The Only Guide to YouTube SEO You’ll Ever Need
Marketing Intelligence

YouTube SEO Guide: How to Rank on YouTube and Attract Viewers

by Shai Belinsky , Senior SEO Specialist 13 Min.
September 11, 2022

One of my first memories of a successful YouTube SEO project is when I worked at an agency. We had a client selling alcohol online and they had these amazing cocktail-making videos. 

Despite the high quality of the videos and the engaging content, they didn’t rank well and didn’t get the traffic and views the client had hoped. This was my chance to test my YouTube video optimization skills – I gave it my best shot. 

Sure enough, after implementing everything I knew about SEO for YouTube videos, the ranking shot up, and the traffic to the client’s YouTube channel (and consequently to their site) surged, as awareness to their brand increased. After a while, the industry knew this was the brand with the coolest cocktail videos. 

Video had become a big thing in online marketing even before I joined Similarweb as an SEO manager. And when we got into the habit of creating videos, people came to me with all kinds of SEO-related questions like the ones you’ll find below. I knew how to answer most, but honestly, some never occurred to me. 

So, I collected the questions, and together with Robin Morley, our video marketing expert, we dug up all the answers to these smart questions and created a complete YouTube SEO guide for the company.

So here I am sharing with you everything we’ve learned from experience and investigating. Get our expert advice, It’s really everything you need to know to get your videos to rank well on YouTube. 

What is YouTube SEO and why is it important?

YouTube SEO is the process of improving your YouTube video’s content, to increase its visibility when people search for that topic on YouTube (and Google). The better visibility your videos have in YouTube’s search results, the more likely you are to receive more organic views and attract relevant users to your channel.

YouTube is a search engine as much as it is a video-sharing platform. In fact, it’s the second largest search engine right after Google. To get found, you need to rank high, and for that, you need to optimize videos for YouTube SEO. It’s not really that different from regular Google On-page SEO, but you need to know what to pay attention to and how to implement it.

But don’t worry; if done right, SEO won’t interfere with your video’s vision and story. It ensures that it gets organic exposure and spreads to the right audience. With the proper YouTube optimization tactics, your video will rank for the keywords you choose over time.

Keyword research for YouTube SEO 

Keyword research is just as important for YouTube search engine optimization as for optimizing written content. You’ll use keywords on two levels: 

  1. In the language used in the video 
  2. In the terms used to describe and label the video. 

Today, both Google and YouTube use language analysis algorithms to understand the spoken language in a video. You might have noticed that YouTube actually creates a transcript of each video to identify the words being spoken, in order to provide subtitles for users. Keep this in mind whenever you optimize video for YouTube.  

1. How is YouTube SEO different than regular SEO?

The most relevant YouTube SEO tip for beginners is: Do what you would do on Google. YouTube is Google’s stepdaughter – sort of. Their SEO concept is founded on the same principles and YouTube ranking factors are very similar to those on Google.  The difference may be in the audience and their search behavior.  

Audiences search differently on each search engine. You may want to examine how your audience searches on YouTube vs. Google. For example, is the mobile vs. desktop ratio the same? 

To get platform-specific search terms, go to Similarweb.com and set your Keyword Generator to YouTube if that’s where you want to rank.

Screenshot of Similarweb Keyword Generator for YouTube

2. How to do keyword research for video?

Finding the relevant keywords for video content is much like other content. I’ll touch on this only briefly. You can read all about keyword research in our related blog post.

Further reading: YouTube Keyword Research and Optimization

First, identify the most relevant keywords related to your product or your industry. The most important factor to pay attention to is: search volume. When you have a selection of relevant tkeywords, you may want to check search intent to make sure it aligns with the type of videos you produce. For each video, choose one primary keyword to optimize for and add secondary keywords.

Next, find which competitor’s video receives traffic for the terms you’ve chosen. Then analyze related terms, synonyms, and long-tail keywords to understand the search volume and which content searchers are after. 

  • Pro tip: Pick high-traffic driving keywords that have video results on Google. These are potentially the ones with the best results , so place them in your video title, description and more. 

