If you’re making videos on YouTube, you need to know how to optimize them for YouTube SEO.
Think about this: you’ve decided to make some videos on YouTube.
But, how are you going to make sure that people actually see them?
There are millions of videos currently on YouTube, and thousands are being added every single day.
Will yours stand out from the crowd?
Remember: you can only make money on YouTube when people are watching your videos.
So, how will your viewers find you?
Today, we’re going to be talking about something that is essential to the success of your YouTube channel: YouTube SEO.
The acronym ‘SEO’ (search engine optimization) might seem scary and difficult to understand for some.
But don’t worry!
I’m going to take you step by step, showing you exactly what it means to optimize your YouTube videos, and how you can accomplish this.
By the end of this guide, you’ll be fully prepared to take YouTube SEO by the horns and make it do your bidding!
So, What the Heck is YouTube SEO?
When it comes to web, the term SEO involves adapting your website pages and posts in order to please the search engine gods and their current wishes.
Search engines such as Google have their own particular requirements (also known as ranking factors) that they look for in your website.
The more ranking factors your website complies with, the higher your website will appear in searches.
The minimum goal of all this effort is to rank on the first results page. In the best case, you will reach the top three.
Generally, YouTube SEO is very similar.
Of course, YouTube has its own ranking factors, which we’ll talk more about below.
However, the goal of any YouTube SEO strategy is the same: to rank higher in the search results.
Ultimately, most of your highest quality views will come from people who are searching for something specific, and who find your videos within the search results.
So, you need to make sure your videos are showing up in the right search results, and as high as possible within those results.
How can you do so?
That’s where implementing a YouTube SEO plan comes in.
It’s time to discuss some of the best ways to optimize your YouTube videos, rank higher, and generate a bigger audience.
How to Do YouTube SEO Like a Pro in 2018
Research YouTube Keywords
Keyword research is one of the essential parts of any SEO strategy.
Much of the work that is involved in creating a solid YouTube SEO plan stems from the keywords that you choose.
So, how can you choose keywords that will help your channel gain views and grow into a money-making machine?
Let’s take this step by step.
Step 1: Gather Keyword Options
Basically, you want to make a great big list of possible keywords.
The best way to start this list is by allowing YouTube to finish your sentences.
What am I talking about? The auto-suggest feature within YouTube searches.
For example, let’s say that your channel is all about pet care.
Try searching niche-related keywords such as ‘dog care’ or ‘dog food’. Then, YouTube will suggest popular search terms that are related.
Underneath ‘dog care’, you’ll see keyword phrases like dog care hacks, dog care tips, or dog care routine.
Save each one of the keywords that fit with the theme of your channel, and continue to search related terms.
Another way to gather options is the free tool Ubersuggest.
This tool allows you to search one simple keyword, and gives you a list of related keywords.
Filter the search for YouTube results, and you’ll see keywords more targeted to YouTube videos.
For example, you’ll probably find a lot of keywords that start with ‘how to’ or that include the word ‘tutorial’.
Step 2: Narrow Your Keyword List to the Most Profitable
To find out which keywords are the best options for you, you’ll need to compare competition to search volume.
First, check how many results show up in a YouTube search with each of these terms.
When you’re looking at millions of results for a search term, there is simply too much competition.
Using the above example, let’s say we check how many results there are for the search term ‘dog care’.
Yikes! That’s a lot of results!
It’s going to be nearly impossible to rank with that amount of competition. So, it’s better to aim for keywords that are less popular.
However, you want to make sure that there is real interest in that topic, and that people are searching for it.
How can you do this?
Here’s another free tool that I love: Keywords Everywhere.
This extension goes directly into your browser and tells you the average amount of searches per month that a particular keyword has.
Let’s check out one of the keywords that Ubersuggest gave us: ‘caring for puppies’.
Bingo! Now we’re in that sweet spot with a good amount of monthly searches, and not too many videos for competition.
Step 3: Make Sure It’s Not Just a Fad
Sometimes a certain keyword phrase has a good amount of monthly searches for a time, but that interest starts to dwindle.
It’s a good idea to make sure your chosen keywords aren’t just part of a fad.
The best way to do this is to check your chosen keywords in Google Trends.
Well, it’s a good thing we checked! This keyword seems to have regular ups and downs, but it might be better to release a video related to this keyword when it’s on an uptick.
With these three steps, you’ll be able to narrow down your keyword list to those that are most valuable.
Prepare a Catchy Title
As YouTube itself explains so well, “Well-written titles can be the difference between someone watching and sharing your video, or scrolling right past it.”
It’s true: one of the first things that people see when they’re looking through video results is the title.
So, will your title speak to them?
To answer that question, check out this example:
What do you notice about the first few results?
All of the titles hit these 3 points:
- Include keywords as far to the left
- Use very specific language
- Just the right length
- Include enticing words that don’t scream ‘SPAM’
So, how can you do the same?
