Top 10 YouTube Video SEO Tips

According to Searchmetrics, videos appear in 65% of Google searches in the U.S. However, 54% of these video results come from YouTube, about 5% from Vimeo, about 5% from Dailymotion, and no other video provider got more than about 1%. In addition, the average first video integration from YouTube was about two positions ahead of the average first position of any other provider‘s video.

So, although it may seem counter-intuitive, your best strategy for improving the ranking of your video content in Google universal search results often involves improving the ranking of your videos in YouTube first. Besides, according to U.S. data from comScore qSearch for May 2014, Google had 12.5 billion explicit core searches that month, YouTube had 4.0 billion search queries, Microsoft had 3.5 billion searches, and Yahoo! had 1.8 billion. So, improving your video’s ranking the second largest search engine isn’t a waste of time and effort.

SONY DSCMy top 10 tips for video SEO on YouTube appear below, but they come with an advisory: best if used before the next algorithm update. For example, YouTube officially replaced “view count” with “watch time” as a ranking factor in October 2012. On the other hand, “relevance” has remained a ranking factor since the early days: i.e. before Google acquired YouTube for $1.65 billion in October 2006. So, recognizing that some ranking factors will change, while others will remain the same, here are my top 10 tips for YouTube video SEO (freshness date: Aug. 18, 2014):

  1. Conduct keyword research. I recommend using Google Trends, which has added YouTube search data going back to 2008, to conduct keyword research to find keywords that work in YouTubeas well as Google. For example, web search interest in “Chevy” and “Chevrolet” are roughly the same this month. But, if you compare the YouTube search interest for these two terms, you’ll see that “Chevy” is significantly more than “Chevrolet.”
  2. Optimize your content’s metadata. YouTube uses metadata – your video’s title, description, and tags – to index your video correctly. To maximize your presence in search and suggested videos, make sure your metadata is well-optimized. Your title can be up to 100 characters long. Your description can include up to 5,000 characters. Your tags can be up to 120 characters. Use every one of these limits for each of your videos. You canupdate the metadata on older videos if your title, tags or descriptions aren’t optimized. This can increase views even if the video’s been public for a long time.
  3. Create custom thumbnails for your videos. If your account is verified and in good standing, you may have the ability to upload custom thumbnails for your video uploads. Your custom thumbnail image should be as large as possible, since the image will also be used as the preview image in the embedded player. Custom thumbnails should:
  • Have a resolution of 1280×720 (with minimum width of 640 pixels).
  • Are uploaded in image formats such as .JPG, .GIF, .BMP, or .PNG.
  • Remain under the 2MB limit.
  • Use a 16:9 aspect ratio since it’s the most used in YouTube players and previews.
  1. Use annotations on your videos. Annotations are clickable overlays that you can add to your YouTube videos. Annotations are a great way to encourage your viewers to engage with your video and take meaningful actions as a result. The key is creating an annotations experience that is conversational and interactive.
  2. Use captions on your videos. Providing captions not only make your work accessible to a wider audience, it also acts as additional metadata which helps your video show up in more places on the site. If your video is captioned for multiple languages, it will also be searchable in those languages.
  3. Create and optimize playlists. Playlists allow you to collect, organize and publish multiple videos together. They increase watch time and create another asset that will appear in search results and in Suggested Videos. You can create playlists using your own videos, other videos, or a combination of both.
  4. Optimize your channel name, icon and description. Several customizable channel features help ensure that you’re making your brand more discoverable across YouTube. Pick a short, memorable channel name. This will appear widely across YouTube, so make sure it’s the best representation of your brand. Upload a square, high-resolution image to be your channel’s icon across YouTube. The image will appear alongside all your videos on the watch page. (In most cases, you can use your brand’s logo.) The first few words of your channel description appear most frequently across the site, so highlight your most important branding upfront.
  5. Optimize your video’s watch time. Create a compelling opening to your videos and then use programming, branding, and packaging techniques to maintain and build interest throughout the video. Build your subscriber base: subscribers are your most loyal fans and will be notified of new videos and playlists to watch. Involve your audience in your videos, encourage comments, and interact with your viewers. Build long watch-time sessions for your content by organizing and featuring content on your channel. Create a regular release schedule for your videos when uploading to encourage viewers to watch sets of videos over single videos.
  6. Use YouTube Analytics regularly. The Traffic Sources Report shows you which search terms people are using to find your video. The Views Report identifies which videos have the greatest view times and view-through rates. And the Audience Retention Report indicates which videos are successful at keeping viewers watching.
  7. Promote your content with paid media. The YouTube platform allows you to optimize your investment in paid media by activating the virtuous circle that links Owned Media (your video content), Paid Media (paid video advertising) and Earned Media (“free” views obtained when people share the video ads). This provides you with a major benefit from advertising on YouTube that you don’t get from Google: Earned impact. Over the past six months, YouTube has seen more than 6,000 campaigns generate at least one earned view as a result of every two paid views. And the YouTube audience isn’t shy about sharing brand content: Two thirds of YouTube users agree that “If there is a brand I love, I tend to tell everyone about it.” Indeed hundreds of campaigns get more than two earned views per paid view.

These are my top 10 tips for YouTube video SEO … at this point in time. But I expect about 3 of these tips will be out-of-date a year from now. That would be consistent with the normal rate of change for the YouTube and video environment. As Mark Twain once said, “If you don’t like the weather in New England now, just wait a few minutes.”

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Greg Jarboe is the President and co-founder of SEO-PR, a content marketing agency. He’s on the faculty at the Rutgers Business School and Market Motive. Jarboe is the author of YouTube and Video Marketing as well as a contributor to Strategic Digital Marketing, Complete B2B Online Marketing, and Enchantment. A frequent speaker at industry conferences, he also writes for ReelSEO and ClickZ.

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