Do you have a YouTube channel or are you planning to start one this year? If your answer is yes, you’ll be delighted to know that:
- YouTube has over 2 billion users. That’s nearly one-third of internet users worldwide. (Source: YouTube)
- 74% of adults and 77% of 15-35-year olds in the U.S. use YouTube (Source: Hootsuite)
- Every year, more and more channels earn 5 figures on YouTube. (Source: YouTube)
If these stats don’t convince you to optimize your videos for YouTube search, I don’t know what does. Because the truth is, YouTube is growing.
Marketing your business through video may not be a new concept. However, we cannot deny the fact that video is a more engaging format than the written word. Brands can convey their message in just a few seconds.
Video is also more personalized and more likely to result in conversions.
But here’s the key:
To make your YouTube videos succeed, you need to invest in YouTube SEO. You read that correctly. Even video content needs to be optimized to gain visibility — just like your website!
What Is YouTube SEO?
Let’s start with the basics. YouTube SEO or search engine optimization is making sure that your video content ranks in YouTube’s organic search results.
To do this successfully, you need to work on a couple of things. For example, your keywords, description, and thumbnail. We’ll dive more into those optimization areas in a while.
What I really like about trying to rank videos #1 on YouTube is that everyone can do it. It doesn’t matter what your niche is or whether you’re new to YouTube and don’t have a ton of subscribers… unlike your competitors. There’s equal opportunity for all businesses on YouTube to win. Which is the whole point of this article.
Before I show you how to do SEO for YouTube, let’s find out how YouTube’s algorithm operates.
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How The YouTube Algorithm Works
In a nutshell, YouTube decides which videos to show people depending on a couple of factors. They include the following:
- A user’s specific interests
- Their watch history
- The amount of time users spend watching your videos
- Videos they’ve searched for previously
- Their demographic information
- Whether a user clicked through a video after seeing it
So, YouTube does not label your videos as “good” or “bad,” but rather suggests your videos based on whether people are likely to watch them.
Here’s another thing to know:
Your performance can also affect your rankings. For example, the more often you upload videos, the higher the chances for your content to rank. Or if your video is popular, then YouTube is likely to recommend it to your audience.
In addition, videos with higher levels of engagement can help increase ad revenue ― which is beneficial for those who are running ads on YouTube.
Boost Your YouTube SEO Strategy In 2021 With These Tips
Since YouTube changes its algorithm from time to time, it’s important that you know which strategies work to improve your video rankings this year. Start with this list on how to optimize youtube videos for SEO.
1. Conduct keyword research.
If you’re mapping out keywords for Google, you also need to do the same for YouTube. Keyword research, in essence, enables you to identify certain words or phrases that relate to your video content.
By optimizing a video for relevant keywords, it becomes easier for your best audience to find you. Here are some helpful tools and strategies to start coming up with keyword ideas:
Use the autocomplete feature
You won’t need a separate tool for this. To start finding the best keywords, just head over to YouTube and enter a phrase into the search bar.
Let’s say, for instance, you run a low-carb brand and want to do a video on starting a low-carb diet. As you start typing a phrase that’s related to your topic, notice that YouTube makes several suggestions.
Now, you have plenty of keyword ideas to choose from!
Ahrefs YouTube Keyword Tool
Ahrefs has a free tool that generates hundreds of keyword ideas in seconds. Before searching, make sure to select YouTube as your search engine of choice and your target location. In the screenshot below, you can see that I entered the keyword “low carb diet”:
I got 100 phrase match keywords and 50 question keywords for “low carb diet”.
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While this free tool doesn’t show the keyword difficulty, it’s already useful for generating video content ideas!
Yes, Google Trends is also a great tool to use for YouTube SEO. It reveals the popularity of a certain topic over time. For example, the past 12 months. This way, you’ll be able to get a feel of whether your prospective video topic will get a lot of searches and engagement.
Set your country, timeline, topic category, and select YouTube Search.
One thing to consider when using Google Trends is your topic’s seasonality. Some topics are seasonal in nature, and therefore, you need to plan out your content for that in advance. Turkey recipes, for example, are popular during Thanksgiving.
