How does YouTube SEO work? What are the steps to optimize your YouTube videos for search? The answer to these questions are simpler than you might think.
In this post, we’ll go over proven YouTube SEO tips that have worked for HubSpot’s YouTube channel and that will work for you, regardless of your channel size. Let’s get started.
To get videos to rank on YouTube, we must first understand the YouTube algorithm and YouTube’s ranking factors.
Just like any search engine, YouTube wants to deliver content that answers the searcher’s specific query. For instance, if someone searches for “how to tie a tie,” YouTube won’t deliver a video titled “how to tie your shoelaces.” Instead, it will serve search results that answer that specific query.
So, as you try your hand at YouTube SEO, think about how you can incorporate terms and phrases that are used by your target audience.
If you want your videos to rank, try to create content that’s optimized for longer watch times. You can, for instance, prompt users to stay until the end of the video by promising a surprise or a giveaway.
Trying to rank videos on YouTube might seem like a lost effort. Only the most well-known influencers and content creators seem to have any luck on the platform.
However, that’s not the case. As a business, you can enjoy views, comments, and likes on your videos — so long as you find the right audience for your content. In fact, finding and targeting the right audience is even more important than creating a “beautiful” video. If you’re actively solving your prospective customers’ problems with your YouTube videos, then you’ve done 90% of the YouTube optimization work.
If you’re feeling lost, don’t worry. We cover the most important YouTube SEO tips below, so that you can effectively optimize your content for YouTube search.
With a keyword identified, the first place you should put it is your video file — before you even upload it to YouTube. Why? YouTube can’t actually “watch” your video to see how relevant it is to your target keyword, and as you’ll learn in the tips below, there are only so many places you can safely insert this keyword on your video’s viewing page once it’s published. But, YouTube can read your video’s file name and all the code that comes with it when it’s uploaded.
With that in mind, replace the “business_ad_003FINAL.mov” file name (don’t be embarrassed … we’ve all been there during post-production) with your desired keyword. If your keyword is “house painting tips,” for example, your video’s file name should be “house-painting-tips” followed by your preferred video file type (MOV, MP4, and WMV are some of the most common that are compatible with YouTube).
When we search for videos, one of the first things that our eyes are drawn to is the title. That’s often what determines whether or not the viewer will click to watch your video, so the title should not only be compelling, but also clear and concise.
Although your keyword plays a big part in your video title, it also helps if the title closely matches what the viewer is searching for. Research conducted by Backlinko found that videos with an exact keyword match in the title have only a slight advantage over those that don’t. Here’s a linear representation of those findings:
If you do choose to write a longer description, keep in mind that YouTube only displays the first two or three lines of text — that amounts to about 100 characters. After that point, viewers have to click “show more” to see the full description. That’s why we suggest front-loading the description with the most important information, like CTAs or crucial links.
Dean is careful not to encourage ditching an optimized description altogether, though. “An optimized description helps you show up in the suggested videos sidebar,” he writes, “which is a significant source of views for most channels.”
Once you upload a video, you can categorize it under “Advanced settings.” Choosing a category is another way to group your video with similar content on YouTube so it winds up in different playlists and gains exposure to more viewers who identify with your audience.
It might not be as simple as it looks. In fact, it’s important to go through a comprehensive process to determine which category each video belongs in. Answer questions like:
Your video thumbnail is the main image viewers see when scrolling through a list of video results. Along with the video’s title, that thumbnail sends a signal to the viewer about the video’s content, so it can impact the number of clicks and views your video receives.
While you can always pick one of the thumbnail options auto-generated by YouTube, we highly recommend uploading a custom thumbnail. YouTube recommends the use of images that are 1280×720 pixels — representing a 16:9 ratio — that are saved as 2MB or smaller .jpg, .gif, .bmp, or .png files. If you follow those parameters, it can help to ensure that your thumbnail appears with equally high quality across multiple viewing platforms.
Like much of the other text we’ve discussed here, subtitles and closed captions can boost YouTube search optimization by highlighting important keywords.
In order to add subtitles or closed captions to your video, you’ll have to upload a supported text transcript or timed subtitles file. For the former, you can also directly enter transcript text for a video so that it auto-syncs with the video.
