According to the 2018 State of Inbound report, 45% of marketers are investing more in YouTube over the course of this year — more than any other marketing channel available to them.
And with the rise of other content formats comes the need to optimize them for search.
But how does YouTube SEO work? What are the steps you need to take to optimize your YouTube channel for search? We’ve outlined some major tips and tools below.
1. Rename your video file using a target keyword.
Just like you would when optimizing written content, you’ll use an SEO tool to first identify keywords you’d like your video to focus on.
When a keyword is identified, insert the keyword in your title before you even upload it to YouTube. Why?
YouTube can’t actually “watch” your video to see how relevant it is to your target keyword, so it safely inserts this keyword on your video’s viewing page once it’s published.
But, YouTube can read your video’s file name and all the code that comes with it when it’s uploaded.
With that in mind, replace the “business_ad_003FINAL.mov” file name (don’t be embarrassed … we’ve all been there during post-production) with your desired keyword.
If your keyword is “house painting tips,” for example, your video’s file name should be “house-painting-tips” followed by your preferred video file type (MOV, MP4, and WMV are some of the most common that are compatible with YouTube).
2. Insert your keyword naturally in the video title.
When we search for videos, one of the first things that our eyes are drawn to is the title.
That’s often what determines whether or not the viewer will click to watch your video, so the title should not only be compelling, but also clear and concise.
Although your keyword plays a big part in your video title, it also helps if the title closely matches what the viewer is searching for.
Research conducted by Backlinko found that videos with an exact keyword match in the title have only a slight advantage over those that don’t.
Here’s a linear representation of those findings:
Nonetheless, it’s a good idea to optimize your title for this keyword so long as it fits naturally into a title that tells viewers exactly what they’re about to see.
Lastly, make sure to keep your title fairly short, recommended limiting it to 60 characters to help keep it from getting cut off in results pages.
3. Optimize your video description.
First things first: According to Google, the official character limit for YouTube video descriptions is 1,000 characters.
And while it’s okay to use all of that space, remember that your viewer most likely came here to watch a video, not to read an essay.
If you do choose to write a longer description, keep in mind that YouTube only displays the first two or three lines of text — that amounts to about 100 characters.
After that point, viewers have to click “show more” to see the full description.
As for optimizing the video itself, it doesn’t hurt to add a transcript of the video, especially for those who have to watch it without volume.
That said, Backlinko’s research also found no correlation between descriptions that were optimized for a certain keyword and the rankings for that term.
4. Tag your video with popular keywords that relate to your topic.
YouTube’s suggests using tags to let viewers know what your video is about.
But you’re not just informing your viewers — you’re also informing YouTube itself. The platform uses tags “to understand the content and context of your video.”
That way, YouTube figures out how to associate your video with similar videos, which can broaden your content’s reach.
But choose your tags wisely. Don’t use an irrelevant tag because you think it’ll get you more views — in fact, Google might penalize you for that.
And similar to your description, lead with the most important keywords, including a good mix of those that are common and more long-tail (as in, those that answer a question like “how do I?”).
5. Categorize your video.
Once you upload a video, you can categorize it under “Advanced settings.”
Choosing a category is another way to group your video with similar content on YouTube so it winds up in different playlists and gains exposure to more viewers who identify with your audience.
It might not be as simple as it looks. In fact, YouTube suggests marketers go through a comprehensive process to determine which category each video belongs in.
It’s helpful, the guide writes, “to think about what is working well for each category” you’re considering by answering questions like:
6. Upload a custom thumbnail image for your video’s result link.
Your video thumbnail is the main image viewers see when scrolling through a list of video results.
Along with the video’s title, that thumbnail sends a signal to the viewer about the video’s content, so it can impact the number of clicks and views your video receives.
While you can always pick one of the thumbnail options auto-generated by YouTube, we highly recommend uploading a custom thumbnail.
Report shows that “90% of the best performing videos on YouTube have custom thumbnails,” recommending the use of images that are 1280×720 pixels — representing a 16:9 ratio — that are saved as 2MB or smaller .jpg, gif, .bmp, or png files.
If you follow those parameters, it can help to ensure that your thumbnail appears with equally high quality across multiple viewing platforms.
It’s important to note that your YouTube account has to be verified in order to upload a custom thumbnail image.
To do that, visit youtube.com/verify and follow the instructions listed there.
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