2. Optimize your YouTube video title.
Now that you’re done researching a target keyword, the next step is to insert it into your video title. How well you write your title can affect not only its ranking but also its click-through rate.
For instance, if your target keyword is “low carb diet”, that term should be found within the video title ― preferably at the beginning of the title. Here are a few examples:
- Low Carb Diet Recipes for Weight Loss
- Low Carb Diet: A Beginner’s Guide
- A Low Carb Diet Meal Plan With Recipes
Since the title is one of the first things that people see on YouTube, make sure that yours effectively evokes interest. So, in addition to using your keyword in the title, do the following:
Numbers work like brain candy, which is why most people can’t help but click through headlines with numbers. Odd numbers, in particular, seem to work better than even numbers.
Here’s an example of a YouTube title that starts with an odd number:
Pay attention to the character limit.
YouTube’s character count limit is 100 characters. However, it’s best that you keep your title within 70 characters to prevent it from getting truncated. This is also one reason why the target keyword should be included early in the title.
Add attention-grabbing “power words”.
Certain words, when incorporated into your copy, can trigger an emotional response and persuade people to take action. Such power words include but are not limited to best, free, new, special, quick, secret, proven, and discover.
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3. Write a strong video description.
A description refers to the text right below your YouTube video. It enables YouTube and your audience to understand what your content is all about.
Like titles, descriptions that are done correctly can increase a video’s SEO potential. Here’s an example of a well-crafted video description by Brian Dean of Backlinko:
Notice that this description clearly tells people what they can expect from the video. It’s written using simple and understandable language and avoids jargon.
Although not seen in the screenshot, it ends with a call-to-action (CTA) that tells viewers to subscribe to his YouTube channel and follow him on Twitter.
Alternatively, you can use CTAs that encourage viewers to check out related resources or join your email list (if you’re trying to get leads).
Should a video description include keywords? Definitely.
Remember the keywords you’ve researched earlier? Add these descriptive keywords in the description to boost your video’s discoverability. Just be careful not to add them excessively.
4. Strive to increase audience retention.
Wondering how to get more people to watch until the end of your video?
That’s a huge challenge, especially since people’s attention spans have decreased. Anything can distract your audience from getting halfway through your video.
Why does audience retention matter for YouTube SEO? YouTube rewards high-retention videos with better rankings.
If you already have a couple of videos on your channel, check what your retention data looks like in YouTube Studio. For each video, you’ll be able to see the % of your viewers that watch after the first 30 seconds including spikes and dips in your video.
Here’s a screenshot that serves as a visual guide from YouTube Help:
Since videos with longer watch times are more likely to be shown to your audience, here are some things you can do to boost retention:
Hook your viewers within the first 10 seconds.
A hook is something that captures people’s attention at the beginning of a video. This compels them to keep watching. The best hook is one that matches the video title and thumbnail. There are many ways to do this.
For example, you can start with an interesting story or a problem that reflects the topic. Some video creators also start off by mentioning what will be covered and encouraging viewers to stick until the end because a surprise awaits them.
Understand what your audience is looking for.
This takes you back to audience research. Videos that work are those that address a real need. Closely observe your market’s interests, hobbies, values, and lifestyles. Take these into account when creating your videos.
Also, by analyzing your existing content, you might realize that you’ve been speaking to the wrong audience.
Avoid fluff content.
While a longer video can equate to more watch time, you need to be careful not to fill yours with fluff. Your video needs to provide value from start to finish. Include only what’s necessary. Some things may add length and make your video seem elaborate, but in the end, they will only bore your audience.
5. Create a compelling thumbnail.
If you want to stack the odds in your favor, another thing you should do is optimize your video thumbnails. Think of a thumbnail as the cover image for your video ― it gives a sneak peek of its overall context.
A visually-appealing Youtube thumbnail entices more people to click through, thereby improving your chances of ranking.
Here are some examples of thumbnails from Healthline’s YouTube channel:
Create great thumbnails by following these tips:
Follow the right dimensions.
YouTube recommends that your thumbnail should be as large as possible. A custom thumbnail must have a resolution of 1280×720. Aim for an aspect ratio of 16:9 since it’s common in YouTube previews.
