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YouTube SEO: Optimizing Videos for YouTube Search

YouTube SEO - Optimizing Videos For YouTube Search

When it comes to video content online, most people’s minds go straight to thoughts of YouTube. YouTube is the largest video platform from 2005 to date. It has evolved into a realm of humor, educational videos, engaging streaming content, and community interaction with creators who enjoy giving their audience a live experience. With that being said, YouTube is highly competitive for viewers, creators, and anyone who wants to share their videos to be seen at all. As a matter of fact, there are 3 main goals for anyone who shares videos on this platform:

  • Gain Followers

  • Increase Views

  • Get Engagement Through Comments & Shares

With the world’s largest search engine, Google, powering the world’s largest video platform, it’s helpful to know how to optimize your videos in order to attain all 3 goals. Here are some key tips on how to go from little viewership to being one of the front-running competitors in search engines by utilizing these YouTube SEO strategies.

Table of Contents

What is YouTube SEO?

YouTube SEO is the process of optimizing your YouTube videos and channel to increase their visibility in YouTube's search results. This involves a variety of strategies and techniques aimed at helping your videos rank higher when users search for content related to your video's topic.

If you are looking for your uploaded video to show up in user’s search results, you need to first know what YouTube SEO actually is. SEO, first of all, stands for Search Engine Optimization. Search engines have the goal of finding the best answer to the best question the user is asking. For example, if someone wants a video tutorial on how to change the air filter in their home, Google will show the best results for that question from the most popular video it can find on the most popular platform.

Although Yahoo, Bing, and other search engines do not run YouTube, they will likely recommend similar results based on their programming and algorithms. Even within YouTube itself, there is a built-in search engine that leads the viewer to the best results of what the user is searching for. This can lead the viewer to entire channels of interest as well as additional videos that can be helpful or recommended.

The goal is not only to lead you to a relevant answer but to keep you engaged to the sites it leads you to. If you find yourself on YouTube, the higher-ranking videos will be shown first, along with those that have a high view count, those with excellent tags, and those with excellent descriptions. If your videos are not in the top search results, then there's a high probability that you aren’t taking the important steps needed to optimize your videos.

Why YouTube SEO is Important

Utilizing SEO is one of the most important things you can do for your video content. Why create content on a popular platform, if no one can see it? It just wouldn’t make sense and would be a complete waste of time. So what can SEO do for you and your videos?

  • More Views for an Audience: Ranking content higher will lead viewers to see your video first and will continue to increase the likelihood of others seeing it as well

  • Cost Efficiency: Uploading content is no cost to the creator and by taking the time to optimize it effectively, you can save yourself the expense of having someone else do this for you

  • Organic Website Boosting: Once your video shows up higher in the rankings, you can clearly see users begin their online journey to your website, to your e-commerce, and can even build brand awareness with your company.

  • Opportunities Turn Into Conversions: As the views begin to soar, so does the amount of engagement with your viewers. As engagement increases, viewers are even more likely to share your content with others which generally leads to product/service conversions. Ranking better in the search results tells viewers that your content is relevant, it is trustworthy, and are more likely to purchase from you.

  • Competition: If you aren’t optimizing your content to be found first, your competition certainly will. Once you outperform your competitors by showing up before they do, you become a leader in the category that you represent.

YouTube is such a grand and vast social media platform with a wealth of all kinds of information available to the masses. So many major brands and even small-time creators have found themselves growing exponentially by utilizing YouTube and Google SEO for videos. Even with some who lack a strong competitive advantage, with just a few tips and tricks can find yourself outranking other creators who don’t use the tools to outperform competitors.

How YouTube Video Rankings Work

How YouTube Video Rankings Work

You already know that YouTube provides search results based on relevance but what are some of the other factors that this social media powerhouse considers when one piece of content is ranked above another? One of the major factors is something called keywords. Keywords are specific terms or phrases that give others information about your videos and channel. Key terms help YouTube find your target audience and help others see the specific content they want to engage with as they type what they are looking for in the helpful little search box.

