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YouTube SEO Tips: How to Optimize Your Videos for Search

TJ Kiely

Dec 29, 2023

Digital marketing has seen a huge shift to video in recent years, and YouTube has been a big part of it. YouTube is now considered the second largest search engine in the world, with more than one billion hours of content watched every day. It boasts more than 2.7 billion monthly active users, with the average U.S. user spending over 47 minutes a day on the platform. (Like these numbers? We have several more YouTube statistics in another blog). To put it another way, if you want to make a splash online, YouTube is the place to be – and YouTube SEO can help you get noticed.

Search engine optimization, or SEO, is the practice of optimizing your content to be found in search. Given that YouTube is considered a powerful search engine, it makes sense that you optimize your videos for SEO, too.

Here’s what you need to know about YouTube SEO, why it matters, and how you can optimize your YouTube channel for easy discovery.

Table of Contents:

Tip: Download our Ultimate Guide to YouTube Marketing to learn more about building a YouTube strategy and learn more about search engine optimization in one of the best SEO podcasts out there.

What Is YouTube SEO and Why Is It Important?

YouTube video SEO refers to the process of making your videos search-friendly. Just like a blog post, web page, or other content marketing, you can optimize your video on-page content so that it appears in the right search results.

Similar to Google, YouTube uses several ranking factors to display your content. Among them are:

  • Video watch time (relative to video length)
  • Channel watch time
  • Click-through rate (CTR)
  • Upload frequency
  • Session duration
  • Audience retention

Applying SEO best practices to your YouTube videos may not only help you rank well on YouTube, but also on Google. That’s because Google includes YouTube videos in its search results, depending on the topic.

For example, let’s say you’re searching for instructions on how to install a faucet. Here’s what Google SERPs show us:

Google search results for how to install a faucet.

Notice how the first FOUR results are videos, not web pages or blog posts!

That’s why YouTube SEO matters – it helps your video content get discovered in all the right places, even if the searcher isn’t on YouTube.

What Are the Benefits of YouTube SEO?

There’s the obvious benefit of ranking higher when you optimize videos on YouTube. But what exactly does SEO mean for your YouTube marketing strategy?

Let’s look at a few expected advantages:

Reach a Wider Audience

Your audience can’t enjoy your content if they can’t find it. SEO for YouTube makes it easy for others to discover your how-tos and other video content. You can increase your reach and expose your brand to more people. It’s an essential part of growing your brand awareness, which has the potential to recruit new subscribers for life.

Increase the Number of Video Views

Content thrives on viewership. The more people that can find your content, the more views it will receive.

Video views give you instant social proof. It can mean the difference between high-quality and low-quality video content in the eye of the viewer. Views indicate that others have watched your content, which can encourage more views.

Plus, the more views and longer watch time you receive, the better you look to YouTube’s algorithms. YouTube wants to return the best results to its users, so increasing your video views can indicate you’re delivering content people want to watch.

Boost Organic Website Traffic

As more people view your video content and discover your brand, you’ll naturally inherit more opportunities to drive organic website traffic. YouTube allows you to include links or other clickable content. Send viewers directly to your website from the video or its description – it’s free traffic!

Plus, it’s highly qualified traffic. Viewers already indicated they’re interested in what you have to say. Traffic from YouTube should be treated as red-hot leads because they’re interested in learning more from you.

Racing ahead on a paper airplane.

Outrank Your Competitors

If your competitors are using YouTube as part of their video marketing strategies, YouTube SEO becomes all the more important. You want your audience to find your videos before they find your competitors, right? SEO can help put your content front and center for relevant searches, just like on Google.

And, depending on the topic, your video content might rank higher on Google than your competitor’s blog post on the same topic. Going back to our faucet installation example, two videos from The Home Depot ranked first on Google, beating out a step-by-step blog post from Lowe’s further down in the search results.

If your competitors don't have a YouTube channel, even better! Studies show that 80% of people prefer to watch a video rather than read a blog. You give your audience content in a format they want and grow your reputation as being customer-centric.

Need help optimizing your YouTube strategy? Check out our Ultimate Guide to YouTube Marketing.

Drive Revenue

With more video views and more website traffic, revenue becomes a natural by-product. Videos can help you increase brand exposure, attract more leads, and eventually grow your sales.

But to get to that point where you are growing your YouTube channel organically, you’ll need to prioritize a few YouTube SEO tips to rank your videos in all the right places.

If revenue is your goal, make sure you add a call-to-action to your videos and description. Include a link to encourage user engagement and make it easy for them to act. 

You know you need YouTube. The right SEO tips for YouTube can help you take your video strategy to new heights.

Make your videos pop with these SEO YouTube best practices and tips:

Performing a keyword research.

