8 Secrets to Increasing YouTube SEO

November 19, 2015 BY EMILY GRIFFIN
Updated: January 4, 2018

Despite encroachment from Facebook, YouTube is still the dominant platform for video discovery online. It’s the second most popular search engine, just behind its parent company Google.

Yet with 500 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute, it can seem impossible to rise above the flood of competition. A strong YouTube SEO strategy is your best defense against YouTube obscurity.

What is YouTube SEO?

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the ever-changing practice of designing web content that will rank highly in search engine results pages (SERPs). Since search is often the gate-keeper to your content, optimizing your website for search is necessary to attract traffic and grow a following.

YouTube SEO involves optimizing your channel, playlists, meta data, description, and the videos themselves. You can optimize your videos for search both within and outside of YouTube.

A key component to YouTube SEO is harnessing the power of your video’s text in the form of transcripts, closed captions, and subtitles.

How YouTube Search Works

Google’s ownership of YouTube helped launch it to powerhouse status in video search. The two companies share data seamlessly.

A major benefit to uploading your videos to YouTube is immediate indexing by Google. There is no wait time for bots to crawl your videos and no need to submit a new video site map.

Even with this tight relationship between Google and YouTube, your viewership growth strategy must follow tenets of traditional SEO. Well-optimized content gives search engines the necessary indicators to find and index your YouTube videos.

A video can’t go viral if Google can’t understand what it is about. And since search engine bots cannot watch videos, they rely on accompanying text data to index them properly.

The obvious text associated with a video is, of course, its title. Description and tags are also key. But many YouTubers don’t realize that closed captions and transcripts can positively impact user engagement, watch time, viewership, and of course, SEO.

Here are eight secrets to maximizing YouTube views and boosting your video search rank.

1. Add Closed Captions to YouTube Videos

If your YouTube video contains any speech or relevant audio, you should add closed captions. Closed captions make your video accessible to deaf or hard of hearing viewers, as well as to ESL viewers or people watching on a device with no sound. Google rewards content with such universal design and enhanced user experience.

This theory was tested and proven by a video SEO study on Discovery Digital Network’s YouTube channel.

If you do not have a caption file, you can upload a transcript. YouTube will then use automatic speech recognition software to assign time stamps to each word, syncing your transcript with the video. It’s a fairly easy process (see tutorial video below).

2. Don’t Use YouTube’s Automatic Captions

YouTube introduced an automatic captioning feature as the default closed caption option. Sadly, the auto-captions are often riddled with mistakes. As you can see in our series on automatic speech recognition gaffes, YouTube speech recognition software can be derailed by accents, overlapping speakers, background noise, and complex vocabulary.

Because of this, auto-captions do not get indexed by Google or YouTube, and therefore do not help SEO. Google only indexes your uploaded captions because it deems them to be higher quality and more trustworthy than auto-generated captions.

In fact, if you download and upload the automatic transcript, that will actually hurt your video SEO, since Google will index your inaccurate captions as gibberish and penalize you accordingly.

3. Write a Keyword-Optimized Title, Description, and Tags

Keywords and keyword phrases should correspond with a) whatever describes your video accurately, and b) the words and phrases that users enter in search engines to find content like yours.

For example, if you publish videos about makeup tutorials, make sure you optimize the title, descriptions, and tags for the phrase “makeup tutorial.”

Keep in mind: search engines have wizened up to keyword-stuffing, the practice of over-using keywords and variations of keywords to try to hack the system. Don’t bother with that. Write for humans, not robots, or else you may get penalized.

Write for humans, not robots, or else you may get penalized.

To find out what phrases and keywords people are using in search, use YouTube’s free video analytics tool. You can hone in on the most effective keywords for your target audience. Look for keyword variations with less competition so you can stand out from the crowd.

You can also use Google Trends and Google Adwords Keyword Planner to get a sense of what phrases are more or less popular in search queries.

For individual videos, try going after “long tail” keyword phrases, which are more specific. For example, “makeup tutorial for the Hulk” would be a more targeted keyword phrase than just optimizing for “makeup tutorial.”

