When you hear the term SEO, it’s easy to picture Google search results. After all, Google is by far the world’s largest, most widely used search engine, with a market share that more than quadruples its four biggest competitors combined.
However, there’s far more to SEO than just Google. The world’s second largest search engine is often just as much of a valuable traffic source - and for some industries - an even more valuable source of traffic than Google itself.
We’re talking about YouTube, the world’s second largest search engine by volume, receives more traffic from desktop users than Google itself.
If you use video for your business, whether for social media marketing or as part of a larger video marketing strategy optimizing your content for YouTube search is one of the easiest ways to generate more search traffic and improve the ROI from your campaign.
Below, we’ve outlined a few simple yet effective SEO tactics that you can use to optimize your video content and attract more traffic. Like regular onsite SEO, the effects of video SEO can be cumulative, meaning the more tips you implement, the better your results will likely be.
Every day, YouTube users watch almost five billion videos. With a total user base of more than 1.3 billion people, YouTube’s massive amount of traffic presents a perfect SEO opportunity for brands that use video to market their products and connect with customers.
Just like optimizing for Google search, optimizing for YouTube search begins with great on-page content.
On-page video optimization achieves two things. First, it helps YouTube understand what your video is about and which keywords it’s most closely related to, making it easier to sort and rank your video in search results.
Second, on-page optimization increases the chance of your video appearing in organic Google search results for your top keywords, as YouTube videos frequently show up in Google search results for “how to” and informational keywords.
The key on-page ranking factors for YouTube videos are the video’s title, description and meta tags. Of these, your video’s title is the most important factor for establishing its topic, keywords and theme.
YouTube places a 100 character limit on video titles and truncates video titles in search once they exceed 66 characters. This makes it important to cover your key themes near the start of your title for optimal visibility.
Here’s an example of well optimized YouTube video titles, this time for the keyword “decorating tips”:
All of the top-ranked videos feature the main keyword at the beginning of the title, making their subject matter obvious to both viewers and YouTube’s search algorithm.
Optimizing your video description for organic search is also fairly simple. Make sure to use your primary keyword near the beginning of the description, with secondary keywords and variations of your main keyword throughout your copy.
Here’s an example of a well optimized YouTube video description from the top ranked video for the keyword “how to change car oil".
As you can see, it includes the primary keyword - “oil change” - at the beginning of the video description, with secondary keywords like “how to change your oil” and “change the oil in your car” throughout the copy.
Despite including several keywords, it reads naturally and offers a good description of what the viewer can expect from the video without ever feeling like search engine content.
Finally, YouTube uses tags to sort and rank videos. Although tags are no longer public (YouTube removed them from the user interface several years ago due to abuse) content creators are still able to add tags to their videos to improve search visibility.
Using the inspect element tool in Chrome, we can see that the tags for the oil change video we displayed above are related to changing car oil for a variety of popular auto brands:
There’s no need to go overboard with tags. Most of the time, five to 10 tags covering your main keywords are more than enough to give YouTube’s algorithm a good understanding of what your video is about.
If your video targets a niche, uncompetitive keyword, on-page optimization alone might be enough to help you rank and start generating traffic. If not, you can implement the advanced tips below to further strengthen your video’s SEO and rank for your target keywords.
YouTube’s closed caption system makes it far easier for hearing impaired people to enjoy your content. It also gives YouTube more information about your videos by converting audio content - typically spoken content - into words that can be used to assess your video’s subject matter.
Closed captions are a YouTube search ranking factor, and adding them to your videos is a great way to strengthen your SEO and increase the likelihood of your videos appearing for their target keywords in YouTube search.
Adding closed captions to your YouTube videos is simple. Start by going to the Video Manager, then click the video you’d like to edit and choose the “Subtitles/CC” option in the editing menu.
From here, YouTube allows you to manually add closed captions from your browser. You can also upload an existing subtitle file in a variety of formats. YouTube’s guide to creating closed captions and subtitles explains the entire process in a quick one-minute video.
Because YouTube hosts all of its video content, it has access to a far wider range of data points than Google, which largely relies on links, social activity and other third party metrics to assess the value and popularity of a page.
This means that YouTube can easily determine the most popular video on any subject simply by looking at its view count relative to similar videos.
When YouTube first launched, video views were its top ranking factor. Today, while views aren’t the top ranking factor for video content, they’re still an important part of setting your video apart as an authoritative piece of content for its keywords.
In the screenshot below, you can see that the results for the keywords “sydney travel guide” are sorted by their view count, with the most popular videos at the beginning and less popular video content further down the search results:
The easiest way to increase your view count and create popularity for your video content is to promote and share it outside of YouTube.
If you have an established social presence, share your video content on Facebook and Twitter (make sure to link back to your YouTube video, or embed it if possible) to drive traffic and help your video climb up the ranks.
In addition to strengthening your rankings, a higher view count creates social proof by showing viewers that your content isn’t just engaging and helpful, but also highly popular.
Every minute, more than 300 hours of video footage is uploaded to YouTube. Because of the massive amount of content that appears every day, YouTube’s search engine algorithm gives new content a noticeable boost in search visibility to drive traffic and assess performance.
This boost seems to last for anywhere from 24 hours to three months, giving your video a short window in which it’s most likely to be seen by your target audience.
In his brilliant post on Reverse Engineering the YouTube Algorithm, Matt Gielen discovered that a video’s “freshness” - that is, its newness and relevance - play a major role in its placement in YouTube search results and sidebar recommendations.
You can see this ranking boost in action in the screenshot below, where a one-week old video on women’s hairstyles is outranking older content despite having a lower view count and poor title optimization:
Newness is particularly important for keywords that include a date, such as “best speakers for 2017” or “2017 movies.”
The best way to use YouTube’s love of all things new to your advantage is to split your video content into shorter, smaller pieces and upload it on a daily or weekly basis. This tactic is also useful for encouraging your viewers to subscribe to your channel and stay up to date.
Just like Google, YouTube values relevance and freshness. Publish fresh, new video content on a regular basis and you’ll find your content attracting more subscribers and generating far more traffic for your business.
You don’t need a Hollywood budget to create great video. In fact, creating video with a limited budget can often work to your advantage by making your content feel more personal, honest and transparent.
Our guide to creating outstanding video content on a budget covers the basics of digital video content creation and marketing for small businesses and brands that want to branch out into video without the usual costs of content production.
After you’ve created your video, our list of the five secrets of super successful video marketing can guide you towards the most effective ways to promote your video content, generate traffic and strengthen your brand.
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