Performance is another factor that YouTube focuses on when it comes to rankings. Performance is based on, whether viewers are engaging by clicking the link to your YouTube content, whether they are staying engaged and watching the full duration, and whether others are engaging at all by leaving feedback. If your media is not “performing” well, it won’t rank well either.

Lastly, a very important factor that can be often overlooked is the technical quality of your videos when it comes to YouTube rankings. Many creators use small cameras and even their cell phones to produce content. Although quality on cell phones has come quite a long way, some of the older videos produced can be grainy or even blurry. Compared to 4K, an older video of lesser quality will likely drop in the rankings or may not even be found at all. Currently, 1080p or higher quality is required on YouTube which means that outdated content will be dropping off in ranking results so keeping content fresh is just as important.

YouTube SEO Tips & Tricks

Now that you know what YouTube Search Engine Optimization is and how YouTube ranks its content, it’s time to get into the nitty-gritty of what content creators can do to jump to the top of the rankings and how to get found by new users. Some are simple, and some may take a little extra time. The key is a lot of patience, a lot of hard work, and consistency over time.

YouTube Channel Keywords Example

Example of keywords for YouTube Channel @GhostHuntingBeauties

Strategic Keywords & Tags

As we mentioned before, choosing the right keywords is crucial when it comes to ranking above other relevant media in the YouTube search results. These target search terms need to be added to your title for starters, your tags, and in the description when posting. The keyword competition is very strong on this platform so doing your research can mean the difference between being found first and not being found at all. If you want the masses to watch your content, it’s important to pick terms that can compete with others but using only broad key terms or irrelevant search terms can cause you to get lost in the sea of creators.

Keyword Types

When it comes to keywords, any word out there just won’t do. It takes strategy and knowing what types of key phrases or words are needed. For starters, there are 3 types of keywords:

  1. Primary Keywords - These keywords are generally broader, extremely competitive among other keywords, and are challenging when it comes to ranking for them. For example, if you have a video about traveling to Europe, you would use the keyword “Travel”. It’s difficult due to the volume required to rank in the video search results but still an important category for those searching for it.

  2. Secondary Keywords - These keywords are not as broad or popular as primary keywords, have fewer users searching for them, and are more effortless when it comes to ranking for them. For example, if you have a video about women in business, you would use the keywords “women in business” to keep it more specific.

  3. Long-tail keywords - These keywords are very specific, are lengthier, represent more of a niche, and usually tie into the primary as well as secondary keywords. For example, if you have a video about animal rescue, you might add a location such as “bulldog rescue in Houston Texas”.

To choose the right target keywords, think about the specific content you are producing and the audience you want to gain. If you have content about French Bulldogs and their health, using the keyword “dogs” would be far too broad to use alone. However, using the term “French bulldog health” may earn you more traction by being more specific when choosing your secondary and long-tail keywords.

Keyword Research

Keyword research can honestly take up quite a bit of time and that time can be wasted if not done properly. One way to effectively research keywords is by visiting other relevant media to compare keywords. Using equal comparisons can give a creator a bit of an advantage as well as insight. Keywords are not visible without a few extra steps in order to make them viewable.

  • Step 1 - Go to

  • Step 2 - At the top of the page, in the search box, search for similar videos or channels with specific niches close to yours

  • Step 3 - Go to the video portion on the video and click the video you specifically want to view that you feel is relevant

  • Step 4 - Right-click on the video to open the source code of the video page to search for the keywords.

For those who are far too busy or have not as much time to invest as other video creators, using keyword SEO tools for research can be greatly beneficial. So many apps and tools help to optimize YouTube videos and make the process a lot easier for busy people who just don’t have the time in the day to continuously search for relevant keywords. Some of these useful YouTube SEO tools are WordStream’s Free Keyword Tool, SEMRush, Google Keyword Planner, Ahrefs, Google Trends, VidIQ, Keywords Everywhere, and Moz. These are not necessarily specific to YouTube keywords but still can be helpful in the long run or if you are in a time crunch and can still help to optimize YouTube for SEO.

