YouTube SEO: How to Boost your Videos’ Rankings

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Trying to wrap your head around YouTube SEO?

We get it. Getting your channel off the ground is a struggle.

The good news is that your audience is out there. Recent YouTube statistics tell us that more and more viewers are discovering content via search. Meanwhile, video consumption is at an all-time high.

By learning the basics of video SEO, you can make your videos more discoverable and expand your channels’ reach.

And despite popular belief, doing so doesn’t require a bunch of technical know-how or spammy tactics.

Read on for our step-by-step guide to YouTube SEO that you can easily apply to all of your videos.

1. Conduct keyword research to uncover in-demand video ideas

First things first: digging into video topics that people are looking for.

By default, YouTube does a pretty solid job of cluing creators into what viewers want. Simply type a keyword or term into YouTube’s search bar and you’ll see a slew of keywords from actual viewers.

Conducting keywords via YouTube's search bar is a good starting point for video SEO

The purpose of keyword research isn’t necessarily to copycat the keywords that are already out there. Instead, you can use these terms to explore new potential topics and see what other keyword opportunities are out there.

For example, let’s say you’re a fashion YouTuber interested in making a video about distressed jeans. Simply by looking at the top results, we can see that peripheral terms like “DIY” and “denim” pop up alongside our primary keyword.

distressed jeans YouTube seo search

Digging into other related terms, you can narrow down the niche of your video and find a unique angle beyond just “distressed jeans.”

For example, you might talk about a specific tool or technique (“scissors,” “knife,” “sandpaper”) or perhaps a certain style of distressed jeans (“big holes”). Niching down your videos means that you’re targeting a more defined audience and are less likely to try to compete against more established videos and channels.

distressed jeans YouTube SEO keyword ideas

Another place to conduct video SEO research is through Google. That’s because YouTube videos rank in Google results, meaning that videos that pop up in a search are more than likely optimized for SEO. Take note of what these sorts of videos do in terms of their titles and thumbnails (but more on that later).

Video results via Google can clue you in on which sorts of videos are optimized for YouTube SEO

Finally, you can also conduct keyword research via Google’s Keyword Planner tool. Although not related to video SEO per se, the added bonus of using Google is that you can uncover real-world search terms that people are actually using.

looking at Google Analytics results can give you ideas for video SEO opportunities

The purpose of keyword research is both to brainstorm ideas and figure out what viewers want. Including keywords and related terms throughout your content is a low-hanging way to boost your rankings versus videos that totally ignore YouTube SEO.

2. Optimize your YouTube titles, descriptions, tags and thumbnails

Now, let’s highlight how to take your keyword ideas and integrate them into your content.

This section breaks down how to optimize YouTube videos in ways that encourage clicks and tick the boxes of SEO behind-the-scenes.

Keep in mind that there is no silver bullet for guaranteed rankings or reach. That said, the following tips will send signals to YouTube’s algorithm to improve your chances of scoring more views.

Titles

An enticing title can make or break your video.

Conventional wisdom says that ~75 characters is the sweet spot for titles, so you need to choose your words wisely.

Below are some examples of title formats that stick with our best practices of headline writing tips and allow you to seamlessly integrate your keyword ideas:

  • Pose a question (“Why…” or “What is…”)
  • Make a listicle (“Top 5…” or “5 Reasons Why…”)
  • How-tos and tutorials (“How to…”)
  • Compare and contrast (“Ranking the 5…” or “Best to Worst…”)

Channels like DFB Guide almost exclusively follow the formats above and their view-count speaks for itself.

DFB's listicles and "how-to" titles are prime examples are what performs will in terms of YouTube SEO

Although these aren’t the only types of titles you’re restricted to, they’re arguably the safest options for both piquing people’s curiosity and ease-of-use for keywords. As a side note, try to avoid writing clickbait headlines–audiences are increasingly familiar with and fatigued by these tactics, meaning they may reduce trust in your content.

Descriptions

Descriptions are definitely a big deal when it comes to YouTube SEO.

With 5,000 characters to work with, it might be tempting to stuff keywords here.

However, that’s obviously not what this space is for (and keyword stuffing could land you in trouble).

There are plenty of ways to naturally integrate keywords into your YouTube descriptions minus any sort of spam. Also, your descriptions are crucial for funneling traffic from YouTube to your website, landing pages and social media channels.

In short, don’t let this space go to waste. Here’s a combination of elements to include in your description:

  • A brief summary of your video which integrates your primary keyword
  • Links to other relevant, keyword-specific videos on your channel
  • Timestamps on your video which integrate relevant search terms
  • Links to your website, social channels or other promotions

Let’s look at some examples of solid descriptions that stick within the best practices of YouTube SEO without being totally spammy.

