When engaging with marketing collateral, 72% of consumers prefer video to text based content.
Bought by Google just 1 year after their launch in 2005, YouTube is considered the largest video search engine in the world. Many companies, influencers, and celebrities have found success when using this platform to grow their brand image, or promote their products and services.
In a similar way to traditional search engines, YouTube content can be optimised to increase the chances of it ranking higher on the results pages. This, in turn reaps several benefits including increased watch time and broader brand awareness, subsequently leading to more sales.
With 800 billion videos on YouTube, it can be difficult to stand out from the crowd. For a strong YouTube SEO strategy, it is important to consider the following:
- Optimisation for YouTube
- Optimisation for Google search
How to optimise videos for YouTube
A vital aspect of traditional SEO, keywords are also a crucial part of a YouTube SEO strategy. Ideally, you should complete your keyword research before filming any videos – this is because for the best results, keywords should both be spoken in the video, and appear in the closed captions, subtitles, and video transcript [more on this later].
There are several tools you can use to conduct your keyword research for YouTube, including:
- Keyword analytics for YouTube app: using this application you can find the most popular or fastest growing keywords – but you can also get in-depth analysis and insights for specific keywords.
- The research tab in YouTube analytics: using YouTube’s own research tab you can find information and analysis about keywords from searches across YouTube and your viewers searches. TOP TIP: using this tool, keep an eye out on search terms marked with the tag ‘content gap’. This means that for this query, the user struggled to find a video that satisfied their needs
- On YouTube’s ‘Traffic Source YouTube Search Report’: this provides you information on how your viewers found your content within YouTube and also from external sources.
While these tools are great sources of information, one of the best ways to do keyword research is using YouTube’s autocomplete function. On YouTube type your keyword into the search bar followed by the letter ‘a’ – YouTube will then give you options for several search queries. This list often consists of frequently searched for queries, so you know what people are actually typing into their YouTube search bar. Note down some of the top results, and continue to do this for each letter of the alphabet until you have a variety of great topic ideas you can base your video content around.
Once you have completed your keyword research, you will want to make sure that your keyword appears in the following places [more information on all of the below later]:
- Video title
- Video file name
- Thumbnail image file
- Spoken within the video
- In closed captions or the video transcript
- Video chapters or timestamps
- Title cards & overlays
There are some important things to remember when using keywords in your video content:
- Keyword cannibalisation: Unlike Google, YouTube does not penalise you for using the same focus keyword for multiple pieces of content. This means you can use the same keyword multiple times across multiple videos, without worrying about any cannibalisation issues.
- Keyword stuffing: While it is important to use your keyword in all the aforementioned places, you need to remain conscious that you are not overdoing it. If you use your keyword too often in ways that seem unnatural, you may be penalised for keyword stuffing, and therefore your video may not rank.
Used across several social media platforms, hashtags help users to find content they are searching for, or they are generally interested in; in a similar way, using hashtags on YouTube helps drive attention and engagement from certain audiences.
Here are some important things to keep in mind when using hashtags:
- Overuse: overuse of hashtags may inadvertently flag you for spam like behaviour. It is best to choose 2 – 3 highly relevant hashtags than using every relatable hashtag you can think of.
- Not a ranking factor: hashtags are not a YouTube ranking factor, meaning they will not necessarily help your video rank higher – however, the additional engagements you may get from using hashtags, can contribute to your rank.
Breaking up your video into ‘chapters’ gives users the option to quickly navigate your video and find the information most relevant to them. This feature is also beneficial for optimisation, you are able to label each chapter with its own short subtitle, giving you even more opportunities to strategically place your keywords into the content.
Tags are descriptive words that you can attach as a sort of label to your videos, that helps categorise it, and makes it easier for users to find your videos. Tags are useful for content topics where words are commonly misspelt, meaning users are able to find your videos despite spelling mistakes. Any element that makes your video more visible, or accessible to users is likely to help it rank higher.
YouTube gives you the option to select a category for your video, helping YouTube to further narrow down the users that will find your videos useful, and displaying it to the ideal audience.
Using the advanced search options, users are able to narrow down the search results via these categories – meaning that selecting these categories will give you a better chance of getting found by a user.
Cards & end screens
Cards are the pop-up notifications that appear at certain points on the video, encouraging you to perform certain actions. You can add up to five cards per video. There are six types of cards:
- Channel cards: this type of card allows you to point to another channel on YouTube. This could be the channel of an influencer you are working with, another brand you are partnered with, or a charity you are supporting for example.
- Link cards: using this card you can link externally to YouTube. This allows you to post links to the products you are talking about, downloadable website content, or the website of a brand or charity you are partnering with.
- Video or playlist cards: this allows you to link to other videos or playlists on your channel that might be relevant to the information you are relaying. This is great as it keeps people on your channel, and increases engagement with your content.
In a similar fashion to the cards, end screens allow you to showcase additional channels, videos, or external links on the screen following the end of your video.
Any click’s or engagements with the cards embedded in the video or on the end screens count as elements of ‘user engagement’, which is one of the top ranking factors for YouTube (see below).
