9 Tips for Your YouTube SEO Strategy
Updated: August 31, 2020
YouTube is the second-largest search engine in the world — second only to Google, its parent company. 8 out of 10 video search results are YouTube videos. And the platform is growing constantly, with 500 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute.
How do you avoid getting lost in the sea of videos? Your best bet is to produce and publish great videos and then optimize them for search using video SEO best practices. With these tips, you can create a solid YouTube SEO strategy.
You may know the basics of search engine optimization for YouTube videos, like including keywords in title, meta description, and tags. Since search engines can only crawl text — not images or audio — you need to make the most of your video’s text. That’s why having a full, accurate transcript is so valuable for YouTube SEO.
What is YouTube SEO?
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the ever-changing practice of designing web content to boost ranking factors to 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, metadata, 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 of 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 the 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 experience, engagement, watch time, viewership, and of course, SEO.
Here are nine secrets on how to maximize views on YouTube and boost your video search ranking factors.
1. Lose YouTube’s ASR Captions and Add Accurate Closed Captions
YouTube now automatically transcribes your videos. However, YouTube’s auto-captions are only 70% accurate, which can make for incomprehensible and often embarrassing captions.
Google rewards helpful search results and penalizes spam. Part of the definition of spam is “automatically generated gibberish” — which is an apt description of most automatic caption files. By uploading or using inaccurate captions, you risk being labeled as spam and losing search rank for your whole YouTube channel.
To combat the detrimental effects of ASR captions for YouTube SEO, you’ll want to add accurate closed captions to your YouTube videos.
Search engines can only crawl text, they can’t watch your video. Your video transcript will be full of relevant keywords that indicate what your video is about so that Google can crawl your content and rank you accordingly.
There are a couple of options for adding captions to YouTube videos. Some YouTubers use the automated transcript as a starting point and manually clean up errors. There are a couple of other DIY transcription options, which are cheap but time-consuming and tedious.
The simplest solution is to send your videos to a professional video transcription service. Professional video transcription is high-quality with quick turnaround time.
Closed captions are good for YouTube SEO, but they have other benefits, too.
Higher Search Rank
Digital Discovery Networks performed a study that proves captions on YouTube videos boost SEO. They saw an increase in views by 13.48% in the first 2 weeks and 7.32% overall. To test this, they searched for a keyword phrase that was present only in their video captions, not in the title, description, tags, or metadata. Captioned videos ranked highly for the phrase because search engines could crawl the caption text.
Better User Experience and Engagement
YouTube videos that have closed captions are proven to increase user engagement, earning more likes, shares, and comments than videos without captions. Higher engagement, in turn, boosts video search ranking factors. And of course, a higher search rank translates to more views – a study performed by YouTube revealed that captioned videos earn 4% more views.
Closed captions make your YouTube videos accessible to viewers who are deaf or hard of hearing. It also lets people watch your video on a noisy train or in a quiet library with the sound muted. In essence, captions make your video viewable, understandable, and enjoyable for a larger audience.
2. Add A Transcript to Video Description
The video description is the best option for displaying your transcript on YouTube. The description field fits 4,850 characters including spaces. That’s usually enough to fit a transcript for a dialogue-heavy, 10-minute video. You can always add a truncated version of your transcript with a link to the full version on a separate web page.
The video description is a prime spot for search engines to crawl and index your video. And since your transcript is likely naturally keyword-optimized for your topic, it’s great fuel for YouTube SEO.
What are some interesting ways marketers are taking advantage of video transcripts?
Many brands are doing amazing outreach with video, but many marketers fail to realize transcripts can do so much more. Murphy explains that one of her top priorities as Content Marketing Manager for 3Play Media is helping the marketing community to understand that videos can be a starting point for content creation and targeted inbound marketing efforts. She outlines how to leverage video content for content marketing through video transcripts and derivative content.
After a video has been transcribed, consider taking that transcript and boosting SEO by creating useful, shareable content. Some uses for video transcripts include:
- Fact sheets
- Website copy
In summary, make video transcripts your content marketing shortcut.
3. Translate Your Video Transcript and Offer Subtitles in Multiple Languages
Just as English captions make your videos accessible to more viewers, subtitles in other languages will further expand your audience. YouTube Product Manager at Google, Brad Ellis, stresses the demand for multi-lingual subtitles:
Foreign language subtitles let international and non-native English speaking viewers enjoy your videos. Even more exciting: search engines will index your translated caption files and include your video in search results in those languages. This can be huge for YouTube SEO since you have a better chance of ranking higher for non-English keywords due to lower competition.
