YouTube SEO Guide: How to Optimize Your Videos

When it comes to SEO, we’ve said it once, we’ll say it again (and again, and again): content is king. But content doesn’t just refer to blog posts, articles, or the copy on your website. In the world of SEO, written content, while vital to your overall strategy, is not the reigning champ – that distinction goes to video.

Video is the #1 content strategy online, ahead of written content, images, and infographics, and it’s not hard to see why. Compared to text-based results, video content is over 50 times more likely to rank organically on page 1 in Google. Why is this? A quick answer is the engagement video content receives – videos have a 41% higher click-through rate (CTR) than plain text results.

The frontrunner in video-sharing is YouTube. YouTube is the second most visited site online, with 2 billion monthly visitors. For businesses, YouTube can be an invaluable resource for reaching new prospective customers and growing an audience – in a study shared by Google, 90% of users reported they discover new brands or products on YouTube. YouTube can also help impact search results, as 88% of the videos ranking in the top 10 results on Google rank on YouTube for the same search.

But, as with anything in SEO, you need to know what you’re doing to use video content to its full advantage. Although the benefits of a strong YouTube presence are undeniable, it’s easy to get lost – after all, 500 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube per minute.

In our YouTube SEO guide, we’ll define video SEO, provide step-by-step instructions to develop and execute your video strategy, and help you learn how you can optimize your video content to increase your reach, your audience, and improve your search results.

What is video SEO?

Video SEO refers to specific strategies to increase engagement, traffic, and visibility of your video content. Unlike more general SEO, video SEO can refer to increasing prominence on video-hosting websites – such as YouTube, Vimeo, etc. – and Google video search results, as well as in general search engine results.

A Closer Look at YouTube

While much of video-oriented SEO advice can be applied to video content across all platforms, YouTube presents its own set of opportunities and considerations when it comes to video SEO. In addition to encompassing video SEO, YouTube SEO refers to utilizing features of YouTube’s platform specifically to further impact your SEO efforts.

Note: YouTube is owned and operated by Google – as such, YouTube videos index automatically and will not experience delays showing up in results.

YouTube functions similarly to a search engine, with particular factors that influence a video’s ranking in results (more on this later). YouTube has defined its search with two primary considerations: 1) relevance to the search query, and 2) which videos have received the most engagement for that query.

How to Optimize Your Video Content

Before You Start: Researching and Developing Your Content Strategy

As with written content, creating and sharing videos requires a plan in order to be effective. If you aren’t intentional about your video strategy, it is unlikely that your videos will see much success in terms of engagement and ranking in results.

To give your videos a chance of ranking, you will need to determine target keywords, the audience you are trying to reach, and the purpose of the videos you would like to create before you begin the video-making process.

  • Identifying Target Keywords: before you begin creating content, you need to identify the keywords you would like to rank for to help establish your content topics. Consider active conversations in your industry, or frequently asked questions. What topics can you inform an audience about? What search queries will lead prospective customers to your business?
YouTube Suggested Search | Status Labs

  • For further insight, make sure to include YouTube’s suggested search in your research. Similar to Google’s, YouTube’s suggested search will present related topics or similar searches conducted by users. This can help you identify more content opportunities, as well as get a sense of what people are searching for.
  • Competitor Research: once you have determined target keywords and topics you would like to cover in your videos, take a look at your competitors. How long are their videos? How are the titles formatted? How many views are these videos receiving? What conversations are happening in the comment section? How well are their videos ranking? What does their channel look like?

    Understanding what it is about top results that appeals to your target audience can help give you insight into topics to cover, types of videos to create, and untapped areas of potential, as well as smaller details and features such as thumbnail style, video length, etc.
  • Build Out Your Channel: a well-established channel can not only help your videos rank, but is an opportunity to give viewers more information on your business, as well as “next steps.”

    To get the most out of your YouTube channel, upload a profile picture and cover photo, include links to your website and other online assets, and make sure your about section or channel description is filled out with relevant information about your business.

    Note: to set a custom URL for your channel, your YouTube channel must be at least 30 days old, have a profile picture, and have 100 subscribers.
  • Establish a Posting Plan: once you’ve conducted your research, developed a list of target keywords and topics, and noted any important elements to include in your videos,you need to establish your posting plan. Your posting plan should include video outlines – topics, style, length, descriptions, etc. – as well as a posting schedule. Like any other social media platform, consistency is an important aspect of building your YouTube channel, so make sure your plan is doable and sustainable to maintain momentum.

Making Content: What is a Good Video?

When people talk about high-quality video content, the advice can be a bit intangible, often something along the lines of: make videos people actually want to watch!

But what does that mean?

Defining Quality Content

An overarching definition of high-quality content can be difficult to define, as the type of content you produce and publish depends on your industry, target audience, and goals. However, there are some considerations to take into account when creating quality content.

