Last updated on 24th June 2022
If gaining popularity on YouTube is a mystery to you, then you’re in the right place!
When casting an envious eye at the millions of views enjoyed by the most successful YouTube channels and popular videos, it’s easy to put that good fortune down to the fact that the channel was already established and had an unfair head start.
But remember, every single YouTube channel started with 0 views and 0 subscribers. Every single one.
So how can one video about [enter any subject here!] accumulate millions of views, while another video about the same subject can barely reach ten people?
The answer isn’t elusive or mysterious. The answer is YouTube SEO.
If you want people to see your YouTube content, then you need to optimise your videos to be discovered.
We’re here with good news: it IS possible to rank higher on YouTube! You just need to know how –and, in this post, we’ll talk about how.
How does YouTube SEO work?
Like any search engine, YouTube video rankings are determined by a complex algorithm, but our advice is not to get caught up in trying to understand every single factor.
Instead, just remember the ‘goal’ of any search engine: to give searchers the best quality content, which best matches what they’re looking for.
Specifically, the YouTube search algorithm depends on two ‘groups’ of things:
- ‘Technical’ SEO signposts like video transcript, title, description and tags, which tell the algorithm what your content’s about.
- ‘Human’ SEO signals which tell the algorithm whether the people who watch your YouTube content think it’s any good: stuff like watch time, click rate, retention and user engagement.
In many ways YouTube SEO is more straightforward than other search engines.
Because, unlike Google and others, which give real weight backlink profiles, domain metrics and other complex factors to evaluate rank, YouTube SEO pretty much boils down to optimising things you can control: making awesome videos, and signposting it properly with technical stuff like video descriptions, playlists and metadata.
Whichever way you slice it, the success of any YouTube channel depends on being able to slide your content into those precious YouTube search results.
So let’s demystify the whole thing: let’s take a look at 13 ways to nail YouTube SEO, optimise your videos and channel, and, ultimately, get more viewers!
1. Have a focus keyword
The first of our YouTube SEO tips is all about keywords.
Whether you’ve already posted your videos to YouTube, or you haven’t even pressed record yet, targeting a relevant keyword to base each video around will really help your YouTube SEO efforts.
All search engines work by matching the users search term with the most relevant results – and YouTube is no different!
If you’re jazzing up old YouTube videos, re-watch them and try to pinpoint the main topic. Ask yourself: What is the focus of this video? What is the key word?
For any future videos, it’s easier if you choose relevant keywords before you start. That way, you can use a keyword research tool to help you find the most popular search terms to use.
They all work in a similar way, but keywordtool.io is the most ‘beginner’ friendly if you’re new to keyword research.
You just select your chosen search engine–in this case, YouTube–and then enter your chosen keyword. We’ve gone with ‘Instagram Hacks‘:
The free version of the tool gives you a list of the most popular keywords relating to your search term, like this:
But with the pro version, you can dig a little deeper by also comparing search volume, CPC (cost-per-click), and competition.
This will help you to find a set of keyword ideas that have a high search volume and low competition to give you the best chance of ranking higher on YouTube.
Once you’ve used one of the above tools to identify popular keywords that closely match the topic of your video, jot them down or export a list – and carry on reading this article for tips on how to use it to rank higher.
Keywords aren’t everything, but diligent keyword research certainly offers a good starting point in the world of YouTube SEO!
2. Optimise the video title
Once you’ve got your keyword, you can begin to use it to optimise your video in different ways to help improve your YouTube ranking.
One of the simplest ways to do this is to include the keyword in your video title.
But, with 400 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute(!), a keyword alone is not going to be enough to give you a huge YouTube SEO boost.
Your video title needs to be compelling. It needs to send a message to YouTube users that says ‘Click me!‘
A great way to do this is to promise something: Are you going to teach your viewers something? Are you going to entertain them? Let them know what they’re about to watch. Take a look at the results below for our keyword ‘instagram hacks’:
The highest-ranking YouTube videos for this keyword promise to teach their viewers something new–and, of course, they all include the keyword verbatim.
But they also have a little bit of extra description. The title ‘Instagram Hacks’ is not enough to gain views, or even ‘I will teach you instagram hacks.’
You need to think deeper.
Let your viewers know exactly how many hacks you are going to teach them, or promise them something specific and highly sought-after like the second video in the above example.
Including these promises in your video title – without exceeding the maximum character limit – is a great way to attract clicks when your
And, if YouTube’s search algorithm picks you up , guess what? You get a tasty boost in the YouTube search results.
3. Optimise the video description
In addition to optimising your title, you also need to optimise your video description.
Now, while your title is mainly to catch the eye of potential viewers, you can be a little more in-depth with your description.
YouTube displays the first 125 characters of your description, but it is a good idea to write around double that–aiming for 250 words if you can. YouTube also recommends that you put the most important keywords toward the beginning of your video description.
Of course, it’s not all about the algorithm. Your viewers will be reading this too, so make sure you keep their engagement in mind.
There are a couple of things you need to remember when writing your video descriptions:
- Don’t forget to include your target keyword(s)!
