Use These 11 YouTube SEO Tips to Improve Your Search Rankings

Author's avatar Content Marketing May 12, 2021 15 minutes read

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    Google Search and YouTube use different algorithms to rank content.

    That’s important to understand as a marketer trying to get your videos to rank higher on YouTube. YouTube SEO isn’t a simple matter of taking the best practices of Google Search SEO and applying them to your YouTube content.

    Of course, there are some similarities. You can’t have a conversation about any type of SEO without talking about the importance of keywords. But while backlinks are a key part of Google Search SEO, YouTube tends to rely more on engagement signals like watch time, likes, dislikes, and number of subscribers.

    So what then is YouTube SEO?

    You’ll find out in this post.


    What is YouTube SEO?

    YouTube SEO refers to the process of optimizing your YouTube videos and channel to rank higher in YouTube’s organic search results. This often includes optimizing your video and meta descriptions, thumbnail, transcript, tags, links, CTAs and so on.

    With over 2 billion logged-in users monthly, this platform offers tons of opportunities, as such when YouTube SEO is done correctly, it can help you boost your rankings, increase brand exposure, views as well as traffic to your website.

    How Does YouTube Algorithm Impact Search Results?

    YouTube algorithm functions in such a way that it determines which videos will be recommended to users based on their interests and your video’s performance. 

    While it isn’t fully spelled out by Google, here’s what we know about the factors that impact how YouTube ranks a video:

    • The amount of time users have spent watching your video
    • If users clicking on your video to watch it after seeing it
    • If users interact/engage with your video (likes, comments…)
    • How well your video’s description and meta description matches the user’s query
    • The user’s previously watched videos (topics and channels)
    • How many videos the user has watched from your channel

    And while there are lots of ways to get your videos in front of people without relying on YouTube’s search engine, almost half of our respondents say that 51-80% of their video views come from visitors who found their videos through YouTube search:

    Obviously, they’re doing something right. And you can do the same by taking advantage of the 11 YouTube SEO tips they shared.

    Related: 25 Marketers Share How to Grow Your YouTube Channel, Subscribers, and Views

    11 Tips For Optimizing Your YouTube Videos For SEO

    To find out how you can optimize your videos to rank higher in YouTube’s search engine, we asked 47 SEO experts to share their best YouTube SEO tips.

    1. Start with Keyword Research
    2. Understand Your Audience
    3. Include Your Keywords in Key Places
    4. Say Your Keywords in Your Video
    5. Create an Eye-Catching Thumbnail
    6. Use Tags, and Use Them Properly
    7. Create Long Videos
    8. Answer Unanswered Questions
    9. Don’t Give Everything Away Early
    10. Include Captions/Transcriptions
    11. Create Playlists of Your Videos

    1. Start with Keyword Research

    “When deciding which topics you’d like to make videos for, it’s important to do keyword research,” says Brad Driscoll of Leveling Up Your Game. “Not only does this help you make sure your content is optimized, but it also ensures the content you’re creating is on topics people are interested in.”

    Paul Lovell of Always Evolving SEO agrees and says preparation is key. “The one thing you do not want to rush is your keyword research. You’d be surprised by how just changing the angle of your video can lead to ten times the search volume.”

    There are a few ways to do keyword research for YouTube videos. 

    The first is by looking at what keywords your competitors are using: “Look for videos that cover the same topics as yours and see what keywords they’re using,” says Veronica Batista of OnPoint Internet Marketing.

    The second is by seeing what people are searching for on YouTube: “A good way to start your keyword research is to actually type keywords into YouTube’s search bar and see what the top suggestions are,” says Kyle Kozie of LSEO.

    YouTube search autosuggest

    “Those suggestions should be the most popular searches on YouTube,” Kozie says.

    And the final way to do keyword research for your YouTube videos is to use a keyword research tool.

    What are the Best YouTube Keyword Research Tools?

    We also asked our respondents to share their favorite YouTube keyword research tools. The top results included YouTube, Google, SEMRush, Ahrefs vidLQ, and 

    “The free browser tool TubeBuddy provides valuable insights into current search results, as well as suggested tags for your video,” says Andrew DeBell of Water Bear Learning. “And as your video rises in the search ranks, TubeBuddy also shows what position your video ranks in for each of the tags you chose.”

    Big Sea’s Alex Dunn recommends vidIQ: “Keyword research and comparison tools like VidIQ have really helped us flesh out video SEO and build our channel from the ground up.”

    2. Understand Your Audience

    Another important part of keyword research is understanding what your audience is looking for.

    “By knowing the language your audience uses, you can target keywords using that language to rank higher,” says Summit Mindfulness’ Osiris Parikh.

    But as Spire Digital’s Nick Farmen says, you need to understand more than just the language your audience uses. YouTube searches tend to use different terms than general Google searches.

    “For example, people aren’t searching for ‘best practice’ on YouTube. Instead, they’re searching for ‘expert tips’ or ‘advice.’ The audience on YouTube is a bit more casual in their keyword choices,” Farmen says.

