YouTube Video SEO Best Practices – Deep Dive

YouTube SEO

A great YouTube presence is an absolute necessity for anyone with a product or service to sell. YouTube is one of the most popular search engine in the world, second only to Google (its parent company). The close relationship between Google and YouTube ensures that anyone excelling on YouTube will also have the advantage of a stronger presence in traditional Google search results.

These days, if you want your videos to get found in both YouTube and Google, you need to start the SEO process well before you ever pick up a camera and continue it well beyond uploading your video.

With that being said, we've distilled the YouTube SEO process into this tutorial to show you exactly how it's done. To make the process easier to follow, we've broken the process down into four categories of YouTube video SEO best practices:

  • Video Planning
  • Video Creation
  • Video Optimization
  • Video Promotion

Follow this process and the YouTube SEO tips it contains and the result will be videos that get exceptional engagement and improved visibility in search results.

Now, let’s take a look at how you can meet best practices in each of the four categories.

YouTube Video Planning Best Practices

If you want to create high-ranking videos that your audience will find valuable, your YouTube video SEO needs to start in the planning phase. And it needs to start with keyword research.

YouTube Video Keyword Research

The techniques we are about to dive into will work for optimizing existing videos. However, we believe keyword research should be completed before you ever hit record.

As you will see, doing so will inform what videos you create the first place. That's because you want to be able to tailor your videos to the topics and keywords your audience is demanding, instead of slapping a bunch of keywords on video content that might be a hit or miss with your audience. Proactive keyword research creates far better video content that is much more likely to be discovered, watched, and interacted with.

This keyword research process will help you identify the best topics for the videos you’re going to create, and you’ll find the best keywords to pair with each of those videos.

We recommend that you use an Excel doc or Google sheet to compile all your keyword research and draft all your video optimizations (more on those later).

1. Brainstorm Highly Valuable Topics to Address in Your Videos

Come up with a list of all the things your audience is dying to know. Not just stuff that your audience “kind of wants,” either — instead, think of critical information, inspiration, or entertainment that your audience is yearning for. The resulting list of topics will be a list of videos to consider creating for your channel.

Ask yourself some of these questions to kickstart this topic brainstorming phase:

  • Do your most popular blogs already have complementary YouTube videos? If not, get busy.
  • Does your customer service team have a list of questions people regularly ask about your products, business, or industry? You can answer some of those questions in the form of videos.
  • Can you poll your audience to find out what topics they want you to cover? If you have an engaged audience, simply ask them (on social media, for instance) what they want to see.
  • Are there popular videos in your niche that could be improved? If so, use your expertise and skills to create videos that are more valuable to your audience than the existing ones.
  • Have you seen what Google search suggest or have to say about the questions your audience is asking? Type a potential topic into the search box on either page to find out. Then, add some of those questions to your video topic ideas.

The end result of this brainstorming step should be an extensive list of relevant video topics you might want to explore.

2. Identify Corresponding Keywords & Keyphrases for Your Videos

After you have a great list of topics, it’s time to identify the specific keywords and keyphrases your audience is using to find videos about those topics. Type your topic into Google or YouTube and look at the terms people are using to talk about your topic in the search results.

You can also use YouTube and Google search suggest to gather insights. Type a topic into the search bar in either platform and see what recommendations it kicks back. Pay special attention to — and jot down — the suggested phrases that pop up as you explore your topic.

If people are already talking about a topic using certain terms, you might want to consider using those as your primary and secondary keywords. However, those terms need to be highly relevant to the topic, not just loosely related.

The end result of this portion of the keyword research process is each video topic paired with a list of potential keywords and keyphrases that are highly relevant to each topic your users want to explore.

3. Assess Search Volume for Each Keyword or Keyphrase

Once you've gathered a handful of potential keywords, use a tool like AHREFS or Keyword Tool to assess monthly search volume for each potential keyword on both YouTube and Google.

Ideally, you’ll want to pay the most attention to keywords and keyphrases that have a substantial amount of search volume and relatively few competing YouTube videos.

At the end of this step, every potential keyword will be paired with its search volumes from both YouTube and Google.

4. Assess Competition in YouTube

When you search for your potential keywords, you want the existing YouTube video results to have decent view metrics. If the view numbers aren’t high, it means no one is actually watching the videos related to that topic/keyword. In that case, it won’t make sense to use your valuable time to create another video that no one will watch. To make sure you don’t fall into this trap, type each potential keywords or keyphrase into a YouTube search and see what kind of videos populate.

