Brenda Peterson
Brenda Peterson
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Nowadays, nobody questions the power of YouTube. Video content grows in popularity year by year, and so does the platform. Realizing the potential of YouTube in generating engagement, driving traffic, and raising overall brand awareness, businesses have flooded the platform with content in attempts to reach their audience. And you know what? You should follow their example! After all, 54% of consumers admit they want to see more videos from brands they are interested in.

YouTube is not just the world’s most popular video-sharing platform. It is, in fact, the second largest search engine after Google (to which it actually belongs). That means that video content uploaded to YouTube and optimized for search can not only increase your audience engagement but also make you more visible on the internet.

But how to optimize your videos for YouTube Search? Keep reading this brief SEO guide and find out how to achieve better ranking positions for your video content.

  1. Identify your keywords

Keyword research is the cornerstone of all SEO. And YouTube SEO is not an exception. If you want people to find your videos on the platform, you have to know what exactly they search for and what queries they use. By placing the right keywords in your video’s file name, title, description, and tags, you give YouTube a signal that your content matches a specific search intention.

And although there’s little to no correlation between the exact keyword usage and YouTube video ranking, as revealed in a study by Backlinko, the role of keywords in making your videos visible on the platform is still very significant.

To identify relevant keywords for your YouTube video, start with analyzing the most frequent queries on your topic. You’ve got two basic options:

  • Check out YouTube and Google autosuggest: Just start typing a target query in a search bar and see what other options are available as you go along. You can also search for relevant long-tail keywords by using the autocomplete feature.
  • Use SEO tools: If you feel like taking a more in-depth approach, consider using tools like Google Keyword Planner, Ahrefs, and the like. They can provide more insights into the keywords’ search volume and competitiveness.
  1. Optimize the video title

The name of your YouTube video is very important for its searchability on the platform. When naming a video, you need to be as precise and descriptive as possible. The title is the first thing people see when scrolling through the search results, and your goal is to catch their attention and convince more viewers to watch your video. That is why:

  • Your video title must be clear, informative, and concise;
  • The title shouldn’t be too long: it is best to stay within 60 characters;
  • Keyword usage is highly recommended as long as it feels organic and helps viewers (as well as YouTube itself) understand the topic of the video. However, you should avoid keyword spamming; otherwise, the search engine can decrease your ranking as a punishment.

Also, make sure to edit the file name before you upload your video to YouTube. Don’t leave it like “12345.mov” or “promo_vid.mov” because YouTube will read the file name to determine what your video is about. Using a keyword in the file name can also increase your chances to get seen by the target audience.

  1. Optimize the video description

In the description section, you can provide viewers with detailed information about your video. YouTube allows users to write descriptions no longer than 1,000 characters. That is quite a lot. But it doesn’t mean that you have to write a wall of text every time you post a video. Although using keywords in descriptions can help your content get better exposure, it is not a decisive factor in a YouTube video ranking. Therefore, you don’t need to bother writing long descriptions and stuffing them with keywords.

However, you can use descriptions to drive traffic to your own website by inserting your link or enhance the quality of the video by offering more contextual information about it, which can also facilitate your ranking in the long run. Here are the basic tips you can use when writing a description for a YouTube video:

  • Provide the essential information including your link and CTA in the very beginning of your description. Remember that only the first 100 characters are shown below the video; the rest is hidden under the spoiler, so viewers have to click “show more” to read the entire text.
  • Introduce relevant keywords in your description. While keyword usage has no direct impact on YouTube rankings, it will help your video appear in the suggested videos sidebar and reach a broader audience.
  • Don’t make your descriptions too long. Reportedly, the best performing videos on YouTube have a description of 300-350 characters.
  • Consider writing a transcript for each video in the description section. That can be helpful for viewers who watch videos muted.
  • Include timestamps in your video description to allow viewers to jump from one logical part of your video to another.
  1. Apply the right tags

Tagging your video is as important as giving it a proper title. Tags help both viewers and YouTube to understand what your video is about and associate it with other similar videos.

That is why it is vital to tag videos with relevant keywords. Refer to the first tip in this article to identify the most suitable keywords for video tagging. Use popular terms to ensure broader coverage, as well as less competitive long-tail keywords to rank for more specific queries. But remember that adding irrelevant or inappropriate tags to your video in attempts to get more views can result in receiving a penalty from YouTube.

