10 Practical Tips for YouTube Video SEO

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How much do you know about YouTube video SEO?

When most marketers and business leaders think of search engine optimization, they focus primarily on things like Google or even Bing. However, it’s worth remembering that YouTube is a search engine too. It’s owned by Google, and it uses its own distinct algorithms to rank and organize content. 

This means even if you’re producing the world’s most engaging and powerful videos, you may struggle to generate a strong ROI from your YouTube strategy if you don’t master SEO. 

Knowing how to use keywords and other factors in your YouTube content could be the first step in improving your brand’s reputation and generating more traffic for your site. 

Today, we’re going to share some of the best, proven tips for optimizing YouTube video SEO to ensure your videos have the best possible visibility. 

What is YouTube Video SEO?

YouTube logo and YouTube home page on a laptop screen

Let’s start with the basics; what is YouTube video SEO?

As you may already know, SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, is the art of tailoring online content to ensure it appeals to the algorithms search engines use to rank content. In the world of blogging and written content creation, SEO often involves the use of keywords and backlinks. 

So, how does SEO influence your YouTube presence?

YouTube video SEO is the process of optimizing both your visual content and your YouTube channel to strengthen your position on YouTube’s own search results. Like Google-focused SEO, it includes the use of various strategies, including link building, script optimization, and keyword research. 

As part of the Google family, YouTube uses similar search algorithms to show users the videos that match their search queries best. The algorithm uses different elements in each video post to determine how videos will rank for certain search terms, such as:

  • Video titles
  • Video descriptions
  • Metadata
  • Engagement data (views, comments, and likes)
  • Watch time

Like many social media platforms, YouTube’s SEO algorithms also consider the past activity of the person searching for content. This helps to ensure the results each person sees are personalized to their specific needs and expectations. When combined, these signals work together to tell YouTube how to position your content in front of YouTube browsers. 

Why is YouTube Video SEO Important?

While it is possible for videos to “go viral” on YouTube without a lot of Search Engine Optimization, the chances are you’ll have a much higher chance of success with your content if you invest in SEO. 

Taking the time to optimize your content for the search engines (and your viewers) can lead to the following:

  • More views: The more you appear in search results for specific keywords and terms, the more people will likely click on and view your content. This not only increases brand visibility but also means you can earn more from YouTube monetization programs.
  • Increased conversions: More eyes on your videos naturally means more potential opportunities to convert prospects into leads. You can increase traffic to your website with YouTube SEO, boost conversions, and earn more subscribers. 
  • Improved reputation: A higher presence on YouTube search results can also improve your brand image. Just like a strong social media presence can improve your relationship with your customers, a great YouTube presence can elevate your brand too. 
  • Cost-effective growth: Investing in YouTube SEO doesn’t have to cost a fortune, and it can deliver a fantastic ROI. Around 89% of marketers say that using video in their promotional content helps them to achieve a fantastic return on investment. 
  • Competitive advantage: Showing up at the top of the YouTube search results means your content stands out above your competitors. This advantage can solidify your presence in your industry as a market leader. 

10 Practical Tips for YouTube Video SEO

Like any marketing strategy, your approach to YouTube Video SEO is likely to vary depending on a number of factors, including your target audience and your overall marketing goals. However, there are some proven tactics that can give you a much-needed boost in visibility. 

Here are our top tips for YouTube video SEO. 

1. Find the Right Keywords

Team works together analyze and researching best keywords

Just like with Google SEO, YouTube SEO relies heavily on the ability to find and use the right keywords in your content. Keywords are essentially the phrases and terms your customers are most likely to use when searching for the content you produce. 

