Picture This: Video Content and YouTube SEO

YouTube SEO
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YouTube users upload a video every second. Over 4 billion videos get watched every day.

In order to make the most out of your video marketing efforts, you need to understand how to get found with YouTube SEO.

Not unlike traditional SEO, there are clear ranking factors, best practices, and strategies you need to incorporate to compete for top ranking. But some YouTube SEO strategies are very different from traditional SEO.

It’s its own monster.

What seems right to someone accustomed to optimizing for Google searches maybe surprised by the differences. But once you learn the tricks, you can begin applying them to get results.

We’ve got the data, tips, and information you need to optimize for YouTube.

Keep reading to find out how to earn those top spots.

Ranking Factors

How does the YouTube algorithm determine which video tops the list?

Search engines like YouTube (which is owned by Google now) never share their exact algorithm. But people are able to figure out what ranking factors matter the most through research.

Online magazine Backlinko recently published the results of this kind of study. It examined over 1 million YouTube videos. Here’s what they found.


The number of comments appears to have a strong correlation to top ranking for videos. If people are talking about it, it must be important in YouTube’s eyes.

Video Length

Longer videos far outrank shorter ones. The top spots are held by videos around 14-15 minutes.


As you imagined, more views, shares, and likes appear to help you appear higher, although we’d have to question whether they have more views because they’re higher ranked or vice versa.

That’s why looking at the whole picture is important.

These indicators can be easily gamed. But YouTube counters this by tracking who views, likes and shares to avoid counting the same people over and over.


Videos that are subscription driven also tend to rank higher.

Watch Time

YouTube has also stated that total watch time is a key ranking factor. If people keep watching, it demonstrates that you’re providing what the viewer is looking for.


Keyword rich meta tags appeared to also boost rankings a little. But we should note that YouTube has recently implemented machine learning that helps it better understand the video content itself.

Their study found no connection between keyword optimizing descriptions and ranking so enough with the keyword stuffing already.

Audience Targeting

Now that we’re familiar with some of the known ranking factors, let’s look at how to impact them through YouTube SEO.

It all starts with your target audience. If you’re targeting the wrong audience, you may get lots of views with little engagement. Algorithms like YouTube consider this a poor customer experience.

They’ll “reward” you for this bad experience by dropping your ranking.

Based on the ranking factors mentioned above, you want to attract viewers who will:

  • Watch your whole video
  • Watch several videos of yours
  • Like
  • Share
  • Comment

To do this you have to know your target market.

Buyer Persona

First, know who your target viewers are. Create buyer personas. Be clear on what kind of language this group may use. What are their interests, hopes, and challenges? Why would they be looking for your video?

Everything from your title to the description to the video itself should reflect this.

For example, let’s say that your target is Average Joe who hears a strange noise under the hood. Which of these would be a better keyword for a video about common car noises that signal trouble?

Car noises under the hood


How to diagnose a bad transmission

Average Joe doesn’t know it’s the transmission, etc.. They’re focused on the noise itself.

Therefore, the former would typically be your most targeted keyword.

YouTube Keywords

Use YouTube’s Keyword suggestion tool to identify keywords that are likely to attract the right audience.

Remember, more isn’t always better. If a keyword only loosely describes your video, you’ll end up with those low engagement clicks.

Google Keywords

You should further use keyword research tools to determine how competitive various keywords are. By doing this, you can select some low competition words for each video to gain some traction in the search results.

Additionally, do traditional keyword research to help your video rank in Google and other search engines. The more channels you rank for, the better chance you’ll have of gaining momentum to propel into those top spots.


If you’re a local business in Tampa, views in Houston or Chicago won’t mean as much to you.

Go into settings to set your location. You’ll get a boost in local searchers and reduce less relevant traffic.


Finally, in regards to targeting, make sure you’ve chosen the most relevant category. You may see 2 or more categories that match. But which is your target customer most likely to search in?

Meta Data

YouTube and Google no longer rely as heavily on metadata. They have a better understanding of what’s on the page — and now in the video.

But there are still some clear best practices in YouTube SEO.


Create a catchy title that people will want to click. This may be your only shot. It should be very clear what the video is about.

Make sure it’s not clickbait. Clickbait is misleading and tries to get a rise out of people without delivering what was promised.

Just like with traditional SEO, YouTube SEO titles should be fewer than 60 characters, including spaces.


Create a compelling on page description of around 150 or more words that clearly describes the video but doesn’t give too much away. Use your keywords near the beginning.

The first couple short sentences give the theme. Then you can explain more to fill out the description.

You might also add video credits, social media links, related videos or hashtags to the description. But don’t overdo it.


Your thumbnail is the image that appears in searches. Don’t set this to default. Upload a thumbnail that goes well with your title and intrigues someone to click.

