On average, people spend around a year and ten months watching videos on YouTube in a lifetime. Woah!
500 hours of videos get uploaded to YouTube every minute. That’s 720 thousand hours a day! Woah x2!
With such a content overload, you need to work extra hard to even stand a chance of getting noticed. One way to do it is by mastering YouTube SEO.
In the past, promoting your business with the help of videos used to be easy. You make good content - you get the views. The King. The God. The Daddy himself, Pewdiepie, appeared out of nowhere back in 2010 and made the whole generation of Millennials and Gen Zs believe that you can make millions playing video games on camera in your college bedroom. At the end of the day, tens of thousands of gameplay channels created at the dawn of the 2010s have flopped. Nonetheless, it was a cultural reset that left us with a generation of adults with a soft spot for YouTube. This, in turn, led to the popularity of video marketing.
However, the year 2010 is long gone, and quite a few things have changed since then. Nowadays, YouTube is one of the most competitive platforms, with over 1 billion hours of video being watched every day. If you want your clip to go viral and generate traffic, you need to give it a competitive advantage. YouTube SEO is one way to ensure your video reaches your target audience.
Read on to learn more about how to bump your videos to the top of YouTube search results!
What Is YouTube SEO?
YouTube search engine optimisation (SEO) is the process of tailoring content, including videos, playlists, and channels, to get it ranked higher among YouTube search results.
Although it’s slightly weird to think of YouTube as a search engine, it is one. YouTube reacts to search requests type into the search bar and returns the most relevant results. In fact, YouTube is the second largest search engine after Google.
YouTube’s search volume is roughly 3 billion searches per month, which is more than Bing, Yahoo, AOL, and Ask.com combined.
YouTube SEO shares similarities with regular web-page search engine optimisation strategies. Therefore, if you have some basic SEO knowledge, it can be applied to help increase your videos’ visibility. However, YouTube also requires some platform-specific optimisation strategies to make your channel SEO-friendly.
The primary source of the differences mentioned above is YouTube’s ranking algorithm. Unlike other search engines that use web crawlers to index pages, YouTube takes a lot of factors into consideration when ranking videos:
- Relevancy to a user
- Video engagement rates
- User’s watch history
- A specific user’s previous interactions with your channel (how many of your videos they have watched)
- The match between your descriptions and meta descriptions and users’ interests
- View velocity index (the number of subscribers who watch your videos in the first few hours of its uploads)
- The number of subscribers
Why Do You Need YouTube SEO?
YouTube SEO requires a lot of dedication. Why even bother?
- It increases brand awareness. The higher channel ranks, the more exposure it gets, and the higher the chances of going viral are. If you optimise your content well, your videos become more visible to a broader audience and you become more popular.
- It generates profit. Regardless of whether you want to grow your YouTube channel to increase website traffic and generate leads, or want to monetise your content and get revenue from ads, YouTube SEO is the key. If you tailor your videos in such a way to meet the ranking algorithm requirements, the system will let more people see them. More views = more money.
- It brings you more followers. One of the prime goals of YouTube SEO is turning random viewers into dedicated followers. Correct application of YouTube SEO strategies allow you to attract viewers from your target audience who have a genuine interest in your content and convert them into brand advocates. It helps build stronger brand relationships.
- It boosts your brand authority and credibility. If your videos reside at the top of the search results page, you are bound to have more weight in your industry. People believe that the top results contain the most relevant, most high-quality videos and don’t go any further. Unless you are listed in the top five of the search results page, it’s likely a large part of your potential viewers won’t see your videos.
How to Succeed at YouTube SEO?
According to YouTube, the algorithm works in the following way:
“Videos are ranked based on a variety of factors, including how well the title, description, and video content match the viewer’s query. Beyond that, we look at which videos have driven the most engagement for a query, and make sure it’s easy for viewers to find those”.
YouTube has a way with words. To get to the top of the search results, you need to upload engaging, exciting and relevant videos. Makes sense... or does it? This instruction is pretty vague.