If there are dozens of videos with tons of views already trying to compete for a keyword, it might be seriously challenging to get yours seen, unless it’s far superior to those that already exist. In that case, you’re better off trying to compete for a different keyword that isn’t as competitive, but still sends lots of viewers to the resulting videos.

Once you’ve logged the search volume for each potential keyword and evaluated how competitive each is, select one to make your primary keyword. It should have solid search volume, relatively low competition, and be highly relevant to the topic you’re going to cover. The remaining good, relevant keywords and keyphrases can be used as secondary keywords.

To complete this task, clearly indicate your primary and secondary keywords for each topic on your list.

Once you have your long list of topics (each paired with primary and secondary keywords), it’s time to see which primary keywords will give you twofers.

5. Identify Google & YouTube Twofers

Twofers are keywords or keyphrases that not only return video results in YouTube, but also show video results on the Google search engine results page (SERP). Who doesn’t want to double their views for the same amount of effort?

For example “how to fly fish” is a twofer because videos not only appear in YouTube, but also in the Google SERP.


YouTube & Google Search Results

Brian Dean of Backlinko says Google likes to show video results for these types of videos:

  • How-to keywords (“how to shave a cat”)
  • Reviews (“beats by Dre review”)
  • Tutorials (“Setting up WordPress”)
  • Anything fitness or sports related (“Cardio kickboxing”)
  • Funny videos (“Cute animals”)

Twofers are your ticket to getting exposure in both YouTube and Google at the same time. To identify twofers, type your primary keyword for each topic into Google. If YouTube videos show up in the SERP, it’s considered a twofer. If there aren’t any videos in the SERP, people will likely only find your video when searching within YouTube.

Go back through your list of topics and clearly identify those that provide twofer opportunities. If the primary keyword for a certain topic isn’t a twofer, you might want to see if any of your secondary keywords are. If so, you might want to swap one of them out for your primary keyword to maximize potential results.

Videos with keywords that provide twofer opportunities should be the highest priority videos to create. These videos have the ability to drive a much higher volume of traffic. You can still make videos about topics that aren’t twofers, but those should be lower priority.

Once you have used this keyword research process to figure out what topics your videos should cover and which keywords they should be paired with, it's time to move into video prioritization and production.

Plan Video Creation Based on Demand

Create a video production list that orders your topics/videos from highest to lowest priority. Start with the videos your audience wants to see the most. These may be either the topics your customers are constantly demanding or those paired with keywords that have great search volume. Then work through the remaining topics until you have ordered all the videos you are going to create.

Finally, distill this long list into a production calendar that is approachable.

Go Out and Create The Videos Your Audience Wants

Once you have identified the topics you are going to create videos about and the keywords that are going to get them found, it time to actually bring them to life.

There are a lot of different ways to create your videos. You can do it off the cuff and get some views – or – you can use the following YouTube video creation best practices that will help your videos rank where you want them to.

Youtube Video Creation Best Practices

How to Create YouTube Videos That Rank

The type of videos you decide to create will depend on a number of factors such as the audience you are trying to reach, the message you hope to convey, the keyword(s) you are targeting, the search space you want to occupy, etc.

While many factors will influence the type of video content you create, here are three things that every single one of your videos should aim to do:

  1. Provide viewers with exceptional value.
  2. Fully engage them for the entirety of the video.
  3. Get them to take action.

Viewer engagement is the single most important factor YouTube considers when calculating where to display your videos in search results. The better a video’s engagement, the more likely YouTube and Google are to display it in a prominent spot in search results.

Engagement is measured by a number of factors including:

  • Clicks
  • Watch time
  • Average percent viewed
  • Average view duration
  • Re-watches
  • Interactions
  • Card clicks
  • Shares
  • Etc.

To simplify, there are two key goals of engagement:

  • Clicks in search results
  • Video completions

This means that you’ll need to get people to click on your videos in search results and watch them all the way through.

In order to create videos that actually engage your audience and keep them around for the duration, you need to provide value. Here are three popular ways you can provide that value and increase engagement:

Educate - Give viewers new skills or knowledge via how-tos, tutorials, explainers, webinars, product reviews, unboxing videos etc.

Entertain - Pique curiosity or make them laugh through vlogs, comedy sketches, funny advertisements, parodies, etc.

Inspire - Motivate viewers to take action in their lives by inspiring them with artistic videos, presentations, brand videos, interviews, offers, etc.