YouTube results for the term "SEO Keyword  Research Strategy"

YouTube results for the term "SEO Keyword Research Strategy"

Strategic Keyword Placement

Now that you know what keywords are, the types of keywords, and how important keyword research is, the next step is where to place them. Several places require tags and all build upon each other to make your YouTube SEO strategy a game changer. Some places require specific tags while others will require the long-tail keywords we talked about earlier. So let's talk about best practices.

One of the first keyword placements belongs in the eye-catching video title. This title is usually the point of interest that draws the attention of the viewer and gets them ready to engage with your video by clicking. YouTube uses titles to rank your content and to index it as well.

Check out our article on Competitive Keyword Analysis Techniques!


Keywords should also be placed at the beginning of the video title and not at the end. For example, if you had a video about picking apples, your title should read “Picking Apples in the Summer” versus “In the Summer We Were Picking Apples”. Keeping the keywords at the beginning of the title also ensures that Google is more likely to recommend your content as well. If you have a product you are advertising or discussing, be sure to use the product name in the video title as well as the description.

Keep it simple! Remember not to overuse your keywords as well. This could backfire and cause YouTube to penalize your content by not showing them as often. To Google, this can look like spam when keywords are overused!

One of the best ways to help search volume is to put strategic keywords in the description. Your video description needs as many tags as possible but be sure not to stray into excessive information or keywords that aren’t fully relevant. When you are in the brainstorming phase, try looking up synonyms to popular or relevant keywords as well.

Remember that Google and YouTube are using your video description as part of their algorithm. This means that each of your keywords here needs to accurately represent the content of your video. Using accurate keywords in your description can increase the chances you have as a creator as ranking for these terms.

Finally, another important place to place keywords is not as well known as some of the other obvious choices. This would be placing the keywords in the video file. Your file name should have the keywords in it too in order to increase your chances of being found and to help your content stand out. For example, if you have a video about a certain book title, then the title should be listed in the actual file name as well (e.g., LivingWithChronicIllness.mp4). This will certainly help you in the rankings. SEO strategies for YouTube begin from the very moment your video is uploaded to help identify to users what they are looking for.

Captions & Transcriptions Are Crucial

A little-known fact about watching online videos is that over 80 percent of users watch them with captions on and even muted at times. With our lives becoming busier and busier, people find themselves on YouTube during times when blasting a video in public is considered socially unacceptable. With our attention spans becoming shorter, this leads us to mute our devices and turn the captions on while we sit in waiting rooms, ride public transportation, and even on our lunch breaks.

Captions are also a great way to show that you are inclusive to those who are hearing impaired. With over 25 million people in the United States who suffer from mild hearing loss or full impairment, adding captions just makes sense. You don’t miss out on providing a great experience for all of your audience. Remember that your goal is to provide the best user experience and by providing it with captions, you increase your chances of not only having someone watch your video but keeping your audience engaged for the entirety.

Since the YouTube algorithm can’t read the images uploaded or even the videos themselves, having text or relevant code is important. This is why providing a transcription can be very useful as people begin to look for content that applies to them. This can be manually done by the creator or it can be done with the tools provided by YouTube itself. It's just another way to help YouTube understand the context of your media and optimize your video for search.

YouTube Video SEO - Video Length Matters

Optimize Your Video Length: The Longer The Better

As we mentioned before, one of the ways YouTube SEO works is through rankings, and watch time applies here when it comes to showing up higher in the search rankings. Your initial goal should always be to capture the viewer’s attention but keeping their attention is even more challenging. By providing a lengthier video that is engaging, you become positioned to outrank your competition.