Optimizing a YouTube video title is very similar to optimizing a blog post headline. You obviously don’t want to stuff your keywords in without thought to how the words sound, but you do want to make sure your keywords are in there.
Ideally, the keyword you’re trying to rank for will be as close to the beginning of the title as possible.
Use Specific Language
Take a look at Neil Patel and Brian Dean’s videos up at the top of the results page above. Is there any doubt in your mind what those videos are about?
Those are clear, easy-to-understand titles that tell you exactly what that video will tell you.
Neil Patel takes his video title a step further by adding the benefits of watching the video right into the title.
Do you want to rank #1 in Google? You know which video you need to watch!
In order to imitate these masters of YouTube SEO, make sure your video titles have clear language that explains what your video is about, and how it will benefit viewers.
But, won’t that take a lot of words?
Not Too Long, Not Too Short
Once again referring the examples above, you can see that none of the first titles are too long. Almost all of them fit on one line. But they still give you enough information to know exactly what the video is about.
Remember, your videos have the possibility to show up in a regular Google search as well as a YouTube search.
And if your titles are too long, Google will cut off the last words and your viewers will be left with half a title.
According to Moz, if your titles have less than 60 characters, then 90% of them will show up perfectly in Google’s results.
For example, if I search ‘SEO tutorial’, I’ll see these videos ranking below some blog posts:
Notice how all the titles show up in full except for the one that ranks lower? Don’t be that guy.
Include Enticing Words
YouTube recommends avoiding clickbaity or misleading titles, and this is absolutely the best course. However, it’s essential to find the balance here, and try to include some emotional words that will attract people to your videos.
For example, did you notice how Neil Patel used the word ‘Powerful’ in the video title we saw above?
Here are some other enticing words you can use to draw in viewers when it’s appropriate:
These simple steps are a trustworthy way to create video titles that are surprisingly effective with YouTube SEO. (See what I did there?)
Optimize Your Video Descriptions
Descriptions help both YouTube and Google to read what you and your videos are about, allowing them to rank better and in the right search queries.
So, how can you optimize the descriptions in your videos?
While written video descriptions may have less impact in YouTube SEO than they used to, this is still something that you want to make sure you’re doing right from the beginning.
Remember, about 100 characters of your description will show up in YouTube and Google results pages, so make sure you include your main keywords right in the beginning of the description.
After that, try to write about 200-300 words that explain what your video is about in short.
Including keywords in your description without stuffing will help you show up, not only in search results, but also in the Suggested Video list that appears in the sidebar.
Create a Channel That Ranks
Just like optimizing your website helps individual blog posts rank, optimizing your YouTube channel page helps your videos rank.
In fact, if it’s well optimized, your channel can rank in YouTube search results for certain keywords, like so:
So, how can you optimize your YouTube channel page description?
First, it’s important that your YouTube channel page looks professional.
Here’s a great example:
Neil Patel’s channel page looks like a professional page and thus is treated like one.
The next thing you want to do is make sure that your channel description is optimized with appropriate keywords.
If the keywords you’re trying to rank for naturally appear in your channel description, this gives you an even better chance of ranking both your videos and your channel.
Another way to optimize your channel for YouTube SEO is to make sure that it’s in the correct category.
A good way to start this process is to research the different categories on YouTube and see what kind of content is being produced in each one.
Try to understand what kind of audience is watching videos in this category, and how the content is helpful to them. Also, try to identify common elements within that category, such as length, quality, channel or video thumbnail design, etc.
Choosing the right category for your channel will help your videos rank better with YouTube SEO.
Build Anticipation with Thumbnails
Remember how we said that your video title would be one of the first things people see when searching on YouTube?
Well, the thumbnail is probably THE first thing that they’ll see.
That’s why this aspect of YouTube SEO has to make the best impression possible.
And that’s not just my opinion! YouTube itself has let us in on the fact that 90% of the best-performing videos on YouTube have custom thumbnails.
Creating a custom thumbnail, not just the default image freeze-frame from your video itself, is essential to YouTube SEO.
So, when should you start thinking about your video thumbnail? I’ll give you a hint: after you’ve filmed your video is too late!
Before you actually create your video, it’s a good idea to put some thought into what your thumbnail will be. This allows you to capture some options while filming your video, and thus your thumbnail image will blend well with your actual video footage.
So, what makes a good video thumbnail?
To be quite honest, it will depend on the type of video that you’re making.
A good way to test the waters is to check out what other channels in your niche are using as video thumbnails.
In most cases, it’s a good idea to include some text within the thumbnail image.
I’m going to use some of our videos at Viewership as an example here:
Including text that punches keywords allows people to quickly scan your video thumbnails and have a clear indication of what your video is about.
