While hitting the top results of Google is as important as ever for businesses, there is another search engine you should consider devoting your efforts and resources towards—one that is currently #2 on the web (and which also happens to be owned by Google…).
YouTube is big, big business and being a YouTube influencer is a dream job for many. Of course, there are a couple of interesting alternatives to Youtube, but they are far smaller. That’s why your presence on this vastly growing nexus now plays a critical role in the positioning of your company or brand as an authority on the Internet. And depending on the area or niche of your business, a high ranking on YouTube could even be more vital than organic searches through Google.
YouTube is the second-largest search engine, yet less than 10% of US small business owners use it for marketing their products.
We’ve already spoken on how embedding a video or a hero background onto your homepage can bring huge positive results to your website. While oftentimes that may be enough for your online presence, a dedicated stream of video content could only further support your business—or even be a fully sustainable business in itself! If video is a major outlet for communicating with your audience, then a properly maintained YouTube channel should be your top priority.
Let’s now look at some of the best ways to optimize your YouTube videos so that they are guaranteed to appear at the top of relevant searches and reach their maximum viewership.
The 4 Key Areas of YouTube SEO
If you’re familiar with the general concepts of SEO, then you’ll already have a solid foundation for how things work with video content. However, YouTube plays by a slightly different rule book, and so requires a specific focus in order for the platform to work best in your favor.
Firstly, the number one prerequisite for a high-ranking video is—as anyone familiar with blogging knows—reliant on the quality of your content. There’s no getting around the fact that, in order to reach the top of search engines, your content has to be excellent—or, more specifically, meeting the need of what people are searching for. This in turn leads to the ultimate factor of your video’s successful SEO: views. The higher the view count, the better chance of it spreading like wildfire (or a virus).
But that almost goes without saying. Great content and millions of views are the end goal; while these are things you should be aiming for, producing high-quality content is a subject unto itself and beyond the scope of this article. Let’s assume your videos already meet the desires of your audience, offering helpful, interesting or humorous content that can’t be found elsewhere. So now how do you ensure this great content actually gets seen?
YouTube videos generally achieve high search results from the influence of four key factors of SEO. In somewhat order of importance, they are:
- Keyword Relevance
- Audience Retention
- Audience Interaction
Let’s discuss how to optimize these so you can apply them to your own YouTube videos!
1. Targeting Your Keywords
The most surefire way people are going to find your video is if it is relevant to the specific words they’re using to find it.
Based on the subject of the video, you should likely have an idea of certain keywords that would best lend themselves to searches. The easiest way to narrow these words down to your target keyword is to let YouTube suggest it for you.
Open up a new window in YouTube and start typing a word or phrase in the search box. Right away you’ll see a list of potential words that YouTube provides to complete the phrase, based on the most popular searches people actually make. If one of these words pertains to the content of your video, then chances are including it as your keyword is going to significantly aid in search results.
To be sure of this, it’s wise to perform a popular method of detective work in SEO: checking your competition. Scoping out what other brands in your niche are doing successfully is an excellent (and free) way to measure keyword effectiveness.
Find a popular YouTube channel within your niche. Click on their Videos tab and then filter them by most popular. Already you will get an idea of certain keywords that are most in demand based on this subject area. Go ahead and click on one of those videos and then see how that keyword is used throughout the video’s page.
In the example above, I’ve found a popular channel devoted to WordPress (which is a targeted keyword in itself) where, of its five most popular videos, four of them pertain to either editing the Copyright of a Footer or adding an SSL Certificate to a site. Looking at the first video on the list, we can see that there are several repeated words used throughout the title and description.
The redundancy is no accident, nor is the interchanging of “change” and “edit”. The video’s creator likely found that both terms were of equal value in searches and so included both to maximize the video’s hit rate.
Another test you can perform will help prevent your video from being swallowed up by a crowded sea of other videos on the same subject. You can bet that most everyone else has the same idea of tailoring content to match these top keywords, which makes it more difficult for any particular one to stand out from the pack—especially when you’re competing against established channels with thousands of subscribers. To help distinguish yourself, it’s best to target low-competition keywords.
Open up a new YouTube search box again and type in one of your chosen keyword phrases. Look for how many results the phrase returns.
The phrase above yields roughly 10,000 results—fairly steep competition for such a specific topic. But what if we narrowed down the subject even further, aiming for a more precise niche?
By specifying the popular Genesis theme in WordPress, we’ve cut our search results by nearly 90%. There’s a much better chance that, if you were to tailor a video related to this extremely focused topic, you’d appear higher in search results for this less competitive field. Also, notice the clever title of the first result: “Genesis/WordPress” helps keep the video specialized while still hitting the most popular keywords.
Don’t Forget About Google
Why stop at optimizing YouTube searches when you can also target the ever-important Google searches? Depending on the nature of the content, Google will display a shortlist of videos on the first page of search results that fit a certain criteria. These results are reserved only for video keywords; primarily, they include content that is better consumed visually than through words, such as: How-to videos, reviews, tutorials, seminars, fitness and instructional videos, and of course the ubiquitous cat video.
Do a Google search for your target keyword phrase. If Google yields video results at the top of the first page, then you’re in good shape with your SEO. However, if zero video results are returned, then you may need to reword or adjust your keyword phrase until you start seeing videos getting through the Google gates.
Title, Description, & Tags
The Title of your YouTube video is the most important SEO work to be done. You’ll want it to be at least 5 words long, with your target keyword as close to the beginning as possible. Without it being overstuffed, it’s also a good idea to include some of the other major keywords you’ve researched. From some of the previous examples, you can see that with clever strategizing you’ll be able to target a niche topic but also hit some of the other most popular phrasing people search for.
