YouTube SEO: How to Rank Your Videos on YouTube

With 500 hours of videos being uploaded to YouTube every day, if you want to get more views on YouTube, you’ll have to put the SEO work in. 

In our latest blog on video and YouTube SEO, we’ve outlined 9 steps you can take to optimise your videos for search and get them ranking higher, quicker.

What is YouTube SEO?

YouTube SEO is the process of optimising your video content, metadata, playlists, and channel for search engines. This not only improves your ranking on YouTube search, but also on Google and other search engines.

Since Google took over YouTube in 2010, they’ve made changes to their search algorithm similar to Googles. This means many traditional SEO techniques can be used, but YouTube brings its own opportunities for search optimisation.

How YouTube’s Algorithm Works

Google’s ownership of YouTube means the two search powerhouses (the first and second largest search engines, respectively) can easily share their wealth of data, making their algorithms work together to serve you the most relevant results.

One of the largest benefits of this collaboration is that video uploads to YouTube are automatically uploaded and indexed by Google, eliminating the usual wait time for a bot to crawl your video and the need to submit new video sitemaps every time.

Even with this smart benefit, to see real growth on YouTube, your strategy should include traditional SEO techniques. Since search bots can’t watch videos themselves, their only indication of what your videos are about is the accompanying text and metadata. Having all aspects of video content well-optimised gives search engines the best chance of indexing and ranking your videos higher.

The main piece of text associated with a video is the title, description and tags. However, many YouTubers still don’t realise that aspects of accessibility, such as closed captions and transcripts, help improve user experience, engagement, watch times, and by association, SEO.

The 9 steps to get your videos ranking higher and get more views on YouTube are:

  • Step #1: YouTube Keyword Research
  • Step #2: Optimise your video file name, title, description, and tags.
  • Step #3: Add transcripts or closed captions
  • Step #4: Add YouTube Cards and End Screens
  • Step #5: Categorise your video
  • Step #6: Upload a custom video thumbnail
  • Step #7: Build links to your channel AND your videos
  • Step #8: Use playlists
  • Step #9: Promote your video

Step #1: YouTube Keyword Research

Keyword research is the first step in any SEO strategy. Targeting keywords helps your video content stay relevant and be more easily found by search engines. You should be researching keywords with high search volumes, but the lower the competition the better. Keywords with high search volumes and low competition are a gold mine, and easy to rank for.

The keywords you choose should do two things: 

  1. Accurately describe your video content
  2. Correspond with the search terms people use to find your video content

For example, if you publish a video about baking an apple pie, make sure you optimize the title, descriptions, and tags for the phrase “how to bake an apple pie”.

Something to keep in mind, however, is that search engines are savvy to keyword-stuffing, which is when site owners overuse keywords and variations of keywords to try to hack the system. Please, don’t bother with that. 

Write for humans, not for search engines.

To begin your keyword research, a great place to start with YouTube search suggest. Simply go onto YouTube and type in a word or phrase that relates to your content, and YouTube will show you a handful of keywords that are related and are live popular search terms.

YouTube search suggest

Another great way to identify high-value keywords is to find a competitor video in your niche, and see which keywords they’re targeting. If they’re ranking for it, it’s obviously working for them. Make note of the keywords they use in their title, description and tags.

YouTube SEO keyword research

You should then make use of keyword tools such as SEMRush, Google’s Keyword Planner, and Google Trends to identify search volumes for your keywords, competitiveness, and any other related keywords you might have missed.

Step #2: Optimise your video file name, title, description, and tags.

Since YouTube can’t actually watch your video, incorporating your chosen keywords into your metadata gives YouTube many indicators as to what your video is about.

With this in mind, you should start with your video file. That video file called “applepie-4FINAL” should be called “how-to-bake-apple-pie” followed by the video type (MOV, MP4, WMV).

For your video title, you should try to incorporate your keyword as naturally as possible. One of the first things our eyes are drawn to is the title, and it is often the determining factor of whether someone will click on your video or not. The title should be clear, concise, and compelling.

Although keywords play a very important role in video titles, the title should be conceived with the user in mind

Adding tags is a great way to give more context to your video. Since you’ve already done your keyword research, this part should be pretty straightforward. You can also look for tags used in competing videos to add to yours. You can download extensions to Chrome, such as Tags for YouTube, that will allow you to see your competitors tags.

Finally, your video description should be optimised. While the official character limit for video descriptions is 1000 characters, it’s not necessary to use all that space. They came to watch your video, not read your essay.

If you do write a longer description, keep in mind that YouTube only displays the first 100 characters, and after that, the viewers will have to “show more”.