When you’re building your keyword strategy for YouTube, it’s worth thinking about a variety of different types of search terms. These include:

  • Primary keywords: Primary keywords are the basic, broad terms related to your content, such as “social media” or “food.” They have higher search volumes, but they tend to be more competitive to rank for, as many companies are using the same terms. 
  • Secondary keywords: Secondary keywords are more niche terms, which have lower search volume but less competition. For instance, instead of food, you might use “bakery.” They’re easier to rank for and are more specific to your niche. 
  • Long tail keywords: Long-tail keywords are longer terms, which once again have a lot less competition. For instance, instead of trying to rank for “Instagram,” you might focus on a term like “How to improve Instagram growth.” 

While you can use the same keyword research solutions you would use for Google SEO, like SEMRush or Ahrefs for YouTube, they don’t pull data from YouTube directly. A good way to boost the quality of your keyword strategy is to search for terms in the YouTube search bar. 

The YouTube platform will automatically suggest phrases related to your term and show recommended “related” search terms for you to work with.

2. Embed Keywords In the Right Places

Once you have an idea of the keywords you want to rank for, the next step is to make sure you use them in all of the right places. Google recommends using your target keywords in a variety of places, including most of the written content that revolves around your video. 

Notably, you don’t necessarily need to mention these terms in the video itself, as the algorithm won’t assess your audio content for evidence of the phrase. However, if you’re creating content for a specific topic, these terms should appear naturally in your video. 

Here are some of the most important places where you’ll need to add your keywords:

  • The video file name: The video file you upload to YouTube is one of the first things the algorithm will assess when determining how to rank your content. YouTube can’t watch your content, but it can analyze the file name to see what the piece is about.
  • The video title: Google recommends adding your keyword as close to the beginning of the video title as possible while still keeping things natural. Using the term at the beginning of the title is also a good way to capture customer attention when they’re searching for a specific word or phrase. Try to ensure your title tells your customer what to expect from your content. 
  • Your video description: The official character limit for YouTube video descriptions is 1000 characters. While you can use all of that space, it’s best to keep things short and sweet. Begin your description with an explanation of your video content, including your keyword. It’s also worth including links to your website and related content. 
  • The transcription: Here’s where actually mentioning your keywords in your video comes in handy. If you add a transcription to your video, you’ll be able to showcase your keyword a number of times throughout the content. Adding a transcript can also be a good way to improve the accessibility of your videos for all kinds of viewers. 
  • Your tags: YouTube suggests using tags to tell your viewers what your content is about. Tags provide insight into the content and context of your video. Choose your tags wisely. Don’t just add irrelevant tags because you think it will get you more views. Google could penalize your account if you use the wrong tags. 

3. Make the Most of Captions

Just as transcriptions can make your video content more accessible to those with hearing issues, captions can also boost your social media accessibility. Not only do they benefit your viewers with hearing impairments, but captions also add context to your videos and fill in the audio gaps your viewers might miss, making it easier to understand your content. 

One study even found that 80% of people are more likely to watch a video if they know they’ll be able to access captions. There are a few ways to add captions to your YouTube content. You can manually upload a text transcript or directly enter transcript text. 

It’s a good idea to double-check that your captions and transcriptions actually make sense if you’re using an automated generator. Even the best AI tools can still struggle with accents and dialects. YouTube can even sometimes automatically add captions through its own speech recognition technology, but it’s rarely very reliable. 

When you’re double-checking your captions, ensure they include your keywords. Your keywords should appear frequently in your script but still seem as natural as possible. Don’t just add keywords into your transcript or captions after you’re done recording.

4. Upload Custom Thumbnail Images

It’s easy to forget about visuals like thumbnails when you’re working on YouTube video SEO. However, the way your content looks in the search results makes a huge difference in whether customers will actually click on your videos. 

The more clicks likes, and views your content gets, the more YouTube’s algorithms will prioritize your videos over competing content. Along with your video title, your thumbnail sends an important message to the viewer about what they can expect to see. This means you’ll likely see an increase in clicks if your thumbnails are eye-catching and informative. 

If you have a verified account on YouTube, switch the auto-generated options available from YouTube with your own alternatives. You can use tools like Canva and Photoshop to create assets for your YouTube marketing campaigns, complete with unique backgrounds and captions. 

