Like Google, YouTube is its own massive search engine. Technically speaking, it’s the second largest search engine in the world, second only to its parent company Google. Think about it: whenever you conduct a search on YouTube, the platform uses its own algorithms to find the most relevant content for you. It sifts through video descriptions, titles, tags, and much more to show you videos that are most likely to appeal to you. A study from DataBox found that the vast majority of users discover YouTube content using its native search engine:
YouTube SEO is the process of leveraging this knowledge to optimize your channel, playlists, and actual videos—both within and outside the platform. Remember, YouTube also carries outside the platform into other search engines. Anytime you upload a video to YouTube it’s indexed immediately by Google; there’s no need to wait for bots to crawl your site (as is the case with traditional websites) or to build video sitemaps.
If you want to learn how to get paid on YouTube, you have to make sure your videos make it to the top of search engine results pages (SERPs). If you’ve properly optimized your video, even when a user searches for similar content in another search engine, your video will appear at the top of results pages. For instance, if you search terms like “how to build an A frame cabin,” you’ll see several videos appear above text-based content
If you don’t want your video to get lost in the massive sea of YouTube videos (there are 500 hours worth of video uploaded every minute), you need to stand out. Creating a YouTube SEO strategy is like making sure your vehicle engine is working properly. Having a luxury car with all the bells and whistles means nothing if the mechanics aren’t working properly. Think of YouTube SEO as your driver. Simply put, for a video to get noticed, Google (and YouTube) have to understand what it’s all about.With that being said, well-optimized content can put your channel in front of your audience and help you grow:
YouTube automatically transcribes your videos to help offer a better user experience. While it uses speech recognition technology (called ASR) and machine learning to try and generate the most accurate transcription, it isn’t fool-proof. While its speech recognition technology is constantly improving, there are still kinks in the system. For example, users who have heavy accents, speak quickly, or use slang are less likely to get a more accurate read. Because of this, you can choose to create your transcription manually or send it off to a professional video transcription service.
Check the accuracy of your transcript by selecting the three dots at the bottom right corner of the video and then selecting “Open Transcript.” From here, a time-stamped version of your transcript will appear on the right side of the video. Always check your generated transcript for accuracies.
Transcriptions form the basis for captions but have different use cases. Captions are used to provide viewers with a real-time understanding of what’s happening in a particular video. Furthermore, transcriptions make audio more accessible, while captions are legally required to make video accessible. And lastly, captions are more descriptive, and include any sound effects that impact the video, notes speaker changes, and other video details.
Similar to transcripts, YouTube uses speech recognition technology to automatically create captions, but you should take it a step further to improve accuracy and accessibility for your readers—both of which have direct and indirect impact on SEO. A study from 3PlayMedia found that Facebook video captions increased watchtime by 12%, and chances are similar statistics are relevant for YouTube, too.
You can use your transcription as a springboard to create captions. Add your own Closed Captions to your YouTube videos by selecting “Subtitles” from the left section of your YouTube Studio and typing manually.
Your YouTube SEO efforts will prove futile if you don’t understand your audience and keyword research is a great way to hone in on your subscriber market. As you build your channel, start to think about the topics you’ll be focusing on and create a list of potential keywords. Your keyword research will ultimately guide your SEO efforts and even help you curate an organized YouTube Content Calendar.
Once you’ve created a list of topics, set it aside and begin conducting competitor research. Search for videos that cover similar industries, niches, and topics and pay attention to the particular keywords that they use. Add them to your list.
Second, take a look at what people are searching for on YouTube. Start typing your keywords into YouTube’s search bar and glean insights from the autocomplete search terms; these are search terms that are commonly looked for in the YouTube platform. These suggestions are the most popular search terms on YouTube. Let’s say you want to create vlogs about building campervans. Here’s what an autocomplete search term would look like for “how to build a campervan”:
Lastly, use a keyword research tool. Keyword research tools like SEMRush, Ahrefs, and Ubersuggest reveal traffic volume for different keywords and can help you identify the keywords that are more likely to aid your SEO efforts and drive traffic to your videos.
After you’ve conducted competitor research, used YouTube’s autocomplete features, and utilized keyword research tools, you should have a comprehensive keyword list that you can use throughout the lifetime of your channel.
Armed with your keyword list, now it’s time to put it to use and optimize your content. There are three places you should put your primary keywords:
Your video title is the most important place to include your primary keyword. Studies have shown that your title is your video’s most important piece of metadata and there is a direct correlation between keyword rich titles and rankings for that particular keyword.
Whenever possible, place the keyword at the beginning of your title. For instance, if your keyword is “intermittent fasting,” it would be better to have the title “Intermittent Fasting for Beginners” than “Beginner’s Tips for Intermittent Fasting.”
Next, include your keywords in your video description at least 2-3 times as naturally as possible. Be sure to include your primary keyword within the first 25 words of your description, and use secondary keywords throughout the rest of describe without overstuffing description content.
Lastly, use your keywords in the audio of your video. Remember, your captions and transcripts will include these keywords if they’re included in your audio.
You can incorporate your keywords into your channel tags. Channel tags are keywords that are specific to your channel. These tags provide YouTube with video and channel context and make it easier for the platform to help you connect with users who are most likely to be interested in your content.
Although YouTube has stated that thumbnails, titles, and descriptions are more important for SEO, other studies still identify a positive relationship between optimized tags and higher rankings. Here are a few YouTube tag best practices:
You can check out video tags from competitors above the suggested video panel on the right side.
Video length constitutes an important ranking factor. Video length consistently came up high on the list in a Databox study that examined the importance of YouTube ranking factors.
