YouTube is the second-most popular social media platform and boasts its own search engine that requires unique optimization techniques. Its search engine has also evolved in the wake of various technological advances, algorithm updates, and regulations. This checklist covers how video optimization on YouTube can help improve your content’s visibility and target the proper keywords for search performance.
How do you do SEO on YouTube?
YouTube SEO is the optimization of video content on your YouTube channel, and it helps to increase the visibility of your content on the platform. This requires keyword research and strategy to ensure your channel's content targets the proper keywords and uses the correct titles and descriptions for your target audience.
What is SEO?
SEO stands for search engine optimization. It is part of a broader digital marketing strategy, and it helps improve your website’s ranking on search engines by optimizing areas of your website.
SEO is not a one-size-fits-all marketing tool, either. It is a constantly evolving, long-term game that requires staying up to speed with competitors and search engine algorithm updates.
What is YouTube’s SEO algorithm?
YouTube's SEO algorithm refers to the rules, metrics, and measures the platform uses to rank and recommend videos to viewers. It considers keywords, video length, engagement, views, watch time, and relevance to the viewer's interests. Understanding and optimizing for YouTube SEO can help content creators increase their visibility, reach, and audience on the platform.
Although we may have yet to learn exactly how the algorithm works — some consider it a "blackbox" like Google's algorithm — YouTube provides community guidelines and policies to help content creators benefit from YouTube's massive audience. I recommend reading patents and white papers and staying updated with YouTube's Creator Academy.
What are the benefits of YouTube SEO?
There is no doubt that YouTube's platform can help you expand your audience reach in addition to other social media platforms and search engines. YouTube boasts an astounding 2.1 billion active users worldwide and the platform saw more than 75 billion visits in 2022, according to Statista.
Those numbers make YouTube SEO an essential strategy for content creators looking to increase their visibility and reach on the platform. Some key benefits of YouTube video SEO include higher video rankings, increased traffic, better engagement with your audience, and, ultimately, more conversions and revenue. With the right approach and techniques — all of which we’re including in this article — you can leverage your YouTube SEO strategy to boost your channel's growth and success.
SEO checklist for YouTube
Optimizing your videos for search engines is essential to improve your YouTube channel's performance meeting your goals. Here's a step-by-step checklist of best practices to follow if you want your content to rank higher on YouTube and search engines like Google.
1. Keyword research
To identify your niche's most relevant and popular search terms, you must conduct thorough keyword research to help you create your content, titles, and description. This process is a vital component of any SEO strategy, whether you are publishing YouTube content or producing product landing pages for an ecommerce client.
Keyword research provides insights into the content users are searching for and reveals gaps within your channel to help expand your video playlist and other helpful YouTube features. In addition, some tools like SEMRush and Ahrefs can help you find question-based keywords for users' most searched topics. Ahrefs actually provides YouTube search volume in their Keyword Explorer tool, which is very helpful given that YouTube search behavior differs from Google search.
Tip: Consider question-based keywords when conducting keyword research; the most common search results for videos are for informational content, such as "how-to" informative content.
2. Target keywords in your video title, description, and tags
Like with any content optimization, the titles and descriptions are fundamental elements that should always include your target keywords. You can also utilize “video tags” on YouTube as a way to utilize more related keywords pertaining to the video.
- Titles: The limit for video titles on YouTube is 100 characters; keep your video titles to 60-70 characters if possible to help improve click-through rate (CTR).
- Descriptions: There are no set limits for the length of a video description. However, it should contain important information about your video, as well as your main keyword and other relevant keywords. The video description should summarize the video and include essential links or calls to action (CTA). You can also include timestamps to indicate key points in the video so users can jump to that particular moment. Timestamps provide an improved user experience, and they’re additional opportunities for inserting your target keywords. For example, you could use “seasoning chicken” as a timestamp in a How-to recipe video.
- Video keyword tags: Video keyword tags are another way to add relevant keywords that a user may use to search for a specific topic. These tags also provide additional keyword targeting beyond what you wrote in title or description. We recommend starting the keyword tags with the video's primary keyword and then end the list with any broader term.
- For example, you’re uploading a video on "How to Bake Chicken." The first keyword should be "baked chicken recipe" or "how to bake chicken," followed by more descriptive terms like "10-minute baked chicken recipe" or "easy baked chicken recipe." The final keyword should be broad, like "recipes," "chicken recipes," or "cooking recipes." Include as many relevant terms for your video as possible by considering broader terms regarding the "category" of your content’s topic. However, never clutter the video tags with irrelevant keywords; this will impact your CTR and overall performance.
3. Use subtitles/closed captions and transcripts
Enhance the accessibility of your videos by enabling subtitles/closed captions and uploading transcripts, which may help improve search engine rankings further. For example, when users with hearing impairment engage with your video, you can improve their experience by providing subtitles/closed captions.
In addition, by uploading the video transcript, you ensure that the words match what the video says. This helps to avoid errors from allowing the search engine to translate for you. When you offer accessibility options, you’re signaling to YouTube that your video is engaging for a range of audiences.