My personal advice is not to limit the research to YouTube only but to investigate how your preferred terms and the competitor’s videos rank on Google. Google is still the bigger search engine and has a video search function. 

Read more: 9 Keyword Research Advantages You Only Get with Similarweb

From our experience, videos containing the following topics usually end up on Google’s SERP:

  • How-to keywords (“How to perform keyword research”)
  • Tutorials (“Setting up your sales intelligence dashboard”)
  • Reviews (“What’s the best duct tape? (Review)”)
  • Fitness & Sports (“cardio training exercises”)
  • Funny videos (“OMG what is that cat doing?”)

Optimizing the video title for YouTube SEO

The title is critical for all SEO, also in YouTube optimization. Here are some of the questions I get most often. They cover the most important elements of YouTube SEO to remember.

1. How long should a title be on YouTube?

Concise titles are winners. An ideal title has a minimum of five words but no more  than 60 characters. 

A longer title may get cut off on the SERP and you won’t get your message across. On the other hand, if your title too short, you’re not providing YouTube with sufficient context to identify what the video is about. 

For example, if you call it “Apple Watch”, the search engine doesn’t know if you are selling, reviewing, or explaining how to use the device. 

Screenshot of YouTube video with title featuring the Apple watch

1. Which keywords should you include in the title? 

Include the main keyword in the title and try to place it as close to the beginning as possible. Sounds familiar? You’re right; what works for a title of a written piece of content also works for a video.

2. Do you need an exact keyword match?

I recommend always using the main keyword in its exact form and then seeing if you can add variations. Let’s say your main keyword is “YouTube Tips”. Other long-tail variations are “Youtube Tips and Tricks” or “YouTube Tips to Grow Your Channel”. Get what I’m saying?

The title here could be a nice combination – something like: “YouTube Tips and Tricks to Grow Your Channel.” This is very similar to what SEOs usually do on blog posts with their meta title.

3. How do you optimize a video for a high CTR (Click Through Rate)?

That’s actually a really good question. When planning your video content, don’t only look at how to rank YouTube videos, but also how to get people to click and watch. You can view SEO for your YouTube channel as an extension of anticipating viewers’ wants and behaviors.  

  • Use attention-grabbing action words. You’re most likely not the only one publishing a video targeting the keyword. So, your title should raise curiosity and be easily understandable. 
  • Don’t use superlatives, and avoid exaggerations and provocations. Titles like these can quickly be seen as clickbait.
  • When possible, add a number at the beginning. People love the clarity of numerical values. For example: “77 hacks to manage your inbox”, “5 ways to get your dog to take a bath”, “10 surprising facts about …” you get the idea.

Optimizing the video description for SEO

Never miss the opportunity to describe to search engines and viewers what your video is all about. The description is where you provide the context for the title. An YouTube-optimized video description can impact the ranking and help get it in front of the intended audience. 

Here’s what I’ve learned about optimizing the description.

1. Which keywords should you include in the description and where?

  • Your main keyword should appear in the first 25 words.
  • Depending on the length of the description, you can add the keyword 2-4 times.
  • Add additional keywords throughout the description text. 

2. How long should the description be?

  • Your video description should be at least 200-250 words. 
  • YouTube limits the description to 5,000 characters. That’s about 1,000 words, as much as a short blog post. So, don’t be stingy and make this section count.

3. What information do you put into the description?

  • Focus on the value the viewer gets from viewing your video. For a tutorial or how-to video, inform the visitor about what they can learn. If you publish a product video, explain the issue your product solves, and for an information video, describe which question(s) the video answers. 
  • Start with a compelling intro. This should be like an extension of the title and written in the form of a CTA (Call to Action). This part appears as a snippet on the YouTube search results. 

4. Which other elements can you add to the description?

Screenshot of Video description on YouTube with chapters

  • I highly recommend using timestamps. This is useful for the search engine and also for the viewer. Timestamps allow Google and YouTube to segment the video and break it into chapters to better direct viewers to what they want to see. The segments are sometimes displayed on the Google SERP, making it super easy for the visitor to get right to where they want to be. 
  • If you want to link the video to another location, like your blog or your website, this is the place to add the link.
  • Put the keyword close to the beginning because it shows a bold text on the snippet for the SERP.