If you offer something viewers value, you’ll capture their interest and they’ll reward you by sticking around for the full duration of your video.

In addition to inspiring viewers to stay for the whole video, you’ll want to encourage them to click around on your videos and channel. You’ll be awarded bonus ranking points if they continue interacting with your content by watching more of your videos, clicking on cards, liking or disliking your video, leaving comments, subscribing to your channel, sharing your video, etc.

So how do you get people to do all that? Let's take a look.

How to Create Engaging YouTube Videos

While creating high-quality, high-value content can be enough to foster engagement, there are also some specific production tips that will help users make it to the end of your videos instead of bouncing in search of better ones.

Nail the Intro

Time is of the essence. Explain what your video is about at the very beginning so that viewers know exactly what’s in store. If they have to guess, they might guess wrong and go in search of a different video that looks like it will deliver. Your intro also needs to perfectly align with the thumbnail, title, and description of your video. Consistency builds trust, and viewers who trust you will watch more or your video simply because they trust it more. If you’re inconsistent, viewers may feel they’ve been tricked and head out in search of a video that delivers what it promises.

Add a Hook

Just like effective blog content hooks readers in the first few sentences, you need to hook viewers in the first 10 seconds of your video to keep them watching. There are various ways to hook viewers, like laying out the problem you’re solving for them or starting in the middle of a story to pull them in.

Get Right into the Story or Topic

Once you’ve hooked your audience, focus on the meat of the story or topic your video covers. Efficiency is key. If you leave viewers waiting too long, they will go in search of a video that delivers faster.

Add a Human Element

Using people to introduce and narrate your videos can allow your brand to make a human connection with your viewers. Connection builds trust. Consider bringing someone on screen to introduce the video and narrate it, then have that same personality give the call to action: encourage people to subscribe to your channel, leave a comment, or share the video with their friends.

Use Open Loops

Humans naturally seek closure to stories or questions they encounter. You can take advantage of the psychology of open loops by opening your videos with teasers and closing them later on. Open loops generate curiosity and anticipation, which helps keep people engaged until you finally provide a conclusion later in your video.

Go Short Form or Long Form

The length of the most popular videos on YouTube is typically between 1-2 minutes (short form) or 7-12 minutes (long form). Pick the format that best suits your topic and try to keep your video in one of those two sweet spots.

Viewers have grown accustomed to watching videos in both duration ranges and now expect videos of similar length.

They are also more likely to engage with your video if it has a length they are comfortable with. Any shorter, and they may not believe it’s valuable; any longer, and they may assume they don’t have the time. Either way, you’ve lost a viewer.

One good way to decide on the length of your video is to research other videos on the same topic. If the search results are full of long videos, you can stand out by making a short one (or vice versa). If the existing videos are all over the place in terms of length, tailor the length to the story or topic you are sharing.

Give Viewers Something They Want

If a viewer has made it to the end of your video, there’s a good chance they like whatever it is you’re selling. If you reward your viewers for making it to the end of your videos, they are more likely to watch 100% of your other videos. You can even use an open loop to tease your offer at the beginning of your video.

Recommend similar content to interact with, websites to visit, current deals to take advantage of, etc.

Cue Your Viewers with Calls to Action

People naturally respond to cues. When you cue viewers to take an action such as liking your video, subscribing to your channel, or clicking on a card or URL in your description, they are far more likely to actually take that action than if you don’t.

If you have additional resources or ways for viewers to interact with more of your amazing content, make sure they know about those opportunities. Tell them exactly what actions you would like to see them to take.

Fulfill Search Intent for Your Target Keywords

This might be the most important of all these tips, so make sure you get this one.

Your video content needs to be highly relevant to any keywords you’ve chosen to target. When your video fulfills the search intent of your viewers, they are far more likely to fully engaged with your video.

For example, if you have selected “Aspen Colorado fly fishing” as your primary keyword, the subject matter of your video had better be about fly fishing in Aspen. Better yet, it should be the best video out there about Aspen fly fishing, containing the most valuable information available on the topic. If your video is about fishing with an aspen sapling pole instead, viewers will quickly leave and go in search of the video they want about fly fishing in Aspen. You’ve broken their trust and they’re gone.

Remember, make sure your video content matches the search intent of those searching for the primary keyword you selected for your video.

Once you've created your video's it's time to further optimize them.

