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10 Essential Ways to Optimise your YouTube SEO

Ollie Burrows updated on: 11th Oct 2019

Videos can not only be used to promote a service or product, they can also be used to answer common questions asked by your customers, product demos or how to guides. Since 2016, twice as many small and medium sized businesses are advertising on YouTube (Hootsuite, 2019).

Get the right strategy for your video content, and it can be instrumental in improving brand awareness, generating inbound leads, and building trust with your potential clients.

So before you even start in earnest to produce any video content for your business, the first thing to think about is the strategy behind the content itself.

What is the purpose? Have you researched your topics? Are you delivering content that audiences are hungry for? What actions do you want your viewers to take?

Researching Keywords

Before creating content, it is important to research what your audience is interested in, and the content they are currently watching.

A great way to start is to build a list of keyword ideas. These can be content ideas, services that you offer or issues customers may have. It really helps to put yourself in the customers shoes and think about the content you’d be looking for, and how you would want to be given that information.

Once you have compiled a list of keywords, it is a good idea to research how effective they are, and what the competition is like.

A great way to start is by using YouTube’s Search Suggest feature. Simply head to YouTube and start typing your keyword. You will see a number of autofill options appear, suggesting what you may be searching for. This gives you a good idea of what viewers are searching for when they are using your keyword.

Once you have added these to your keyword list, search some of them on YouTube and look at the results they offer. Here we will be looking for two things: which videos are popular, and how many search results are provided.

If a search result is over 1,000,000 videos, you know that it is a popular topic, but also that the search is too broad and that there is too much competition. You ideally want to find the balance between a search term that is popular, but also doesn't have a lot of competition. This will help immensely in terms of gaining viewers and increasing your rank. For example, “YouTube SEO” generates over 46 million results, while ”YouTube SEO Tutorial 2019” generates 1 million results.

When searching for a keyword, you want to see which videos are getting high views or ranking high in the search, this way you can see what they are doing, to inspire you for content ideas. You can use a free Chrome extension called VidIQ to easily see the keywords the video is using, which when used with the title and description, will give you a good idea of what the popular content is, and how they use the keywords to its maximum potential.

Once you have done your research you’ll have a nice bank of keywords to create the video scripts and content around.

So, how do you optimise YouTube video content once it’s created? Let’s get started…

10 steps to optimise your videos

  1. Include a high volume search keyword when naming your video file for upload
  2. Include a high volume keyword in the video title and make sure it looks natural
  3. Include a video description that is enriched with your chosen keywords
  4. Use timestamps in the description, breaking up your video
  5. Tag the video with your chosen keywords & popular related topics
  6. Assign a relevant category for your video
  7. Make a specially designed custom thumbnail for your video
  8. Enrich your video content with an SRT file to add subtitles and closed captions
  9. Include Cards to encourage viewers to take the desired action
  10. Use End Screens to keep viewers on your channel

1 - Include a high volume search keyword when naming your video file for upload

As mentioned earlier, researching potential target keywords for your video content is an essential element for success. Once you’ve identified the keywords your content will focus on you need to pick the highest volume, most relevant one to use in the file name for your video before you upload it to YouTube.

This is most likely something people skip over, as no-one can actually see the file name of your video. However the YouTube algorithm reads this as well as the other metadata of your file when it is uploaded to the site.

Let’s suppose we are trying to optimise a video for the keyword phrase “YouTube SEO”. Instead of using a default generated title like movie_008FINAL.mov you should rename it so it includes your best and most relevant keyword, eg youtube_seo_tips.mov

While changing the file name may not have a massive impact on your SEO, it is a quick change that can make a difference. As well as helping YouTube understand the content of your video, it also makes it organised for you on your hard drive when it comes to locating the video in the future, rather than having to search for a random file number.

2 - Include a high volume keyword in the video title and make sure it looks natural

One of the deciding factors on whether someone will click on your video or not is the title itself. And creating the perfect title for your video is a bit of an art form, as there are three key rules you need to stick to:

Just like with the file title, using your main keyword is essential, as it is highly likely that it’s what people have used to find your video. And if your video title is similar to their search term, they are more likely to consider your video.

While including the keyword in the title of your video is important, it is more important that it fits in naturally. The title needs to catch the viewers attention, which can be done in the form of a statement, a question, or by giving them a reason to watch your video.

For example, both of the following titles include the keyword, but which title do you find more appealing? “Youtube SEO Tutorial” or “10 easy steps to optimise your YouTube SEO”.

While both titles are effectively telling the same thing, the second one catches the viewer's attention by expanding on the keyword, and using words like ‘easy’ makes the video seem more accessible to anyone looking to optimise their YouTube SEO.