How long does your video average need to be to have the masses watch a video? The average length needs to be anything longer than 11 minutes. Anything in the range of 5 minutes or less isn’t shown in the first positions of the video results. The longer you keep your audience captivated, the more likely you are to find yourself in the first few results.

Categories Are Critical For Optimization

When it comes time to upload your content, one of the first options you have for customization comes in the form of selecting a category. Channels & videos will generally get placed into an organized category, to help others find the right type of media they are interested in. Some of these categories are:

  • Gaming

  • Music

  • Autos & Vehicles

  • Film & Animation

  • Sports

  • Entertainment

  • Pets & Animals

  • People & Blogs

  • News & Politics

  • Science & Technology

  • Howto & Style

  • Travel & Events

  • Education

  • Comedy

Thumbnail Image Selection

A thumbnail is a quick snapshot of your video that catches your viewer’s attention as you scroll through search results. A thumbnail is the first representation of your content that can entice potential viewers to click on your video or keep them scrolling. Having an eye-catching thumbnail is VITAL to optimize for YouTube search, increase your video clicks, and even increase watch time. A thumbnail can be a created graphic or even an engaging screenshot of part of the video.

Choosing a thumbnail can be fairly simple. YouTube generates several results for you to choose from or you can upload one yourself if you have taken the time to have your account verified. The thumbnails should be 1280X720 with a width of 640 pixels and must be in a JPG, GIF, or PNG format. For size specifications, it also must be under 2 megabytes unless you have a podcast which can be 10 megabytes or under.

Here’s how to add a thumbnail:

  1. Open up and sign in to YouTube Studio from your desktop, android, or Apple device

  2. On the left side menu, select your content

  3. Select the video that you would like to make edits to

  4. Choose from either the automatically generated thumbnail or upload a pre-created thumbnail from your photos or files.

  5. Select the SAVE button to save your work and display your thumbnail

Examples of YouTube End Screens

Add End Screens & Cards

If you aren’t familiar with cards and end screens, you aren’t alone. The interactive boxes you see on display inside of the videos themselves are known as YouTube cards. These usually ask watchers to subscribe or even recommend other related videos for the viewer to watch with their on-screen recommendations. You can also use cards to take viewers to an external link or as an optional teaser about the next video coming up.

In each video, you can add up to 5 cards, but how do watchers interact with it? Once your card is displayed, viewers can hover over the player. From that point, the viewer can click the content. This will then take you to the desired viewpoint, video, or desired action set up by the video creator.

End screens are almost self-explanatory. These are similar to the cards found during the video but they are found at the very end instead. This also promotes other videos, displays popular playlists for recommendations, and as always, encourages subscriptions. These last about 5 seconds and can go up to 20 seconds. End screens also need very concise and clear calls-to-action. This can be “click here” or “subscribe now”.

Another good point to remember is not every video qualifies for an end screen or card. The video must be at least 25 seconds long, must not be listed as “made for kids”, must not be a 360 video, and cannot be a flash video.

★BONUS TIP: Work on customizing your end screen in the YouTube Studio content section by applying templates, working on timing the elements, and working on placement.

Optimize YouTube Viewer Engagement

Everyone knows that watch time is highly important for YouTube SEO but getting the audience to engage is just as important as well. What is viewer engagement? Viewer engagement is when a viewer leaves a comment under a video, clicks the like button, shares it with others, or becomes a subscriber. The algorithm LOVES engagement! This shows the search engines that this content isn’t just fantastic to watch, but others find value in it.

How can a YouTube video creator do this? For starters, during your video, ask viewers to leave comments. You can also ask users to share videos with their friends or family as well. You can also encourage viewers to subscribe by providing bonus content for subscribers. If viewers do not engage with the provided video, the impact will be the ranking dropping off.