5. What is the optimal structure of the description text?

  1. Start with a 2-3 sentence compelling intro of how the viewer will benefit from watching (remember the snippet?).
  2. Write a clear but detailed description of about 100 words about what the viewer will get from the video (questions answered, problems solved, etc.)
  3. Tell the viewer what to do next and where to find you or more info on the topic. This is also the CTA in the video. 
  4. Close with the relevant links to your blog, website, or social profile.

Video description structure illustration

More optimization with YouTube tags

YouTube tags are a fantastic place for keywords. With the help of tags, you can point YouTube’s algorithm in the right direction. Here’s how to use YouTube tags:

  • The first tag should be your primary keyword.
  • Create a tag for each secondary keyword. 
  • Possibly add tags with related terms that help YouTube understand the context (Digital marketing, YouTube SEO, dog food, price comparison, etc.).
  • Ideally, a tag should include 2-3 words. However, you need to make sure they transmit the correct message. 
  • There’s no limit to how many tags to add to a video, as long as the total character number doesn’t exceed 400 (actually that’s not an exact figure, but gives you the proper scale). However, too many tags can be confusing even to an algorithm. So, 5-10 tags should do the trick.

Further reading from our blog: What Are YouTube Tags? Here’s Everything You Need to Know

Relevant tools to try: TagTube, VidIQ

Increase visibility with #hashtags

YouTube started as a social platform for sharing video content. Like other social media networks, hashtags help identify similar content or content related to a specific topic or issue. By adding hashtags, you offer another way to visitors to find your video. 

How do you use hashtags on YouTube?

You can use hashtags in the title and description. I recommend going for the description in any case. The hashtags you put there get displayed above the video title. 

Hashtags that you add to the title will appear in the title. I personally don’t like them in the title, but for some, it seems to work fine.   

Using keywords in the actual video

Be sure to say the target keyword in your video itself. Also, incorporate secondary keywords in the spoken text of the video. YouTube’s algorithm actually listens and automatically transcribes the spoken text. You can bet it doesn’t do that because it cares for what you have to say (it’s a machine), but to identify keywords and their context in order to properly rank your video on YouTube.

It’s best to use short and clear sentences and highlight the keywords. It’s really the same as when you’re writing content: make a list of keywords and integrate them naturally into the video script.

And you can do more. Instead of relying on YouTube’s “ears”, you can upload the transcript yourself with the subtitles section. This way, you are sure the keywords are incorporated correctly, and the language is accurate. 

Here’s a little trick to make that easy: Let Youtube do the initial transcription. After it’s published, you can easily make edits and corrections.

Engagement impacts YouTube ranking

Isn’t it exciting when viewers comment or share your video? Yeah, we al love that. So do the search engines because engagement signals that this video is a good fit for the search query and it’s worth showing it on the SERP. 

Click rate, view time, and the number of subscribers are significant, as are comments and positive interactions with the video page. So, if you’re trying to figure out how to rank YouTube videos fast, and it’s not working, know that this could hamper the process.  

1. How can viewers engage with your video?

How do viewers engage on YouTube? illustration

Viewers can engage by:

  • Giving you a thumbs up
  • Sharing your video
  • Subscribing to your channel
  • Leaving a comment
  • Saving it to a playlist

How can you encourage engagement?

Don’t be shy; tell the viewer what you’d like them to do next. 

Every marketing video should include a CTA. Decide what you expect of your target audience and ask them to do it. 

For example, if you want viewers to visit your website, show them a link using  end screens and add it just below the video in the description. Tell them to go to the website and what they’ll get there or why it’s worth it. 

Always remind your viewer to give you a thumbs up, leave a comment or subscribe to your channel. All of these are ranking factors that help YouTube rank your video. 

  • Pro tip: When you get a comment, be sure to respond. Make it a routine to comment because this encourages visitors to comment again and others to comment also. 

3. When should the CTA appear in the video?

The outro is probably the most effective section in the video to call your audience to action. You can also encourage them to take that action earlier in the video. This is effective when the action relates directly to something shown in the video or when viewers don’t watch until the end.