And as a heads up, in December, CNN reported that Google has hired 10, 000 people to help “clean YouTube up”. Any thumbnails, titles, descriptions or videos that are overly offensive will be removed.

“Shock factor” tactics that some may have used in the past, may be less effective going forward.

Watch Time Optimization

Your ultimate goal in YouTube SEO should be to optimize for watch time. This is the one ranking factor that YouTube itself admits is a major indicator for ranking.

Here are some quick tips.

Keep the opening short. People have short attention spans. The sooner you get to the meat of your video the better.

Create a series. People are more likely to sit through a whole video — even an unoptimized one — if it’s part of a series.

They see the series as a whole and don’t want to miss anything. Additionally, in terms of ranking factors, someone clicking among your videos shows YouTube that the viewer likes your videos.

Leverage cameos. No, not the Hollywood kind. Quickly but prominently showcase another videos offerings when it’s relevant.

This will increase your session time even if people are bouncing between videos.

Analyze your YouTube SEO data. Distinguish your unicorns (winners) from your donkeys (losers) to make more winning videos.


Get creative to encourage comments. Add a poll. Ask multiple questions in the video. Customize your end screen to cross-promote and gain more interest in your channel and brand.

Be sure to demonstrate that you interact with commenters. If they’re a fan of your videos, they may even feel a little euphoria when a “YouTube Star” like you responds directly to their comment.

In YouTube SEO, that’s the way to earn more engagement.


Set up a subscription option and start publishing regularly. Gain momentum. Each time you put out a new video, you’ll already have “guaranteed viewership” if you’re engaging your fans.

This viewership will build as your subscription numbers grow. That’s very good for your YouTube SEO.

Up That Production Value

HD videos have an easier time earning top spots. In a sea of homemade, low-quality videos, create and upload in HD to see an immediate boost.

Add Closed-Captions

85% of Facebook videos are watched with no sound on. Whether people are at work or they’re multi-devicing while watching a movie with a significant other, sometimes people just prefer to read.

On top of this, closed caption shows that you’re socially aware that everyone does not have the ability to hear.

Add closed captions to reach a wider audience. And if your audience is the elderly or hearing impaired, you’ve just won them over with this gesture.

But there’s more.

Search engines like Google and YouTube can crawl captions. They’ll better understand what your video is all about. And — if it’s a great video — they’ll reward it with higher rankings.

File Name

Many videos have generic filenames. But you should know that YouTube looks at the file name to better understand the video. It should be short but include a keyword.


You knew we’d get to this one sooner rather than later in a talk about YouTube SEO. Link-building is also important for video. It helps you appear higher in organic Google searches so that more people can find you.

This may also soon be a ranking factor for YouTube — if it isn’t already.

In YouTube SEO, you should build links to both your channel and individual videos to get the most out of that link juice.

Just like with traditional SEO, acquire links for high authority relevant websites. Links are only good links if they could happen 100% naturally without you doing anything.

Otherwise, you end up with links that may hurt you in the long-run.

Distribute. Distribute. Distribute.

And finally, distribute. YouTube SEO is much like traditional SEO in that it needs social media to gain steam.

If your page isn’t getting any visits, then it has no opportunity to show search engines like YouTube or Google that it can get that engagement that causes it to scale the ranks.

A fully optimized social media will help you get results with video. Social media also helps you begin earning backlinks naturally.

And finally, unlike traditional SEO, shares and likes are known ranking factors in YouTube SEO.

Develop a clear social media strategy to share each video with as many people as you can. Here are some channels you’ll likely want to consider.


It’s among the top video marketing options. Even if you’re active on Twitter or Instagram, you need to add Facebook to your sharing platforms.


Twitter is a majorly cluttered space. People are following 1000’s of people at a time. Their feeds are non-stop. To get attention on Twitter, you need video.

Great videos are one of the leading ways to get Twitter users to slow their scroll.


This channel only makes sense for certain audiences. The feeds move more slowly. And if you create a video that solves a business problem from your target, people are going to watch and share it.


This is a newer social media site that has quickly become the go-to place for people who want in-depth answers to their questions.

Your video very likely answers questions, so search for questions that it answers and upload it as the answer.

If the answer is later in the video, be sure to give the viewer a heads up and maybe even the time marker so they won’t abandon it or downvote it.

YouTube SEO as Part of Your Overall SEO Strategy

YouTube is a different kind of search engine. Given the importance of video marketing today, it’s not one to be ignored.

With thousands of videos uploaded each day, you need to be able to climb in the ranks to get noticed and earn engagement.

As we’ve seen in this tutorial, traditional SEO, and YouTube SEO are closely intertwined. Because of this, you need a comprehensive SEO strategy to get results and the right ROI.

To learn more about how we can help you with traditional and YouTube SEO, contact us to get a free consultation today.