YouTube SEO: 9 Ideas to Help Your Videos Rank Higher in Search Results

Matt Diggity

Matt Diggity is a search engine optimisation expert focused on affiliate marketing, client ranking, lead generation, and SEO services. He is the founder and CEO of Diggity Marketing, The Search Initiative, Authority Builders, LeadSpring LLC, and host of the Chiang Mai SEO Conference.

People don’t traditionally think of YouTube as a search engine. However, the video sharing site is the world’s second-largest search engine, second only to Google. YouTube has over 2 billion active monthly users, who watch more than a billion hours of video every single day. Like the other main search engines, it has its own search engine optimization (SEO) practices you need to get the hang of. 

Raising your videos’ ranking on the YouTube search engine results pages (SERPs) also helps your video content to rank you’ve performed a Google search recently, you’ve probably noticed that Youtube videos often appear prominently in search results. 

And that’s before you even click through to the video results tab, which invariably features YouTube videos in the top few results. Here are some of the top video results for the search term “affiliate marketing for beginners”:

YouTube video results for the search term “affiliate marketing for beginners”

Video content SEO is often overlooked by YouTube video content creators. Read on to learn some of the best ways to create a video SEO campaign for better search results and more traffic. 

Start with keyword research 

People use different search terms to find video content than to find written content. Here are some of the best ways to identify keywords to target. 

YouTube’s autocomplete suggestions

Start by entering a keyword or phrase and checking YouTube’s autocomplete suggestions. Chances are that if lots of people are searching for a particular phrase, that’s a great keyword to target:

YouTube autocomplete suggestions for "SEO tips"

Notice the numbers to the right of each suggested result? They are thanks to the Keywords Everywhere plugin, a very useful and affordable tool. For each result, you can see the search volume per month, cost per click for paid advertising, and competition score. Aim for high-volume, low-competition keywords. 

Competitor research 

Next, check out what your competitors are doing. Find a channel from somebody in the same niche as you, and ideally with a similar number of followers and views. Check out their most popular videos, and see what keywords they’re using in their headlines and description. 

Here’s an example. Based on a search for SEO, I found consultant Nathan Gotch’s channel: 

An SEO consultant's YouTube channel

Based on the headlines and descriptions from his top 3 videos, I can ascertain that keywords like “SEO strategy”, “learn SEO”, and “link building” perform well in my niche.

Find Google video results keywords 

You should also explore which keywords in your niche yield video results on Google SERPs. Not all search terms will bring up video results on the first page, so you need to search for the ones that do. These terms are known as “video results keywords”. 

Choose a keyword in your niche and perform a Google search. I started with the phrase “SEO for blog posts”, and did not get any video results. But when I tried the phrase “learn SEO in 2020”, here’s what I saw: 

Google SERP for “SEO for blog posts”

Did you notice that the first video result is from Nathan Gotch’s channel that we looked at a moment ago? Getting your video to rank on YouTube and Google search is the holy grail for YouTube content creators! 

Now that you understand how to find great keywords to target, let’s look at some more strategies to get your videos ranking.

Give your video file an appropriate name before you upload it

Who amongst us has not uploaded a video with a title like “”? But if you do this, you’re actually missing out on a valuable place to insert your keywords. 

Remember, we’re not talking about your video title here (more on that in a minute). This is the file name, before you even upload the video. YouTube’s algorithm can read the file name and use it as a factor when deciding whether or not to display your video on a relevant SERP. 

Therefore, make sure your keyphrase is in the video file name. For example, let’s imagine you’re targeting the keyphrase “blogger SEO tutorial”, your file name should be something like “”. 

This strategy takes seconds to implement and can make a real difference. 

Make sure your video is of high quality

This is such a basic and important tip that so many new video content creators skip. It’s no use just shooting a video and uploading it as-is. You need to make sure it’s worth watching. Just as poor-quality, scraped, and keyword-stuffed written content tends to rank poorly, low quality YouTube videos suffer from the same problem. 

Here are a few key ways to maximize your video’s quality: 

  • Shoot it on the best equipment you can afford. This doesn’t need to be a thousand-dollar video camera! Many smartphones are capable of shooting high quality video nowadays. If you’re shooting straight-to-camera style videos, invest in a tripod or stand to keep your phone or video camera steady. 
  • Learn some basic video editing skills. There are plenty of packages that help give your content a professional edge. 
  • Write your script and rehearse before you shoot. Rambling, losing your train of thought, or using too many filler words (like “erm”) all reduce the quality of your content. 
  • Stay on-topic. Your video doesn’t have to be short (some YouTube videos are well over an hour long), but it should be only as long as the content requires. 
  • Provide value. Ensure you provide actionable takeaways, useful advice, or relevant information for your viewers. 

If you’re investing in YouTube SEO and your videos are still ranking poorly, low-quality content is probably the culprit. Improve your content before you do anything else. If in doubt, seek feedback and tweak your approach.