Conduct Keyword Research

The low-hanging fruit of all SEO, keywords help algorithms learn what your content is about. Conducting keyword research can help you optimize your video around terms (including long-tail keywords) that people are searching for.

Plus, relevant keywords can help you know what topics to talk about. Instead of starting with a topic, find high-volume keywords that tell you what people are interested in. Then build your YouTube videos around each focus keyword.

You’ll have a greater chance of getting found on YouTube and Google when your content aligns with what your target audience wants.

Optimize Your YouTube Video Title

When people type in the YouTube search bar, YouTube aims to return video results that closely match the query. That’s why your video title should be as specific as possible.

Include your primary keyword in the title and make sure you’re using it in the right context. For example, the keyword “blue car” doesn’t give much context into what the user wants. When we type this into YouTube, we get the following results:

Results for blue car search.

Here we see a song about blue cars, a kid’s video, and a movie trailer – very different types of content!

Adding specific search terms in your title can help YouTube figure out what your video content is about. This helps you appear in the right search results and connect with the right people at the right time.

Add a Keyword to Your Video File

The name of the video file you upload to YouTube won’t matter to your audience. But it will matter to YouTube algorithms. Add your target keyword to the file name before you upload it to YouTube. This subtly tells YouTube what your video is all about so it can include you in relevant search results.

Use Closed Captions

Closed captions add to a user-friendly experience. They help the reader and the algorithm understand your content. Studies found that 92% of mobile viewers watch YouTube with the sound off, so including in-video captions make it easy to capture more viewers.

Include an Eye-Catching Video Thumbnail

A YouTube thumbnail is the small image that appears next to your video in search results. It gives a one-frame preview of what your video is about, kind of like the cover of a book.

Sure, we all know not to judge a book by its cover. But it’s basic human nature to create expectations based on what we see.

Take this thumbnail, for instance:

How to make royal icing thumbnail.

It's bright and colorful, catching the eye and creating instant interest.

You have the chance to choose your own thumbnail image. It might be a still shot from the video itself. Or it might be an image you design yourself. The key is to choose or create an attractive thumbnail that makes people want to click on your video instead of other videos. It sets the tone for what the viewer will see.

If it looks boring, people won’t want to waste their time. But if it looks fun, professional, or engaging, you can encourage more people to click your video instead of someone else’s video.

Write a Lengthy Video Description

One of YouTube’s many features includes a section where you can add a video description. YouTube caps this section at 5,000 characters, which is about 710 to 1200 words. That’s long-form blog post length!

Here's an example of a text-based video description that's rich with keywords:

Video description with keywords.

Not only does it share what the video is about, but it also includes a call-to-action to learn more.

Essentially, you can include an entire transcript of your video, or at least the most important highlights. Maximize your YouTube description to include important keywords and other details. Algorithms can read these descriptions to get a better sense of what your content is about. Understanding how you will create click-worthy descriptions for your videos is a key component of managing a YouTube channel.

You know what happens next – a higher YouTube ranking and more opportunities for views, subscribers, and sales!

Add Keyword-Rich Tags

Tags help YouTube categorize your video. For example, if you’re posting a video about surfing in Hawaii, you might use the tags surf, Hawaii, and Waikiki Beach. Your audience won’t see your YouTube tags, but the algorithms will.

To add YouTube tags, go to your YouTube studio and click Edit on the video you want to tag. Add your tags in the tag box under the Description tab.

Unlike hashtags, you won’t want to go overboard with YouTube video tags. Too many irrelevant tags can actually hurt your rankings. Make sure you’re choosing focused, descriptive tags that tell what your video is about.

Use a YouTube Ranking Tracker Tool

Just like Ahrefs helps you track your Google rankings, you can use data-driven YouTube ranking tools to track your YouTube performance. TubeRankerGeoRanker, and TubeBuddy are excellent examples of YouTube ranking tools.

As you optimize your videos for search, keep these YouTube SEO tools handy to track your performance. Get insights into your positions on YouTube as well as keyword search volumes and estimated views.

You can use your YouTube ranking tracker tool in conjunction with YouTube analytics to see your big picture performance.

Promote Your Videos

You put a lot of time and effort into creating your YouTube content. If you want to get the most from it, don’t forget to promote your videos!

Share them across your other social media channels, in your email newsletter, on your website, and even in your blog posts. The more eyes you can get on your videos, the better they’ll rank.

The first 48 hours are critical for views. This is the period where YouTube gets to know your video content and its quality. Make sure you optimize your video right out of the gate. Don’t plan on coming back later to handle all of these YouTube SEO tips. If your video doesn’t perform well in the first 48 hours, it will slip in the rankings – and it’s hard to recover!

Meltwater helps you stay on top of your YouTube SEO strategy by helping you monitor your content and find new opportunities to expand your reach. Get a demo today!