Let's untangle the YouTube SEO knot, starting with the basics.
The first thing you need to remember when optimising your YouTube content is keywords. It’s crucial to identify and implement keywords as they are the cornerstone of organic traffic on YouTube. YouTube ranking is based primarily on the relevancy of videos to the viewers, so your content must match the users’ search requests.
Traditional website SEO refers to incorporating keywords into on-page text as well as off-page text, such as meta-titles and meta-descriptions. When it comes to YouTube, the choice is much broader. Let’s settle where you can use keywords to boost traffic:
- Video title;
- Video description;
- Meta description;
- Channel description;
- Video transcription.
There’s plenty of opportunities for a cheeky keyword trick. YouTube is generous with providing you with spaces for strategic keyword placement. However, the success of this manoeuvre boils down to your choice of specific keywords.
Therefore, the YouTube SEO process starts with putting down a list of relevant keywords with high search volumes. There are several ways in which you can generate those: either manually or automatically. Both methods have their advantages and drawbacks, so I recommend to use a combination of the two for the best results.
Method #1. Manual keyword identification
Come up with a rough list of keywords that are relevant to your business and your channel’s theme. From there, you can start branching a mind map out to identify less common keywords.
The best way to check for the most used keywords is by using the YouTube Search Suggestion feature. Head over to YouTube and start typing in your main keyword into the search bar. The platform will automatically suggest the most popular searches associated with your keyword.
You can also be sneaky and borrow your competitors’ keywords. Look up the most popular videos in your niche and see which keywords they use.
Method #2. Automated keyword identification
Unfortunately, there isn’t an official tool for keyword search like you would have when conducting traditional SEO for Google. However, there are plenty of third-party tools and apps that allow you to generate a list of the highest-grossing YouTube keywords for your videos in a couple of clicks.
- FaqFox. Dynamic. Advanced. Helpful. Free.
- Keyword Tool. Popular. Multi-channel. Profound. $69 a month.
- Ahrefs YouTube Keyword Tool. Established. Trusted. Insightful. $99 a month.
- vidIQ Vision for YouTube. Intuitive. Up-to-date. Educational. Free.
- Tube Buddy. Customisable. Multifunctional. Free.
Most modern keyword tools help to not only track the volume for your keywords, but also give you ‘question’ options. For example, if you want to create a video about CRM systems, you can type in ‘CRM’ as your suggested keyword and get the system to generate the most asked questions, ‘what is a CRM?’.
Tip: Don’t stop at YouTube-specific keywords.
Even though most traffic is inbound, there’s also a portion of people coming from Google and other search engines. If you get your videos to rank for conventional search engines, you can get up to five times more views!
It can be tempting to stuff content with various keywords so the target audience always finds your videos. That’s a terrible idea. YouTube punishes keyword stuffing by decreasing the video’s exposure. You need to narrow down your list to a couple of main keywords.
Tip: Practice low competition keyword targeting.
The goal of YouTube SEO is to bump your channel up the list of search results and increase exposure. However, if you’re the owner of a small channel that doesn’t have a lot of followers, you’ll likely end up in the shadow of larger competitors using the same keywords.
My recommendation is to go for slightly less popular keywords and move onto the bigger ones once your follower base has grown. Unfortunately, I can’t do all the work for you - the specific number is intrinsic to each particular industry and niche, so you have to decide for yourself where to draw the line between ‘a sexy opportunity gap’ and ‘a dead keyword no one ever uses’.
Now that you have your keywords down, it’s time to put them where they belong. The most obvious places include the title, description box, transcript, and tags. Try to think outside of the box. All your competitors are stuffing keywords there but a lot of them forget about less apparent options.
Tip: Rename your file and put a keyword in there, too!
YouTube can’t ‘watch’ your video, so it uses a bunch of other ways to find out what it’s about. If you help YouTube with reading your video, it will reward you with a higher ranking. Instead of ‘qwert123finalFINAL.avi’, insert a defining keyword into the name of your file before you even upload it to YouTube.
