YouTube SEO: How To Rank Your Videos

For video marketing, no platform is better than YouTube, the world's single largest video hosting platform. Make sure your videos are optimized before you put them out there for the world to enjoy. 

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Over the past few years, more and more businesses have begun to realize the power of incorporating video in their content marketing campaigns. A 2016 survey found that 61 percent of businesses are currently using video marketing. Of those, 67 percent said that they planned to increase their spending on it over the course of the coming year.  Just making a video and putting it on YouTube, however, isn't enough to get traffic, generate leads or make sales. If you want to be successful in video marketing, you'll need your videos to rank highly for specific search terms. Like any other search engine, YouTube has its own rules for SEO that you should use to make your videos easier to find. Here are the basics of YouTube SEO and making sure the audience you want to reach can see it.

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Choose Your Keywords

Just like in optimizing a blog post, the first step in YouTube SEO is to choose the keywords you want to rank for. You can choose more than one keyword per video, but you should have one main keyword that is the primary focus of your optimization efforts. This main keyword should be a long-tail keyword, meaning it should be a phrase containing two or more words. Choosing a long-tail keyword will help your video be seen by a more targeted audience and reduce the number of competitive videos you have to beat for the top spot.

Optimize Your Title

The title of a YouTube video is not only a chance to tell viewers what it's about, but also a key part of that video's SEO. Your optimized video title should be under 70 characters long, as the full title will otherwise not show in video recommendations.  Place the long-tail main keyword you've chosen for your video at the very front of the title.

Write a (Very) Detailed Description

Of all the SEO elements of a video, the description is the most important. A full description of several hundred words lets you add your main keyword more often, as well as include other keywords you've selected. YouTube uses your description to determine what your video is about and rank it for search terms, so be sure to include your keywords several times throughout your description text.

In many ways, optimizing your description is like optimizing a blog post. YouTube itself recommends including keywords close to the beginning of your description. Be careful, however, not to just list your keywords out. YouTube's ranking algorithm looks for descriptions written in natural language, so avoid simple lists of keywords or descriptions that are unnaturally keyword-heavy. Remember to include hashtags, which can help your video appear in trending topic searches.

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Outbound links in your description may help to improve your rankings. Studies have shown that links to authoritative websites help web pages and blog posts rank better in Google search results. Since Google owns YouTube, including a few high-authority links in your video description that viewers can use to find helpful information may help your video rank higher, though there isn't a study that independently verifies this.

Use Relevant Tags

Contrary to popular belief, tags aren't all that important in a video's SEO, but they do help. Use your chosen keywords as tags to give them one more inclusion in your video's data. You can also use tags for closely related topics in order to get your video to show up in recommendations beside other videos.

Maximize Watch Time

Beyond the data attached directly to your video, there are other video elements that play into how well it will rank. One of these factors is length. Longer videos tend to rank a little better. As you might know, longer blog posts tend to rank better in Google search, largely because of better SEO opportunities. In a video, this is taken care of with an optimized description with a set maximum length. However, longer videos tend to have higher watch times, a factor YouTube's algorithm takes into account. Longer videos with better audience retention will, therefore, generally rank higher in search results. This is also why it’s important to align the content of your video with your target audience’s needs. An optimized title and description are important for SEO, but your content must provide value for your reader to ultimately rank.

Social Promotion

If you're used to website SEO, you may be familiar with social signals, or the impact social media shares and engagements have on search rankings. The same concept applies with YouTube. Social media shares will be seen by the YouTube algorithm as an indicator of engagement, which will in turn support higher rankings. YouTube also rewards new sessions being started to view a video. When someone on a social media channel clicks through to view your video on YouTube, it has a greater benefit to video ranking than someone clicking through to your video from a different page on the YouTube platform. Promoting your video through social media, therefore, can be a great way to improve your YouTube rankings.

With an optimized title, description and set of tags, your video will have a good chance of ranking well for your chosen keywords. Remember, however, that other factors will impact your video's ranking. Key among these are watch time and engagement, so make sure you're creating high-quality video content that will grab your viewers and encouraging them to interact with it both on and off the YouTube platform.