YouTube gives you the option to organise your content into playlists, allowing users to flow from one related video into the next – kind of like episodes of a series. You are able to associate these playlists with certain keywords, again giving you the opportunity to input some of the keywords from your research. In addition to this, playlists help users understand the topics that your channel covers, allowing easier navigation of your videos, and a better, more seamless user experience.
The video description is probably one of the key elements of your video; it is the area you are able to be the most detailed and incorporate several of the above elements for maximum optimisation. On YouTube, you have 5000 characters to work with, and while that is significantly more than some other platforms, you want to use the space wisely in order to reach maximum potential. If possible, try to include the following in your description:
- Short video summary: include a short summary of your video, letting the audience know what information they can expect to learn from your video, and why it would benefit them to watch. Include your focus keyword in this summary if possible, as well as any naturally flowing additional keywords.
- Call to action (CTA): a call to action is a marketing term referring to the step or steps you want the user to take following engagement with your content. If you had posted a cake recipe video for example, and are trying to grow your instagram following, you might say “Share your cake pictures on Instagram and tag @yourbakeryhandle” – or you might be promoting your recipe book, and then you might say “For more top tips and delicious recipes like this, be sure to check out my new book ‘Bakery’s New Delicious Cookbook’”
- Timestamps: these are clickable links that allow users to navigate to specific sections of your video. Including a list of timestamps in your description not only eases the navigation for your users, but it is also a great way to give YouTube a breakdown of the content in your video – again giving the platform a deeper understanding of the content you are offering, which is great for SEO purposes.
- Incentive to encourage comments: comments are a well known ranking factor on YouTube. Including a mini CTA of sorts to encourage people to comment on your video is a great way to boost engagement. Continuing with the baking example, an example could be: “Have you tried this recipe? Rate the taste from 1 to 10!”
- Links to videos & resources mentioned in video: in addition to the cards you can incorporate within the video, you have another opportunity to post the links to the videos, resources, or partnerships mentioned in the video.
- Links to additional useful resources: got additional content related to the topic you want to share, but have not yet mentioned it? Use the last section of your description to link to these additional content pieces.
Closed Captions & subtitles
To ensure that your video content is fully inclusive, you need to include closed captions and subtitles so those who are hard of hearing (closed captions), or not native to the language (subtitles) of the video can also engage with your content.
There are other benefits other than inclusivity to using closed captions in your video. YouTube is able to analyse these textual video elements for any important keywords, providing an additional layer of context for the platform – allowing them to further understand the audience that would benefit the most from your video. Captions also fill the content gaps viewers might miss in the audio, and research shows that 80% of people are more likely to watch a video of closed captions or subtitles are included.
Additional ranking factors
While you have less control over the following elements than the above as they are in the hands of the viewer rather than the creator of the video, they are also important factors that help your content rank highly on YouTube.
Watch time is one of YouTube’s top ranking factors, and the platform quite frequently speaks out about their preference for videos with longer watch times. YouTube states that one of your goals as a creator is audience retention – they want you to keep your retention to as close to 100% as possible. Videos with consistently high retention rates show up more frequently in search results.
As an extension to the above, user engagement is also a high ranking factor. User engagement is the way in which users interact with your video – this not only includes watch time (see above) but also:
- Number of video views
- Click through rate on links imbedded in video
- Thumbs up or down reactions
In what ways can YouTube videos appear on Google search?
In May 2023 around 15% of all desktop search results in the US featured either a video box, a video result, or a featured video. Videos don’t only appear on the main results page, they can also appear in the video search results, Google images, or the discover tab.
Video boxes (or video carousel)
Video boxes appear on the SERPs, and they contain thumbnails of multiple videos on a certain topic. While video boxes can contain videos from company websites, or other social media platforms such as facebook or twitter, YouTube videos dominate the boxes – with over 80% of the videos coming from the platform.
This is a type of featured snippet on SERPs; typically appearing at the top of a results page, it is a video that provides information about a particular query.
Organic search results that appear on the SERP in a similar way to other results, but will usually have a thumbnail next to the search result description.
How to optimise videos to appear on Google search
A video on average gets 2-5x the number of views, if it is able to rank on both YouTube and Google. For this reason, optimising for traditional search engines is a vital part of a strong video SEO strategy.
In your keyword research, you will also want to take into account keywords that will help you rank on traditional search engines as well as on YouTube. While these might sometimes be the same, more often than not there will be slight variations in the keywords or phrases you should be using. A great tool to use to find the best keywords for optimising videos for traditional search engines is Semrush’s keyword magic tool. Using this tool you are able to specifically search for keywords that help your videos rank for video boxes, featured videos, or video results.
The most frequent queries that generate video results are:
- “How to…” queries
- Fitness or sports related queries
- Funny or comedy videos
The shift to a video dominant world of search
In the digital world, more and more people are wanting to digest information in a more visual or video-centric manner; from TikToks skyrocketing popularity, to reels being one of the biggest features on Instagram, and YouTube continuing to be the most popular platforms for lengthy videos.
This shift is changing the world of digital marketing, encouraging us as marketers to produce more visual-centric content. With this in mind, it is important for us to adapt our organic search tactics to work alongside this shift to continue to produce informative content that our target audience wants to engage with.