YouTube SEO

YouTube is one of the world’s biggest search engines. Utilising it for your business can build brand awareness, drive traffic to your website and even generate direct sales. YouTube SEO can help make sure your video content is more visible, more accessible, and most importantly gets you more views.

If you’re interested in other ways to use video to enhance performance, view our article on using video for SEO.

Want to improve your website traffic? Find out more about our SEO services.

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YouTube is one of the world’s biggest search engines. Just like Google, it uses an algorithm to calculate which videos it shows to its users.

What is YouTube SEO?

YouTube SEO is the process of optimising videos to rank in YouTube. Practising SEO on YouTube videos helps your videos to get seen more.

YouTube keyword research

Just as when we want to rank in Google, we first have to start by asking, ‘what do we want to be found for?’ In other words, what are our keywords?

YouTube keywords work differently to many search engine keywords. People search for videos in a different way and use different phrasing to how they search for other forms of information. 

For example, ‘how to’ searches are extremely popular on YouTube. People find videos a very accessible way to learn a new skill. When you search ‘how to’ related queries in Google, you’ll usually find a lot of YouTube videos in the search results.

Where do we start with YouTube keyword research?

Look for results with lots of videos

The best place to begin is by searching Google for keywords within your niche and looking at the results.

Are there any search results that include videos? Are there any that are dominated by videos?

For example, I might run a bicycle repair shop. A search for ‘bike tyre replacement’ immediately brings up a lot of YouTube videos, followed by places that offer bicycle tyres and replacement services.

Screenshot of Google search for ‘bike tyre replacement’ with video results at the top

To get seen in this search, a video is going to be really helpful. Thanks to the number of video results, we can infer that it’s likely people are also going to search directly on YouTube for this keyword too.

This is a simple and effective way to conduct YouTube keyword research, but we also need to consider keyword popularity.

Find out the search volume

Next, combine this search process with tools that tell you how many monthly searches that keyword gets, such as Google Keyword Planner. 

You can then find keywords where people want to see video content and are popular.

keywords around the theme ‘bike tyre placement’ and their monthly search volumes

The first step in ranking in Youtube is keyword research, but before we can produce and optimise our video, we need to consider a few additional factors.

User interaction on videos

Some of YouTube’s biggest ranking metrics are based around how the user interacts with the video. They consider:

  • How much time did the user spend watching the video?
  • Did they watch the whole thing or stop after a certain point?
  • Did they pause, rewind or revisit the video?
  • Did they comment on the video afterwards?
  • Did they share it?

YouTube SEO relies on interesting content. By making content that people want to watch, you can improve your rankings in YouTube results.

This starts right at ideation so is essential to consider during the whole process of video production.

Shareable content

You should consider before making your video if there are ways to make it more shareable. This will vary hugely on the topic, but considering this before production, helps to ensure your video stands the best chance of performing well.

For example, is there a way to add humour into the video? What length is the ideal? Is the content approachable by people of a wide audience – for example, is it easy to understand? Does it explain something in a new or different way?

Encourage subscriptions

You should also consider if there’s a way to encourage people who watch the video to subscribe to your channel. Part of this is ensuring you always produce high quality content that interests people, but finding a way to encourage subscribers in each video can have an impact.

Backlinko released some data in 2017 on ranking metrics in YouTube. It showed that videos that result in new subscribers rank significantly higher than those that don’t result in new subscribers.

It’s an important factor to consider for good YouTube optimisation when planning and producing your video.


High quality content

If you want your video to rank well on YouTube, the content needs to be of a high quality.

The internet is saturated with video content, so users are used to high quality images, steady cameras, good shots and quality sound. 

In order to compete, your video has to be of equally high quality. People aren’t going to stick around for a poor quality video and YouTube uses this behaviour as a ranking metric.

Some tips for quality content include:

  • Use a tripod for a steady camera
  • Consider a backdrop that adds to the shot, rather than distracts
  • Ensure the video is well lit. For example, shoot in the day with the lights on and use professional lighting if needed
  • Use a microphone to improve sound quality
  • Write up a script and practise before you shoot
  • Learn how to use basic editing software

Helping YouTube understand relevance

Much in the same way as other search engines, YouTube wants to show the right videos to the right people. 