Although it takes more time and effort to create longer videos, it’s worth putting in the work because it will attract more viewers and subscribers. After all, YouTube’s primary objective is to improve the user experience and keep them happy and engaged. Longer videos keep users on YouTube longer and increase the chances that they continue watching other videos (likes yours).
In short, shorter videos create discontinuity in the viewing experience while longer videos help enable continuous viewing.
Watchtime isn’t just an important YouTube SEO metric; you also need 4,000 hours of watchtime in order to monetize your YouTube channel. In addition to your thorough keyword research plan, there are several ways you can boost your watchtime:
Your thumbnail image is the first thing users see before they click on the video—in many cases, even before the title. Therefore, it’s important that you give your thumbnail some special TLC. Your thumbnail image should include a high-quality photo, the title of your video, great typography, and branded elements. The video you choose should also offer a glimpse into what the viewer can expect when they click on it. For instance, if your video is about the Swiss Alps, your image should be of the Swiss Alps, not of yourself driving to the Alps.
Lastly, branded elements include typography and colors. If you typically include your title in white Lobster font, don’t use yellow Comic Sans in another video. Great YouTubers have branded consistency throughout their videos and playlists.
Create Playlist Experiences
Playlists are collections of videos on your YouTube channel. Creating collections can not only help you organize and curate your videos, but can increase your subscriber and view counts. When a user watches a video in your playlist, the next video in your playlist collection will automatically begin playing. Some playlists will also appear in YouTube search results.
Each playlist should have at least four videos. If you have a ton of content and cover different categories, you can start a “New Here” playlist to offer first-time visitors a holistic glance at what your channel covers. And lastly, don’t forget to use your very best image as the thumbnail cover for your playlist.
Use Video Previews
YouTube video previews allow users to see a three-second glimpse of your video content by hovering over the video thumbnail. Video previews are already turned on for eligible videos and YouTube selects the clip from the first half of the video to show. Although you can turn video previews off, you should consider the fact that previews act as billboards to help viewers decide if they want to watch.
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Structure & Organize Content
Without a content calendar, your videos will seem guideless and unstructured. Take a strategic approach to content management, just as any business or brand would. Before you start a video—whether it’s a vlog or a scripted tutorial—create an outline of what you expect to cover. Repeat this process for multiple videos, creating an overarching calendar that you’ll continue to follow.
Your content calendar will also help you discover any gaps in your videos and can help you remain accountable to follow it. Many YouTuber fail to consistently create videos because they run out of ideas; brainstorming and maintaining an efficient way to organize your videos is a great way to prevent this from happening.
The math is simple: the more you post, the more opportunities you have to get noticed. Each video creates a new chance to build upon your YouTube SEO strategy. Just as you would with a blog, commit to regular updates. YouTube places preference on users who post regularly, which means your video would be more likely to rank higher than someone with a similar title if you post more frequently than them. YouTube channels that post quality content consistently do so 2-3 times per week. However, don’t sacrifice quality for quantity. If you can’t put out good content several times per week, stick to once weekly at minimum.
According to Backlinko, YouTube engagement (shares and comments) is a crucial ranking factor. The more comments that a video has, the higher it is likely to rank. Videos with a lot of comments tend to appear higher in YouTube’s search results pages. Because of this, it’s crucial that you have a plan in place to encourage more comments. Here are three best practices:
Your YouTube metrics reveal plenty about how your videos are performing. If you don’t use YouTube Analytics, you’ll never understand how your content resonates with your viewers. In order to achieve YouTube success, you need to be constantly improving and fortunately, YouTube is a platform that offers plenty of data to help you make educated decisions about your SEO and growth. Metrics are broken down into three categories:
You can use these three categories to better understand whether you’re hitting the mark with your content. For example, although studies have shown longer videos perform better across the board, take a look at which of your videos are performing better; longer or shorter videos? If your better performing videos fall outside the YouTube norm (like high views for short videos), analyze what makes those videos more attention-grabbing and find creative ways to emulate that success.
Watch Time is a metric that analyzes the estimated total minutes that viewers spent watching your videos. YouTube values Watch Time so much because it’s the most important indicator of how engaging a video is. As much as View Count matters, you can argue that Watch Time is even more important. What does it matter if 1,000 people clicked your video if only 10 of them watched until the end?
YouTube has clearly stated, “Channels and videos with higher watch times are likely to show up higher in search results and recommendations.” Take a look at your Watch Time; if it’s an unnatural imbalance with your View Count, this is a sign that your strategy isn’t working. If some videos have higher Watch Time than others, jot down the elements of those videos that may have contributed to better metrics.
Audience retention helps you understand how your videos capture and hold your viewers attention. Honing in on this metric allows you to see the quality of your views. Using this metric, you’ll be able to see exactly where viewers stopped watching your videos. For instance, in this example from Oberlo, you can see that the video length is nearly five and a half minutes, but the average person dropped off at the 3:50 mark.
This could prompt you to wonder why people tend to leave at this time. Perhaps you’re staying on a particular topic longer than you intended too and consequently boring your viewers. Or perhaps you’re missing key information that the viewer hoped to learn. You can use this information to create better videos that rank higher.
How are people discovering your videos? When you know where your viewers are coming from you can spend your efforts honing in on those sources. YouTube will display “traffic source types” for your channel, broken into two primary categories: internal source types and external source types. Here are the top internal and external sources for Oberlo, a dropshipping platform:
Traffic sources can help you make better advertising choices and allows you to better target your audience. For example, if you find that most of your audience is on Instagram instead of Facebook, you could put more effort into building an Instagram based on your YouTube channel.
Discovery is such an important part of creating a successful YouTube channel. If you want to get paid on YouTube and create a passive income stream from previous videos, you need to get your videos in front of the right people. Every video should be optimized to the fullest extent. As you build your channel, keep this checklist in mind: