YouTube SEO: How to optimise your videos and boost rankings

By now, you’ve heard the stats. We could reel them off again, but we won’t. Because in the end, it comes down to one simple fact: YouTube is a video juggernaut.

But you know all that. You’ve set up the channel. Got the ideas. Made the videos. You’ve had a little success – some decent numbers on a couple of videos – and now you want to take it to the next level. The question is, how?

One word (well, one acronym): SEO. You see, SEO isn’t just for Google Search – it’s super important for videos, too. At the end of the day, properly optimized video stands a much better chance of ranking and better ranking means more eyes on your content. Ultimately, that means more cash.

Thing is, you might think you know SEO, but YouTube SEO is a whole different ball game. So, we’re going to show you 5 simple tips to help you get your content ranking.

1. Keyword Research Is Key

Let’s start with the familiar stuff. Google, Bing, Yahoo… it doesn’t matter where you’re searching, keywords are the foundation of all SEO. On that front, YouTube is no different (it is owned by Google, after all). At their most basic, keywords come down to one question: what are your would-be viewers looking for?

The trick to writing a good SEO-friendly YouTube video description is to keep things simple

Usually, the answer can be found in the basic topic of your content. For example, this article’s main keyword would be “YouTube SEO”. Once you’ve figured that out, you can use tools like YouTube Suggests (that’s typing a keyword into the YouTube search bar and seeing what else pops up), Google Trends and Ahrefs’ Keyword Explorer to expand that main keyword into a set of keywords (between 5 and 10).

Once you’ve got your set, you can use them to optimize your YouTube video in 3 key areas:

Your YouTube Title

Make sure your main keyword appears at the front of your title, like how we’ve done it here and here. It’s that simple. Of course, it also has to charm and engage and entice. But that’s for another article.

Your YouTube Video Description

The trick to writing a good SEO-friendly YouTube video description is to keep things simple. Describe clearly exactly what is in the video, using your set of keywords throughout. Again, clarity is key here – we can’t stress that enough.

Your YouTube Tags

YouTube allows you to add specific tags to your video which helps the platform categorize all that content. You want to add between 2 and 5 tags based on your main keyword. The secret here is to keep it relevant.

2. Focus On Your Click-Through Rate (CTR)

This is where things start to get very specific to YouTube. You see, engagement is a big deal on the platform, especially when it comes to SEO. Clickthrough rate (CTR) – the percentage of people that see your video in the search results, and actually click on it – is one of the most important metrics YouTube uses to measure this.

Simply put, the more people YouTube sees clicking through on your videos, the more likely it is to give you a boost up the rankings. Now, with so much noise out there – remember, more than 500 hours of video are uploaded here every minute – there are a couple of tricks you can use to boost your clickthrough rate.

Take the time to make your thumbnails really stand out

Clarifying Brackets

First, try adding brackets and parentheses to your titles. For example, if it’s an interview try [INTERVIEW]. Or, if you’re dishing out the tips, try something like this [5 PROVEN TIPS] as we’ve done for an upcoming episode.

Some research shows that titles that do this increase their click-through by over a third. The theory is that it offers a short preview of your content, using just a few words.

Hard To Resist Thumbnails

Next, take the time to make your thumbnails really stand out. If you didn’t already know, a thumbnail is a small still from your video which appears alongside the title in YouTube’s search bar.

In our experience, it’s well worth making your own custom thumbnails instead of just using a random image from the video. Aim for bold, contrasting (and on-brand) colors. The focus of the image should be on the main person that features in your video, with a supporting background image. If your video doesn’t feature any people, then it needs to powerfully capture the substance of the video very effectively. You should also have a mini title on your thumbnail, around 4–6 words max. It’s worked for us. 

3. Engage, Engage, Engage

Community management is another huge YouTube SEO booster. You know, likes, comments, shares, and subscribers – that sort of thing. The more you get, the higher value your video becomes. As your engagement grows, you’ll climb in the rankings.

But beyond creating engaging YouTube videos, how can you grow your engagement? Well, it goes far beyond responding to comments – you need to be actively encouraging people to leave those comments in the first place. The easiest way to do this is to ask questions.

Avoid open-ended questions and instead try zero-in on easy-to-answer multiple choice. Ultimately, you want to make it as simple as possible for people to respond. Try things like:

  • Did I cover everything here or was there something I missed?
  • Did you find this video helpful?
  • What did you like most about this video?
  • Was there anything you didn’t like about this video?

On top of this, regularly ask your viewers to like, view and subscribe with a call to action. As you’ll probably have noticed from our videos, we like to put one at the start and one at the end. In that CTA, tell people why they should subscribe and follow you. Whether it’s hot tips, expert product reviews, hacks, or interviews… let the viewer know what’s in it for them.

4. Pay Attention To Watch Time

Just like click-through rate and engagement, watch time plays a big part in YouTube SEO. With all three metrics, the theory is pretty much the same: the longer people spend watching your videos, the more relevant they are in the eyes of YouTube.

Here are three ways you can increase your YouTube watch time:

Avoid Clickbait

Make sure your thumbnail and your video’s title accurately reflect the content of your video. If you try to lure viewers in with clickbait, they’ll click off quickly. Nobody likes being duped. It’ll also have a negative impact on your SEO. So don’t do it.

Take Time Planning Your Videos

The best videos are focused, well thought out and meticulously planned. This means writing a script, creating a storyboard, and keeping your video on-point and useful.

Create Useful Playlists For Your Content

Once your video ends, the next one should be related to that topic. For example, we might follow up this video about YouTube SEO (link) with this one about making engaging YouTube content. YouTube allows you to build custom playlists, so you can handpick exactly what your viewers see next.

5. Upload Your Video Transcript

By this point, you’ve done most of the hard work – but there’s one last thing you should do before hitting publish: upload your transcript.

If you’ve stuck to your script (the one you made before your video, remember?), then you’ll pretty much have a transcript ready to go. All you need to do is upload the transcript to your YouTube video, taking some care to match the text with the correct timings of your video and input any differences between the text and the video.

Once uploaded, the transcript will appear as closed captions on your video, which significantly increases the SEO power of your content. There are three reasons for this:

  • The transcript is text, which means Google can crawl your video, boosting your ranking chances significantly. As the script is already crammed with relevant keywords, it’s effectively a classic piece of SEO content
  • It makes your content more accessible. Closed captions are helpful for people with hearing difficulties, maximizing your potential audience numbers
  • Captions are a great way to catch attention on social media. Even if a person is scrolling with the sound off, your video is still useful

Build YouTube SEO Into Your Videomaking Process

So, there you have it, 5 easy steps to SEO-ing your YouTube videos. For the best results, make SEO a part of your videomaking process. Think of it as another step in the checklist alongside planning, scripting, and shooting. The more you invest in YouTube SEO, the better your videos will be – and the more people will see them!