    Editor’s note: Discover the videos your audience enjoys the most by grabbing this free YouTube Channel Performance dashboard. It gives you a quick view of your watch time trends, top videos, like rate, comment rate, share rate, and more—all in a centralized, shareable view.

    YouTube Channel Performance dashboard

    3. Include Your Keywords in Key Places

    Once you know which keywords you want to target, it’s time to optimize your video for those keywords by including your keywords in key places.

    “Make sure to include keywords in the title of your video,” says Fortunly’s Igor Mitic. “Your title should clearly state what your video is about. Don’t try to be mysterious or abstract—it may affect your overall ranking.”

    In addition to including keywords in your title, Shayne Sherman of TechLoris recommends including them in your description. 

    “This provides the algorithm the context it needs to properly serve up your video at the right time,” Sherman says. “Include the keyword in the first 25 or so words of the description, as well as a few more times throughout as naturally as you can.”

    But as you’re adding keywords to your description, it’s important to keep this advice from Alex Cascio of Vibrant Media Productions in mind: “You should try to creatively/naturally add your targeted keywords into the description without keyword stuffing.”

    Marissa Ryan of VisualFizz also recommends “including your keyword in the tags and transcript of your video,” and Michael Simonetti of AndMine says to “incorporate your keywords into your video’s filename.”

    4. Say Your Keywords in Your Video

    Another place to include keywords is in the words you speak in your video.

    “My number one tip is to speak your target keyword in your YouTube video,” says Zalán Tallér of Morningscore

    “That has recently become a very influential factor since YouTube and Google no longer need a transcript to understand what you are saying in your video. Their algorithms can understand what is being said without the need for a transcript.”

    “If your targeted keyword is in the title, description, and transcript—and you are saying it in your video as well—your rankings will increase without any doubt,” Tallér says.

    Sam Simon of Graber Manufacturing agrees and recommends “saying your keyword in the first two sentences of your video.”

    5. Create an Eye-Catching Thumbnail

    YouTube video thumbnail examples

    Another way to increase your clicks and rankings is to include an eye-catching thumbnail.

    WebTek’s Lance Kopp offers these tips:

    • “Use a high-quality image that depicts the topic of the video.” 
    • “Don’t be afraid to add text, but make sure the font fits the essence of the video and has depth. Shadowing gives a title/text a more professional feel.” 
    • “Colorize! Don’t go overboard, but colors capture attention. Maybe the first line of text is in white, but make the second line stand out with a nice lime green or yellow.”

    Max Thorpe of WeVideo also recommends “experimenting with your video thumbnails to gauge what works and what doesn’t.” 

    “Custom thumbnails are a must,” Thorpe says. “Having an actual person in your thumbnail with the title written out can help increase your click-through rate, which helps your rankings.”

    6. Use Tags, and Use Them Properly

    “Use keyword tags, but don’t overdo it,” says Jonas Sickler of Terakeet. “Including dozens of irrelevant phrases could hurt your video SEO because YouTube won’t understand what your video is really about.”

    “As a best practice, choose a maximum of 5-8 targeted tags that explain your video’s theme. Add your primary keyword first, followed by secondary keywords, common variations, and one or two long-tail keywords,” Sickler says.

    However, Growth Hackers’ Jonathan Aufray recommends using only long-tail keywords as tags. “Most people uploading videos on YouTube will use single keywords, but they should be using long-tail keywords. That’s what people search for.”

    “Say you’re uploading a video about the best automation tools for startups. You don’t need tags like ‘startup,’ ‘automation’ or ‘tools.’ Instead, what you want are tags like ‘best automation tools for startups,’ ‘automation tools for entrepreneurs,’ ‘best marketing software for business owners,’ etc.,” Aufray says.

    And Liz Jeneault of Faveable recommends “tagging your videos with the names of other popular videos or accounts that are related to the content you’re posting.” 

    “For example, I used to tag my talent reels with the names of well-known news anchors or ones that had popular talent reels online. That way, my videos would pop up as being related to the popular ones and get more clicks,” Jeneault says.

    7. Create Long Videos

    “Video length is king on YouTube,” says Best Company’s Benjamin Smith. “Though you might think that shorter videos are the most popular, YouTube tends to give precedence to longer videos.” 

    “I spent four months filming a mini-series of 35 videos and found that though I wanted these videos to be short, the closer they came to the 10-minute mark, the better they were rated on YouTube, and more views they received.”

    Lots of our respondents agreed. In fact, when we asked our respondents to rank several aspects of YouTube videos in terms of their importance, keyword usage came out on top:

    aspects of YouTube video

    “Don’t be afraid of making things a bit longer,” Smith says. “Though it may take a bit more time and effort, it will pay off in the end!”

    “YouTube’s objective is to keep users engaged and on YouTube for as long as possible,” says Rajnish Ajpal of iBrand Strategy Services. “Shorter videos cause a discontinuity in viewing. Longer videos enable continuous viewing, so they have a better chance of keeping users on YouTube.”

