YouTube SEO – 10 Actionable Tips to Rank Videos Higher

youtube seo how to rank videos on youtube - tips

YouTube is not just a popular video streaming platform. It’s actually the 2nd most popular search engine – just after Google – and gets more searches than Microsoft Bing, Yahoo, AOL, and combined!

So why do some videos get thousands or even millions of views, while some struggle to get any at all? The answer lies, just as it does with Google search, in SEO.

But there’s a catch. Google and YouTube use different algorithms to rank content. Applying the same SEO best practices to YouTube as you do for Google may simply not get you the same results.

How the YouTube Algorithm Works

The YouTube algorithm determines which videos are recommended to users based on the user’s interest, and your video’s performance. Here are some of the factors it takes into consideration:

  • The videos a user has previously watched – both topic and channel
  • The number of videos from your channel that a user has watched
  • How well your video description and meta description match the search query
  • The amount of time users have spent watching your video
  • If users click on your video when it shows up in results
  • If users like or comment on your video

So, how should you go about it? Let’s get into 10 tips for getting your YouTube videos ranked.

1. Keyword Research for YouTube SEO – Be Selective

Keywords share common importance with both Google & YouTube. Finding the best keywords is the first step.

Start by compiling a list of keywords. The best way to do this is to use YouTube’s ‘search suggest’ feature. Type in the topic your video is about, and YouTube will automatically suggest real searches that real users are making, taking the guesswork out of it.

Another way to go about it is to visit a channel that is in your niche and sort their videos by most popular. You can see which keywords that particular video was optimized around by seeing what’s written in the title, description, and video tags (you can use vidIQ Vision for YouTube to view a video’s tags right on the page).

When it comes to choosing the keywords for your video, it’s important to choose low-competition keywords – especially if you don’t yet have many subscribers. Some tools you can use to find this information are:

  • WordStream’s Free Keyword Tool
  • Google Keyword Planner
  • Moz or Semrush
  • Google search – search suggest, people also ask, related searches
  • Keyword Tool for YouTube

2. Use Keywords in Your Video Title

The title you choose for your video should use the keyword in a way that sounds natural. It should also be clear, compelling, and match what the user is searching for as closely as possible. Keeping it on the short side – around 60 characters, helps keep it from getting cut off in the results pages.

3. Optimize Your Video Filename

Rename your video with the chosen title – or its variation with the same context – before you upload it to YouTube. Why is this important? Because YouTube cannot ‘watch’ your video to see if it is relevant to your target keywords, but it can read the file name and associated code when it’s uploaded. File type also matters – MOV, MP4, and WMV are some of the most common formats that are compatible with YouTube.

4. Optimize Your YouTube Video Description

An optimized description helps your video show up in the suggested videos sidebar. Though the official character limit for YouTube video descriptions is 5,000 characters, users can really only see the first one or two lines without clicking on ‘See more’.

Your description should use the keyword at the beginning and a couple more times throughout, as long as you can add them in naturally. You should also make sure to include the most important information, such as your CTA, first, and try to keep the description to 200 characters.

You can also use hashtags (#) in the video’s description to make it easier for users who are searching with a specific hashtag. However, make sure that you don’t overuse hashtags, as YouTube will ignore all of them if you use more than 15.

5. YouTube Video Tags

Video tags help YouTube understand what your video is about, and associate it with similar videos, which can help you get better reach. Use 5-8 targeted tags starting with your primary keyword, 1-2 common variations, and then long-tail keywords, as these will match the queries users are typing into the search bar.

Use VidIQ to see which tags your competitors are using and then use the same ones – your video will start ranking in the ‘Up Next’ feature, bringing viewers from their video straight to yours. Ensure that you don’t use too many tags though (keep it to 60 or less), or all your tags will be ignored.

6. Video Topic, Category, Quality & Length

As mentioned above, one of the most important factors in YouTube SEO is how long users spend watching your video, so it’s important that you keep them watching. The first 10-15 seconds of your video is the most important part – it’s vital that you engage the viewer within that time frame. Perhaps surprisingly, longer videos are more likely to be ranked higher. That’s because YouTube uses total view duration as one of its ranking factors.

7. Optimize Your YouTube Channel

There are a few ways to do this.

Playlists are a fantastic way to increase watch time on your channel because they play automatically, one after the other. Instead of watching just one video, your viewer may go on to watch many more. It also helps them decide what they want to watch, depending on the title of the playlists.

Having a great banner image boosts your brand presence, and makes you look more professional. Make sure that it sticks to Google’s suggested YouTube banner dimensions and that it’s well- designed. You can easily find free resources for creating one, such as Canva, or Fotor.

Add links to your website or social media channels from your YouTube channel. This can help you build a bigger YouTube audience, get more followers on your other social media channels, and get more traffic to your blog or website.

8. Using Built-in Features of YouTube – Cards & End Screens

While watching a video on YouTube, have you seen a small white, circular icon with an “i” in the center appear in the corner, or a translucent bar of text asking you to subscribe? These are Cards, and they can help promote your brand and the other videos of your channel. You can add up to 5 Cards per video. For details of how to add Cards to your video, watch this one.

End screens display information similar to Cards, but they appear at the end of the video and are a little more detailed. Generally, they should have an image overlay and a visual link to ‘View more’ or ‘Watch on YouTube’. You can find detailed instructions on how to create them, the types of content allowed, and how to optimize for each consideration here.

Subtitles and closed captions can also help boost YouTube search optimization by highlighting important keywords. Having a transcript for your video means that it can be picked up by search engines just as a blog would, so it’s well worth it having. Find out how to add subtitles or closed captions to your video here.

9. Community Engagement

There’s a reason why you see YouTube videos ending with a message encouraging you to ‘Click the like button’ and ‘Subscribe for more content’. Because SEO is directly tied to engagement. When a user likes a video, YouTube will start recommending more of your videos to them. A viewer may or may not take action to ‘like’ it on their own, so it’s good to give them a little nudge.

Also very important, is to remember to respond to comments on your video. This helps viewers see your brand as more ‘personal’ and is also a great way to create more engagement.

10. Promote Your Video

Share your video far and wide. Share it on your social media channels and ask others to do the same. Embed the video in blog posts, on your website, in emails, and so on.

Bonus Tools

We’ve already talked about how useful VidIQ can be in helping you optimize your videos for YouTube SEO. Here are some other great tools.

TubeBuddy – A free browser extension and mobile app that helps you run your channel easily
Tubics – Get keyword suggestions & real-time content analysis and gain SEO insights
CoSchedule – Helps you create compelling headlines using the right combination of keywords to maximize traffic to your YouTube content
Biteable – If you’re having trouble creating engaging videos, Biteable is the tool for you
Brand24 – Get social insights about your brand, access your mentions in real-time and see what people are saying about you

With video content steadily on the rise and showing no sign of stopping, having a strategy for YouTube SEO is more important than ever. If you haven’t already started optimizing your YouTube channel or videos, there’s no time like the present to begin. Put these 10 tips into practice and start seeing results!

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