Remember, you’ll need a verified account to use custom thumbnails, and you’ll still need to follow YouTube’s recommended guidelines. This means your thumbnails should:

  • Have a resolution of 1280 x 720
  • Be uploaded in GIF, PNG, or JPG format
  • Be under 2MB for videos or 10MB for podcasts

5. Use Cards and End Screens

Subscribe icon

Another often overlooked strategy for YouTube video SEO is to use end screens and cards. YouTube cards are the interactive boxes you see during videos, which often ask you to subscribe to a channel or watch another video on a playlist. They’re an excellent way to drive action and keep viewers engaged when they’re checking out your content. 

YouTube allows users to add up to 5 cards to a single video, and there are various types to choose from, including:

  • Channel cards: To direct viewers to another channel
  • Poll cards: Which pose questions to viewers and ask them to vote
  • Donation cards: To encourage fundraising for non-profit organizations
  • Video or playlist cards: Which link to similar YouTube content 
  • Fan funding: To ask users to support your content creation strategy
  • Link cards: Which push viewers to an external site 

Alongside cards, it’s also worth adding end screens to every video you create. End screens are similar to cards, driving engagement and action. However, they often appear at the very end of a video. They’re a great way to promote other content, point users to playlists, and encourage subscriptions.

The reason both end screens and cards improve your SEO is they keep people engaged with your content for longer. Since engagement plays a significant role in how YouTube organizes content, driving more interaction with your videos is likely to improve your ranking potential. 

6. Introduce Timestamps 

Sometimes, incredible SEO relies heavily on improving user experiences. Just as you should design your website to be as intuitive as possible, you should also be looking for ways to help your YouTube viewers make the most out of your content. 

Timestamps are an excellent way to do this. With timestamps, you can help viewers “skip” to the parts of your video they’re most likely to be interested in. This improves the chances they’ll get value out of your content, rather than just hitting the back button if they’re not immediately engaged. 

Timestamps also benefit YouTube video SEO in another way. They let YouTube know exactly which parts of your video are most important and what each section is for. This gives the algorithms a better understanding of what your content is about, so they can rank you more effectively. 

In the Google search results, timestamps are also shown below video searches in a “key moments” section. This means if a user searches for a specific phrase on Google, and this phrase is used in your timestamp, Google can direct the individual to the right part of your content. 

It’s a good idea to add timestamps or chapters to your video description and the video itself to make it easier for viewers to navigate all of your content. 

7. Categorize Your Videos

Categorizing YouTube video in advanced settings

YouTube is home to more than 800 million videos covering countless different topics and concepts. To make it easier for both YouTube viewers and the algorithm to navigate content, YouTube gives users the option to “categorize” everything they upload. 

In the “Advanced Settings” section on your upload screen, you can choose the category most relevant to your video, such as “Technology” or “Sports.” This helps to group your video content with other videos targeted at specific viewers. 

By selecting the right category for every video, you upload, you give YouTube a clear insight into what your video is about. This information can then be used by YouTube to determine whether your content should appear in the search results for specific topics. 

To define which categories you should choose for your video, ask yourself:

  • Who are the top creators in each category, and what are they known for?
  • Are there any patterns between the audiences of channels in a category?
  • Do the videos in that category share the same qualities as your content?

8. Experiment with Video Length and Playlists

The more time viewers spend interacting with videos on your channel, the more your YouTube video SEO will improve. However, that doesn’t mean all of your content should be hours long. In today’s age of TikTok and Instagram Reels, many viewers will have a short attention span. 

It’s also worth noting that around 70% of the watch time recorded on YouTube comes from people using mobile devices. While some people can watch hours of video on a small screen, most will prefer more concise content. With that in mind, it’s worth experimenting with varying video lengths.

Use your engagement insights on YouTube to find out how long customers generally stick around and view your content, and work from there. If you find your customers prefer shorter content, then this could give you an opportunity to experiment with playlists. 