This can also be done in the form of a question, “Do you want to master your YouTube SEO?”, or a statement, “These 10 tips will boost your YouTube SEO”. While having a bold, confident title makes you stand out, it is important to avoid using clickbait.

Using a clickbait title might get more people to click through to your video, but if the content is not what has been promised in the title, this could ultimately affect your rankings if viewers drop off at an early stage, dislike your video and even avoid any future videos you may produce.

Finally, it is worth keeping your title punchy. While expanding on just the keyword is important, be sure to prevent the title from being too long. After 60 characters, the title of your video will be cut off on the search results page. For example “10 easy ways to optimise your YouTube SEO and increase your search rankings fast”, will be displayed as “10 easy ways to optimise your YouTube SEO and increase your…”.


3 - Include a video description that is enriched with your chosen keywords

Writing a good description for your video is one of the most time consuming steps on this list, but it is the place where you get to include all the information you want to relay, and more importantly, your call to actions.

The first 3 lines of your description are the most important, as this is what will be displayed below your video, before the viewer has to click to expand the rest, as well as being displayed in both YouTube and Google search results. If you think of your video title as your opening statement to grab the viewer's attention, consider the first 150 characters in your description as your elevator pitch to hook them in. For this reason it is important to include your main CTA in the first 150 characters, as well as the main keyword. If you want the viewers to expand the description, you need to make the first few lines as enticing as possible. Another method of drawing viewers to your description is to mention it in the video itself. If you have a link you want them to use, or more information, refer to it in the video to really draw attention to it.

YouTube descriptions have a character limit of 5000, and it is a good idea to use this space to its full advantage. In the description you can include a summary of the content of your video, covering the key bits of information for people to look back on after finishing the video, or for viewers who prefer to read the information rather than listen. It is also a great place to include any CTA’s, links to external websites and social media accounts, or any other videos you have produced and want to highlight.

Be sure that your description repeats your desired keywords, as this is picked up by YouTube’s algorithm and can help in terms of ranking the video. However, it is important that, like the title, the keywords appear naturally. For example if you are creating a breakdown of the video content, these keywords should appear naturally, but if you were to just include the keywords in no format, this can affect your video poorly. Not only does it look forced, YouTube actually punishes accounts that do this, whether that be moving your video lower in the rankings, or even banning your video and account altogether.

4 - Break your video up by using timestamps

It’s no secret that YouTube gives preference to longer videos, and they are encouraging creators to produce content that will keep viewers on their site for longer periods of time. The average length of a first page YouTube video is 14 minutes, 50 seconds (Backlinko, 2017).

While people are spending more time on YouTube, not everyone has the time to watch half-hour long videos. So a good method is to keep producing longer videos and utilise timestamps.

Timestamps allow you to provide a link to a specific moment in your video, meaning the viewer can skip ahead to certain sections. A format in which this works perfectly for is the ‘how-to’ videos. This means the video can be broken down into stages, allowing the viewer to skip over the parts they are already familiar with, or if they need to rewatch something, they can easily skip back to the start of that section.

Timestamps can also work well for long interviews by breaking the video into questions, or for documentary style videos, by breaking it down by scene/location.

Timestamps are a quick and easy way to make your video more accessible, while it might not boost your ranking, it will show that you have thought about the viewer.

5. Tag the video with your chosen keywords & popular related topics

Tags are a great way to let YouTube know what your video is about, as well as informing your potential viewers of the broad topic and relevance.

Tags are used by YouTube to make sure they appear in the correct searches, and placing them in suggested videos in the sidebar, which is a great way for attracting new visitors.

To see which tags are being used by similar videos, tools such as Social Blade and VidIQ are services that allow you to see what keywords they have used and how they are performing. This is a great tactic to decide which tags would work best for your video, and how effective they will be.

When it comes to selecting your tags, it is important to start with the keywords you have used throughout your title and description, as these are the searches you are aiming for. YouTube allows up to 500 characters worth of tags, which allows you to list the various topics that are covered in your video. For example, if your main keyword is ‘YouTube SEO’ you can also use tags such as ‘keyword’, ‘timestamps’, ‘YouTube tags’. This allows your video to be picked up in other searches, not just the keywords in your title.

Similarly to your description, it is important to only use tags that are relevant to your video and its content, as YouTube can penalise you for using tags that have no relevance to your video, that you are trying to pick traffic up from.

6 - Assign a relevant category to your content

Assigning a category to your video allows viewers to see what the intended purpose of your video is. You will be asked to select a category when you upload your video, or this can also be accessed in the advanced tab of the editing page.

By selecting the right category for this video, it allows your video to be aligned with similar popular videos, and is another factor used to encourage selection for showing up in the suggested videos sidebar.