- Make sure that what you’re writing is unique. Don’t just copy and paste some text from your website or elsewhere
- Include your website URL to direct viewers to your site
Take a look at this example:
Straight away we can see a link to the creator’s website. Then below that are a couple of lengthy paragraphs about the video, including the title of the video and the keyword (build an online business) in the very first sentence.
A unique, optimised description like this allows YouTube to understand what your video is about and then put it in front of the right people.
4. Include the right tags
After placing your keyword(s) in your title and description, you also want to put them in the ‘tags’ section.
Tags are for YouTube’s reference only, so your viewers won’t see what you include.
Feel free to add as many variations of your keywords and search terms as you can think of.
If we stick with the ‘Instagram Hacks’ example, here are 7 you could use:
- Instagram Hacks
- Life Hacks
- Social Media Hacks
- Social Media
- Social Media Tips
Notice that they don’t need to be super-specific.
There is a Chrome Extension for YouTube called Tube Buddy.
Among many other features is keyword rank tracking, and this allows you to find out the search ranking for different tags so you can use the best ones for SEO.
You should also use an app like VidIQ to help you see what tags your competitors are using. By using the same tags as your competitors, your videos will start ranking in the ‘Up Next’ section whenever someone watches their videos–so you can direct attention from them to you!
5. Create an engaging script
You might be tempted to skip this point.
After all, scripts are wooden and awkward, and you want to come across as natural and spontaneous, right?
Well, an engaging, well-written script can actually give you a better chance of coming across as natural and spontaneous, while at the same time ensuring you don’t get sidetracked and lose viewers.
A script can help you tighten up your language, cut out the “ums”, “ahs”, and “where was I?” and grab your viewers’ attention.
A study by AdAge in 2015 (a lifetime ago in video marketing years) found that marketers have just 10 seconds to capture and engage their audience before losing them.
Their study also found that if your audience isn’t fully engaged by the first 30 seconds, then you’ve likely lost 33% of them. And remember, that was in 2015! It’s even more difficult now.
So make sure you write a script with a short and snappy intro, one that gets to the point quickly and informs viewers why they should stay tuned. Think of it as an expansion on your title–set a promise at the start that you will fulfil by the end.
Say your target keyword in your video. YouTube is increasingly adept at being able to automatically ‘listen’ to your video and transcribe it, and if you say your target keyword, ideally early and a couple of times – organically, of course, so it’s natural to a human audience – you may find you get a little rankings boost.
6. Start making longer videos
Despite popular belief, longer videos actually outperform shorter ones when it comes to YouTube. Type any keyword or phrase into YouTube and usually the top-ranking videos are pretty lengthy:
In fact, YouTube actually use total view duration as a ranking factor. It makes sense if you think about it–the longer you watch, the more engaged you are, the more likely you are to watch more videos and the more likely you are to see the advertisements – aka kerching for YouTube!!
The longer your videos are watched, the higher your rankings are likely to be. This naturally means YouTube favours longer, high retention videos that audiences stick around watching for longer periods.
However, this doesn’t mean that you should try and drag your videos out for as long as possible, it just means that you shouldn’t feel pressured to fit everything into a limited time slot.
If your videos are long and comprehensive, yet still engaging enough to keep viewers watching, YouTube will definitely take note and you’ll start to rank higher.
7. Keep people watching
We’ve touched on it already but, like all search engines, human signals play a big part in the success of your content.
In fact, with video, production value is probably more important than in any other type of content marketing.
It’s all well and good to create a long video with keywords in all the right places, but if you can’t get people to stick around and watch your video then you’re going to be sending a very bad message to YouTube.
Watch-time is extremely important for YouTube SEO, so viewer retention is key. If you want to keep people watching your videos, you need to make sure they are as visually entertaining as possible. So many creators just sit in front of a camera and talk, but that isn’t very engaging.
Take a look at this video by Donut Media:
This video is almost 10 minutes long and the subject matter could be considered dry by some. However, the added animation and fun editing makes the video so much more engaging.
To make sure your videos stand out, try adding some animation here and there, or put a lot of effort into your editing to keep viewers on their toes.
With this in mind, it’s also important to get to the point quickly at the start of your video. Introduce the video’s topic quickly, tell them how you’re going to help them and then get started.
It’s also a good idea to compare the watch-times of your previous videos. This will help you to see if there is a particular topic or video-style that your audience enjoys more.
8. Encourage engagement
There’s a reason that seemingly every YouTube video ends with: “If you liked this video, click the like button down below, and don’t forget to subscribe for more content…”
…or some variation.
It’s because engagement affects your YouTube SEO! Whenever someone likes, comments, or subscribes it sends a strong signal to YouTube that this viewer enjoyed the content enough to engage with it, so it will start showing them more of your videos. Just take a look at this chart:
This is from a study of 1.3 million YouTube videos by Brian Dean, founder of Backlinko, and it shows a clear correlation between video comments and YouTube ranking.
