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Using YouTube SEO: How to Optimize Videos for Search Results

A lot of people don’t realize that YouTube is a search engine. Because of this, preparing videos for YouTube SEO is part of getting them seen. Today, let’s take a look at optimizing your videos for those search results.

Spoiler alert: You can also get videos to rank in Google at the same time!

For the most part, perfecting a strategy for search engine optimization is similar to that of a blog. It all comes down to search intent and engagement. However, there is one inescapable fact when it comes to video content.

People need to personally resonate with you.

It’s a bit different than hammering out words on a blog post. You need to be able to engage your visitors with a likable appearance while delivering the information or entertainment they want.

What is SEO for YouTube?

YouTube, at its core, is a search engine. Instead of bringing results from websites and blogs, it shows videos. And the videos that have a greater handle on SEO are the ones that are displayed first during a search.

This is significantly different than being visible on the home page feed or being listed in the Suggested column. In reality, it’s possible to pull in the vast majority of your viewers from search sources more than you ever will from Suggested.

How People Find YouTube Content
Also, two-thirds of External views are coming from Google.

Of course, this usually happens for many educational channels like mine. And it’s also indicative of channels that don’t have a track record of having binge-worthy videos available.

The bottom line is that SEO for YouTube is a vital element if you want the most exposure possible for your videos. Yet, not all videos will have the most SEO-relevant content.

For instance, many vlogs and personal diary-type videos might not perform nearly as well. That is unless the personal video is focused on a specific search term.

8 Methods to Boost YouTube SEO for Videos

For the most part, SEO for YouTube videos works similarly to how it does for a blog or website. It all comes down to pleasing the algorithm.

Although YouTube and Google don’t share exactly how it all works behind the scenes, there are some things we’ve found that do impact search results. Other than the methods below, it comes down to if people want your content or not.

Keywords and Search Phrases

First, you need to start with keywords and phrases that people use in search. This can help you find video ideas that are relevant to what you want to create for your audience.

There are a lot of tools that can do this for free, such as vidIQ’s Chrome Extension. You can also use vidIQ’s keyword tool on their website if you create a free account.

vidIQ Keyword Inspector

Another aspect of vidIQ is how it will give you an SEO score when uploading your video. This will give your content the best chance of appearing higher in search results.

You don’t need to use vidIQ, though. There are a lot of keyword tools for YouTube on the Internet. Find one that you like and see what kind of search phrases are popular for video content.

Creating Your Title

Next, you want to use the keyword or phrase within the title of your video. It doesn’t have to be verbatim, but you need to include them if you want the search engines to start categorizing your video properly.

Now, some experts believe you should add a bit of click-baity-ness to your titles. Something like, “Do THIS to Rank Better in Search,” induces curiosity as people want to know what “THIS” is.

However, I usually side more with using Co-Schedule’s Headline Studio to trigger a response. This tool can help you create titles that are effective but less click-baity as it uses language usage that is more likely to connect with an individual.

There’s actually quite a bit of science to the tool, and it’s helped me improve click-through rates for both blogs and videos.

Writing Up a Proper Description

The description of your video is another element that YouTube and Google will use to rank content. In fact, I’ve added a few things within the description that ended up being used by both quite effectively.

Break down what people can expect out of the video while using your keywords. This helps both search engines further understand the context of the video.

I usually write between a 200 and 300-word description relevant to the video and then add extra links and information.

Create Appealing Thumbnails

Clicks matter on YouTube. And one of the biggest contributors to a high click-through rate is the thumbnail. If your image isn’t enticing or relevant to the search phrase, people won’t click it.

There are a lot of different methods for generating a thumbnail for YouTube. It often comes down to what your core audience wants to see on their home feeds. So, a lot of this relies on trial and error.

According to Google, the average click-through rate for videos on YouTube ranges between 2% and 10%, depending on the topic. If your videos fall within that range, then you’re doing well.

Your Script Matters – How Captions Work

YouTube will automatically attempt to create a caption for your video. Mostly, this is to help people with hearing disabilities or those who watch from smartphones.

YouTube and Google will use this caption as part of their search criteria. That means you need to speak your keyword or phrase throughout the video.

However, you want it to flow naturally. If you try to saturate the video with the same phrase, people are going to get bothered and leave. Never try to force the keyphrase when speaking.

Also, you may want to edit the video caption after the video is published. YouTube doesn’t have the best voice recognition system, and some words may just not look right to your viewers, YouTube, or Google.

Engage with Your Audience

Engagement is perhaps one of the strongest indicators for YouTube SEO. And the two primary elements of this are watch time and the comment section. The more active a comment section appears, the more likely YouTube will consider the video as quality content.