  1. Select the category for your video

After uploading your video to YouTube, you can go to “Advanced Settings” and assign it to one of the thematic categories available on the platform (e.g., gaming, music, movies and TV, hobbies, etc.). By doing so, you will make it easier for YouTube to determine the topic and context of your content. That, in turn, will help your video get featured in various playlists and receive more views.

  1. Add a custom thumbnail image

When scanning through search results, users pay as much attention to video thumbnails as to titles. A thumbnail image and title make the first impression on your audience. To make your video eye-catching and encourage more viewers to see it, do not settle for the thumbnail generated by YouTube automatically. Take a few minutes to create and upload a custom thumbnail image that would attract clicks and inform viewers about the content of your video.

When making a thumbnail, don’t forget that size matters. The recommended thumbnail image size for a YouTube video is 1280×720 px (16:9 ratio). The image must be saved as a .jpg, .gif, .bmp, or .png file not larger than 2 MB.

  1. Make use of cards and end screens

YouTube cards are text and/or graphic overlays that can be set to appear in a video at specific time points. Cards are great for delivering a message to your viewers and encouraging them to perform certain actions (e.g., subscribe to your YouTube channel, like, or share video, etc.). There are multiple card types for different applications:

  • Channel cards: redirect viewers to a specific channel, encourage them to subscribe;
  • Donation cards: ask viewers to donate on behalf of a licensed NGO;
  • Fan funding cards: ask viewers to support your channel;
  • Link cards: redirect viewers to the external website;
  • Poll cards: ask viewers for feedback;
  • Video/playlist cards: suggest other similar videos to viewers.

End screens, on the other hand, appear only when the video is over (as the name suggests), providing the same kind of information as YouTube cards. But unlike cards, end screens are more in-depth and graphically sophisticated.

  1. Upload transcripts and subtitles

Another way to put your keywords into action is to accompany YouTube videos with transcripts and subtitles. That can not only boost your YouTube SEO but also make your content more convenient for people who prefer watching video without volume.

On YouTube, you can either enter the transcript/subtitle text manually and auto-sync it with the video or upload a supported subtitle file directly to the platform.

  1. Embed videos in blog posts

That is a great way to integrate your content and get it in front of more people. Embedding relevant videos in your blog posts can facilitate your YouTube SEO in two essential ways. Firstly, it will bring your video more views by exposing it to people who read your blog but do not know about your YouTube channel. They will see the embedded video while they read, get interested, and watch it. Secondly, by creating a link between your video and blog post, you give the search engine one more reason to rank you higher.

What is more, you can use the same video for multiple blog posts to increase the exposure. Meanwhile, posts that contain videos look more professional, compelling, and engaging.

  1. Focus on quality first

There’s no doubt that keywords, custom thumbnails, transcripts, etc. are all important for your YouTube SEO as they improve the quality of your videos, make them more searchable and attractive for the audience. But people come to YouTube to watch great videos in the first place.

That is why the best-ranking videos on the platform are those that generate the most engagement. YouTube takes multiple engagement factors into account when ranking your video, including its average watch time, the number of views, thumbs up/thumbs down, shares, comments, channel subscribers, click-through rate, etc.

The quality of your video directly influences all these factors, and your goal as a content creator is to ensure that your video is the best your audience can find on the given topic. That means your videos must be:

  • Concise: the optimal length of a YouTube video is 4 minutes and 20 seconds;
  • Sharp: HD format is a must; Full HD and higher resolutions + 60 fps are preferable;
  • Informative: your video should either solve a viewer’s problem or offer useful insights;
  • Entertaining: most people come to YouTube to have fun and relax, so if your content manages to combine both educative and entertainment value, it will have way more chances to rank higher on the platform.

The bottom line is, when you optimize your videos for YouTube, don’t be obsessed with your ranking position. Think of viewers first. What value can you offer them? How to keep your audience engaged and encourage them to come back for more time after time? YouTube SEO is all about the quality and relevance of your content. Make sure to offer both, and success will ensue.


Brenda Peterson

Brenda is Technical Specialist at Ning