YouTube SEO demystified: How to get more views on your videos

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Nobody ever said online video marketing was easy. We know the feeling; you’ve spent hours creating an awesome, educational, fun video. You’ve meticulously planned, shot and edited, gone back, refined, re-edited, swapped out music… this thing is as perfect as it’s going to get. You upload it for the world to see and... nada. Like 10 views. What gives?

Unfortunately, unless you’re Casey Neistat or Peter McKinnon and have millions of followers on the platform watching every second of video you upload, you’re going to have to make your content as search-friendly as possible. YouTube is owned by Google, which means a lot of the SEO rules you already follow for your written content, be that on a blog or website page, still apply when you upload a video.

In this post, we’re going to walk you through the all different tools and settings you need to pay attention to in order to make your videos more prominent, and get more views and watch time. From basic YouTube information settings to newer platform-specific features, and even a bonus tip, by the time you’re through this post, you’ll be posting videos like a pro, so let’s get into it.

Keywords Are Key (Word.)

Alright, if you’ve done any kind of content marketing before, this section should feel the most familiar. Just like in Yoast SEO, Moz, the HubSpot “Optimize” tab, or whatever your SEO tool of choice, YouTube’s creator studio “Info and Settings” tab includes space for your title, description, keywords, thumbnail (featured image), and other information to better categorize your videos.

Titles are fairly straightforward, it’s the title for the video. Just like for blogs and web pages, make sure that your strongest keyword is also present in the title.

Now, from there, you should know there are some key differences between meta information for videos vs. written forms of online content. Firstly, descriptions. For a standard Google listing, the meta description for your webpage or blog post will get cut off around 300 characters (this was recently increased in December 2017). On YouTube, however, because the description isn’t shown in search results, length isn’t as much of an issue. YouTube caps your descriptions at an almost comical 5000 characters (however, the first few lines will be hidden behind a “Show More” button. You can almost put a whole blog post in your YouTube description. More important than length is ensuring your target keywords are in the body of your description.

Make sure a few of your keywords are included in your description, and this is also the place for you to put links to your website, other social accounts, and more, especially if you aren’t eligible for monetization, or have access to in-video links yet.

Finally, remember back in the beginning days of blogging when you could add a bunch of keywords as just keywords, and actually rank for them? What a simpler time. Well, in YouTube SEO, you can still do just that! And you can add a lot of them, too. Add as many relative keywords as you can within the 500 character limit.

PRO TIP: Long tail keywords work great in video SEO just like they do in written SEO.

YouTube - Specific SEO Tools

In addition to the familiar SEO tools in the “Info and Settings” tab, YouTube will also give you a search boost if you employ some of their own platform tools to make your videos more accessible. Specifically, take a look at cards, end screens, and captions.

YouTube cards are the little box overlays in the upper-right hand corner and act as “in-body links” for videos. For example, if you mention a topic that you have already covered in full in another video, you can add a card to encourage viewers to watch that video to learn more. cards took over where annotations left off, as a more mobile-friendly alternative.

You can use cards to link to other videos, playlists, YouTube channels, or you can even use one as a poll to engage with your viewers. By adding at least one card to your video, you’re increasing the likelihood that your video will be featured in people’s searches, while also encouraging viewers to spend more time watching your content: win-win.

End screens are an even newer feature and act like a call to action for viewers that reach the end of your video. Now, to fully take advantage of this feature, you’ll want to add some extra time at the end of your video so that these overlays aren’t covering up any important video content, but are well worth the extra bit of work in editing. End screens are a great place to promote your latest video, encourage viewers to subscribe to your channel or call attention to a new playlist you’ve created.

Finally, video captions are more important than ever in online video. While they’ve been a “best practice” for a while now, YouTube has recently started auto-playing videos (similar to videos in Facebook feeds) with the captions on by default. Now, it’s not obvious if YouTube actually scans your captions for SEO value or not (at least right now) but having manual, accurate captions for your videos definitely factors into your search result listing position.

Bonus Tip: Thumbnails Can Make Or Break Your Videos

While having a good thumbnail won’t make you rank any better on its own merit (it is still just an image after all), taking advantage of the ability to make a custom thumbnail can make a huge difference in the number of people who decide your video is worth tapping on. As we said before, your meta description isn’t going to show up in a search result pages. Instead, your only opportunities to “sell” people on your video in the listing is via:

  • The title
  • Your channel name
  • How many views the video has gotten
  • The date it was published
  • And finally, the thumbnail

Of the factors above, the two you have the most control over are the title and thumbnail, and you can definitely be more creative with the thumbnail as well to make your video visually stand out. A best practice is to create a thumbnail that calls attention to the subject of the video and uses text to add an interesting caption or additional title to incite people to watch. Think of it this way: your video title is your title for SEO and indexing; your utility title is meant to be exciting rather than keyword-focused, while your thumbnail is your viewer-facing title.

Now Get Creating!

So there you have it, all the YouTube SEO info you need to start getting your videos ranking higher in search results. For some additional help, we love using plugins like TubeBuddy and VidIQ to help us accomplish all these video SEO tasks faster and more consistently. Plus, they can even help you research what keywords other channels are using to help you better plan your video content.

If you want to take your video production and content to the next level, and are interested in more great information like this, consider checking out our Beginners Guide to Using Online Video for Marketing. In it, you’ll find some great, simple tips for equipment, lighting techniques, and basic workflow hacks.

Finally, be sure to check out our own YouTube channel for weekly live content on the Monday Marketing Q&A and bi-weekly Illumine8 After Hours as well as additional video content.

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