A Guide to YouTube SEO

Edward Currie 23/01/2023 10 minutes

With over 2 billion monthly logged-in users and over 1 billion hours of video watched each day in 2022, the power of YouTube – and video content in general – as a marketing tool has become increasingly apparent in the last few years. 

Brands have started to invest huge amounts of their marketing budgets to create compelling video content to reach users in an engaging, easy-to-digest format. While creating appealing and educational videos may be challenging initially, SEO for YouTube can also present further difficulties. Never fear – we’ve put together a guide on YouTube SEO optimisation so you can maximise the visibility and engagement of your video content. 

Learn about how you can use key YouTube SEO practices to optimise video titles, descriptions, tags, thumbnails and playlists – all the pieces necessary for leveraging your video content into successful interactive marketing! 

What Are the Foundations of SEO for YouTube? 

The foundation of success for YouTube SEO is the same as for traditional SEO for websites. It all starts with keyword research. Without conducting in-depth keyword research around potential video themes, the success of any YouTube marketing activity is likely to be limited. As SEOs, data really is fundamental to everything we do. So why can’t this be applied to YouTube? 

How Can You Conduct Keyword Research for YouTube?

As with traditional keyword research, there are many YouTube SEO tools and data sources that you can use to gather valuable data to help your YouTube marketing be a success. 

YouTube autocomplete

Like Google’s search engine, when you start typing in the search box, YouTube will recommend autocompleted searches based on the keywords you have entered. This data is incredibly valuable as it gives you an understanding of which video themes Google already considers relevant enough to a user searching for a specific theme

Keyword research tools

Keyword research tools like SEMrush and STAT can give you valuable data on featured snippets in Google’s search results. These tools allow you to see when the Search Engine Results Page (SERP) for a specific keyword includes video content in the results. Although this is data on Google’s search results and not YouTube’s, it still gives us valuable insight into the types of keywords that video content is relevant for, meeting the search intent of a user.  

Ahrefs YouTube Keyword Tool is another tool that can be used to give you accurate search volume data for your keyword list for YouTube’s search engine. It can also be used to discover relevant keyword ideas for a specific theme, much like SEMrush’s Keyword Magic tool does for Google’s search engine. TubeBuddy is a great tool for giving you more data on whether a keyword is popular or not and tells you the search volume and how much competition there is for each keyword. 

YouTube Analytics

Like Google Analytics, YouTube Analytics gives you great insight into how users are interacting with your videos. Classic engagement metrics such as views, likes, dislikes, comments, subscribers and watch time give you insight into which of your videos users are engaging with the most. Data on Audience demographics, such as geographies, age and gender are also available, which can give you information on how to tailor future video content to specific audiences. 

YouTube Analytics also gives you data on the exact keywords that people use to find your videos, so if you operate in a specific niche you can plan future content around the most popular terms that are leading to views of your old videos. You can even go back over old videos and – using this data – tweak the optimisation to focus on those keywords to potentially move up the rankings. Additionally, if a certain video is bringing in traffic from a keyword that you don’t think is relevant to that video, but the keyword has significant search volume, you could plan a new video around that term to potentially better meet the user’s need. 

Competitor’s videos

Just like competitor research for websites, this is also a really useful technique for getting to know what type of videos in your niche users are engaging with. If YouTube considers these channels as authorities in your niche, then they are very likely using SEO techniques of their own to facilitate engagement. Reports in YouTube Analytics on ‘videos growing your audience’, ‘other channels your audience watched’ and ‘other videos your audience watches’ can help you to find competitor videos that may be worth reviewing. Questions to ask yourself are: Which videos have the most engagement? What keywords do they include in their video name and description? 

Competitor tags

Another data course that is really useful for keyword research is reviewing your competitor’s tags on their videos, particularly the videos that are performing well. You can do this by looking into the HTML of the page that the video is on. Right Click on the page and click “view page source”. You can then use “ctrl + f” to open a window for ‘find’ specific elements in the page source. From here, type in “keywords” and the terms that follow the word ‘keyword’ will be the tags that are on the video. This can also be done by installing the chrome extensions “Keywords Everywhere” or “TubeBuddy”. These YouTube SEO tools will automatically show you the tags being used. 

What Can You Optimise on YouTube? 

Now that you’ve collected your data in your keyword research, it’s onto the fun part! What can we actually optimise on a YouTube video to boost performance? 

Video title

Consider your video title in the same light as a meta title tag for a website. This is where you should refer back to your keyword research and target the main keyword for the theme of your video. Your title should be attention-grabbing and punchy, and clearly give the user and YouTube an idea of what to expect from your video. 

Video description

Much like a meta description for a page on your website, a video description is another chance to tell users what they can expect to find in the video. The first two or three sentences (roughly 100 characters) should be where you target the most important keywords relevant to your video. YouTube’s ranking algorithm puts more weight on this part of the description as it’s the section that’s displayed before the ‘show more’ button and will be displayed in the search results. 

Following this first section of text is where you can expand on the description and also include links to your website and other social media channels. 

YouTube tags

YouTube tags present another place where you can use your keyword research to help increase the visibility of your videos. YouTube tags basically represent an opportunity to include target keywords or keyphrases that you would like to have your video associated with. They give YouTube further context about a video and help the algorithm understand the topics and categories that the video fits, which can help them associate the video with similar themes and amplify the video’s reach. 

The first tag should be the main target keyword from your keyword research around a video theme, which is also likely to be present in your video title. Tags should accurately describe your video’s topic and be a combination of broad and focused tags. 

Video hashtags

As with other social media channels, hashtags can be used on YouTube to help users find videos within a specific category. Hashtags can help to improve the visibility of a video as they allow for the video to be discovered by users clicking on relevant hashtags from similar videos. This is a great way of getting more views for your videos, particularly as the audience will have already expressed an interest in that specific category. Not only can you get traffic from other videos using the same hashtags, but YouTube’s search function also allows for hashtag searches, which further helps to improve a video’s visibility and reach. 