If someone is searching for how to change a bike tyre, they don’t want to know how to change a car tyre. YouTube wants to show the most relevant videos to its users.

Bots can’t see and understand videos or images, so rely on the context around them to understand the topic.

This is the key difference between YouTube and other search engines. When video is the main subject, rather than written content, algorithms have to find ways of understanding what the video is about – without being able to see it.

It’s our job with video SEO to make this as easy as possible.

YouTube Optimisation

When uploading your videos there are some key things to do to help YouTube understand what the video is about and that it’s relevant to your keywords. This is a key way of applying SEO on YouTube videos:

1. Optimised titles

Just as you optimise your meta titles for pages on your website, you should optimise your YouTube video titles. Here are some tips:

  • Include your target keyword in the title of your video
  • Don’t stuff your title with keywords. This will be off-putting for users and reduce the number of clicks you get
  • Keep it simple. Don’t worry about including every keyword variation. Focus on including the primary one and let YouTube work out what variations are relevant

2. Effective description

Bots can’t see a video directly, but it can read text around it. By providing its algorithms with text that describes the video’s relevance, search engines can better understand what it’s about. 

  • Include keywords and any appropriate variations in the description
  • Again, don’t stuff it with keywords, but write naturally – looking out for natural opportunities to include those terms
  • First and foremost, ensure it helps the user to understand what the video is about, find any additional resources (such as a supporting blog on your website) and get the most out of your content. This helps it to read naturally and prevents any issues with it looking like spam!

3. Subtitles

You should always look to include subtitles with video content to improve web accessibility, but they also help with YouTube video SEO.

While YouTube and Google bots can’t see the video, they can crawl closed captions.

By including these in your video, it makes it accessible to people and makes it much easier for search engines to understand the topic and relevance of the video.

Add closed captions to videos using an SRT file.

4. Tagging

Tags are essential for giving YouTube context around your video and helping it to understand relevance.

Backlinko also examined the correlation between tags that include keywords and YouTube rankings. 

Tags don’t have as much of an impact on ranking as user behaviour metrics (such as the number of views) but they do have an impact.

graph of videos with keyword match tags against YouTube ranking, with a small correlation between keywords in tags and high rankings

Be sure to tag your video with relevant tags that include your keyword to maximise visibility. It’s not the most important video SEO factor, but it does have an impact.

Sharing your video

We’ve already mentioned user behaviour and interaction metrics heavily impact how a video ranks. While creating high quality content has a big impact on this, helping your video get seen to start with goes a long way.

  • Share your video on your social media platforms
  • Embed the video into relevant pages on your website
  • If relevant, outreach the video to publications and bloggers that might be interested in its content for their own websites

YouTube analytics: tailoring your content

YouTube Studio provides you with data about the performance of your videos:

It provides metrics including:

  • Overview: A big picture look that includes top videos, average performance, latest videos and similar metrics
  • Reach: provides data to help you understand how people are discovering your videos
  • Engagement: details as to the way your audience interacts with your videos such as viewing duration. You can look at this on a video by video level too for more details.
  • Audience: Information about the people who watch your videos such as age and gender, as well as how many viewers and new vs returning.

These metrics can help you to shape your content to better suit your audience or appeal to the right audience for you. You can learn from previous videos to improve future YouTube SEO strategy.

To learn from successes, ask yourself:

  • What content has had the most views?
  • What content has had the best interaction?
  • What made this content different to other videos you have produced?
  • How can you mirror this in future videos?

If your videos don’t perform well, you can still analyse why this might be:

  • Does this content interest my audience?
  • Do my audience metrics reflect my target audience? Why/why not?
  • Have I presented this topic in the most engaging way?
  • How does this video compare to other videos on this topic that do perform well?

YouTube SEO helps your YouTube videos get seen! This can build brand awareness, create loyalty and trust with your existing customers and can even drive traffic to your website.

Want to learn more about using videos for SEO? Check out our article.