Besides Google, what’s the biggest search engine on the internet?
Most people would answer Bing or Yahoo. But if you think outside of the box a bit, there’s an obvious answer that almost everyone misses.
YouTube by the Numbers: Huge Markets, Huge Opportunity
Don’t believe me? Just look at the numbers. Way back in 2010, YouTube was already getting over 3.7 billion searches per day. There are 4 billion video views on YouTube every day, thanks to the site’s 1 billion unique daily visitors. Globally, 85% of adults (outside of China) consider themselves to be regular YouTube users. All of that adds up to an undeniable fact. YouTube is a huge market.
And for small business owners, online entrepreneurs, and others looking to spread their brand, YouTube also offers tremendous opportunity. In the U.S., only 9% of small businesses use YouTube. That compares to 53% of small businesses who had websites in 2014. By incorporating YouTube into your small business’s strategy, you have a chance to draw customers from the site’s giant user base. But you also have the opportunity to get leaps and bounds ahead of your competition.
In this guide, I’ll show you how to start optimizing YouTube videos to get views, promote your brand, and leave the competition in the dust. Study the content in this guide, and you can start capitalizing on the massive potential of YouTube right away. After all, it only takes a video. And these days, just about every cell phone and laptop has the tools you need to start producing videos for your business. Here’s my tips for optimizing your YouTube videos with YouTube specific SEO strategies.
“SEO” and YouTube
The term “SEO” gets thrown around so often, that many people don’t take the time to think about what “Search Engine Optimization” actually is on a fundamental level. For most forms of content, SEO is all about telling Google what your webpages are about, and finding ways to convince Google that your pages are relevant for different search terms. To reach these goals, you can do a whole lot to structure the internal content of your pages.
But on Youtube, there’s no way for YouTube search functions to determine the content within your videos.
However, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t SEO in the context of Youtube. SEO for Youtube just relies on different things than the internal contents of anything you produce. With Youtube, SEO goals are the same as they are for other search engines. You want your videos to get seen, and to be considered highly “relevant” for different search terms. But how you get there with Youtube is a lot different than Google or other search engines.
And it all relies on two things. Youtube SEO is based on Video Content and User Engagement.
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Part 1: Video Content and YoutubeSeo
Didn’t I just say that Youtube can’t determine the internal contents of your videos? That’s true, but it doesn’t mean that there aren’t ways to try to help Youtube learn what your videos are about. While Youtube won’t be able to “crawl” through the contents of your video like Google can for the content of a webpage, there is a whole lot you can do to optimize your videos to achieve better rankings where content is concerned.
Just like in SEO for Google rankings, you don’t need to get all of these things perfect to rank for a keyword with your Youtube videos. But the more of the following areas that you get right, the better your Youtube search rankings will be. Here’s six areas to focus on for Youtube SEO purposes.
1. Video Title
When you upload a video to Youtube, the first thing the site will ask you for is a video title. And this is the most important area of your video to fill out right from an SEO perspective. That’s partially because your title appears directly in all Youtube search results. Meaning a good title will lead to higher click through rates. And it’s partially because Youtube will use your title as one of the most important parts of your video upload where returning results for keywords are concerned.
To demonstrate the power of a good title in determining ranking, search for any given keyword on Youtube. You will realize quickly that almost all of the top results returned have exact matches for your keyword in the title. Looking at a case study where the search term “become a guest blogger” was entered into Youtube, I found that almost every top result returned had an exact match in the video title. Titles are important in Google SEO rankings, but having an exact match keyword in your title is even more important in Youtube SEO.
However, don’t think that you can optimize your videos based entirely on exact match keywords in your video titles. Youtube is owned by Google, afterall. And the search engine giant prides itself on eliminating spammy content’s ability to rank. On Youtube, user engagement and interaction will make it hard for you to rank if your title isn’t relevant to your content. More about this later. For now know that your title should include exact match keywords, but also need to be relevant to your video content.
2. Video Description
In the video description section of your Youtube video upload, you will have a chance to tell potential viewers what your video is about. This will help improve your organic views, since your video descriptions will appear on Youtube and Google search results, and give users a chance to learn what your video is about. But beyond aiding real users, you can also use your video Description section to boost your Youtube SEO for specific keywords.
Keywords that appear in your video description are indexed in search results, both through Youtube and Google. Exact match keywords in descriptions will be bolded as they are for other types of content on Google. For best SEO results, write a 300-500 word description of your video in the description area. And be sure to include relevant keywords that will help you reach a wider audience of relevant visitors.
