I said, “Can any one tell me the use of blinkers?”

“No!” said Sir Oliver shortly, “because they are no use.”

“They are supposed,” said Justice, the roan cob, in his calm way, “to prevent horses from shying and starting, and getting so frightened as to cause accidents.”

Black Beauty, by Anna Sewell

When I was young I read Black Beauty, a novel about the life experiences of a horse and his friends. I gobbled it up and quickly moved on to the next book, but so many years later, I still remember one specific passage. It was about training horses using blinkers (also known as blinders), the black eye-pieces that block part of a horse’s vision so they don’t become scared or distracted by people, animals, or things on the road.

As a child, I thought, why block someone’s vision? Isn’t it better for them to see and experience everything around them? While speaking about horses, that may certainly be true.

But as a marketer? Well…the answer’s a little different. While we don’t want our audience to feel like we’re controlling their experience or taking away their ability to navigate and consume content, we always have to consider how to design and offer up the best experience possible. Because content is nothing without context, right?

People love video because it’s an experience.

Your audience can see it, hear it, almost touch it. It’s the best thing, next to being there in person. But it isn’t an experience in itself; it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. What about your audience’s whole, complete experience of the video on the page, and amongst the rest of your content?

Video is a content medium that impacts—and is impacted by—the rest of the content you are presenting. So, when offering your audience a video, consider whether a lightbox video or a video embedded inline on the page would offer the best experience.

What is a lightbox video and an embedded video?

A lightbox video essentially takes over the screen. The player pops up in the middle of your screen, and the rest of the content on the page is dimmed so that focus is on the video, rather than on any other ads, video, or text. Our Personalized Video page, for example, uses a lightbox video. Check it out for yourself – just fill out the short form and the video will pop up for you.

An inline embedded video is—you guessed it—embedded right on the page. It lives amongst other content, and you can play it on screen while also interacting with or reading the other elements on the page. One of our latest blogs uses this video style.

So when should you use them?

There is no hard and fast rule for when you should use one over the other. It depends on the rest of the content, and the experience you want to offer. The player styles offer different options and impact consumption and user experience in various ways. Here are a few things to consider:

Focus

When offering content, do you want your audience to consume the video first and foremost? Does it introduce content that isn’t available in full on the rest of the page or site? Do you want to limit distractions and take away temptations to click on other videos, advertisements, or other content? Then perhaps a lightbox player is right for you. It puts the video front and center, graying or blacking out the surrounding content. It’s perfect for helping ensure that your video gets the full attention it deserves.

But lightboxes aren’t always sunshine and rainbows (literally, since they dim the content around them!). Sometimes you may want to present other, supplementary content while the video is playing. Or, you may lose the focus of some viewers because they prefer to interact with the rest of the page, including scrolling, while listening to a video – which they can’t do with a lightbox because it forces an exit. With an inline embedded video that keeps playing, users can experience parts of a video and other content at the same time, if they wish. Social media sites like Facebook, for example, present video inline rather than in a lightbox so that users can continue to experience and monitor their feeds and conversations, and other site offerings. Pages that offer ad space could also benefit from inline videos so that the ads remain visible during video playback.

Creativity

A video doesn’t always have to be displayed as a plain old box on a website or landing page, always looking the same and interacting with the content around it in the same way. You can not only display, but present your content to your audience in different ways based on whether you want to go with a lightbox or inline embedded video player.

Lightboxes seem to pop out as though from nowhere on a page. The player is essentially activated by a “link”, which can appear as a play button, as a text link, as an image, and more. This kind of set-up allows you to customize the look of the link, as well as what is going on around it—think images, copy, or even a video on a loop. It does away with the old “black box” on a page, and gives you the freedom to make a powerful experience for your viewers. It’s up to you if you want the video to autoplay or not; for example, if someone comes to the video from an email, it can autoplay so they don’t have to click play again, but a play button may appear for any viewers who arrived on the page organically.

Want an example of how to use a lightbox creatively? Check out what we did with our Space Camp Video Marketing Summit page. Since the 2015 event wrapped up, the page displays a looped video of some highlights, and when you click the play button…voila! A highlight reel video in a lightbox player.

An inline video isn’t without its charms, though. While the video player clearly displays on screen, you can get creative with how content displays around it. This example shows how the video appears as an introduction to the rest of the content, while in this example, the thumbnail of the embedded video appears as though it’s simply a landing page with an image of a book, until…well, click and you’ll see!

Page design and usability

While deciding between a lightbox or inline embedded player, consider how you want your viewers to respond to your page’s design and content. For example, do you have a video series, like webinars or quick video tutorials you want to showcase on a page? You could offer your viewers an experience like this, where viewers can easily see and scan through the series, and toggle between the ones they’re interested in.

This version, though, presented in a lightbox, can offer a different experience.

Startup Open House: Show Reel

While clean and distraction-free, viewers need to have a deeper understanding of the usability of your videos; they can hover over the video and then click a button to show all the associated videos. This pauses the current video, interrupting playback, but the video can be easily unpaused with just a click on the screen. This style is also very effective if you set up the videos to autoplay one after another within the same player, giving it a seamless feel without bouncing the viewer around the page to different players.

A few final design and usability points to consider: while lightbox videos can cause confusion—a viewer may try to hit the Back button to go “back” to the page or exit the video, for example—it does free the page’s designer from layout constraints, including things like the widths of design columns. It’s also great for responsiveness on different devices (a page or site should be responsive to whatever device is being used, presenting content in a tailored and resized format), since a lightbox is already front and center, and will adjust to different devices accordingly and perhaps more easily than an inline embedded player.

There you have it. Try the different versions for yourself during your next campaign, and discover the possibilities for attracting and engaging with different viewers. When done well, your viewers won’t feel like they’re wearing blinders, or feel like the video is in an out-of-date style. They will simply get an experience that will allow your content to shine! Let us know how the different types of players work for you.

Update: Ensuring Your Inline Player is Responsive

Choosing the right type of player is important, but don’t forget about making sure your player is responsive. Every video hosting tool is a bit different, but if you’re using Vidyard, here’s an easy way to make sure your players look good on desktop, mobile, and everything in between:

Now, if you’re not a fan of trying to copy and paste code samples from a video, we hear you. Just check out this knowledge base article for step-by-step instructions on how to implement this responsiveness in your inline players!

Emily Ross