Timestamps For YouTube

Timestamps Are Helpful For Your YouTube Channel

What are Timestamps

When it comes to breaking up videos into smaller sections, timestamps can be greatly helpful. Timestamps, also known as chapters, are timed sections of videos that allow viewers to skip to, refer back to, or access a certain section of the video they find interesting. Although this can be used to not watch the video in its entirety, it can also be seen by YouTube as a form of engagement while users watch certain portions of the provided content, repeatedly.

Why Are Timestamps Useful

With longer videos, many viewers find themselves without having the time to watch videos from start to finish. By providing chapters or timestamps, viewers are allowed to skip to certain portions, versus possibly not watching the video at all. With the increased engagement, you will rank better with this YouTube SEO strategy in place.

Another benefit of timestamps is Google uses them as references to help users find your video by using the feature called Key Moments. Google uses this to crawl through your content and gives you an additional opportunity to be found. With this enhanced experience provided for viewers, Google will find your videos with timestamps not only to be relevant but also convenient.

How To Decide Timestamp Placement

When you think of timestamps, think of headings or titles of a chapter. Throughout the watching of your video, find and highlight important parts. If you have a How-To video for example, each step may be labeled as a chapter or a timestamp for people to follow along with. If you have a video that answers viewer questions, each question could be highlighted individually.

If you don’t have any organization to your video, find the important points and give them important labels that align with your keywords. Find moments that are deemed notable or have value with viewers. This shows Google that your timestamps have specific values and also ranks your video in search results. Another tip is to add the chapters or timestamps to the video description as well as an additional guide to your content.

Here is an example of how Timestamps will appear:

  • 00:00 How to Care for Your French Bulldog (This coincides with the video title and should always start with 00:00 to allow viewers to start with the beginning of your video content)

  • 00:21 Why French Bulldogs Need Special Care (At least 10 seconds should be spaced between each chapter)

  • 00:33 Vet Care Recommendations for French Bulldogs (Make sure you have at least 3 timestamps per video uploaded at a minimum in order for timestamps to be seen as useful)

  • 00:50 Feeding Tips & Tricks for French Bulldogs

Build Appealing Playlists

In a sea of millions of videos on this vast YouTube channel, building YouTube playlists is greatly helpful for YouTube SEO. If your channel has a variety of videos, it can help users find the content they desire by having playlists. It also helps YouTube recommend your channel based on the topics that you have listed or have covered. It is said that at least 37 percent of users will binge-watch videos so by providing appealing playlists, it can allow the user to go from one video seamlessly to the next one.

For example, if your channel covered movie reviews, you might organize playlists by movie genre, decades/eras, or movie titles. This also creates a great user experience for viewers to stay on your channel by selecting their interests and letting the desired playlist run while they view it comfortably from their phone or desktop.

Promote Your Videos and Your Channel

The challenge we hear most from people who are trying to build their channel is how can I get viewers or let people know I have a channel in the first place? This can be done by using promotions for your videos or by promoting your channel. This is generally done from outside channel setup. There are several ways you can promote your channel.

  • Promote the videos on an external website

  • Embed your videos into an email marketing campaign

  • Use social media channels to post your videos such as LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, or even TikTok.

  • Post in social groups online, forums, or other group chat sites.

  • Use them when replying to relevant comments


With so many influencers out there with millions of followers, it just makes sense to watch what they do to learn from them. Even better would be to find influencers with similar interests who want to work with you to help you gain more followers. However, the larger the follower count they have, the more they may ask to be compensated for, or may not want to work with you at all if your audiences overlap.

Influencers have loyal followers and fan bases. When the popular creator recommends you, your product, your service, or your channel, trusting users will begin to flock your way. In most cases, the influencer gets compensated by offering cross-promotions or allowing you to be a featured sponsor. With smaller influencers, you can even work out deals that work best for both parties.