On interesting way to reach a targeted audience by utilizing your video description section is to use Youtube to discover related longtail keywords. To do this, simply type your top keywords into Youtube’s search bar and look at their auto-complete options. Each auto complete phrase that Youtube recommends is a long tail keyword that Youtube’s engine considers relevant. Include these types of longtail keywords in your descriptions, and you boost your SEO potential for specific niches.
3. Video Tags
In the “Tag” section of your videos, you have the chance to include all the keywords that are relevant to your internal content. Youtube allows as many tags as you would like to include for each video, so don’t be stingy with tagging. But do be strategic. All of the tags for your video should be based around the keywords you want to rank for, and a dozen or so tags are ideal.
In Youtube search results, plurality matters for video tags. That means that a tag for “cat” and a tag for “cats” will have a different effect on video ranking, depending on user search queries. Keep that in mind when tagging, and choose the most commonly used keywords. In addition to straight up keyword optimization, include your brand info in video tags as well.
When deciding what to tag your videos with, start by looking at your competitors. You want to make sure that you are targeting keywords that you can rank for, but also using some of the same tags that have been successful for other businesses you want to compete with. Beyond looking into your competitor’s tags, use the Youtube auto-complete function again to identify long tail keywords, and tag your videos with relevant keywords from these extended longtail results.
For example, if the auto-complete function suggests that you complete the query “cat” with the phrase “cat running cute,” consider tagging your cat video with “cute” as well.
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4. Video Transcriptions
While the general public might not use this feature very often, Youtube actually transcribes every single video that you upload automatically. Youtube’s automatic transcription feature will provide your videos with closed captions for you even if you don’t do any work. But the bad news is that Youtube is pretty horrendous at guessing what most people are saying. However, you can turn Youtube’s transcription potential into a powerful SEO tool without too much work.
To do so, you will need to type out a word by word transcription of your video. Type it out in a text file, and you can then upload that file directly to Youtube. From there, Youtube will use your transcriptions for it’s closed captions, greatly improving the accuracy of your content’s transcriptions. Plus, you will get a boost in your Youtube SEO rankings by adding your own transcriptions. Youtube looks at your transcriptions to determine keywords and relevancy, just like it looks at your descriptions and titles.
Transcriptions count for a whole lot less than any of the above categories, but any small boost can help your SEO rankings. Plus, users who rely on closed captions can limit their Youtube search results to only return videos that have custom transcriptions uploaded, and you can land in those results just by uploading your own closed captions.
5. Channel Authority
Youtube users are organized by “channels,” with all of your videos being automatically integrated into your “channel.” And the better your channel authority, the better each of your individual videos will rank in search results. This area of your Youtube SEO isn’t as easy to directly affect as the areas above, but it is just as important and shouldn’t be ignored.
Channel authority is based on two things. First, your authority is based on user engagement. Don’t worry, I’ll share everything you need to know about engagement soon, but for now you should realize that it’s only half of what determines your channel authority. And the other half is much more in your control.
In addition to user engagement, your channel authority will be based on how well you execute all of the other SEO principles noted above so far in this guide. Tagging all of your videos with relevant tags will boost your authority. So will adding thorough descriptions, relevant exact match video titles, and word for word transcriptions. Maintain your channel as a whole, by promoting it and making sure that every video you upload takes all of the SEO considerations in this guide into account, and each of your individual videos will rank higher as a result of your boosted channel authority.
Besides those Youtube SEO based steps, there are a few more straightforward things you can do to boost your channel authority. First, subscribe to other relevant channels. Think of this like backlinking, as Youtube will see your connections and count your channel as symbiotically relevant. Second, make sure to link all of your social networks to Youtube in the “about” section. Doing so will prove to Youtube that you are a real person, and help your channel’s authority rankings in the process.
6. Content Delivery
All of the above Youtube SEO practices are tips and tricks that don’t involve actual video production. But just like in Google SEO rankings, quality content is rewarded in Youtube rankings. I’ll explain more about why that’s the case in the engagement section of this guide, but take note: a poor quality video with no relevant information doesn’t have very much chance of ranking high.
One case study that helps illustrate why quality content matter so much looks at a video that ranked number one on Youtube for related business based keywords after just 3 months. The video of course had relevant tags, a smart and relevant title with exact matches, and all of the other things we have covered. But it was also high quality, and produced by a professional animation company.
As a result, the average time spent watching the video was more than a minute, not a bad mark to hit when the average time spent on any web page is just seconds. Youtube notes these kinds of factors, and ranks your videos higher as a result. Just like on Google, Youtube SEO starts and ends with a quality piece of content.