Rather than posting one long video covering a number of related topics, create a comprehensive playlist with more direct messages and insights. Playlists can even help to improve your view count, pushing customers to click from one video to the next rather than hitting the back button and looking for additional content elsewhere. 

9. Use Cross-Promotion Strategies

Cross-posting in social media channels

One of the things that makes YouTube video SEO so confusing for many creators is that you need to look at YouTube as both a search engine and a social media channel. Just like with most social media platforms, cross-promotion can be extremely important on YouTube. 

Expanding the reach of your YouTube content with cross-promotional strategies is an excellent way to get more clicks, likes, comments, and views that boost your online presence. A great way to get started is to embed your video content on your blog or website. 

Adding a video to a blog can be an excellent way to provide your followers with more contextual information about a specific topic. It also ensures your blogs can appeal to a wide range of different types of customers with different content preferences. 

If you use the right SEO techniques for your blogs, you can also boost your chances of appearing in Google search engines, which strengthens your visibility again. 

You can also cross-promote your content through email newsletters or on social media. Posting video snippets on social media is a great way to connect with your audience. You can even use hashtags to boost visibility in your captions. 

Speaking of hashtags, remember you can use those on your YouTube video descriptions too. Hashtags are clickable in titles and descriptions, and they’re even supported on YouTube searches. Your hashtags should be relevant to your target audience, niche, and the keywords you’re using. 

10. Use YouTube Analytics

Any great marketer knows that the best way to improve the results of any campaign is to gather and use data to your advantage. The right insights will help you to track progress towards your marketing goals, as well as ensure you can consistently improve your YouTube video SEO. 

Your YouTube account will come with access to analytical tools powered by Google, which can provide useful guidance on your most successful content. You can learn which keywords your video is ranking for and which videos are earning the most engagement. You can then dive deeper into that data to find out which each video is generating specific results. 

YouTube analytics can also help you to plan for future SEO strategies by helping you track terms and phrases that are gradually increasing in popularity. This could give you a chance to get one step ahead of your competitors when it comes to ranking for new terms. 

Most importantly, your insights will also help you to understand your audience and what they actually want from your content. You might find your actual audience is very different from the user persona you tailored your channel for in the initial months or years. 

Upgrade Your YouTube Video SEO

YouTube template

Investing in YouTube video SEO might seem like a complicated and time-consuming process, but it’s incredibly worthwhile. If you’re planning on using video to drive attention to your website, increase sales, or boost brand awareness, you need to know how to rank on YouTube. 

The more time and effort you spend optimizing your YouTube video content, the more your ROI will grow, pushing you toward your business goals. 

If you’re struggling with the nuances of YouTube video SEO, then reaching out to an expert could be a good idea. Here at Growth Collective, you can find a range of vetted professionals with years of experience in YouTube optimization, ready to help your channel thrive. 

YouTube video SEO FAQs

Does SEO work on YouTube videos?

SEO is just as important for your YouTube videos as it is for any other kind of content marketing. However, there are some specific nuances to YouTube search engine optimization you’ll need to be aware of. Using keywords correctly and enhancing your videos with various tactics can help you to rank higher and connect with a wider audience. 

What’s the benefit of YouTube video SEO?

YouTube video SEO will help you to climb higher in the organic search results, generate more traffic from YouTube, attract clicks to your website, and boost your brand’s social presence. You might even find you can increase your revenue and sales with the right SEO strategy. 

What is SEO on YouTube?

Seo for YouTube is the art of optimizing your videos and channels on the video search engine to adhere to YouTube’s algorithms. Using the right keywords and strategies to boost your YouTube SEO presence can significantly increase your visibility online. 

Rebekah Carter
Former company
About Author
Rebekah is a dedicated writer with years of experience producing exceptional content for brands around the globe. Her commitment to producing the best possible content means she’s constantly developing new skills and experience.
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