The Description contains the bulk of your keyword implementation. Brevity may be the soul of wit—except when you’re writing YouTube descriptions. Make them long. At least 200 words. It’s generally good practice to repeat the Title at the top of your description, so that YouTube catches your target keyword again. Get in those alternate keyword phrases by stating the content of the video in ways that capitalize on searches. Include links to your other videos if they’re relevant. Put your website URL in there, ideally somewhere close to the top so it’s already clickable without expanding the description. Heck, throw in the kitchen sink while you’re at it.
In the description, make sure you also add Content Chapters. Simply add timestamps so your video will show the chapters in the timeline. Here is an example video that is using this technique:
Here is how you create the chapters:
0:00 – Intro
0:21 – Free plan limitations of Wix
0:38 – Wix plans overview
1:17 – Combo (Wix’s cheapest plan)
The most important thing is to add a 0:00 time stamp.
Tags play their part too in video SEO. You should of course include your target keyword as the first tag, but this is an opportunity to hit variations or alternatives to that keyword that you couldn’t fit into the title or description. The biggest benefit to tags is that they help your video appear in the Up next list of related videos, which could perhaps be the place where most channels get discovered.
2. Retain Your Audience’s Attention
YouTube wants people to stay on YouTube all day. So if your content keeps audiences engaged for longer periods of time, YouTube will reward you with much higher search results.
To see how well your videos are performing, you can find your audience retention report by selecting it within the analytics menu of your account.
Although audience retention plays a significant factor in your video’s SEO, it is not a topic I will spend much time on. As stated above, the secret ingredient to high-ranking videos is their level of quality—and that largely depends on your execution.
QUICK TIP: Don’t worry too much about the type of camera or audio equipment you’re using. If you’re providing useful or entertaining content, viewers can easily overlook the production values. Focus on what matters: Are you avoiding rambling on and wasting time? Are you hitting the subject as promised in the Title?
Audiences tend to stick with something if they know right off the bat what they’re getting into. A popular approach of YouTube videos is to clearly summarize right at the beginning what the video covers. By actually speaking the keyword phrase within this brief intro, viewers are reassured they’re in the right place. What’s more, now that YouTube can automatically transcribe videos, your spoken keyword will be captured in yet another area of search results.
Keeping an audience engaged also depends on your ability to tell a story. It’s no small feat to win over someone’s attention through proper setup, intrigue, and payoff. Though it pertains mostly in relation to web design, our storytelling article may help you understand the basics in how to keep viewers interested from beginning to end.
3. Encourage Interaction
The level of user interaction with your videos and channel weighs heavily on search engine performance.
Chief among these interactions is the number of Comments people leave. If a video rakes in a ton of comments, YouTube figures it’s likely content that’s capturing people’s interest and so will hike it up in the search rankings. The best way to promote discourse is to ask open-ended questions towards the end of your video, or leave room for the public to offer their opinion. Telling viewers to “leave a comment below” about a particular topic is a simple call-to-action that gives great results.
Subscriptions are huge SEO boosters—particularly if they occur immediately after someone watches your video. But not everyone thinks to hit that Subscribe button—unless they’re told to. You’d be amazed at how many more subscriptions you’ll receive if you just ask for them. At the end of every video, remind viewers that if they enjoyed the video and would like to see more, “click the subscribe button” to stay up to date on your channel. Additionally, you can go the extra mile and tell them to hit the “bell icon” so they’ll be notified as soon as a new video is posted, which can greatly increase your view count.
Similarly, Likes are a pretty obvious indicator of a video’s popularity. And just like subscriptions, asking for them goes a long way towards racking them up.
Finally, Shares are a tremendous influencer of search engine rankings. Typically though, unless it’s a video of cute animals or something hilarious spread around the office, people won’t proactively share it. The most reliable source of sharing must instead come from you. Self-promotion is a necessary effort to make in the beginning stages of your channel, and there are a number of inventive approaches to take with it.
Online forums like Quora or niche communities are a great resource for finding people who are actively hungry for your content. Find a question that relates to your video, and answer it with a brief introduction to your video and its link. For example, someone wondering how to change the footer text in a WordPress theme—and everyone else who finds that forum post—is a great built-in audience for your “How to Change the Footer Text in a WordPress Theme” video tutorial.
Ask viewers to like, share, and subscribe to your channel at the end of every video.
4. Maximize Click-Through-Rate
The clever robots at YouTube are watching closely at what videos people click on in search results. The percentage of people choosing your video is known as your click-through-rate (CTR)—and the higher the better for SEO. So what compels someone to click on one video while ignoring another?
More than likely, it’s down to your Thumbnail image. Not only should it be aesthetically pleasing, but the best thumbnails clearly evoke the video’s content. This can be accomplished through a well-chosen screen grab upon uploading the video—or better still, a custom graphic created just for this purpose, typically with overlaid text containing your keyword.
Thumbnails are an excellent opportunity for displaying brand consistency; speaking from personal experience, I tend to gravitate towards the channels that have established their own look and tone, which speaks to their authority in the field. Be careful not to overload your thumbnail as it needs to work in a very limited space.
Finally, grouping your videos into Playlists will dramatically increase your views. Start by categorizing your videos into collections by subject or keyword. If you only have a few videos right now, then just create one general-themed playlist.
The reason you’re doing this is that videos within the same playlist will automatically play in sequence once one finishes. This keeps a viewer fixed on your content, rather than letting them drift away to another channel—a tactic that’s especially helpful if they originally stumbled upon your video by chance.
A high-performing YouTube channel starts with great content. After that, the mysteries of video SEO can actually be boiled down into some simple and practical actions to take. With a consistent strategy in place, your brand’s authority across both major search engines will soar to whole new levels.
You might also like: Choosing the Best Website Builder for Videographers
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