How to master video SEO, pt. 1: metadata and thumbnails

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If a picture is worth a thousand words, how much is a video worth? Well, to search engines, the answer is “a lot.” Here are some tips on how to tweak your video metadata for search engine optimization (SEO) so that people looking for things to watch on Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc. can happily stumble upon your videos.

Make your title snappy

The title is usually the top line of text that will display in search results. While it’s great to have a unique and catchy name for your video, it’s also important to keep your title descriptive using keywords. The more broadly descriptive your title is, the more likely it is that your video will appear when people search for those keywords. Oh, and the title in search results usually gets truncated around 65 characters, so make sure you front-load your title with the most important words.

If you want new people to discover your video, it makes sense to describe it in the terms that people are searching for. Take this video created by Brad Kremer, for example. In his title, he includes both the film’s name (“Hayako”) as well a brief description of the content (“A Time-lapse Journey Through Japan”). Adding the descriptive, keyword-rich part of the title helped Brad’s video appear in Google when searching for “Japan timelapse.”

That being said, it’s important not to stuff random keywords into your video title for the sake of appearing in lots of searches. If your video title and description do not accurately reflect the content of your video, search engines may penalize you. Beware the wrath of the crawler.*

*Though technically, the crawler is independent of the ranking algorithm, so the wrath comes in at the ranking portion, which isn’t necessarily tied to crawl behavior. But that didn’t sound nearly as catchy.

Be descriptive in your description

This is the text “blurb” that will usually appear in search results below your title. Start your description with a hook that catches the audience’s attention immediately, and keep in mind that only the first 110 characters or so will appear before your description is truncated in search results.

Offline Dating” does a great job reeling in potential viewers with the first line of its description: “Last weekend my single friend Tom challenged himself to find his next date — OFFLINE.” The short and sweet sentence tells you exactly what the film is about while also leaving you wanting more.

Beyond the first 100 or so characters, use the rest of the description to tell the audience about your video in more detail. Credit your cast and crew, note the equipment you used to shoot and edit your film, and include any other key components of creating your video. The description is also a great place to include links to your social media pages or website. While these may not boost your search engine rankings, your collaborators and fans will certainly appreciate the information.

Looking for an example to follow? Identity Visuals packs their “SOLUS” video description with tons of relevant and interesting information and links.

Nail your thumbnail

You know how they say, “Don’t judge a book by its cover?” Well, everyone tends to do it anyway, so make sure your video thumbnail stops people in their tracks and draws them in. After all, your thumbnail will be the face of your video all across the interwebs. On Vimeo, you can choose a frame from your video to use as your thumbnail, or upload any image you want.

While an arresting thumbnail won’t boost your search result rankings, a striking image with great composition (these tips on film composition and framing also apply for stills, FYI!) will entice potential viewers to click through to your video. A stunning thumbnail is especially important for mobile (web browser and in-app) and over-the-top (like Apple TV or Chromecast) viewing, where your video’s title and thumbnail are your primary means of communicating to potential viewers.

You can include text in your thumbnail or simply let the picture speak for itself. We’ve seen both techniques do well. For instance…

With its beautiful colors and a classy, simple title overlay, “Calbuco” offers a mesmerizing thumbnail that entices you to click through:

Sometimes your thumbnail needs a little explanation to draw people in, and that’s OK. Add a subtitle to your thumbnail and show off your film laurels to boost interest:

One trend we’ve noticed on Vimeo is that color thumbnails tend to get better click-through rates than black and white ones. That being said, sometimes you’ll want to go with the aesthetic choice over the analytical choice. Black and white can be just as eye-catching as color, especially if your thumbnail captures the right moment mid-action:

Now that you’re well-versed in video SEO basics, go forth and conquer the online video world! Or, dig in for more helpful pro tips from us to you.

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