Adding subtitles follows a similar process, however, you can limit the amount of text you want displayed. For either, head to your video manager then click on “Videos” under “Video Manager.” Find the video you want to add subtitles or closed captioning to, and click the drop-down arrow next to the edit button. Then, choose “Subtitles/CC.” You can then select how you’d like to add subtitles or closed captioning.
Find out how to add closed captions to your YouTube video in the video below.
You can add up to five cards to a single video, and there are six types:
End screens display similar information as cards, but as you may have guessed, they don’t display until a video is over, and are a bit more visually detailed in nature. A good example is the overlay with a book image and a visual link to view more on the video below:
It’s important to note that YouTube is always testing end screens to try to optimize the viewer experience, so there are times when “your end screen, as designated by you, may not appear.” Take these factors into account as you decide between using either cards or end screens.
As you add more and more videos to your content library, group them in keyword-optimized playlists. This will not only further signal to YouTube what your videos are about, but it will also keep viewers clicking from video to video, increasing your view count and, by extension, your rankings.
2. Include the target keyword in the file name. Don’t use spaces between each word, but rather dashes (-) or underscores (_).
3. Include the target keyword in the title. Next up, work the target keyword into the title of your video, but be creative, and be sure to do it naturally. You don’t want the title to simply be “[keyword].” The title is the first thing users will see, so try to create intrigue and interest while promising to help the viewer in some way.
9. Add cards and end screens that tie into the topic of your video. Cards are equivalent to internal and external linking, and end screens allow you to engage viewers during those critical last few seconds when a viewer might be tempted to click to another piece of content.
10. Add hashtags to your video. Hashtags are different from tags. They show up above your video title and help you increase reach and authority by further signaling what your video is about.
11. Create a playlist about your overarching topic. One of the best ways to optimize YouTube videos is to create playlists. Finding a few related videos and putting them in a playlist will not only attract more viewers, but it will also help the YouTube algorithm understand how your video relates to others in your upload library.
12. Optional: Leave a pinned comment to generate engagement or provide more value. As a brand, you can and should comment on your own videos — not only to reply to others, but to provide more value to readers.
Now, most of the SEO tips above rely on you identifying a keyword and promoting your video correctly. And not all of those tips can be carried out through YouTube alone. To get the most bang for your videography buck, consider some of the tools below to optimize your video for search.
Ahrefs is a comprehensive SEO platform that allows you to monitor a website’s ranking, estimate the organic traffic you’d get from each keyword, and research keywords for which you might want to create new content.
One popular feature of Ahrefs is Keywords Explorer, which allows you to look up numerous details related to a keyword you’re interested in. And as you can see in the screenshot above, you can filter your keyword results by search engine — including YouTube.
Ahrefs Keywords Explorer gives you a keyword’s monthly search volume, how many clicks received by videos ranking for that keyword, related keywords, and more.
You might know Canva as a design template for creating all kinds of cards, photos, logos, and more. It just so happens this popular product has a Thumbnail Creator just for YouTube videos.
As stated in the tips above, thumbnail images are critical to promoting your content in YouTube search results and enticing users to click on your video. Using Canva’s Thumbnail Creator, you can create the perfect preview image for your video in 1280 x 720 pixels — the thumbnail dimensions YouTube requires.
While the keywords you discover in HubSpot reflect their popularity in a standard Google search, many of these topics will also produce videos on Google’s search engine results pages. In those cases, you can create topic clusters that have both blog and YouTube content belonging to them.
Clustering your content — and linking from videos to blog posts, and vice-versa — can give you more authority in the eyes of Google and YouTube, while giving you more ways to capture traffic from the people searching your topic.
The vidIQ tool then provides an SEO “score” you can use to create content that performs (or outperforms) the results you already see on YouTube.
In addition to traffic analytics, Cyfe can show you which keywords you’re ranking for and which ones are most popular across various search engines. Sounds a lot like Google Analytics or Moz, right? That’s because Cyfe has data from both of those tools, and more, built into it.
No matter what SEO tip or tool you start with, a successful YouTube channel begins with good content. Make sure your viewers have something high-quality and relevant to watch when they find you. Want step-by-step help? Download our free guide on YouTube for Business below.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in March 2013 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.