How to Optimize Videos for YouTube

Posted in Search & Social

As an SEO, my focus is generally on driving traffic to websites - not YouTube channels. That being said, YouTube is the second largest search engine on the web, and there are definitely strategies you can utilize to ensure your videos get more direct views on YouTube itself. So without further ado:

So, this initial conversation about YouTube SEO started because my FINE coworker, Devon, is a content marketing maven. For example, a video she helped develop with Howdini about "How to Make a Princess Cake" has now gotten over 25,000,000 YouTube views.

Whoa!? Why so many views? They must have really "optimized" that video, right? Well - yes and no. Before even thinking about optimization, you have to start with The Video. The concept, and the content. Devon's team really thought about what people wanted to watch and learn about when it came to cakes. They did extensive research around topics people were looking for, and wouldn't you know it, but people have a serious need to know all about princess cakes. Big Time! What they succeeded at, first and foremost, was creating an answer to something people were looking for, wanted to share, and wanted to know more about. Keyword research is certainly one aspect - look for topics help you figure out what concepts might have higher search volumes - and create some killer content around that.

Unlike meta keyword tags which are pretty useless from an SEO standpoint, YouTube tags are uber-important. YouTube actually READS them and will match your video tags with search terms people are using.

Tagging is a critical strategy that needs to be thoughtfully approached and researched in terms of which keywords should be used. You need to select a smart range of terms while also avoiding "keyword stuffing". Implementing both singular and plural tags will also make a big difference. For additional tagging guidelines, check out this article:

There are two big things to keep in mind when it comes to your video's title: Click-Through-Rate, and Keywords. Obviously, you want to give your video a name that's fun, descriptive, and intriguing! This is what will (or won't) help users understand what your video is about and entice them to click on it.

Keywords contained within your video's title are also a YouTube ranking factor - so try to incorporate any important terms isolated from your keyword research. Try to match keywords in the title with tags used for the video. You may even want to try to work in keywords closer to the front of the title - but as always, balance this with the user experience!

Your YouTube video description can be up to 120 characters. Try to include a link to your website and/or the video hosted on your website (if so) within the first sentence, being sure to include http:// before the URL so that the link works. The link will be immediately visible to users, and can encourage click-through to your website from YouTube. About 22 words are visible in the description box before "see more", so try to associate your key phrases early and describe as much of the video as you can in that space. Similar to strategy for the video title, you'll want to incorporate relevant keywords while also writing a fun and interesting description.


  • Video Filename
    Give your YouTube video an intuitive, keyword-based filename.

  • Captions (Subtitles) and Transcripts
    Google can crawl video captions and subtitles - including this content can provide a lot more text-based content for search discovery and positioning in universal SERPs. YouTube's guide for how to do this is here:

  • Video Length
    Shorter videos seem to do better in terms of a usability/viral standpoint; the general consensus is that 5 minutes or less is a good rule of thumb.

  • YouTube Channel Optimization
    Optimize your channel description and the “about me” section with relevant keywords. You can also include links in the "about me" section to your main website, your Facebook/Twitter page, and any other relevant pages.

  • Inbound Links
    Google judges a page's importance by how many other pages link to it, so build links to your YouTube channel from other external sites and your own website.

  • Playlists
    When it makes sense, group like videos together in video playlists. This not only can boost equity because like videos are linked together, but playlists can also be displayed prominently in YouTube video results.

  • Overall Video Promotion
    Don't just depend on YouTube to drive traffic and increase video views. You can also promote your video across other social media channels (Facebook, Twitter), your website, customer emails and more to improve viewership and popularity.

While you may have more direct control over previous tips above, YouTube also evaluates your vidoes based on how users interact with them. The best way to influence user-interaction factors is to create marvelous content (as per our very first tip, it's all about The Video). YouTube videos can also be sorted by some of these attributes as well.

  • Number of Views
  • Time Watched
  • Video Radio
  • Video Ratings
  • Number of Shares and LIkes
  • Video Comments
  • Number of Channel Subscribers
  • Added to Favorites or Playlists
  • Video Embeds

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