One billion people around the world are searching for incredible video content on YouTube. Meanwhile, your business is creating videos exactly tailored to captivate and ultimately convert this hungry audience.
How do you make sure your videos are ranking up there for your audience to discover? How do you get your content to appear at the top of search rankings and even in suggested videos?
That’s where YouTube SEO comes in.
YouTube SEO? That’s right, YouTube has entirely evolved since first launching in 2005.
Nearly one-third of internet users are now turning to YouTube to discover, consume, and share video content, according to the video platform.
So, if you want to get your brand noticed, YouTube is the place to be.
The challenge is a lot of digital marketers still treat YouTube like any other social media platform. Today, success on YouTube looks different compared to one decade ago. That’s why creating and publishing awesome videos is only the first step to success.
You’ll also need videos optimised for YouTube, to ensure users not only discover them but engage with them too.
Because of the sheer volume of switched-on users, YouTube’s search algorithm has adapted, and now you can optimise videos for YouTube search, just as you’d optimise other content for Google.
So, how can you make sure your videos appear for relevant YouTube search queries? What can video SEO achieve?
In this blog post, you're going to learn simple and actionable SEO tactics to get your videos ranking on YouTube for the long term.
Ultimate guide to YouTube SEO
1. Do keyword research, but on YouTube
Think of YouTube as a video search engine. This means creating and optimising content for YouTube requires keyword research, just as you would do for search engines like Google or Bing.
It’s all about understanding the intent behind every search query, and providing a relevant and high-quality piece of content that answers that query.
The goal of your research is to find out:
What your audience is interested in
How they talk about it online
There are a few different ways you can conduct keyword research.
Start on YouTube and type a keyword in the search box. As on Google, while you type, YouTube will autogenerate popular searches via the autocomplete feature:
Source: HubSpot YouTube for Business
These are actual phrases YouTube users are searching.
Then, use Google Keyword Planner to check how many monthly searches those keywords get.
Ideally, the video keywords you land on should get a few hundred monthly searches.
Another great tool to use is Google Trends. Head to the YouTube search option for YouTube-specific search volume data. Use the percentages to compare keywords to see which are being searched for more frequently.
PRO TIP: The first thing you should do with your target keyword is to put it in the video file name. YouTube can't "watch" your video to see how relevant it is to your target keyword, but it can read your video's file name and all the code that comes with it when you upload.
For instance, if your video keyword is “how to build a deck”, your video file name should be “how-to-build-a-deck.mov”.
2. Create high quality, high retention video content
Here’s the thing you need to know about YouTube viewers. Unlike on other social media channels, users are not mindlessly scrolling through videos. They use YouTube for entertainment or help. They are actively watching videos.
How do we know? Because YouTube says:
95% of time spent watching YouTube videos is in full-screen and with the sound on.
What does this mean for your videos?
It means you need to focus on creating high-quality videos people want to watch.
This isn’t any different from the rest of your content. When you are optimising your articles for Google, you are actually optimising them for users. The same applies to videos.
That means (like any other channel), the focus should remain on quality over quantity.
You have three options here:
Hire a freelancer to produce videos for you
Hire a dedicated video agency
Do it yourself.
If you choose option C, you'll need to invest in some proper equipment. Yes, you can produce some great videos on your smartphone these days, but you'll still need some editing software, microphone, lighting and tripod.
For example, sportswear brand Brooks has lots of beautiful professionally-shot videos:
They also post a heap of low-budget videos of employees describing shoe features:
Both types of video are equally useful and valuable to the brand's audience. But why should they invest more in the shoe description videos, when they can get a similarly good result on a budget?
Another consideration here is the video length.
Many experts will tell you that longer videos perform better on YouTube.
Why? Because one of the most important ranking factors is TOTAL WATCH TIME.
The longer people spend watching your video, the better your video tends to rank. This is what we mean by high audience retention.
BUT – and it’s a big but – longer videos may not work for your audience.
If you don't have enough valuable content to fill 10 minutes, don't make a 10-minute video. People will get bored and click away – which won't be good for your ranking.
You only know what works by watching what the competition is doing, testing and measuring your results.
3. Write an engaging, informative title.
Anyone who’s ever done SEO for Google knows the importance of optimising headlines. The same rule applies to YouTube SEO.
The title of your video is arguably the most crucial factor in your YouTube SEO. It dramatically affects your click-through rate (CTR), as it appears in the most prominent place in the YouTube search results page.
The absolute must-do tip for your title is to make sure the title closely matches what the viewer is searching for.
This is something that YouTube explains:
"Videos are ranked based on a variety of factors including how well the title, description, and video content match the viewer’s query.”
At the same time, keep it clear and concise – your audience should know instantly what the video will be about.
The bottom line – if more users click on your title than on your competitors, it tells YouTube that your video is a good match for the keyword.
Also, shorter is sweeter. HubSpot campaigns manager Alicia Collins recommends under 60 characters to keep the title from getting cut off in results pages.
Backlinko confirms this with research, saying that titles of less than 50 characters actually perform better.
4. Include your target keyword naturally in your title
Your title is one of the most important elements that YouTube has to work out how your video is related to a particular keyword.
By including your keyword in the title, you’re making it easy for YouTube to rank your video higher.
Backlinko’s research shows that videos including the exact keyword once in the title will perform better than those without.
Preferably use it at the beginning of the title, and try to do it in a natural way.
For example, if you want to rank the word “accounting software”, do what Xero has done.
5. Optimise your video description
Your video description is the only place you can get into the details and describe what your video is about.
According to Google, the official character limit for YouTube video descriptions is 1,000. But let’s be real – your viewer clicked on to watch a video, not to read an essay.
If you do go for a longer description, remember that YouTube only displays the first two or three lines of text (about 100 characters). Then, viewers need to click “show more” to read the rest:
Here’s what you get when you click for more:
Our advice? Front-load the video description with the most important information, including your target keyword, call to action and links.
In fact, add in your target keyword as early as you can, naturally. The critical word here is "naturally" – don't crowbar it in.
YouTube’s bot will then see your keyword almost immediately and crawl it, which could result in a higher ranking.
Another great tactic for your description is to make it useful for viewers. For example, see what Hootsuite has done:
Hootsuite knows not everybody needs to sit through the whole video, so they make it easy for viewers to skip to the bit they are most interested in viewing.
6. Encourage engagement
Engagement is a MASSIVE ranking factor for YouTube. Just like Google, YouTube looks for content that’s popular and relevant.
So, how can it tell what videos people like the most?
User Interaction Signals.
In other words, all those things that people do to interact with your video: liking, commenting, sharing and subscribing.
User comments give your video more relevance and authority in YouTube’s eyes. They show YouTube that people are engaging with your video content.
When Backlinko analysed 1.3 million YouTube video results, it found that comments strongly correlated with a high ranking in the search results:
If you think comments are great, subscribers take this to a whole new level.
Subscribing means that people like your content enough to want to watch it regularly. You’re providing them with VALUE, and that’s a powerful thing in YouTube’s opinion.
That’s why YouTube uses subscriber numbers as one of its ranking factors.
So, encouraging engagement should be an integral part of your YouTube SEO strategy.
Use this actionable checklist:
Gain more comments by responding to user comments and keeping the conversation going.
Reach out to users via comments and ask them to subscribe to your channel.
End your video with a question to kickstart a discussion.
End your video with a call to action to Subscribe, like Backlinko:
Hootsuite does a great job of responding to viewer questions and comments:
Even if they are just acknowledging the comment with a thank-you:
This is where your video quality comes into play. If you create awesome videos, you won’t be afraid to ask for comments!
7. Design matters.
Make sure your YouTube channel and content have a cohesive visual identity. This helps to build authority, awareness, and familiarity.
Check out Bupa Australia’s channel:
But most importantly, your visual identity also improves ranking.
Thumbnails are often overlooked for YouTube SEO, but an appealing thumbnail image can actually help you get more clicks on your video. And the higher your CTR, the higher YouTube tends to rank your videos.
Use these tips for your thumbnails:
Customise your thumbnail image with words
Don’t be obscure – make it obvious what your video is about
Ensure it is well-lit
Don’t cover the whole image with your logo.
Check out the way Bupa keeps consistent thumbnails for its videos:
The thumbnails cleverly use words and high-quality images (photos or graphics) to grab your attention.
Another excellent example is activewear brand Lululemon:
Don't stress if you don't have the budget for a graphic designer right now – try creating your own on Canva. If you are creating your own, the best approach is to keep it really simple.
8. Say your keyword
This might seem like a strange YouTube SEO tactic. Especially because YouTube doesn’t rank your videos by watching them.
But it does automatically transcribe your videos – and these transcriptions are crawlable by search engines.
When you say the keyword around which your video is optimised, it will appear in your transcription and closed captions. YouTube will better understand that your video is about that topic and rank you higher as a result.
A quick tip on closed captions. While YouTube supports automatic captioning, it’s not perfect. So, we recommend you either edit the captions or add your own.
Over to You
Now you know how to do YouTube SEO, it's time to put these strategies to work.
And this only scratches the surface!
Get onto YouTube and start testing out what works. It’s only through trying and testing will you find out both what works and what will work in the future, as algorithms change and competitors expand.
YouTube is only one channel where you should be focusing your SEO efforts. Find out what else you absolutely must be doing in our Ultimate SEO Guide.
Best of all, there are proven strategies for generating tangible growth in your online presence — all featured in our free eBook. Download your copy now!