This description for Beardbrand integrates multiple keywords throughout, including links to other videos which translates into more engagement and longer watch-times (all good for video SEO).

beardbrand description for video SEO

This description for Elgato manages to target keywords for their specific products, a smart move if you’re looking to tie the ROI of your YouTube channel to purchases on-site.

Elgato video description SEO

This straightforward example from Food Wishes proves that including keywords in your descriptions doesn’t have to be complicated (note that this video ranks #1 for “Baklava recipe”).

food wishes YouTube SEO

Here’s an awesome example from JHS Pedals which manages to integrate specific product-related keywords through timestamps. As a side note, including timestamps in your videos is great for engagement as it keeps your viewers from bouncing by allowing them to zero in on the most relevant parts of your videos.

JHS pedals video timestamp

Finally, this example from SEMrush does all of the above with a keyword rich-description, timestamps and links to useful resources on their site.

YouTube description SEMrush

Thumbnails

Although thumbnails aren’t directly tied to video SEO, they’re crucial for grabbing the attention of viewers and therefore scoring clicks.

As a rule of thumb (ha!), here are some best practices of YouTube thumbnails for most channels:

  • Striking colors (either via text or background)
  • Bold text which highlights the video’s title (or a benefit)
  • A person or some sort of action

Here are some examples from Upright Fitness:

Clear, actionable thumbnails improve YouTube SEO by encouraging viewers to click

Thumbnails are important for establishing your brand’s identity and giving your channel a much-needed sense of professionalism. Even if you’re not a design expert, you can create consistent, eye-popping thumbnails with the help of the following template tools:

Canva YouTube thumbnail template

Tags

Tags are a subtle aspect of YouTube SEO that your audience more than likely will never see.

But again, that doesn’t mean you should go stuffing tons of tags in your videos.

The concept behind tags is simple: by tagging your videos with descriptive terms, you’re helping YouTube recommend relevant content to viewers (think: “DIY jean distressing” or “distressed jeans scissors”).

Although YouTube themselves don’t specify how many tags are considered “optimal,” five or so seems to be fair game for most channels.

If you’re interested in example tags or want to see what tags your competitors are using, figuring both out is simple. Simply go to a video, view the page source (CTRL-U) and then search (CTRL-F) “keywords” to uncover the tags.

YouTube SEO keyword tags

3. Increase in-video engagement and promote your content off-site

To wrap things up, let’s talk about some less technical YouTube SEO tips for boosting video engagement both on the platform and off of it.

Asking for engagement in-video

As is the case with pretty much any search algorithm, “general engagement” in the form of views, clicks and new subscribers are good news for your content’s performance.

And so anything you can do to get a reaction from your viewers is a plus. Some tips for doing so include:

  • Asking for comments, “likes” and subscribers (don’t be shy about this but also don’t be obnoxious)
  • Include some sort of call-to-action in your video (pose a question, for example)
  • Add a call-to-action or question in the first line of your video description

You don’t have to beg for likes or comments, by the way. Just include a passing mention at the beginning or end or include an in-video prompt that doesn’t interrupt your viewers. Here’s an example from Emergency Awesome:

in-video subscriber CTA

Sharing and promoting your content beyond YouTube

Pointing viewers to your YouTube content means consistent promotion across as many channels as possible. This might include:

  • Embedding videos on-site or within blog posts
  • Promoting your video content to your email subscribers
  • Sharing your videos via social media

The last point is a big one. Video content performs well via social, which is exactly why businesses make a point to share their latest videos time and time again across Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and/or Pinterest.

You can use tools like Sprout’s social media publishing platform to queue up and promote your videos as soon as they’re ready to go live. Additionally, Sprout’s built-in YouTube publishing allows you to push content directly to YouTube without having to leave our app.

Sprout Social YouTube publishing

4. Look at your analytics to figure out what’s working (and what isn’t)

The last piece of YouTube SEO is analyzing your results.

Through your YouTube analytics, you can assess your content’s performance to understand what’s doing well and what isn’t in terms of SEO.

For example, your YouTube dashboard can clue you in on the following:

  • Which keywords are you ranking for?
  • Which types of videos perform well? (think: how-tos versus listicles)
  • How long are your top-performing videos?
  • Which videos result in the most traffic and off-platform engagement?
YouTube channel analytics

If you want to know where your YouTube SEO strategy should go, you need to know where you’ve been. Based on your data, you can explore new topics and keywords which brings us full-circle.

Ready to put your YouTube SEO knowledge into action?

Listen: video SEO and optimization doesn’t have to be rocket science.

By sticking to the tips and principles above, you’re already way ahead of the curve when it comes to optimizing your videos for more reach.

And remember: video content is among the most-shared on social media. If you haven’t already, find out how consumers are reacting to video content and other emerging social trends according to the research in our Sprout Social Index XVI: Above and Beyond.





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