What Is Rich Media?

Rich media is a type of multimedia that, according to Google Support, must “include advanced features like video, audio, or other elements that encourage viewers to interact and engage with the content.” For example, an ad that expands when the page loads, or floats as the user scrolls would be rich media. These dynamic elements are designed to create a strong user response as well as to be an interactive part of the page. Rich media typically has many parts, and may incorporate multimedia, such as video or audio components.

Types of Rich Media

There are several types of rich media that you may see across the web, including:

  • Videos — Video ads that play automatically on a webpage are considered rich media. A type of video ad, called a Video Player Ad Interface Definition (VPAID), such as automatic pre-roll or ads or mid-roll ads, are also considered rich media. Videos can be included in all types of rich media listed here. 
  • Banners — Ad banners may exist on any part of the webpage, and include videos, gifs, or images. Banners typically have a fixed size and position, despite moving elements that might be inside the banner. 
  • Expanding — Expanding ads are any type of ad that expands over its initial dimension, typically in front of webpage content. Expansion can be programmed to happen in any direction or size supported by the webpage and can be triggered or deactivated by user-interaction such as clicking or hovering. 
  • Interstitial —  Ads that float on top of the webpage during transitional moments, such as loading or pre-roll, are considered interstitial. Interstitial rich media can be locked in place, or move as the user scrolls, and may be activated or deactivated by user interactions.
  • Multi-directional expanding — As opposed to expanding ads, multi-directional expanding ads (MDEs) expand based on their position on the page. For example, an ad that appears on the left side of the page will detect its position and expand right in real-time. MDEs can also be triggered or deactivated by user interactions. 
  • Push-down — Push-downs are ads that don’t expand over the webpage, but rather push the content down to display the ad. Most commonly, these appear like banners and are usually deactivated by scrolling further down the page. 

These types of rich media may occur separately or together. You can find more rich media examples in Google’s rich media gallery.

How Are Multimedia and Rich Media Used in SEO?

Using multimedia and rich media can influence your page’s UX, web crawler diagnostics, and linkability, which are all important SEO metrics. From a reader’s perspective, multimedia can communicate ideas more efficiently than a wall of text. Therefore, supplementing your page with relevant visuals or graphics may be an important contextual supplement to keyword-rich content that can help you earn more search traffic.

Another crucial part of using multimedia on your page is alt text. Alt text is a part of your page’s HTML and is used to describe your image to search engines, as well as visually impaired readers using screen-reading software. With alt text, you can further associate your content with relevant keywords, and help search engine algorithms understand what your image is about and how to contextualize it with your page’s content.

When it comes to rich media, advances in HTML are used to incorporate the many layers that are a part of rich media ad displays. Studies have shown that rich media ads can result in higher click-through rates, which can appeal to site owners looking to improve ad revenue or discoverability. However, it should be noted that because of its dynamic nature, rich media files are typically larger than multimedia files. This is something to be aware of during your SEO audit, as bigger files can slow down your page load speed, and affect your site’s user experience

When it comes to multimedia vs. rich media and their differences, it all boils down to your needs and your site’s capabilities. If you can use rich media without sacrificing user experience — whether this is loading speed, page organization, or ability to support a link building campaign — then it’s a great option that’s been endorsed by authorities in search, including Google itself, which offers rich media templates to site owners. If your page can’t handle the demands of rich media, multimedia elements can still hit the critical points that rich media conveys, just not as dynamically.