Title Optimisation: To Clickbait, or Not to Clickbait, That Is the Question
Titles are the essential elements of YouTube SEO. They affect...
- Your Click-Through-Rate (CTR). The title of the video is the first thing people see when they’re trying to find a relevant video to watch. Often, the decision is based solely on whether they find the title exciting or not.
- YouTube ranking algorithm. The title lets the system know what your video is about and classify it correctly.
It’s not just which keywords that matter, it’s also where you put them.
Tip: Place the main keyword at the beginning of your title.
There’s evidence to suggest that YouTube puts more weight on words that appear earlier in the title. So, when you craft a catchy title, make sure you immediately tell your potential viewers what the video is about.
‘What is a CRM system?’ Vs. ‘CRM: What Is It and How to Use It Correctly?’
While both titles are essentially talking about the same thing, the second one is likely to rank higher by the keyword ‘CRM’ because it’s mentioned at the very beginning of the title.
However, it’s not only YouTube that you should be optimising your titles for. Don’t forget that title has an immense effect on the CTR, so you need to appeal to the needs of your target audience too. If you are familiar with email marketing, you can borrow some techniques from there.
- Go for Who’s and How’s instead of Why’s. If you want to intrigue your viewers and make them click on your video, you should avoid the word ‘why’ as it can decrease your CTR by 37%. (Source: HubSpot)
- Throw a couple of numbers in. Adding a number to your title can increase CTR significantly.
- Use Attention-Grabbing Words and Phrases. Those will help you stand out from the crowd and instantly make an emotional connection between you and the viewer.
- Get Emotional. There’s evidence to suggest using emotionally-charged headlines get more clicks and shares.
- Add the current year. Titles with the current year in them create a sense of relevancy and suggest the content is fresh, stimulating views.
- Put some brackets. Titles with bracketed clarifications (e.g., [photos], [video], [slideshow], etc.) showed 38% better results than titles without them. (Source: HubSpot)
However, don’t be overdramatic! Clickbait used to be extremely popular a couple of years ago, pushing CTR through the roof. Today, it’s a failing strategy as YouTube can spot clickbait and punishes you by making the video less visible.
Tip: If you’re not sure about how powerful your title is, check it in the Coschedule Headline Analyser.
Tags help YouTube understand what your video is about and categorise it correctly. If you want your target audience to watch your video, you should tell YouTube whom to show it to.
It can be tempting to use as many tags as possible to increase your video’s exposure to infinity and beyond. I understand your way of thinking: the more tags, the higher the chance at least one of them will work. Unfortunately, YouTube isn’t me and doesn’t work that way.
In fact, since YouTube uses the tags to ‘watch’ your video, using too many of them can confuse the algorithm. Even if you think all of them are relevant to your niche, not all of them are relevant to your video. How can you possibly talk about 19 different topics in a 10 minute long video? Either you can't talk fast enough, or you don't go in-depth enough. If YouTube doesn’t get it, it will drop it and not rank your video the way it deserves to be indexed. Therefore, you should pick a couple of most relevant tags and stick to those.
Tip: The first tag weighs more.
YouTube puts more weight on the tags that come first, so make sure you put the most appropriate targeted tag at the beginning of the string. From there, you can add two or three variations of the main keyword and up to three broad tags.
Tip: Make an appearance in the suggested videos section by borrowing your competitors’ tags.
This tip can be a little bit naughty since we’re talking about stealing your competition’s spotlight, but the end justifies the means.
YouTube encourages binge-watching and seeks to increase total watch time, so it does everything possible to keep videos coming. As soon as a user clicks on a video, a list of suggested videos is generated for them to watch after. If you want your video to appear next to some of the industry’s most popular clips and garner some of their views, there’s a way to do it.