Generally, high-quality content, whether it is written, video, audio, infographics, etc., is content that you have put time into, that educates your audience, and has a clear and defined purpose. Generic or fluffy content will not be rewarded by Google, YouTube, or other search engines.

When creating quality content, consider your purpose, and consider your contribution. High-quality content stands out and informs, so find topics that aren’t as deeply talked about or that you can offer your own perspective on as a business.

For YouTube specifically, there are tools that can help you understand audience response to your content, which can help you identify the content that resonates most with your audience.

YouTube Ranking Factors

Similar to more general search engines, YouTube has ranking factors that influence where a video lands in results. These factors are:

  • Retention: sometimes referred to as audience or view retention, this is the average percentage of a YouTube video that people watch. If viewers click away from your video before it has finished, that can lower your retention score. Retention is a major factor in YouTube video visibility, as the platform rewards videos that keep people engaged.
  • Watch Time: similar to retention, watch time refers to the total amount of time that viewers spend watching your videos. The higher your overall watch time, the more likely your videos are to rank in search results and recommended videos.
  • Session Time: the total amount of time a user spends on YouTube watching videos before they sign off. While sessions can include other videos as well as your own, this measurement can provide insight into videos of yours that may result in a session end (someone leaving YouTube).
  • Engagement: comments, views, shares, likes, and subscriptions – all of these are types of engagement that videos receive. Engagement is a vital aspect of ranking videos, both on YouTube and in Google search results. An analysis of 1.3 million YouTube videos found that the number of comments, views, and shares have a strong correlation with higher YouTube rankings.
Video Comments YouTube
Source: Backlinko

Getting the Most Out of YouTube Features

While the quality and content of a video is key to the overall success, utilizing other features of YouTube’s platform can help increase your video’s overall performance.

  • Title: your video title should be short and include your target keyword – 90% of the top ranking videos on YouTube include as least a part of the target keyword in the video’s title:

YouTube Keyword
Source: Briggsby
  • Thumbnail: your video’s thumbnail should be dynamic and eye-catching, while also fitting the general tone or aesthetic of the video. For brands, including your logo in thumbnails can help viewers recognize your business.

  • Description: search engines cannot crawl videos, so descriptions on your YouTube videos can provide viewers and search engines alike with more context for the video and for your business.

    To get the most out of your descriptions, include your keyword in the first 25 words of the description, and then 2 to 4 more times throughout the description. Don’t let descriptions dip under 250 words, and include links to relevant web assets and profiles.

    While descriptions are valuable to more general search engines and viewers, there seems to be no correlation between YouTube rankings and video descriptions that have been optimized for specific keywords.
  • Tags: tags can help tell YouTube what your video is about. To use tags effectively, include the target keyword as the first tag, and then include a few more related topics and different wording of your target keyword or query.
  • Playlists: utilizing playlists on YouTube can not only make your channel more navigable, but can lead viewers to the next relevant video to watch. Playlists can encourage viewers to explore more of your channel, increasing overall retention and watch time.

  • Captions: closed captions on your videos can have a significant impact, increasing reviews by up to 4%. What’s more, captions increase the accessibility of your video content.

    A word of advice: do not just go with YouTube’s automatic caption generator. Though decently accurate, these often also have many inaccuracies, and can harm the understandability of your video to certain viewers.

Other Tips and Tricks

  • Define your topic quickly: videos that contain the keyword and overall topic in the first 30 seconds tend to perform better for their target keyword.
  • Prioritize high video quality: over 68% of YouTube results on page 1 are HD so, whenever possible, ensure you post videos with high video quality.
  • Don’t cut it short: videos that rank on page 1 have an average length of just under 15 minutes – while some topics demand more time than others, make sure to avoid posting videos that are too brief.
  • Include end screens: end screens are a great opportunity to simulate what YouTube does naturally with suggested videos for your own channel. Include them at the end of your video with links to other relevant videos or recently posted videos to encourage viewers to watch more of your content.

Sharing: After You’ve Posted

Once you’ve posted your video, there’s more you can do to give it a boost. It is important to do this quickly, as the first 48 hours after posting your video are key in its success.

  • Share on socials: sharing videos on social media platforms can be a great way to boost engagement with both your videos and your social channels. Video shares have a significant impact on ranking, and sharing your videos with followers will increase this likelihood.

YouTube Video Shares
Source: Backlinko
  • Respond to comments: responding to comments can increase user engagement on a particular video, as well as encourage users to engage with your content more in general. Additionally, engaging with viewers can build respect and trust with your followers, positively impacting your reputation.
  • Embed in content: embedding videos on your website or in blog content can not only have a positive impact on your video’s ranking, but also improve the SEO strength, readability, and reach of your content.

More from our blog

get a free quote
Global reach. Dedicated attention.