Some video creators even start the video by asking people to subscribe right after introducing themselves and the video topic. This option is popular with well-known influencers who post regular videos and aren’t risking people running off to another video. 

Screenshot of Neil Patel asking people to subscribe

OK, we’re getting a little carried away here, back to SEO for videos.  

4. How long should a video be? 

The optimal length of the video depends on the type of video and the topic. You can have a 55-minute webinar performing very well if the audience finds it informative, or you can have a one-minute video ad that drives traffic to your landing page or website. 

Here’s the thing to remember: YouTube measures watch time, and the more watch time on your channel, the higher your chances of ranking well. This doesn’t mean you should focus on long-form videos. The chances that people click on a one-hour tutorial from a complete stranger are next to nothing. However, they may be willing to spare a minute or two on your top tips video.  Something like this:

My advice? Provide maximum value in minimum time. You need to keep viewers hooked for as long as possible. If someone drops out of the webinar video after two minutes, that’s not a good engagement. But if they watch two out of your two-and-a-half-minute ad, that’s pretty good. 

Other questions that matter 

1. Is the video filename significant?

Yes. YouTube checks the filename for relevancy to the topic and the main keyword. The best thing to do is include your primary keyword in the video file name. This way, there’s no room for confusion.

2. How important are thumbnails in videos?

The thumbnail is less critical for YouTube SEO, but for attracting viewers, it’s at least as important as the title. A thumbnail draws attention and can give a message. Often, the final decision whether to watch a video or not is inspired by an enticing thumbnail. Spend some time choosing the best frame or even use software to design a unique thumbnail.

Screenshot of YouTube thumbnail example

3. Where to share videos?

After you publish your video, you can share and promote it anywhere and everywhere, from social media to email marketing. It seems that embedding videos in blog posts work particularly well.  

4. What about playlists?

Playlists can help keep people on your channel and get them to watch more than one video. This can help increase watch time, so it can be helpful to create playlists of videos with related topics.

5. Should you include an end screen?

End screens can help increase engagement, so yes, they are an excellent component to add. This is a great place to put or repeat your CTA and show viewers the different ways to engage with you or get more of what they liked in your video.

Use it to show and allow people to click on

  • The subscribe button
  • The next video on the playlist
  • Another video channel you want to promote
  • An external site

Screenshot of end screen example

6. How do you use cards in your YouTube video?

YouTube offers you these interactive elements to add to your video so you can promote other content directly from inside the video. They can be beneficial and break up a long video into digestible sections. But you need to be very careful not to distract viewers from the actual content. 

That’s why YouTube recommends using cards only in the final 20% of your video. With cards, you can promote videos, websites, playlists, channels, or even merchandise.

Add cards to existing videos to get people interested in new videos or videos with high engagement and SEO potential. Identify where people typically drop off and place your card just before. This may keep them engaged a little longer or draw them to the other video. 

Make sure your card text is written as a compelling teaser. Look at it this way: A card is like a landing page or a pop-up on the website before people leave. Don’t just say, “Watch my new video”; instead, highlight what the viewer will get. For example: “Want to know how to get more clicks?”, or “Here’s how to lose 5lb in 5 days,” or “My choice of the 5 top dating apps,” and then add a CTA.

Another thing to keep in mind is that people need to know that the video you are promoting – or any other content – is closely related to the video they are currently watching. 

Your turn to get optimizing

If you found this guide helpful, bookmark the page so you can come back to it when you’re ready to start optimizing your YouTube videos for SEO.

Share it with colleagues who might find this helpful. 

But first, you want to do your research so you can find the right keywords. 

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FAQs

Is SEO important for YouTube?

Yes, SEO for YouTube videos is essential to bring your target audience to your video. The platform also functions as a search engine, and many of the SEO best practices for Google apply to YouTube.

Can SEO help rank YouTube videos fast?

SEO is how you get organic traffic to your video and your channel. It always takes some time to reach the high ranks, but if you follow my YouTube SEO guide, you’ll get there faster than if you don’t 

What’s the most important part of YouTube SEO?

I would say, most important is to match the search intent of the primary keyword with the video’s message and make sure it appears in all the relevant places, starting with the title.  

 

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