Just remember to always check your translations for accuracy.
4. 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, you’ll have to do some keyword research. You may use YouTube’s free video analytics tool to 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 done keyword research and 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.
5. Say Your Target Keyword in Your Video
Your targeted keyword should appear in the title, description, tags, and in your transcript.
YouTube uses your transcript and captions to rank your video accordingly. Just make sure that you are including an accurate transcript, as you wouldn’t want YouTube’s auto-captions to botch your keyword.
An easy strategy to find a keyword for your video is to use YouTube’s Search Suggest. Simply type a word or phrase into the search bar and see the suggestions that YouTube offers.
These are terms that people are searching for. You can also find keywords from your YouTube search report (under Traffic Sources > YouTube search).
To check if you have a good keyword, simply search for it on YouTube and see how many “About results” it generates. A good keyword has low-competition.
6. 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 relevant results even further.
7. Use the Video SEO Embed
As we’ve learned, Google prioritized video in search results. But if your video lacks the appropriate metadata, it won’t be able to prioritize it.
The SEO embed injects all your video metadata (like the transcript, thumbnail, title, and description) to the head of your web page so that Google can crawl and index your video properly.
The SEO embed is part of the 3Play Plugin.
When you optimize your video for Google, you can get 2-5x more views than just optimizing it for YouTube.
8. Focus on User Engagement
Google cares most about how viewers respond to your content because that’s what keeps people on their site.
Watch time, as you might imagine, is very important. Watch time refers to the actual time spent watching a video (not the percent watched). So for example, 50% completion of a 10-minute video will rank higher than 100% completion of a three-minute video. It’s important to hook your viewer in the first 15 seconds with a teaser. If your video describes how to do a DIY project, show the viewer the finished product at the beginning to spark their interest. You want to avoid having a long introduction without speaking.
Session Watch Time
Session watch time is another important measurement of user engagement. YouTube values how a video contributes to a user’s overall viewing session. Did the viewer leave the site after the video, or did they watch three more videos? YouTube wants people to spend more time on their platform, and therefore favor videos that help them achieve that goal. Although it may seem counterintuitive, videos that are designed to bring users to your website will hurt your SEO, because they move viewers away from YouTube.
Google can read your mind. Ok, not quite, but Google does understand what searchers mean. For example, if you were to search “how to get more views on YouTube,” you would be shown a video called “how to grow with zero views and zero subscribers.” When creating a title for your videos, be sure to write something compelling and relevant. You might be tempted to title use the #1 searched phrase or term as your title, but don’t. Instead, answer the user’s question in your title, and add the search term to the description. Trust us, Google knows.
Growing Subscriber Base
Subscribers can generate a lot of watch time within the first week your video is published. The more you can amplify user experience and engagement in the first seven days, the better. It might be a good idea to post on a regular schedule so your subscribers know when to expect a new video, and can make sure to watch.
9. Use Playlists
Relevant, short (four-six videos), subcategorized playlists can greatly boost user experience and engagement. It also makes it easy to share multiple videos at a time, by sharing a link to the playlist instead of one video.
Video Marketing and YouTube
How are marketers optimizing YouTube?
More than 600 online survey respondents, comprised of senior marketing personnel, provided feedback to the WVMC and ReelSEO about their video marketing strategies. Trends showed wider adoption of video into email marketing, social media, and content creation.
Of the respondents, 65%, or almost 2/3 of the respondents in the recent ReelSEO and Web Video Marketing survey have posted YouTube videos on their websites.
What is the best way to embed videos on company sites?
Optimizing your website through video and YouTube optimization produces different relevant results. The former grows traffic and drives leads whereas the latter drives viewership and branding. Your strategy should be based on your marketing goals.
Eight out of 10 video results are YouTube videos. This is a double-edged sword. YouTube should absolutely be part of your video SEO strategy, but you should be careful not to cannibalize your website traffic if that’s important to you. Murphy outlines the following steps for authority driven SEO goals:
- Embed the video on your site first through a non-YouTube player.
- Optimize this video landing page with a keyword strategy and video transcripts
- After promotion and traffic have waned, place your video on YouTube.
- Optimize your YouTube video page using keyword variances and adding captions.
This article was originally published March 7, 2016, by Emily Griffin and has since been updated.
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