The Advanced Guide to YouTube SEO

The Advanced Guide to YouTube SEO

There’s no doubt that in the world of online video, YouTube is an unstoppable juggernaut. More than 1 billion users watch hundreds of millions of hours of video each and every day, and the monthly viewing statistics are up 50% year over year.

Half of these views are now on mobile devices with revenue up 100% yearly. In the minute it took you to read this over 300 hours worth of content was uploaded to YouTube; was your video one of them?

There’s no doubt your business can benefit from having video content properly optimized to share in this video consumption, and the benefits to mastering YouTube are many.

How YouTube Ranking Algorithms Works

Just like our trusted Google search, YouTube uses a complex ranking algorithm to figure out what videos it wants to display to its users, and of course takes in each users individual viewing habits into consideration when showing results.

And let’s also remember that just like the core Google search algorithm, YouTube will constantly change both on page and off page factors when determining a videos’ rank – the goal is to constantly deliver the most relevant video results to its users. The experience of YouTube must always be as robust and relevant to it’s users as YouTube can provide.

Content & Keyword Discovery: What Does YouTube Look For?

Content, Content, Content

Having a successful YouTube channel isn’t something you create over a week and then forget about. Think about all the production and costs that go into creating all the content for say, a major cable network – pretty heavy stuff huh? While your little YouTube channel will be far, far from the size of an actual TV channel, preparing for the mindset of one will help in understanding the type of work required to have a successful channel.

This includes well-produced, HD flagship “evergreen” content produced on a regular basis, combined with teasers, behind-the-scenes videos, video blogs – the list can go on and on.

There is an insatiable demand for fresh content out there so be ready to stay in the game for the long haul – remember, there’s competition ready to take your place if you’re not serious about your content production.

Find Video Ideas and Keywords

So, you know you need to create a consistent stream of quality content, but are stumped on where to begin? Luckily YouTube is pretty consistent in knowing the types of videos that suit the service best, and you can easily take these and apply them to your specific content. As Backlinko points out, YouTube consistently favors the following types of videos: “how-to” videos, product/service reviews, tutorials, sports or fitness related content, and anything that can be deemed “cute” (we all know how popular kittens are on the web).

Look at existing Google results to see if there are any videos showing up already in the top 10 results – if there are, that means you’ve stumbled on a good keyword phrase and with the right optimization should have no problem competing for a spot!

Shooting Great Video

So now you’ve got your content list and schedule in place and are ready to shoot your content. A big optimization trick as of late is creating longer videos – YouTube tracks how viewers interact with the video, especially how much time is spent into watching one.

So the longer your video is, and the longer a viewer spends watching the video, influences the ranking algorithm quite a bit, as it tells YouTube that your videos are interesting and engaging. (Just don’t overdo it – some viewers are turned off by long videos.) Your job is to deliver the best content as possible, so at the end of the day the better your production value, the better shot your video has for ranking for those coveted keywords.

“On-Page” YouTube Signals

The Video File

It’s a given that you know your way around the technical aspects of shooting, editing, and saving video files, or that you’re working with a team who is doing this for you. One element you can control yourself before uploading videos is something simple – naming the actual file with a short file name. Make use of keywords and hyphens in the file name, much like you would saving a picture for SEO purposes in code.

Optimize Channel Image

If you’re starting a new YouTube channel, let’s start first with a little-known technique that involves optimizing the image you use for the channel header. It’s as simple as choosing a jpeg file and editing the actual file’s title, description, and author properties. Include keywords where they make sense, just like you would use in a web page’s title tag and meta description.

Header Links

In the header section you’ll have the option to add links to give your guests paths to learn more about the people behind the scenes of the videos they watch. Add header links to your main website and social profiles, authoritative sites, sister channels you may run, etc. You’ll have up to 14 options at your disposal, so max them out if possible to relevant content where it makes sense for the user.

Channel Description

A pretty self-explanatory optimization step is filling out a keyword-rich description for your channel – try to use related semantic keywords without being too spammy, and construct a proper discussion that reads well for new users to describe an overview of your channel.