That’s because YouTube wants people to interact with videos and stay on the platform as long as possible. This often leads to increasing ad revenue for both YouTube and the channel owner.

So, it’s in everyone’s best interest to keep the audience engaged for as long as possible.

Engaging with your audience includes things like asking them a question and “hearting” or replying to comments. If you have access to your Community Tab, don’t forget to post regularly to keep viewers interested in your channel.

Do What You Can to Keep Watch Time Up

Perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of SEO on YouTube is keeping the watch time up on your videos. This means creating something people want to watch to the end.

A lot of different things can affect this, however. It’s not the easiest thing to fix and relies a lot on analyzing your videos and figuring out why people stop watching.

Video quality, sound quality, personality, topic, and delivery can all play a massive role in watch time. Unfortunately, there are no one-size-fits-all answers. It mostly comes down to you and your audience.

Don’t Forget Tags and Hashtags

When it comes to YouTube tags and hashtags, there is a bit of debate about whether they do anything for SEO. While some experiments show how tags are irrelevant, there must be a reason why they are still included when uploading a video.

Until YouTube removes these features entirely, you might as well use tags and hashtags to the best of your ability. You never know what the platform might use them for when it comes to search results.

Plus, you might get a few new viewers who actually use the hashtags to find similar videos.

How Much Does SEO Really Matter for YouTube?

Unlike a blog, YouTube has a lot of different methods that can work exceptionally well to show videos aside from search results. While channels like mine rely heavily on search, other channels get most of their views from Suggested or the home feed.

The truth is that YouTube SEO matters, but only to the degree of the base subscriber.

What I mean by this is that a lot of people will subscribe and watch a channel simply because they like the YouTuber. In reality, I watch quite a few channels that don’t have the best practices for SEO but still have over a million subscribers.

The bottom line is that SEO matters for YouTube depending on the type of content you create and where people are finding your videos.

Overall, it’s safe to put effort into SEO to get the ball rolling. And for many of us, it’s the only way our channels will actually get seen by viewers. That’s because of the nature of the videos we create.

Besides, it doesn’t hurt to put effort into search optimization to hopefully crank out a few more views.

Google Uses Similar Metadata for SEO

One of the properties you’ll notice in YouTube Analytics is “External Sources.” This is located in the “Content” tab of Analytics and in the box for “How viewers find you.”

If you set up SEO properly for your YouTube videos, you’ll see that Google will be the greatest source of where your videos show.

External Sources

That is unless you have a video featured on something like Reddit where it gets an insane number of views. But that’s a story for another time.

The bottom line is that Google can help you rake in quite a few views and several hours of watch time. So, using the methods above, you’ll be essentially killing two birds with a single stone.

Because Google uses similar data for SEO as YouTube, everything you do to optimize the content only improves your chances of being seen during a search on both platforms.

Google Search Results

Something else to consider is how effective Google is when it comes to showing those videos. In fact, I ranked higher in search on Google than I did on YouTube for the first couple of weeks.

Not to mention that Google also appears to use the text within captions as part of its scan. There were a few times I would appear in search for a phrase that I only spoke a couple of times within the video, and it was nowhere in the title or video description.

As you can see, a properly planned-out video and script can help you with views on both YouTube and Google.

Success On YouTube Comes Down to Engagement

You can follow the best practices for SEO and pump out hundreds of videos while still only attracting a very small number of subscribers. Success on YouTube primarily comes down to engagement.

If people are not watching or interacting with your videos in some manner, they won’t appear in the Suggested column or home feed. That’s because YouTube thinks the video is “low quality” according to its calculations.

This is one of the biggest reasons why people with massive followings and millions of video views don’t have to worry much about SEO. People are watching their content en mass because of the creator. And when you have that much engagement, your videos reach a much wider audience.

Engagement is why having binge-worthy videos is so important. The more videos people watch of your channel in succession, the more YouTube thinks your channel is “high quality.”

In a nutshell, it comes down to whether you can keep people watching your videos and leaving comments. How you do that is completely up to you, as every channel and audience base is different.

How Much Effort Do You Put In for Optimizing Content?

Not all channels need to put as much effort into YouTube SEO as others. But as I said, there’s nothing wrong with giving your video that extra boost when it comes to impressions and visibility.

For a channel like mine, though, a lot of what I do is optimize for search.

What kind of videos do you make and how do people usually find them?

Michael Brockbank

Michael Brockbank

Michael has been managing YouTube channels for the better part of a decade. He's continuously working to find the best methods that work for various types of content from gaming to website tutorials.

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