When choosing which hashtags to include, this is where you can look at videos that are currently trending within your video’s niche and use some of their hashtags that are relevant. You can also refer back to your keyword research and include some of the most relevant keywords as hashtags. 

As a business, you should also create a branded hashtag that you use for all of your videos. If someone is to click on your branded hashtag, they will be taken to search results that are dominated by your own videos. This will help to increase the visibility of all of your videos. 

Engagement signals

YouTube uses audience engagement signals (comments, likes, dislikes, subscribers and shares) as part of its search and discovery algorithm. Although we can’t directly influence these signals, there’re a few actions that you can take to potentially improve the engagement signals of your videos and channel: 

  • Ask people to like your video, using a text-based call to action

If you’re on YouTube as much as I am, you would have seen these calls to action a lot and for good reason. As they say, if you don’t ask you don’t get, so by including this directive for your audience, you’re actively improving your chances of having an increased audience engagement signal.

  • Add a subscribe button to the end screen of your video and include a subscribe link at the end of the description

Treat these like a call to action on your website. Now that someone has watched your video, you should make it as simple as possible for them to convert, or in this case, subscribe to your channel or like the video. 

  • Include video cards and end screens

Another great way to improve your engagement signals is to include video cards and end screens in your videos. Video cards are clickable, interactive CTAs that can be placed within or at the end of a video. To explain these in traditional SEO terms, video cards are essentially like internal linking on your website. They are a method of directing your viewers to other videos or playlists on your channel. The common ‘next step’ after watching a YouTube video is to click on the related videos, so video cards are a great way of keeping users on your channel which can improve the engagement signals of multiple videos through one user’s journey on YouTube. 

  • Video embeds

This is where someone embeds your videos on a webpage. This isn’t something that you would necessarily encourage in your video or in the description, but this is something that you could do ‘offsite’ and outreach to bloggers and journalists in your industry that may have an interest in your video. 

Video embeds won’t necessarily improve engagement signals, but it can improve a video’s visibility and reach as it’s accessible on another platform,  which can lead to more views and traffic to your channel. The increased views and traffic can influence engagement metrics which can help in your YouTube ranking efforts. 

  • Create highly-shareable content

Easier said than done right? But users will be far more likely to share a video if it’s interesting and engaging to your audience.  

  • Create videos with the optimal video length

The length of a video is also a key consideration for YouTube content. Typically a YouTube video should be at least 2 minutes long. However, the drop-off rate for videos starts to increase after the 2-minute mark, so again the ‘highly-shareable and engaging’ criteria for video themes can make a big difference here. If you have a video idea that is less than a minute, then this should be uploaded as a YouTube Short (YouTube’s alternative to TikTok’s short-form video platform).

  • Include timestamps/video chapters in your videos

Video chapters can be used on YouTube to break up a video into sections (or chapters). This is a really useful way of splitting a video into smaller sections, which can help a user easily navigate to the ‘chapter’ that is most relevant to what they are looking for. Timestamps are particularly useful for longer videos that cover multiple topics or subjects as they help to combat the ‘drop-off’ that tends to happen after the 2-minute mark. Again, to put this into the context of a website, timestamps essentially serve the same purpose as jump links

Another SEO benefit of including timestamps in a video is that they also act as an opportunity to include further keywords within your video, on top of the other opportunities discussed in this guide. 

What Can You Do on Your YouTube Channel to Increase Searchability?  

Your YouTube channel also presents opportunities for using Search Engine Optimisation to boost visibility. The obvious starting place is the ‘about’ section, which describes your channel. Much like the descriptions for your videos, the first few sentences of your ‘about’ page should be where you clearly let the user know who you are and what they expect to find on your channel. Again, refer back to your keyword research and make sure that your ‘about’ section is properly optimised around your tier 1 keywords. 

As more and more videos get added to your YouTube channel, another opportunity that should be considered is creating playlists. Playlists can be used on a channel to group videos together that may be within the same series, or that share a common theme or subject. This is a great tactic for keeping users on your channel as it shows them other videos that may be of interest to them. Playlists are great for increasing views and watch time of multiple videos on your channel, which positively impacts your YouTube SEO. 

YouTube has also recently introduced ‘handles’ to their platform, allowing channels to create an ‘@’ handle that users can use to easily find and engage with a channel. An example of this is our own YouTube channel, @passion_digital. Creating your handle is something that should be addressed as soon as possible for all current and new channels, as other users could possibly claim a handle that would be most relevant to your channel. 

So, What Are the Key Takeaways From This Guide on YouTube SEO?

Firstly, make sure you conduct thorough keyword research around your channel niche and any specific video categories/ideas. This is something that you can refer back to but should be an ongoing process, as you’ll likely want to stay on top of recent trends in your industry and research new video ideas. 

Ensure that you’re utilising all of the optimisation opportunities on your videos and channel. Refer back to your keyword research and optimise your video’s title, descriptions, tags and hashtags for relevant keywords and topics. Go back over old videos and make the above tweaks to them to help further increase their reach. 

Create a branded hashtag, use video cards and as the number of videos on your channel grows, utilise the ‘playlists’ function on your channel. This will help users find other relevant videos on your channel to the one that they may have entered on. 

We hope you’ve learnt a few tips and tricks to get your videos and YouTube channel the visibility it deserves. As an increasingly popular search platform, YouTube’s algorithm is bound to get more complicated and competition more fierce over time and we love a challenge here at Passion. If you want to know more about how we can take your YouTube marketing to a new level, then get in touch with the SEO team who are always happy to help.