Step #3: Add transcripts or closed captions

Like the other parts of text we’ve discussed, transcripts and closed captions are often used to help YouTube understand your video better. YouTube has a transcription service of their own that does a pretty good job, but it still has its mistakes.

Youtube closed captions

If you want to add your own subtitles or closed captions to your video, you’ll have to upload a supported text transcript or timed subtitles file. For the former, you can also directly enter transcript text for a video so that it auto-syncs with the video.

No matter how you add them, be sure to go back and watch your video to ensure that they’re in sync and accurate.

Step #4: Add YouTube Cards and End Screens

YouTube cards are an interactive feature that can be added to your videos and encourages your viewers to take an action. This could be:

  1. Watch another video or playlist
  2. Discover another YouTube channel
  3. Donate to a nonprofit
  4. Answer a poll
  5. Visit another link

Simply select the type of card, add your options, and select a timecode where you want it to show.

These are really beneficial to boost engagement, however, avoid stuffing in as many cards as possible, and instead add them where you may be discussing a subtopic you can link to or before high drop-off points.

Similar to YouTube cards,  end screens show at the end of the video and are baked into your video to increase engagement, subscribers, and lead viewers to another suggested video. These are crucial to add to keep viewers on your channel and increase watch time

It’s important to remember that these can’t be changed once uploaded.

Step #5: Categorise your video

When your video is uploaded, you can easily categorise it under “advanced settings”, and group your video with other similar content on YouTube so it will end up on other playlists. This is another great way to gain more exposure to a very targeted audience.

While this seems simple enough, YouTube’s Creator Academy suggests a thorough process to find the right category for your video. You’ll need to find out what’s working well for each category, and consider things like

  • What’s working well for creators in this category?
  • Who are the top creators and what are they known for?
  • Do videos in a category share similar qualities such as length, format, or production value?

This will help you make the best decision about which category to put your video in.

Step #6: Upload a custom video thumbnail

The video thumbnail is the main image that viewers see before they click on your video – it’s the image they’ll see when scrolling through search results. Alongside the video’s title, the thumbnail has a major impact on the number of clicks you receive on a video, as it’s the first preview they’ll see of what your video is about.

It’s true, YouTube will automatically generate a thumbnail for your video, we highly recommend using a custom one. In fact, the Creator Academy reports that 90% of the highest performing videos on YouTube have custom thumbnails.

To create your own, we recommend the use of images that are:

  • 1280 x 720 pixels
  • 16:9 ratio
  • 2MB or smaller
  • .jpg, .gif, .bmp, or .png files.

One important thing to note is that your YouTube account needs to be verified before you can upload a custom thumbnail. To do so, go to http://youtube.com/verify and simply follow the instructions.

Step #7: Build links to your channel AND your videos

Similar to Google, link building is how YouTube understands a channel’s authority. There are multiple ways to build links to your videos, including adding the link to your other social networks, embedding your video into answer forms such as Quora and Yahoo Answers, and allowing others to embed it. However, pasting links everywhere can get you penalised, so be choosy about where you post it.

Since users on Quora and Yahoo Answers are actively searching for topics relevant to you and your video, this traffic is high value for your channel.

These are all great ways to build links that professionals and experts alike use, however, the best way to do this is to create amazing content and appeal to your audience.

Step #8: Use playlists

Playlists are a fantastic way to build views for multiple videos. YouTube playlists automatically play the next video, so you can easily build thousands of extra views each month.

Since YouTube’s ultimate goal is to keep people on their website as long as possible, they reward channels that have high “watch time”, or the amount of time that people spend watching your videos, with higher rankings. Keeping people on your channel by giving them easy to find, keyword targeted, playlists with high-quality content is the ultimate SEO boost!

Step #9: Promote your video:

This one might seem quite obvious, but to maximise your video’s visibility, you should be sharing it on every social channel you have available.

Whether Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn, all of the social channels have the ability to build traffic. For business videos particularly, LinkedIn seems to get the best engagement, with obviously more business-centred traffic.

Following these 9 steps is sure to put you on your way to ranking higher on YouTube, however, there is always more to uncover in YouTube SEO. Tecmark is an accomplished SEO agency with experience in helping our clients improve their YouTube channels views, subscriptions, and rankings. Get in touch to hear more about our YouTube SEO services.

Lydia Rutter
Lydia Rutter
Lydia Rutter is an SEO Executive at Tecmark who joined us in 2019. She has a degree in Public Relations from the University of Oklahoma, and an MSc in Digital Marketing from the University of Salford. She brings us experience in digital marketing for the medical and healthcare industry, and in agency settings.

We create websites with your customer in mind to help you build your brand and grow your business.

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