Also, using the same colors and general format will help people to recognize your videos as coming from your channel, which will help create repeat viewers.
Remember, this image will probably be seen in both small and large sizes, so you want to make sure it still looks good when blown up.
Say Your Keywords Throughout the Video
Did you know that YouTube can now ‘watch’ your video without you having to transcribe a single word?
It’s true! Automatic captioning is now available in many different languages, which means you don’t have to type out a full transcription of your video.
While this feature was downright useless when it was first launched, YouTube is continually improving its speech-to-text technology, making their auto-transcription more and more accurate.
That means YouTube can now see exactly what you’re talking about throughout your video. And just like Google searches for keywords throughout a blog post, YouTube likes to see keywords spoken throughout your video.
So, make sure to add your keywords naturally into the context of your video in order to rank better!
Target Your Tags and Cards
Including your keywords in tags for each video allows YouTube to understand what your video is about, thus making sure it appears in the right search queries.
But it gets better.
Well-targeted tags will likely cross over the same keywords that your competition is using. This helps you show up as a Suggested Video in the sidebar when people watch your competition’s videos.
Targeting your video’s cards also helps with your overall YouTube SEO strategy.
Cards are notifications that appear within your video, whether it’s being viewed on a desktop or mobile device. There are different kinds of cards which include links to places such as:
- A YouTube channel, video, or playlist
- A non-profit donation page
- Fan fundraising pages for your channel
- A poll
- Your website
Take viewers to the next step in the marketing funnel through appropriately-placed cards.
Up Your Retention Rate
In October of 2012, YouTube announced that they were now ranking videos with longer average watch time higher in search results.
That means that, now more than ever, the time that people spend watching your videos (or the Audience Retention) is an absolutely essential part of YouTube SEO.
So, how do you find out about your channel’s audience retention?
First, head over to the Creator Studio. Under Analytics, and look for the tab that says ‘Audience Retention’.
There, you can analyze the average time that people spend watching your videos. You’ll also be able to analyze individual videos to see what kind of watch pattern each one has.
Of course, the graph that YouTube displays with audience retention for each video will likely show a gradual decline as the video goes on. This is completely normal.
What’s weird and somewhat worrisome is when there’s a sharp decline at a certain point. This means a good majority of your audience left that spot.
So, what exactly is going on in the video when the retention rate starts to drop? Why are people leaving your video at that particular spot?
Answering these questions helps you to understand the mind of your audience, and create videos that capture people’s attention better.
In the meantime, here are some general tips to improve audience retention:
- State the benefits of watching the video in its entirety from the beginning (By the end of this video, you’ll know how to…)
- Include teasers within the video script (After this, I’ll show you…)
- Don’t delay your introduction, but get straight to the point of your video
The goal is to get your audience retention rate as close to 100% as possible, meaning that every viewer watches your videos all the way through.
The higher your audience retention rate is, the more your videos will appear in searches and the Suggested Videos sidebar.
Create Targeted Playlists
Playlists are basically groups of videos within your channel.
So, why is this important?
Well, when a viewer clicks on a playlist, the videos continue to play automatically.
That means you could be receiving hundreds or thousands of extra video views per month, and it will probably help your audience retention rate since people have to finish one video for the next one to start.
So, once you have about 10 videos uploaded, try grouping them together in tightly-related playlists.
You can see how I did this with my channel Sexy Confidence (over 45 million views).
These videos all talk about relationships, but the playlists collect videos that are narrowed-down topics within the wider topic of the channel.
Doing the same for your channel will help improve your YouTube SEO.
Improve Your Engagement Metrics
How much your viewers engage with your videos is one of the most important ways that for YouTube to judge the quality of your videos.
This means that if you pass the test and your videos are getting good amounts of engagement, you’ll see your rank in YouTube search results increase.
So what kind of metrics do you need to watch out for when planning your YouTube SEO strategy?
When your videos appear in the YouTube results pages, how often do people click on them? How many people simply pass by?
YouTube pays attention to this. They want to make sure that the best content is getting shown first in the results, so they promote videos that receive more clicks from the results page.
The reverse is also true: if your video doesn’t get as many clicks from the results page, it will get demoted to a lower ranking.
So, how can you entice your audience to click on your videos?
The best way is by ensuring that you have a catchy title and an attractive thumbnail, as we discussed above. This sets your video as different from the rest, drawing more clicks and thus helping you get higher in the results page.
When people comment on your videos, that means you’ve produced enough of a reaction in them that they are motivated to respond.
This shows YouTube that your videos are worthwhile and that people are truly taking an interest in them.
One sure way to get more comments is to dive into controversial subjects.
Now, I don’t recommend going head-first into debates about the President or whether or not God exists. This is an especially bad idea if your niche has nothing to do with religion or politics.
However, bringing up topics that people care about, asking sincerely for people’s opinions or experiences in a certain subject, or even discussing somewhat controversial topics within your niche will likely spark a response from your viewers.