Focus on watch time 

Watch time is a hugely important YouTube metric. The YouTube ranking algorithm cares how many of the people who clicked on your video watched it right up until the end. Therefore, your first and most important job is to ensure that people who land on your video stick around. The best way to do that is to follow the tips in the previous section to ensure your content is high quality. 

According to Autoklose, 20% of viewers stop watching a video after the first ten seconds. Therefore, make sure you capture your audience’s attention immediately with a compelling introduction. If you don’t hook them in and start delivering on the value you promised in the headline, they won’t stick around. 

VidIQ recommends using a technique called pattern interruption. This is simply a change of tone, pace, or style. It helps to break up the monotony of a video and hold the viewer’s attention, keeping them watching right until the end. 

Use your keywords in the video title

Just as you would use the target keywords in the title of a blog post, the same applies to video content. Give your video a snappy, descriptive title that encompasses your target keywords and lets viewers know at a glance what to expect from the video. 

Don’t be tempted to keyword-stuff your title in an attempt to game the algorithm. It doesn’t work, and it will backfire because viewers will be less likely to click on the video. Instead, incorporate the keywords naturally. 

Marketing expert Adam Erhart is one example of a YouTuber who does titles brilliantly: 

Using keywords in a YouTube video title

Notice how each title contains the phrases people are likely to be searching for, but in a way that doesn’t feel stuffed or forced. The titles tell you exactly what to expect if you click through to the video. 

One last tip: your title under 70 characters. Though the limit is 100 characters, anything above 70 will be cut off in the search results. 

Optimize your description

If you’re not utilizing your video descriptions to their full capability, you’re missing out on valuable space to improve your SEO. 

Make sure you optimize your description by including your focus keyword as close to the beginning as possible. As with the title, you shouldn’t overstuff your description with your keyphrase or make it look forced. One or two uses is usually enough. 

Here’s an example from Brian Dean, for a video that ranks for the term “SEO checklist”: 

YouTube video description example by Brian Dean

Keep your description concise. The character limit is 1000, but if you use more than about 100 characters, the rest will be displayed below the fold and viewers will have to click “read more”. Therefore, include the most critical information at the beginning. 

You can also include links to your other content, website, or social media channels in the description. Though this doesn’t impact your SERP rankings directly, it helps drive traffic to your channels. 

Make use of tags

Adding tags to your videos is an easy way to tell both viewers and the YouTube algorithm what your content is about. They also help YouTube to link your content to other, similar content, allowing it to show up in users’ video suggestions. 

Before you use a tag, make sure it’s really relevant. In other words, if you’re including it just because you think it’ll get more clicks, don’t. This will annoy your potential viewers and might even incur a Google penalty

Encourage your followers and fans to subscribe

If you search on YouTube, you might notice that the top results tend to be from channels with thousands of subscribers. There’s a reason for this: YouTube considers the number of subscribers a channel has as a factor in its ranking algorithm. 

Subscribing means someone will see your new content first every time they visit YouTube. It sends a signal to Youtube that your content is valuable, leading the platform to show your videos more prominently in future search results. 

Therefore, encourage your followers and fans to subscribe. You can remind video watchers to subscribe at the end of each video, but don’t stop there. You should also link to your YouTube channel on your other social media platforms, in your marketing emails, and on your website or blog. You can even embed a YouTube subscribe button on your website, allowing visitors to join your channel in just a couple of clicks. 

People who are already following you are warm to your content and therefore more likely to hit the “subscribe” button. 

Use closed captioning

YouTube videos allow you to add closed captions (better known as video subtitles). Their main purpose is to make videos more accessible to people who are deaf or hearing impaired. 

Here’s an example from Webnode, a web development channel: 

Closed captioning in YouTube videos

But as well as improving accessibility, closed captioning also has an SEO benefit. This is because search engines including Google can crawl the captions, looking for relevant keywords. 

There are two ways to add closed captions: use YouTube’s automatic captioning, or add your own. Automatic captioning is much faster, but not always accurate. Feel free to try it out and see how you get on with it. You can also follow these simple instructions to upload your own. 

For closed captioning to have an SEO benefit, it must be accurate. If you have the budget, you can outsource to a transcriber who will caption your videos for you. 

Growing your YouTube channel with optimized videos 

YouTube is one of the world’s biggest search engines and social media platforms, and its user base is still growing daily. Video content is one of the fastest growing forms of content marketing, and Campaign Monitor reported that 83% of marketers believe video is becoming more important:

The changing importance of video as marketing content

But shooting a video, uploading it, and waiting for the views to roll in won’t cut it. You need to be proactive in ensuring your content reaches its intended audience. 

By utilizing these YouTube SEO ideas, you can help your videos rank more highly and make sure they’re seen by the right people. It will take some time and effort, but it’s well worth tapping into the immense power of video marketing. 

Here’s to growing your channel this year!

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