Once you’ve picked your keywords, incorporate them naturally into the following fields:

  • Title: Fits 100 characters, truncated at 66 characters, meaning your most important information should be close to the front. Use compelling language to encourage a click: “how-to,” “advice,” “tips,” or numbered lists can help. For example: “7 Tips to Increase Video Subscription Rates.”
  • Meta-Description: Fits 5,000 characters, truncated at 166 characters. For ecommerce sites it is particularly important to include a link to your product, considering more than half of consumers are influenced by product videos. Remember to include the http:// or it won’t be clickable.
  • Tags: Fits 120 characters. Use double quotes (“) to surround phrases so your video is an exact match for a long tail keyword phrase. For example: instead of tagging your video as “makeup” and “tutorial,” tag it as “makeup tutorial.” Think like a user and always add tags in order of importance.

Remember, if you plan to post your video on several domains in addition to YouTube, you should vary the keyword phrases slightly. You don’t want to compete against yourself across different sites.

Lastly, use honest, relevant terms. Trying to ride trending topics irrelevant to your video content will only result in a negative score later.

4. Use a Compelling Thumbnail

YouTubers can choose which frame to display as the video thumbnail. YouTube will present 3 screenshots to choose from, but you can also select a shot of a different moment in the video, or upload your own image.

Choosing the right video thumbnail image makes a drastic difference in click-through rate. Use high quality, high contrast images that have a 16:9 aspect ratio. Facial close-ups work best.

Note that YouTube overlays the video duration in the lower corner of the thumbnail; make sure it doesn’t obstruct anything important in your thumbnail. Also, keep in mind that Google uses image recognition to automatically filter out certain imagery, such as the YouTube logo.

Ideally you want an image that is a great visual representation of your target keyword; this will take your presence in search results even further.

5. Paste Your Transcript in the Video Description Field

After a brief summary of your video and any relevant links, paste your video transcript into the description field. This is a comprehensive way to inform bots exactly what the video is about. It gives them lots of relevant text to crawl, and your keywords probably occur naturally in the transcript anyway.

A transcript in the video description is helpful for viewers, too, in case they want to skim the contents before watching or refer back to it later.

Keep in mind, this strategy is best for short-form videos because the description field is limited to 5,000 characters or ~800 words.

For longer videos, try including a truncated transcript with a link to the full text.

6. Add Subtitles in Multiple Languages

The Easiest Way to Create YouTube Captions
YouTube 3Play Media integration
3Play Media’s round trip integration with YouTube provides an automated workflow for adding captions and subtitles.Your YouTube videos can be processed in a matter of hours and captions will be automatically sent to YouTube and added to your videos.

>> Learn more about YouTube captioning

To broaden the international reach of your video, have your closed captions translated into other languages. This lets non-English speakers enjoy your video, which means more viewers, more watch time, and higher search rank.

Considering that 80% of YouTube hits are from outside of the US, there is a huge international market for viewers that you can’t ignore.

If you are looking to rank your video in a non-English-speaking market, make sure you follow SEO Best Practices for Video Translation. While not specific to YouTube, some of the same concepts apply, meaning you should consider creating a separate YouTube video page with non-English language page titles, descriptions and tags.

7. Publish Videos on a Regular Schedule

Releasing videos on a set day of the week or a recurring schedule will strengthen your YouTube followers because it gives your subscribers a routine to return to your channel.

Newly published videos get an SEO boost during the first week they’re published on YouTube, so publishing regularly ensures you’ll always have a video higher up in SERPs.

Regular views and repeated visits to your channel signal to YouTube that your content is valuable, and therefore deserved higher search rank.

8. Embed YouTube Videos on Your Website

When relevant, embed YouTube videos on blog posts or webpages that you manage. This exposes your videos to a whole segment of people who may not visit YouTube regularly.

Embedded video views contribute to total watch time on your YouTube channel, boosting your YouTube SEO. Keep in mind, though, that embedded video watch time is weighted differently from native views on YouTube.

A few basic guidelines of optimizing embedded videos:

  • Place only one video per page.
  • Create a unique URL for each video landing page.
  • Update your video site map to reflect new additions, creating a separate entry for each video.
  • Force closed captions on as a default to capture viewers’ attention and increase engagement with your video. To do this, add ?cc_load_policy=1 to the end of the video URL in your embed code.

Following these 8 tips should give you a head start on the road to a successful YouTube SEO strategy.

For more video SEO resources and advice from experts, check out:

Transforming Video SEO with Transcripts and Captions

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