We all know that getting subscribers is a good thing.
However, did you know that the videos that drive new subscribers rank even better with YouTube SEO?
Thus, driving new subscribers is an essential part of YouTube SEO.
So, how can you make your viewers turn into subscribers after watching your videos?
To start, your video content must be consistently excellent and interesting to your audience.
Beyond that, here are some ideas to use within your videos:
- Tease viewers with a taste of upcoming videos
- Create video series that build on each other
- Encourage people directly to subscribe, highlighting the benefits of doing so
While YouTube may not specifically admit to including shares as part of its ranking factors, it does seem that there is a direct relation to shares and higher-ranking videos.
YouTube does tell us that we should be creating shareable videos and that social shares are an important way to measure engagement.
To get more video shares, try these steps:
- Think about the kind of videos you like to share, and how they make you feel
- Research which videos in your niche are getting more shares, and how they’re doing so
- Mimic the good strategies that you find in high-ranking videos
This is somewhat obvious, but a good thumbs up to thumbs down ratio will help your videos rank better.
This simple metric is an easy way for YouTube to judge the quality and interest of your video, and thus rank it accordingly.
So, if your video has 100 thumbs up and 300 thumbs down, you’ll probably have a hard time ranking.
Create a Powerful Call to Action
We’ve discussed how important thumbs up, comments, and new subscribers are when it comes to YouTue SEO.
The best way to increase these metrics and really see results is by creating a call to action that people simply cannot resist.
Remember, you want YouTube to see that your videos have value, and that people are engaged. You need to prove that your videos deserve to be ranked within the first few results.
Unfortunately, people are used to hearing calls to action that encourage them to like or subscribe.
Tell me if this sounds familiar: “If you liked this video, please give it a thumbs up or subscribe.”
Let’s face it: that’s boring, and people are tired of hearing it.
They know that they have the possibility to like or subscribe.
What you need to make them understand is WHY they should like or subscribe to you and your videos!
A good call-to-action doesn’t just tell people what to do: it tells them what kind of benefits they will receive by doing so.
Deliver Content Consistently
In the end, succeeding at YouTube SEO is not a one-time effort.
Your goal is to create long-term relationships with viewers, and that’s only possible when you are regularly posting videos for them to watch.
Otherwise, why would people bother to subscribe?
So, before you start trying to build your YouTube channel, make a content plan that details exactly what kind of videos you’re going to produce, and how often you’re going to produce them.
You might even try recording a few videos before posting any, that way you have a stock of videos to post at your scheduled time in case you get behind in your content schedule.
Improve the Quality of Your Videos
This applies to two areas:
- Content quality
- Production quality
Looking at the top ranking videos on YouTube, it’s obvious that the quality of the content is spectacular.
For your video to hit any of the ranking factors that are essential in YouTube SEO, your content must likewise be useful and interesting to your audience, as well as being presented with confidence.
Another important factor is the production quality of your videos. Nowadays, your videos can be excellent quality even if your budget is next to nothing.
Investing less than $200 can get you decent lighting equipment, a microphone, and a backdrop, which honestly makes a huge difference. And you might find that the camera on the smartphone you already own produces videos of fairly good quality.
Promote Outside YouTube
Getting viewers into your videos from outside of YouTube is a great way to promote your channel and get a better rank.
You can obviously promote your YouTube videos anywhere online, but here are some proven methods to promotion outside of YouTube:
Reference Your Videos in Quora Answers
Haphazardly scattering links to your videos might not get the results you’re looking for.
However, subscribing to your niche topic on Quora will allow you to answer people’s questions, and include your YouTube video as extra information.
Check out how Brian Dean did this:
Embed Videos in Blog Posts
If you’ve had a look at Viewership.com’s blog, you’ve probably seen how we embed our YouTube videos into posts.
This is a great way to get people excited about your videos outside of YouTube.
Conclusion: Now You’ve Got YouTube SEO in the Bag
See? I told you YouTube SEO wasn’t that hard!
Today we’ve discussed more than 14 ways to conquer YouTube SEO.
Starting with your most profitable keywords, you can create catchy titles, and optimize your tags, cards, and descriptions.
We saw that increasing the quality of your videos, making custom thumbnails and including powerful calls-to-action will help you improve the all-essential engagement metrics.
Finally, we learned that consistency and promotion outside of YouTube will help you build a loyal following, thus increasing your chances for success in YouTube SEO.
All in all, we’ve covered a lot of information, and you should now be fully prepared to go and create videos that rank right at the top of YouTube’s search results.
Here’s just one last thought before you go:
Have you ever wondered how you can truly connect with your audience and create videos that earn you real cash?
Check out this free training in which I discuss some of the top ways to shoot evergreen videos that get seen by thousands of people and are truly profitable.