Create Sub Playlists

Many channel creators upload all their videos into one main playlist, but YouTube gives you the ability to actually create multiple playlists under one channel roof. Separate your channel into a sub-list of topic ideas and then create playlists for each of those, giving users a better navigation option to drill down into your content. Create multiple channels and cross-pollinate videos to shared playlists – this further exposes videos to others and builds internal links.

Optimize Channel Navigation

Once you have a good number of videos uploaded to your channel and organized into playlists, you can enable various activity feed settings with options to and save and display these playlists and set featured videos. These will then be accessible to users when viewing your channel’s homepage.

Favorite Channels

Next, you’ll want to add some additional channels for your users to explore. You only want to choose a few so you’re not watering down your choices. In addition to selecting any sister channels you run (so long as they have a direct correlation to the channel you’re creating), make sure to choose a few popular and authoritative channels that relate to yours as well.

Video Titles and Description

Now that our channel is ready to go, you need to check the optimization of each video. This starts with giving your videos proper titles, (again just like a title tag in a web page), and then featuring a proper description, written for to entice viewers to hit the play button while also including semantic keywords.

This is also a fantastic place to include a Call-to-Action to learn more about you and include links to other web destinations. You can also entice users to sign up to an email list, product page, or other conversion-oriented landing page.

Closed Captions

Just like on television, you have the ability to add closed captioning to your videos as well, including a written script of your audio for the hearing-impaired to read alongside your video. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that your script is bound to be keyword-heavy and contribute to your video’s optimization!

Comment Optimization

Believe it or not, you can sneak some extra keyword rich text and CTA’s right under your main description by simply being the first to comment on it! Keep it short and as an “afterthought” to your original description, or as a way to add further commentary and to entice viewers to participate in the discussion.

“Off-Page” YouTube Signals


It’s been a clear signal for quite some time now that having others embed your video tells YouTube that you’ve done a good job at creating some quality content. It’s one thing to get an important link to a video directly, but getting one embedded in an article or blog post takes things to the next level. Creating or influencing authoritative websites that embed your videos into relevant content is hands down a great way to influence search results.


Unless you’ve been hiding under your bed for the last 10 years, you probably know a thing or two about SEO and that Google’s algorithm (still) is based on high-quality, inbound links as a ranking signal. There’s nothing new here when it comes to getting those YouTube videos ranked as well – getting relevant links from authoritative sources is a no-brainer. However, it’s not as easy as it once was and there’s another part of the equation at play, which brings us to…

Social Signals

It’s frustrating to try to wrap your head around all the things Google is looking for when trying to get anything ranked, be it web page or YouTube video. At the end of the day though, it’s easy if you think about it this way: Google wants signals (including links) from websites that real people use. You can go out and build 10 links from 10 websites that may be relevant, but if none of those links are from real websites that real people use, Google won’t care. Same goes for those links you built – the big G will know if those links are worth anything based on the site’s own link analysis.

That’s where your social signals come into play. The most popular websites out there are social media networks and apps. So it’s looking for action from Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and the list goes on and on. In order for your videos and links to rank and look relevant in YouTube’s algorithm, it’s going to look at signals of real people sharing and discussing your content. If your content is stellar and you can find the influencers, you should have no problem making this happen!

Additional Tools and Resources

Editor note: we don’t have any affiliations with any of the tools listed.

Remember the Goal

Too many times channel creators over think their SEO strategies before really focusing on the things that matter – things like why you’re starting a channel in the first place, setting up the right processes to creating content, finding the right kinds of topics to cover, having good production methods in place, understanding the technology behind it all, and other important factors when getting involved in video production. Sure, technology has come a long way in the last twenty years to allow us all to create high-quality production from home, which is even more of a reason to do it right the first time.

Before you get started, ask yourself why you’re creating your channel in the first place. What purpose does it serve? Understand the audience you’re catering to. Do your due diligence and see how the production values of your competition compares to yours. We mentioned earlier that the more engaging your videos are, the higher they will rank. Does your video production make me want to keep watching?

You can try to rank low quality videos all day long, but will those rankings help you achieve your business goals? Ranking in YouTube is no different from in the SERPs – video views are meaningless unless it helps the greater goal. Make sure you put the sweat equity into creating the best content as possible and you’ll reap the rewards YouTube’s platform has to offer.

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