    Editor’s note: Use this free YouTube Top Videos Dashboard Template to track the best performing videos from your YouTube channel to get actionable insights on the total watch time of your videos, average view duration, new subscribers, and more.

    YouTube Top Videos Dashboard Template

    8. Answer Unanswered Questions

    “Once you have your idea, find all the similar videos on YouTube and look through the comments to see what questions people have asked,” says Heather Baker of TopLine Film. “Build a list of needs that have been unfulfilled by other videos on the topic and satisfy those needs in your video.” 

    “If you give the people what they want, they will watch to the end, like, comment, and share, and that will have the biggest impact on your YouTube search rankings.”

    9. Don’t Give Everything Away Early

    “Watch time is a key factor in determining which videos rank and which ones do not,” says Matthew Ross of My Slumber Yard. “You can improve your watch time by teasing important information near the beginning of the video to keep viewers watching until they get the answer, opinion, or data they are looking for.” 

    “In other words, don’t just give away the most valuable information within the first minute. By keeping viewers on the edge of their seats, you’ll be able to improve your rankings,” Ross says. See how well your viewers engage with your videos using this SEO dashboard.

    Alejandro Rioja of Flux agrees: “Pique the interest of the viewer early on, and then deliver on that promise later on in the video.”

    Editor’s note: Need a better way to track your watch time trends on YouTube? Grab this free YouTube Watch Time Performance dashboard for an easier way to measure important YouTube engagement metrics like watch time, views, and subscribers gained and lost.

    YouTube watch time performance dashboard

    10. Include Captions/Transcriptions

    “One way to get your videos to rank in YouTube search is having captions,” says Nextiny’s Gabriel Marguglio. “YouTube really helps with this since they provide automatic captions for all your videos. This should save you a lot of time, but it’s still worth sifting through and checking for accuracy.”

    However, Marion’s Tony Mastri recommends “adding custom closed captioning rather than relying on the auto-generated closed captioning.”

    “Early on in my career, I was working on a YouTube optimization project. I had almost everything optimized, and right off the bat, the video was ranking moderately well.”

    “About a week later, the CEO asked why closed captions hadn’t been added, so I added them. Within 48 hours, the video had gone from performing well in YouTube search to performing well on YouTube and snagging first-page real estate in the Google SERPs for the target keyword.”

    “Closed captions with correct spelling and grammar made a marked difference in the results of our campaign,” Mastri says.

    “Having an accurate transcription not only helps with SEO,” says Erica Stacey of Scout Digital Training, “it’s also hugely beneficial for engagement with the video. Some people still prefer to watch videos with the sound turned off.”

    11. Create Playlists of Your Videos

    “YouTube’s number-one priority is to keep people on the platform as long as possible,” says Marcus Krieg of WireBuzz. “So while everyone else is thinking about creating videos, I want you to think about creating playlist experiences.”

    “By performing all the pre-production and strategy up-front, you can engineer deeper connections between videos and intentionally guide viewers through a sequence of learning that makes your offer a no-brainer.”

    “You can see what this looks like on the channel Breast Cancer School for Patients, which features a surgeon teaching patients everything they need to know about their cancer journeys.”

    YouTube marketing funnel playlist example

    “Properly sequenced videos are a powerful way to add more value and build a tribe on YouTube,” Krieg says.

    Jarred Manzone of 9Sail agrees: “Create collections of video content that guide viewers down the sales funnel. Start with a few videos that address awareness about your product or service, then content about consideration, and finally, videos catered to people in the decision phase.”

    “Utilizing playlists can pack all this together into an informative and effective sales funnel that will also boost your YouTube rankings,” Manzone says.

    And in addition to guiding users through their buying journeys, 9Sail’s Kyle Kasharian says “playlists will help you capture the up-next spot and encourage users to consume more of your content in a single sitting.”

    Finally, Vito Michael of Vaetas recommends “adding a link to the playlist URL in each video’s description and embedding the playlist for each video in blog posts on your website.”

    Remember: Quality Comes First

    Finally—but most importantly—is quality. After all, no amount of SEO will get your videos to rank if they’re low-quality to begin with.

    Our respondents offered a few final tips to help you improve the quality of your videos.

    Mony Raanan of Audiobuzz says that “you can increase watch time by selecting the best music for your video.”

    Anthony Bianco of The Travel Tart suggests “making sure the video content is relevant and answers a query.”

    And Lisamarie Monaco of leaves us with this advice: “Be original. People want to connect with real people. Give them what they want.”

    Connect your video hosting platform, such as YouTube or Vimeo, and your website analytics platform, such as Google Analytics, to marketing reporting software like Databox.

    Create a video marketing dashboard or use pre-build templates to visualize your video marketing data, such as views, engagement metrics, and conversion rates. The report will give you the results of your video marketing efforts and can help you understand the impact of your SEO strategy.

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    Jessica Greene

    writes about marketing, business, and technology for B2B SaaS companies. A former writing instructor and corporate marketer, she uses her subject-matter expertise and desire to educate others as motivation for developing actionable, in-depth, user-focused content.

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