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Youtube Video Optimization Best Practices

While technically everything we have been talking about up until now is YouTube SEO, this next part covers all the tweaks you need to make to everything that surrounds your videos on YouTube. The tips we are about to give you are what most people think of when they think of YouTube SEO.

To simplify this portion of the YouTube SEO process, we break it down into two sets of workflows:

  • Pre-upload optimizations
  • Upload optimizations

The pre-upload workflow should be through through before your upload a video and the upload workflow covers improvements you can make to your video while uploading it.

Pre-Upload Optimizations

We recommend you use the same Google Doc that you used for your keyword research to draft out all the content in this section. Doing so will ensure you check all your optimization boxes and speed up the upload process. Now, let's talk optimization tactics.

Create Distincive Thumbnails

Thumbnails are the little images that represent your video in search results. When your videos pop up in search results, the thumbnails will play a major role in a viewer’s decision to click or keep scrolling. Unfortunately, a random frame pulled from the middle of your video generally won’t cut it, unless that frame is exceptional. To increase your chances of capturing viewers’ attention, use these following best practices.

First and foremost, thumbnails need to be unique and compelling. They need to stand out in a crowd and make users want to click on them. You need contrast! You can use a tool like Canva to easily create professional looking thumbnail designs from hundreds of templates.

  • Thumbnails should be high-resolution and no smaller than 1280x720 pixels.
  • If you’re going to use an image, make sure it’s crystal clear and shot close up.
  • If you’re going to use text, make sure it accurately describes the video, is bold, and contrasts against the background. Small thin text is too hard for people to see.
  • For consistency, recognition, and building trust, you also want to make sure any imagery and text align with your overall brand.

Don’t be afraid to use a pop of color to get people’s attention. Just make sure it’s something besides “YouTube red” or the exact color everyone else is already using.

Check out YouTube’s information on optimizing thumbnails and titles.

Draft Keyword-Optimized Titles, Descriptions and Tags

Keyword-Optimized Titles

Next to your thumbnails, the thing people will notice the most in the search results is your video titles. They need to stand out and compel searchers to click on your video.

When drafting your titles, start by including your primary keyword near the beginning of the title. This sends YouTube, Google, and your viewers a strong signal as to what your video is about, and can help you rank more easily.

Make your title catchy. Just as your thumbnail should capture the attention of viewers and make them want to click, so should your title.

Also, make sure your title matches the search intent (what they’re actually looking for) of someone searching for your primary keyword.

Your title also needs to clearly convey what the video is going to be about. This is one of the first critical steps in engaging your audience. Be careful not to deceive potential viewers with false promises! Accuracy and honesty are how you’ll build trust with viewers and the search engines. If your title sells them and your video doesn’t deliver, you’re going to lose valuable traffic.

Keep it tight. Your title should come in under 60 characters if at all possible. This will ensure the entire title appears in the search results.

Check out YouTube’s information on optimizing thumbnails and titles.

Keyword-Optimized Descriptions

Next to your title, descriptions tell YouTube and your viewers what your videos are all about.

The first sentence or two of your description appears both in the search results and right below your video in YouTube. Knowing that, you want to use it to quickly give people an overview of your video’s content and then hook them into watching it.

You also want to place your target keyword somewhere in that first sentence. Including one or two secondary keywords that are related to your primary keyword is also a great idea. Try to keep these first couple sentences under 150 characters.

After your first couple of sentences, you’ll want to expand your description to provide both search engines and your users with plenty of useful information about your video, plus additional resources and links to your website.

Avoid placing tags and random or irrelevant keywords in your descriptions.

Check out YouTube’s description-writing best practices.

Upload Optimizations

Once your video and thumbnail have been created and you’ve drafted your relevant and optimized title, description, and tags, it’s time to upload it all to YouTube. At this point, you’ll be able to make several more improvements to your video to get it — along with your other videos — found.

Upload Your Thumbnail, Title, Description, and Tags.


Optimize Cards & EndScreens

Cards are essentially pop-ups for your YouTube videos. They give your users a way to engage with other videos, your brand, and additional resources without having to leave the video.

Cards show up in videos as clickable notifications that expand to show a message you choose for your viewers to see. They work best when combined with calls to action in your video’s narration. For example, during your video you could say, “Click the card in the top right corner of the screen to visit our website.”

Use these cards to add more value to your videos and invite your audience to engage with your other YouTube content, brand, or products.

End Screens

You can use end screens to achieve many of the same goals as cards. The primary difference is that they appear during the last 5-20 seconds of your video and offer viewers up to four choices.