Your video needs to be similar topic-wise. Increase the chances of it appearing there by optimising your video’s tags. You need to make sure that your video shares all the same tags (word-for-word) as the video that you want to be featured next to. To view the tags your competitors use, view source code and check the keywords section of the page.
Work on Boosting Engagement Signals
YouTube is a people’s platform, so it pays close attention to what people like. It has a specific approach to learning its users’ preferences call the engagement signals system. Video comments, the number of new subscribers after watching a video, video shares and thumbs up all constitute a big part of ranking factors.
To make your content more visible, you need to make sure it has a good engagement rate. One of the strongest correlations is between the number of real comments your video gets and its ranking. To rank higher, you need to make sure people leave comments. People love sharing their opinions; the only problem is that a lot of them don’t want to think too hard.
Tip: Add a hyper-specific CTA at the end of the video.
Whenever my friends post pictures of themselves on social media, they hit up the group chat to ask everyone for a like and a comment. I always leave one: not only it’s the ‘girl bro-code’ but I also genuinely think they look hot and want to tell them about it. Unfortunately, there are only so many variations of ‘daymmmmm 🔥🔥🔥’s and ‘lookin like a snacc 😍🤤’s I can comment. Too often I can’t come up with a good comment to leave, so I don’t comment anything.
Chances are, your viewers are the same. You can ask them to ‘comment, like and subscribe’ at the end of every video, but if you don’t specify what exactly they should comment, they will ignore your request. Offer your viewers a specific multi-choice question to answer in the comments section. If you’re lucky, it’ll spark a discussion. If not, you’ll still get the comments and, subsequently, YouTube’s recognition.
Tip: Give a clear reason to subscribe to your channel.
Subscription = commitment. If your viewers are ready to commit after watching your videos, your content must be exceptionally good! Since YouTube loves high-quality videos, you need to convince it yours is such. Encourage people to follow your channel. The best way to do this is by explaining why they should do it.
Instead of simply asking your viewers to subscribe to your channel, promise them some value: ‘Follow us if you want to learn more about CRM systems and get effective productivity tips!’
Nail Your Thumbnails
Just like the video’s title, your thumbnail has a significant effect on your CTR. To show YouTube that your content is well-received and interesting to users, you need to master the art of creating CTR magnet thumbnails.
90% of the best performing videos on YouTube have custom thumbnails. (Source: YouTube)
Some of the tips and tricks to use for a killer thumbnail include:
- Size matters. YouTube requests your thumbnail image to be 1280 x 720 pixels, with a minimum width of 640 pixels. You should stick to the 16:9 ratio.
- Create a branded thumbnail template. This will tie your channel together and help to increase your brand awareness.
- Stand out with your thumbnail colour scheme. It’s important you don’t use YouTube’s standard colours (red, white and black). The best approach is to opt for contrasting colours (orange, purple, green).
- Use text in your thumbnails. No matter how great your Title is, there still will be a portion of people who base their decision entirely on the thumbnail. To ensure you get the message through, include a keyword into the picture.
- Don’t be shy. Exaggerated emotions and interesting facial expressions in thumbnails tend to boost CTR.
Tip: Use 30 characters max in your thumbnail.
Exercise Eloquence in the Description Box
There’s no research to back up the correlation between keywords in the description box and the video’s ranking, but it’s still nice to have neat, well-written text under your video. While your viewers came to watch your video and not read a blog post, it’s recommended you still include 100-200 words of text into the description below.
Some ideas for the things you can put in your description include:
- Video transcript;
- Promotional links;
- Other links, etc.
Tip: Front-load the most crucial information.
YouTube only displays the first two lines of text (about 100 characters) without users having to click ‘show more’. You should place your CTAs and other important information strategically early in the description.
Last but not least, you need to make sure that the videos you post are worth the effort you put into all the previous steps. When creating videos, make sure they are creative, high-quality, well-edited and have a great plot!
If you read this far, congrats, you are officially no longer a YouTube SEO rookie but rather an aspiring professional. Pack it up, the next T-Series!