Other technical details: The thumbnail format should be in JPG, PNG, and GIF. Also, keep the image file size under 2 MB.
Use a branded template.
Viewers should be able to tell that a video was created by you based on its overall style and feel. This is what branding is all about. Basically, you need to stick to a consistent style by using specific colors and futuristic fonts that reflect your business.
Have another look at the screenshot I showed you above. Notice that it follows the same color scheme, font style, and visual elements.
Choose readable fonts.
Fonts don’t just spruce up your thumbnail design, but they also add more context to your video. They complement your title.
When adding text, make sure that the fonts are clean and large enough for people to read. Also, use color contrast. So, even when they’re not reading the whole title of your video, they can still see what your video is about in the thumbnail.
Keep your image relevant.
No matter what your video is about, make sure that’s reflected in the thumbnail. Never use an irrelevant or misleading thumbnail for the sake of getting people to click through.
Here’s an example:
Let’s say you’re doing a video tutorial on making fluffy pancakes. To entice viewers, you uploaded a thumbnail image of beautiful fluffy pancakes! However, your actual end product showed otherwise. This will disappoint your audience and cause them to doubt you.
Last but not least: Don’t hesitate to find inspiration elsewhere! Check what’s working for other brands in the same industry or niche. You can also see Canva’s collection of YouTube thumbnails and start creating yours for free.
6. Help others find your videos.
Give your YouTube videos a boost by actually promoting them. Doing this helps you get more views, click-throughs, and potential conversions. This is especially important if you’ve just started a YouTube channel for the very first time.
Try these promotional hacks (on top of keyword research, writing great titles, and other YouTube SEO techniques):
Partner up with other brands.
Identify brands in your niche that already have an established YouTube audience. Consider collaborating with them on a few videos. Maybe you can agree on having you or your product to get featured in their video. This gets your brand right in front of their audience, creating awareness.
Need help identifying influencers? Check out this post.
Embed your videos in your blog content.
I don’t know about you, but when I land on a blog post that has a video in it, I tend to stick around. Sometimes, I find myself watching that video instead of reading the blog post from start to finish ― which can be daunting.
Embedded videos make a written piece of content more engaging. As an added benefit, it increases exposure to your YouTube videos. Neil Patel does this for every blog post:
Share it on social media.
Got a profile on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter? If people are already engaging with you on these platforms, then make sure to share your videos there.
It’s a win-win: Your chances of boosting your YouTube SEO increase. But at the same time, you’re able to educate and connect with your audience on these platforms better through video.
7. Create video playlists.
YouTube playlists are great for SEO. How so? Playlists improve your viewers’ experiences by grouping together videos with the same theme.
For example, if you run a YouTube channel on digital marketing, you can organize your videos around these playlists:
- Email marketing
- Link building
- Facebook advertising
- Productivity tips
- Beginner SEO
- Advanced SEO
You get the idea. Playlists also help build loyalty. If your audience needs advice on a certain topic, they can simply head over to a playlist instead of going through a long list of random videos.
Over to You
These YouTube SEO tips should kickstart your visibility on this massive platform. In case you’re in doubt about starting a YouTube channel this year, know that it’s not too late!
While I haven’t mentioned this in the post, the most important ingredient is your motivation to create video content. Because with that, you’ll be able to push through despite the changes in YouTube’s algorithm.
Whatever you’re doing to increase your SEO performance, prioritize quality. Your efforts won’t pay off if your videos are low in quality to begin with.
Understand your audience, optimize elements of your content wherever possible, and make sure that others can easily find you. All of these tasks take up a big chunk of your time. But at the end of the day, it’s going to be worth it.
I hope you enjoyed this post and learned from it!
Before joining the team at Ethical Digital, Izaias built a successful SEO agency in São Paolo, Brazil. With over twelve years of experience providing data-driven SEO, he has worked with businesses of all sizes – from SMBs to Fortune 500 companies. After selling his business to travel the world with his wife, “The SEO Hustler” has been helping companies in more than 15 countries and 6 languages thrive in the digital and search world.