Try recommending your other videos, asking users to subscribe to your channel, or inviting viewers to visit your website. If you don’t use these end screens to promote further engagement with your channel, you are missing a great opportunity.

Closed Captioning & Transcripts

YouTube and Google’s algorithms are incredibly advanced. Even so, they can’t actually watch and listen to your videos. They do, however, have the ability to read a transcript that you add to your video for closed captioning purposes. These transcripts offer a ton of context and allow both YouTube and Google to understand and categorize your content.

Not only that, but a large portion of YouTube videos are viewed on mobile devices without sound. Providing viewers who don’t have the ability to hear (for whatever reason) with closed captioning is a great thing to do.

If you don’t already have a video script that you can upload to YouTube, Rev will quickly and affordably create a transcript for you. Or you can simply type one out yourself while watching your own YouTube video. How you approach getting closed captioning transcripts added to your videos is totally up to you, but make sure to do it one way or another.

Keyword-Optimized Tags

Tags are the keywords that describe your video and the material contained therein. There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to how many tags you should be using.

What you do need to know about tags is that YouTube’s algorithm takes them into account when deciding when and where to display your video in search results.

As a result, your primary keyword, secondary keywords, and any other terms relevant to your video should be included as tags. This will give YouTube a bit of context to work with and help your video appear for a wider array of search terms.

YouTube Video Promotion Best Practices

Once you have a highly valuable video that’s been properly optimized to show up in YouTube and Google search results, it’s time to get the word out. Use the three following tactics:

Blog About it

Share it on Social Media

Ask Your Friends & Partners to Share it

Send Out an Email

Run Ads

The second you publish your video, you’ll probably be eager to jump straight onto social media and start sharing links. We recommend you wait a minute and create a blog post first. You can even use your transcript to simplify and speed up blog post creation.

Just like you did for your video, make sure your blog provides tons of value. It should also include compelling calls to action, like encouraging readers/viewers to check out your YouTube channel.

When embedding your video in your blog post, make sure it appears above the fold (without having to scroll when you visit the page), and make sure that it displays correctly for mobile users. You can also disable YouTube’s related videos which otherwise automatically display at the end of your video. This keeps visitors focused on interacting with your own videos, content, and brand.

By creating a blog and embedding your video directly, you can drive traffic to your site and your new video at the same time. This will benefit your SEO in two places at once.

Once your blog is live, share the link on social media.

Don’t just share it once and forget about it, though. Work it into your content calendar multiple times so that it gets shared more than once over the next month or so. This way, it can land in the feeds of as many of your audience members as possible.

When you create great content that might benefit your partners and their audiences, alert them to its existence. A thoughtful ask that they pass it along to their audience is never a bad idea, either. What’s the worse they can say?

Don’t forget to send an announcement about your new blog post to your email list. Whether as part of a regular newsletter or in a one-off email, let your dedicated audience know that you have something new and valuable for them. This is also a great time to ask them to interact with your video (like, comment, etc) and subscribe to your YouTube channel.

If you have the budget, it could be worth running a Google Ads campaign that sends people to the blog post containing your embedded video. If you’ve already invested substantial resources in creating and optimizing an amazing piece of content, it’s probably worth putting a little ad spend behind it to make sure it gets seen.

The Upshot of YouTube Video SEO

All of the tactics mentioned above have the potential to help your videos get found on YouTube and Google. However, if you aren’t creating great video content that provides viewers with the value they are searching for, none of these optimizations will do you much good. YouTube will be able to tell that your video isn’t great based on poor engagement metrics, meaning it won’t be deemed worthy enough to show up in the search results.

If you want to dive deeper into YouTube video SEO, check out some of the helpful resources below:

Additional Resources for Learning About YouTube Video SEO Best Practices
Video SEO - The Definitive Guide by Backlinko
Brendan Hufford’s Video SEO Playlist
YouTube SEO: How to Rank Your Videos #1 by AHREFS
YouTube SEO 101: Get Started Optimizing Video by Search Engine Land
YouTube SEO: Top Factors to Invest In - Whiteboard Friday by Moz

Image Credit: Photo by Sara Kurfeß on Unsplash

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Erik Wardell

Erik Wardell

Erik loves breaking down complex SEO topics into understandable instructions anyone can follow. In his role as an SEO coach, he guides Pathfinder SEO customers through the SEO process on a daily basis, giving them helpful tips, instruction, and advice along the way.