Part 2: User Engagement and Youtube SEO
All of the factors above, you can control directly. But Youtube SEO is based in a big part on user engagement, which you can’t control directly. That being said, there is a lot that you can do to influence engagement. Here are the six engagement factors that Youtube considers for video rankings, as well as how you can influence each.
This is a fairly straightforward metric, and on the surface is easy to understand. The more views your videos have, the higher they will rank for relevant keywords. But Youtube doesn’t just look at how many views your videos have, it also pays attention to how long each user watches. That’s part of the reason why quality is so important, and why good, engaging content wins out.
To boost your views, make sure to promote your Youtube videos relentlessly. Every content delivery channel you have access to should be promoting your videos, from social media, to your independent website, to your blogs, to your email lists. Tell your friends and family and everyone you know to watch everyone of your videos. While promoting relentlessly, make sure to keep an eye on your video analytics to see how long each video gets viewed for, and solicit feedback from your friends and family for videos that aren’t viewed for long.
2. Inbound Links
Inbound links are just as important in Youtube SEO as they are in Google SEO. Every time someone else links to your video, Youtube notes it, and gives your video a ranking boost. In addition to inbound links to each of your videos though, inbound links to your channel are incredibly important. Inbound links to your channel boost you channel authority, which consequently boosts the SEO ranking of each of your individual videos.
For starters, you should link to each of your videos from everywhere that you can, as mentioned above. To land more inbound links, create high quality content that people find interesting and want to link to. Especially useful in the video production sphere is pleading to your audience’s emotions. It’s a lot easier to solicit emotion when you have an audio and visual component than in pure text based content. So make sure that your videos make users feel something, and they will be more likely to share them
3. Social Shares
Youtube takes note of social shares as a separate category from other inbound links, and lets you track your social shares in the video analytics section. To land more social shares, keep in mind the tips shared above for boosting inbound links in general. And be sure that you post every video on your own social network sites, and urge your followers to “share” each one of your videos.
You should note that Facebook does not promote Youtube videos to the same extent that they will promote videos uploaded directly to their platform. Therefore, don’t expect your links to your Youtube videos to do as well as your other posts on Facebook. Your reach will be constrained from the get go, which is the main reason why Facebook videos are now 10X more likely to get “viral reach” than Youtube videos. Don’t be discouraged, just make sure to urge your followers on Facebook to share your videos in order to boost their organic reach.
Youtube videos can be embedded in other sites to grow your reach beyond Youtube’s own organic audience, and Youtube tracks each instance of embedding as a positive social signal. If you run your own site, embedding your videos is a good idea, as embeds are harder to land than most other engagements. In order to allow yourself the opportunity to land embeds, make sure that you “allow embedding” from your video’s settings. Not doing so will rob you of the chance of ever landing embeds from the start.
5. Comments and Responses
From a Youtube SEO perspective, as well as a community building and reach point of view, this is arguably the most important engagement signal there is. Every time someone comments on your videos, Youtube will note this interaction your authority and relevance will get a positive bump. You should be warned though that Youtube has a number of ways of noting which comments are spam and which are real, so don’t try to cheat your way to a higher Youtube SEO ranking.
To land more comments on your videos, try to give them a slightly controversial or provocative spin. Youtube users in general are fairly likely to engage in conversation, but you can make it easier for them by posing questions and soliciting responses. Then, make sure that you reply to as many comments as you can to show your viewers you are present and accessible.
Video responses are a lot harder to land, since they take a lot more work for other users to generate. But they are also weighted very heavily by Youtube, so you should think of a way to encourage video responses whenever you can. Solicit them directly by urging your viewers to make their own video about your subject and post them as a reply. Craft contests that can only be won through video reply. Think of other ways to solicit replies that are unique to your niche.
6. Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down, and Favorites
Each of these social signals will help you rank higher in Youtube rankings, even the “thumbs down.” However, if you get more “thumbs down” than “thumbs up,” it won’t look good, and many other users will notice that your videos have been ill received. In order to get more thumbs up and favorites, remember that it’s all about content. When your content is relevant, well crafted, and well delivered, it will be appreciated by the community. When it’s not, don’t expect any of these user engagement factors to play out in your favor.
Youtube SEO: a Different World From Google
I hope that throughout this guide, I emphasized all of the ways that Youtube SEO is unique, and very different from Google’s.
Yes, a good understanding of basic SEO practices, like keywords and inbound links, will be invaluable in boosting your Youtube SEO rankings. But if you want to capitalize on everything that makes Youtube unique, you need to approach in SEO on the world’s second biggest search engine differently than you do on Google.
Revisit this guide to remind yourself exactly how the two differ.