This is from a study of 1.3 million YouTube videos by Brian Dean, founder of Backlinko, and it shows a clear correlation between video comments and YouTube ranking.
Encouraging engagement is one of the easiest YouTube SEO tips to implement, and can make a significant difference to the performance of your YouTube content.
9. Create an interesting video thumbnail
There are only two things a viewer sees before deciding to click on your video: The video title and the video thumbnail. And, with visual information processed 60,000 faster than text, that thumbnail really counts!
YouTube does automatically assign a video thumbnail to you, but this will just be a random shot from the video.
In order to stand out, you need to use a unique, attention-grabbing image that will encourage people to click. Take a look at the examples below:
Each thumbnail has been selected to draw viewers in. The presenters are looking directly at the camera and the text on screen further reiterates what the video is going to be about.
This encourages users to click on the video, and a high click-through rate will seriously strengthen your ranking performance.
10. Create playlists
Playlists are an amazing way to increase the overall watch time of your channel because they play automatically. So instead of watching just one of your videos, a viewer might watch five or six!
Watch time is really important to YouTube SEO. Why? Because, as we’ve already established, ‘human’ signals play a key part in the algorithm that determines a videos ranking.
To create a playlist, you need to group a couple of videos together that have a similar topic or theme, like this:
It also helps to get in touch with people who create similar content to you (but aren’t your competitors!) and ask them to add your videos to one of their playlists. The more playlists your videos are featured in, the better!
Here’s an example of what you could say:
I LOVE your channel! Your recent video about [TOPIC] was really interesting to me because [ADD COMPLIMENTS & SHOW INTEREST].
I think my videos are pretty similar to yours, so it could help viewers stay on your channel if you included some of my content in your playlists. Here are some videos I think would fit:
I’d be happy to return the favour. Just let me know which of your videos you would like me to pop into my playlists.
Keep up the great work!
When you contact these people, make sure you let them know why it is good for them too. You don’t want them to think you are simply asking for a favour. By including your videos in their playlists, they can cater to their viewers’ needs and also increase their own watch-time. It also helps to offer to include their videos in your playlists too–sort of like a swap!
11. Create backlinks
Link building is a huge ranking factor for any piece of content, video included. If you are familiar with optimising written content, like your blog or website, for Google, then you’ll know that they count the number of backlinks to help them determine how valuable your content is. Seeing as Google owns YouTube, it should be no surprise that YouTube works in this way too.
To increase your backlinks, be sure to post your video in as many places as you can, like your website and your blog. You could also ask other websites in your niche to post your video on their site or write guest posts for them that include your video. The more backlinks you have, the better your YouTube SEO will be, and also your Google SEO.
Ranking highly on Google could also get your video featured on their first page of search results for your focus keyword, which is a priceless amount of visibility for your YouTube channel:
12. Get social
One last way to gain a YouTube SEO advantage is by spreading the word about your video in as many different places as you can think of!
Basically, the more social signals your video has, the better. So share it on all of your social platforms, and encourage people that you know to share it, too.
Post on the usual sites, like Facebook and Twitter, but also think outside of the box. Search for your keywords or topics related to your video in forums and post your videos there:
Another great place to share your video is Reddit. Just search for your keyword and then join all of the sub-reddits that appear as a result:
Reddit has around 1.6 billion unique monthly users, and thanks to sub-reddits they are all divided into niches, making it easier for you to reach the right people and increase the CTR on your videos!
13. Add closed captions
YouTube videos are able to support closed captions to benefit people with hearing difficulties.
An added bonus of these captions is that they are crawled by YouTube and Google, so they can work to boost your YouTube SEO!
YouTube can automatically caption your videos, but this is usually riddled with errors.
To get your closed captions indexed and make them YouTube SEO-friendly, you need to edit the captions YouTube provides or upload your own. Here’s how:
Top 3 YouTube SEO tools
Another piece of good news is that you don’t have to go it alone. There are plenty of sofware rtools out there to help you nail video SEO like a pro. Here are our top 5…
Keyword research: Ahrefs Keyword Explorer
Ahrefs is an industry leader in keyword research and it’s great for YouTube research too. You can use their Keyword Explorer tool to find keywords that you can rank for, as well as get ideas for new videos.
Channel management: TubeBuddy
Tube Buddy is a great tool for managing your YouTube channel. It lets you do things like bulk upload videos, add custom thumbnails, and optimise your tags and titles.
Channel artwork: Canva
And – because we need to make sure we stand out to our human audience on that search results page, too – let’s talk about Canva.
Canva is a great tool for creating custom thumbnails and artwork for your videos. You can create professional-looking graphics without having to hire a designer. They even have pre-made templates so you can get great looking video thumbnails with minimal effort!
YouTube is a competitive place to share your content because there are SO many people visiting it on a daily basis. And while the competitiveness can be off-putting at times, you just need to remember that there are still many ways you can rank higher and improve your YouTube SEO to make your channel and your videos more lucrative for your business. If you’re struggling to come up with top video content ideas in the first place, our blog post: 21 YouTube Video Ideas for Businesses, would be the perfect place to start.