A Beginner’s Guide to YouTube Video Optimization
Not hitting those growth goals on your YouTube page? It might be a problem with your channel's search engine optimization (SEO). Have no fear, there are steps you can take with your existing video content and any new material you add to boost your engagement and generate some real returns on your investment.
Why should you care about establishing your YouTube SEO game plan?
Firstly, since buying the company in 2006, Google has overhauled the YouTube algorithm several times in the image of Google’s own search engine. Thus, similar to how you optimize your website to be discoverable across search engines (which you can read more about here). Since then, Google has grown to own over 90% of the search engine market share, and YouTube has become the second most visited site after Google itself according to a recent study by SemRush.
If you’re aiming to reach a huge audience, YouTube has an average of 1.7 BILLION unique monthly users, surpassing any other social platform, and it is estimated that 62% of users in the US access the platform daily. YouTube has positioned itself as the ideal mix of a social platform and search engine that allows for those who know the tricks to raise their standing organically through the content they produce and how they optimize it for discovery by YouTube users.
How to improve your SEO on YouTube
How can you practically optimize your videos, both existing and new, to make them more discoverable on YouTube? Read on to find some tips and tricks to boost your engagement:
IT STARTS WITH A FILE NAME
It all starts with how you name your video file before you even upload it. While algorithm’s have gotten scary smart these past few years, they are still primarily blind computer codes processing through masses of data - and YouTube’s organization algorithm begins by reading your video’s file name.
We’ve all been there with multiple versions of videos and trying to keep them organized so that when we finally have the final version, named something along the lines of “video_ad_v3_final.mp4”, we jump to uploading it right away.
So, how should you rename your file? It should be concise and keyword rich, followed by the file type. Using our example from earlier, we would change “video_ad_v3_final.mp4” to something like “why_does_seo_matter_on_youtube.mp4”. This allows ranking for the short keyword “SEO” which is highly competitive, but also the longer tail “why does SEO matter”, which is slightly less competitive.
Now, where do you find these keywords?
There are several resources, both free and paid, open to you to research keywords relative to you and your target audience. When brainstorming your list, remember to consider what terms your target audience will be looking for, the gap between your expertise and their level of understanding, and how they might phrase things in collegial terms versus technical terms.
Additionally, these keywords must be relevant. It might be tempting to load your title or description with the highest ranking keywords, even if they’re not relevant to your audience. However, you could actually be penalized for this by YouTube and Google - YouTube specifically for going against their terms of service and by Google by being de-ranked. So, while keywords are crucial to improving your organic reach, make sure the ones you use are targeted to your audience and relevant to the content you are producing.
Resources for identifying keywords:
VIDEO NAMING PRINCIPLES: CONCISE & KEYWORD RICH
When it comes to naming your videos, make sure that you use a keyword or two that is discussed above, but keep it limited to about 60 characters. The reason for this is because when your video is seen on the home screen, only about the first 60 characters will show-up. Make sure the video's name is eye-catching and accurate.
FRONT LOAD YOUR DESCRIPTION
This is the biggest area of opportunity YouTube offers for people to load in a lot of written information - 1,000 characters in fact! However, this is a trick.
Only about the first 100 characters are going to be viewed without the user having to expand the viewing window—something that happens less often than any of us would like. This means you need to frontload your description with whatever the primary action is you want the viewer to take.
Additionally, people don’t go to YouTube to read—they go for an audio-visual experience. With this in mind, keep your description short with a clear call to action front and center.
USING TAGS TO GROW ORGANICALLY
Something else you should consider incorporating into your description is tag, otherwise known as hashtags. This is another way for YouTube to help classify your content to create associations and make it more easily discoverable to new viewers.
Three key aspects to remember:
Use your top three tags first - these will likely appear above your title.
Don’t use a hashtag in the title and description - it has to be one or the other. If you use a tag in the video title, it will cancel out any tags listed in your description. With some exceptions, using 3-5 keyword tags near the end of your description is probably the best path.
Don’t use more than 15 tags. If you do, YouTube will associate you with clickbait and ignore ALL of them, and probably de-rank your video.
WHY USE A CUSTOM THUMBNAIL?
What is one consistent feature across 90% of the best performing videos through all of YouTube? Custom thumbnails. While it may be easy to use on of the auto-generated options when you upload the video, custom thumbnails are a useful way to make your content more eye-catching as well as develop a consistent brand image. Many channels will develop a specific style to match their brand that can be flexible to the video content you produce. Some also segment their thumbnails by their playlists, so it really comes down to your specific brand and channel requirements. If you want a pro-tip on how to make a perfectly sized thumbnail, Canva has free blank template option to make the process a bit easier - just search YouTube Thumbnail under the “Create a Design” button.
GOOD CONTENT IS MUST
Now, all of this falls apart if the content you produce is not geared towards your audience. It should stay true to your purpose, brand, and be useful in some way to the viewer. If you are interested in seeing some of the video work we’ve done in this area, you can view our video catalog here and find out more about our process here.
Some other options available to you include uploading SRT (or related) files of the videos transcript, or using some caption creation tools available in the YouTube Creator suite. You can also add specialized end-screens if you would like a final call to action as well as areas for recommending specific videos. If you produce longer content, adding timesteps to regular sections can be incredibly helpful for being discovered both in YouTube and on external search engines.
What does this look like in practice?
So, what does a finished product following these principles look like? Here are a some examples:
Massive channel example: MrBeast - Biggest YouTuber in the US.
Great example of custom thumbnails, short descriptions, and link usage.
Average but Growing Example: Recreational Resort Cottages
Good example of choosing top three tags to help organic discovery and growth.
Small & Growing Example: Learn to Grow
Has a great front-loaded description and tags.
Here is a high level overview of these principles:
Start by renaming your file using keywords
Find relevant keywords
Be concise and targeted when naming your videos
Front load your video description
Use tags to increase organic reach
Use a custom thumbnail to build a brand image and catch new viewers
Produce good content to make all of the work that follows worth it