When selecting an influencer, be sure you do your research. Find someone who can greatly benefit you as well. For example, if you have videos featuring beautiful hand-made necklaces, you might want to partner with someone who sells hand-made earrings to pair with them. This can maximize profits and encourage users to have an even better experience with their purchase. Redirecting users from one high-traffic YouTube channel to another begins to bode well with the algorithm on the search engines.

Schedule Live Sessions

One of the most engaging ways you can utilize your YouTube SEO is by going live. This gives users a chance in real-time to leave comments, share videos, and watch what you are all about. This is also another way to answer questions for the viewers. By hosting live Q&A sessions, users are more likely to feel heard, and valued and provide continuous engagement.

What else can going live do for your channel?

  • Boost your overall watch time

  • Provide interactive group experiences

  • Builds brand-to-customer relationships

BONUS TIP: Pin a prompt at the top of your live chat so viewers can submit questions or answer your question posted. This will encourage additional engagement and keep conversations going for extended periods.

Be Consistent

If you don’t have a consistent pattern of posting, viewers can fall off quickly. People tend to enjoy routine. By providing a schedule of when videos will be uploaded, users have a reason, and time and can arrange their schedule accordingly so the new video content can be viewed. For example, if you have high traffic & engaging videos, set a date and time that everyone knows they will be uploaded such as 5 PM on Thursday every week. Not only is this great for users, but it shows Google that you are an active user and will more than likely recommend you versus someone else who hasn’t posted in a year or two.

Editing and Updating - Optimize Your YouTube Videos For Search

If you have been on the YouTube platform for a while, your videos can sometimes become stale or outdated depending on what was posted or if it has run its course for viewers. One way to combat this is to go back to your older videos and update them. You can go back to update to a more relevant title, change the description tags to ones that match more current topics, or even refresh that thumbnail by giving it a new image.

Add an Audio Track

Most viewers can agree that having light music in the background can change the emotions of the person who is watching. It can also set the tone or mood to match what the video is trying to convey. For example, if you have a video of cute kittens, your audio track should be playful and happy. If you have a video sharing a sad story, then the audio track should reflect music or sounds that have a somber match. This can all be done in the YouTube Studio as long as the video is shorter than 6 hours or has less than 100,000 views.

Provide Higher-Quality Videos

Although the majority of users on YouTube now use their cell phones, providing videos that appear to be of higher quality will rank higher than someone using an outdated camera or flip phone with poor resolution. Although I’m sure everyone covets the most expensive high-end cameras & lighting, most cannot afford high-end productions. Besides, it's very well known that most YouTube users do NOT respond well to very sleek and polished videos.

For those who have a lighter budget but want to provide higher-quality value videos, here are a few things you can do without breaking the bank.

  • Invest in Tripods. Tripods can be fairly inexpensive and can help your videos avoid that shaky sensation so your users don’t get motion sickness

  • Use a microphone. Microphones vary in their price range but finding one on sale or one that has been refurbished can cut your cost instead of your sound quality

  • Choose a background without clutter. Backgrounds are important so make sure its a simple one and doesn’t distract the viewer

  • Invest in Lighting. For cell phone videos, many use inexpensive ring lights to light up the user and to make sure the subject is well seen.

Pay Attention to Analytics To Rank Videos

Your YouTube analytics are your best reference to determine the past performance of your videos and your future successes. By looking over your analytics, you can see where you did well and where you need to improve in future videos. These metrics can be very broad or very detailed. You can review your watch time. You can dive into the impressions to see how many viewers are seeing your videos after visiting the homepage. You can even see how they got there or where they found your content.

YouTube SEO is Worth It To Rank Higher

Now that you know what YouTube SEO is, how it works, and even the best tips to make your YouTube SEO work for you, you can see that it holds great value when it comes to grow your YouTube channel. With YouTube being one of the largest platforms in existence, it pays to do it right. If you don’t have the time to invest in your YouTube SEO, consult a professional like Illumination Marketing. Anything worth doing is worth doing well so be sure to take your YouTube video SEO to the next level!


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