4. Social shares, comments, and likes
To further improve your performance on YouTube, you can encourage your audience to engage with your content by enabling likes, comments, and shares. When more viewers engage with your videos, there is a greater chance of getting more views and growing your audience. While it's not entirely clear which factors directly influence a video's success, research regarding YouTube's ranking factors by Brian Dean from Backlinko has shown that engagement signals, among others, can give YouTube a better understanding of your content's relevance and value.
Comments can sometimes lead to offensive and negative interactions, but YouTube has made comment sections easier to manage by limiting certain words or terms. This prevents users from leaving hateful or harmful comments that serve no purpose.
It’s essential to ensure your audience actively enjoys its time with your content, but it goes beyond preventing comment wars. You can engage with your audience by pinning notable comments and by responding in the comments to any concerns or positive feedback. These signals further indicate that users spend time with your videos, which is a vital sign to the YouTube search engine algorithm.
The thumbnail is the first thing a user sees when searching for content on YouTube and when looking at suggested videos on the homepage or on the right-side panel when viewing content. A well-crafted thumbnail can help your video stand out, increase your CTR, and improve the success of your video and channel as more users see your content.
When optimizing your video thumbnails, considering the following elements:
- Create thumbnails that do not blend with YouTube’s own color scheme of red, white, and black. Pick colors that contrast so users can easily spot your videos.
- When using fonts, bold the letters and do not blend them in with the image. Avoid cramming too many words into your thumbnail; pick a phrase or term relevant to the user's search intent and video content.
- Pick a vibrant image that hints at the video's main topic. For example, for a product review, use a lively picture of the product or take a photo of yourself holding the product. This immediately shows the user what they can expect from your content.
6. Cards and end screens
YouTube provides users with features that help improve the video experience and promote other content on your channel. These features, such as cards and end screens, can point users to relevant videos — including your own.
YouTube rewards channels and videos that keep users on the platform for extended periods, which it measures with the “watch time” metric. Optimizing the video experience can encourage more views and increase the watch time on your platform. End screens can also enhance CTA by asking users to subscribe to your channel. Subscriptions lead to more views and an increase in watch time, which improves your ability to hit your KPIs.
7. Promote your video on social platforms and website
Once you upload your video and are ready to share it, promote your video on social media and other relevant platforms to increase its visibility and reach. While social media isn't a direct ranking factor, promoting your video on social media, and on your website, can help drive more audience to your content/channel.
When your videos gain more views, this can have a direct impact on ranking signals such as watch time and audience retention rate. Audience retention rate is also an important metric as it provides YouTube with insights into how many viewers stay till the end of your video. Higher retention rates mean users enjoy your content.
As content creators, you no doubt have an audience outside of YouTube — and those people should know when you post a new video to your channel. Your video’s first 24 hours can determine its success, and you can actually track its progress in that time period in YouTube Analytics.
8. Create and optimize your playlist
Staying within the strategy of increasing watch time, playlist optimization can also lead to more views and users spending more time with your content. Here are some SEO tips to follow as you optimize your playlist:
- Use target keywords in the playlist title, which should relate to the playlist’s overall theme. For example, if you publish reviews on your channel, one playlist can be "Movie Reviews" or "Netflix Movie Reviews." You can also be more descriptive with titles like "Action Movie Reviews" or "Horror Movies Reviews."
- Add a playlist description that also includes target keywords, but do not exceed 100 characters. Incorporate links to your website or other important external links that can provide value to the viewer, like your social media pages (Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.).
- Include these playlists on your channel's homepage so users can see which topics you cover. When you add the playlist to the homepage, you encourage viewers to spend more time with your content.
9. Optimize your YouTube channel homepage
Your channel's homepage is an excellent opportunity for YouTube SEO optimization. Optimizing your homepage lets YouTube's search algorithm know more about your content and your channel, allowing it to pick up on target keywords to further improve your video search results.
Here are some areas to optimize:
- Featured Video: This video automatically plays when a user lands on your YouTube channel homepage. The Featured Video should be your most recent or popular video to attract new users to your content.
- About Us: This is a great way to introduce yourself and provide new users with more information about your content and channel. Use this section to use target keywords regarding your content and link users to your website and other social platforms like Facebook or Instagram.
- Youtube Channel Keywords: These are similar to video tags because they’re keywords and phrases that describe your content and your channel. YouTube channel keywords are important because it provides an opportunity to target broader terms like "movies," "cooking channel," or "home decor."
- Playlists: Always include your top Playlists on your homepage channel so users have the option to hang around your channel for an extended period. A playlist can feel like a binge-watch if it is well curated and, of course, features high-quality content.
- YouTube Channel Trailer and Banner: For the best user experience purposes, include a vibrant and bold banner that showcases your channel's personality. You can also create a channel trailer to drive home that message even. For instance, if you provide educational content on your channel, you can create a trailer that highlights all the topics users you cover on your channel.
Optimizing your videos for search engines is crucial for improving your YouTube channel's performance and reaching your goals. By following this step-by-step checklist, you can enhance the visibility and engagement of your content on YouTube and increase your audience reach. Like traditional search engine optimization, YouTube SEO is a long-term game. Staying up to date with algorithm updates and community guidelines can help ensure your content is discoverable and successful on the platform.
Are you looking for more help with YouTube SEO? Reach out to our team of experts to find out how we can make your YouTube channel reach its full potential.