While it might seem simple to select a category, creators may often find that their video can fit into multiple categories. If this is the case, it is best to not only decide which suits the purpose of the video, but to check what category the better performing videos for your keywords have used, as these are the ones you will be wanting to align your video with.

7 - Make a specially designed custom thumbnail for your video

As well as the title, the main feature that will grab the viewer's attention is the thumbnail of your video. By using a custom thumbnail, you can create an eye-catching image that will increase the click-through rate.

When you upload a video, YouTube will present you with a few different thumbnail options, which are screenshots throughout the course of your video. It is very rare that these screenshots represent your video in the best way, and by adding text, colours and an interesting image to your thumbnail can make it stand out when people are scrolling through the search results.

Using interesting images and graphics, bright colours and bold text are all great ways to grab people's attention, but it is important to not over do it.

Try to limit the amount of text to a max of five words, and if your videos are for a business, it is important to use fonts and colours relevant to that brand to increase brand awareness and make your videos instantly recognisable.

If your design skills are limited, or you don't have the time to design a custom thumbnail, you can use sites like Fiverr to hire a freelancer to design them for you, for a cheap fee.

In order to use custom thumbnails, you need to first make sure that your channel has been verified by YouTube, which can be done in your account settings. To optimise your thumbnail, it should be 1270x720 pixels or 16:9 ratio, less than 2mb in size and either .jpg, .png, .bmp or .gif format.

8 - Utilise captions to make your video more accessible

Using captions for your videos is not only another great way to utilise YouTubes algorithm, with your script hopefully being full of all the keywords you have researched, but it is also a great way for people to watch your videos without needing the audio.

With more people watching YouTube videos in public, on public transport, or late at night, muted video is the preferred option for many viewers, so for them to be able to ingest all the information, providing accurate subtitles is essential. More than 70% of watch time on YouTube is now generated from mobile devices (Hubspot, 2019).

There are numerous ways to create captions for your video, and picking the right method for you will come down to time and cost.

YouTube now creates an auto generated caption file for your video, and while this can be fairly accurate, it will depend on the quality of the audio and pronunciation. However, in the editing window you can alter these captions manually, correcting any words that it has got wrong, and adjusting the timing. While this can take some time, YouTube has already done most of the work for you.

If you want to get the most accurate titles, you can create an SRT file yourself, using either a text editor or wordpad on your computer. This allows you to type the line, the time it starts and ends, so that you can be sure that the information is correct. While this method is accurate, it can be very time consuming depending on the length of your video.

If you already have a script for your video, this will save you a lot of time, but if not you can use the Voice Typing function in Google Sheets, along with third party software such as Sunflower, to auto transcribe the content of your video. However like YouTube’s auto caption feature, this is not completely accurate.

If you are struggling for time to create captions, you can outsource it to a service like Rev, which will charge $1 per minute of video to create your SRT file for you. This will free up your time, but obviously will come with a cost depending on the length of the video.

For more information on how to create your own subtitles, here is a more detailed step by step process: https://support.google.com/youtube/answer/2734796?hl=en-GB

9 - Include Cards to encourage viewers to take the desired action

Cards allow you to highlight points throughout the course of the video and keeps your viewers interacting with your video, asking them to take action.

Cards come in various forms, but will usually pop up in the top right corner at a relevant point in your video. Cards can either be links to other videos or channels, links to associated websites, or polls.

They are great to use as CTAs to keep your viewers either watching your content, or being directed to your website, and can be used throughout your video.

For more information on how to fully utilise cards, YouTube provides a detailed overview: https://support.google.com/youtube/answer/6140493?co=GENIE.Platform%3DDesktop&hl=en

10 - Use End Screens to keep users on your channel

End Screens can be added to the last 5 to 20 seconds of a video and can be used to promote other videos, playlists or to encourage viewers to subscribe or take other action.

End Screens are a great way to keep people on your channel by promoting one or two previous videos you have created that are relevant to the video they just watched.

To create an End Screen, you will need to design a template that can be added to the last 5-20 seconds of your video (this length will depend on how long you want it on screen for), as this will need to be added before the video is uploaded.

Once the video is uploaded, you can then place video and subscribe links on the screen, which will become active when the viewer is watching your video.

Instructions on how to add them can be found here: https://support.google.com/youtube/answer/6388789?hl=en-GB&ref_topic=9257785

It is worth noting that End Screens may not always be shown on your video, they are displayed at the discretion of YouTube as they test them to optimise the viewer experience.

Next Steps

If you follow all these steps, you are giving yourself a real advantage in terms of ranking your videos. Ultimately the amount of views you get and how highly your video is ranked will rely on the content of your video, but using these tips will give you a good ground to get more people watching your videos, and building an audience.