A significant percentage of YouTube video views come from the platform’s recommendations, including the up-next feature.
That’s why you want YouTube to look favorably on your videos and channel. The algorithm factors heavily on audience retention and watch time. A YouTube SEO strategy can help those numbers along with other analysis factors.
Here are some best practices to inform your strategy. (They assume you’ve done all the work necessary to find your keywords.)
You can do a lot to get the most out of each video you publish on YouTube.
Say keyword at the beginning
Since 2014, YouTube has used an automatic English transcribing feature. (It’s the most accurate for speakers with a more neutral English accent.)
This means YouTube “hears” what you’re talking about. If you incorporate one of your keywords into the script or conversation, YouTube will better understand the topic when it evaluates videos to serve up as recommendations.
Even better, upload a transcription of your video that YouTube also can consume.
Let’s take the example of a popular video – 5 Mind-Blowing Logo Design Tips – on the Digital Art Niche channel by YouTuber Will Paterson. In the first five seconds, he mentions he will be “showing you five logo design tips.” Not only does this introduce the topic to viewers, it acts as a signal to YouTube.
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Write a Google and YouTube friendly title
YouTube videos occasionally appear in Google search, often depending on the words in the title. A well-crafted SEO title could let your video rank better on both platforms.
Here are some phrases that are more likely to display on Google’s video carousels:
Adding a keyword to your title also can help. If possible, put it as close to the beginning as reasonable. It still must read organically to the prospective viewer.
Aim for a title between four and seven words. The required length is no more than 60 characters.
Optimize your description
The description of your video also helps YouTube’s search engine understand what the video is about. The clearer the description, the better.
These tips can help improve your descriptions:
- Include a keyword in the first sentence.
- Include a keyword or variations of it up to four times.
- Use at least 2,000 of the 5,000 permitted characters.
- Note the chapters. (Chapters visually separate your video in the progress bar. The chapter starts at 00:00. Include at least three timestamps listed in ascending order. The minimum chapter length is 10 seconds.)
Here are a few tips to making the most of your tags:
- Use the main keyword as a starting point.
- Include multiple variations of that keyword.
- Use other keywords mentioned in the video.
By using all relevant keywords in your tags, you increase the chances of your video appearing in the “related videos” column.
Cards are small links that appear in the top right of the video that suggest other videos to watch like this one with the video “New Font” promoted.
If your channel is new, it may seem counterintuitive to add cards because they link to other videos, taking viewers away from your watch time. However, YouTube’s aim is to keep people on YouTube. Encouraging people to stay on the channel might make your videos look good in the eyes of YouTube.
Remember, you can always change those cards to your videos once you add the new content.
Search engines can’t watch videos or listen to audio, but they index text. That is why captions are useful to SEO.
On YouTube, you can add captions manually or upload a file with or without time stamps.
If you don’t think adding captions (or transcripts) is worth it for SEO, they are must-haves for your audience members who have hearing challenges.
Use @DescriptApp to help with adding captions to your videos. They are must-haves for your audience members who have hearing challenges, says Veronique Wong Kai In of @Reportingeasy via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet
First, let’s talk about the video’s click-through rate on search – the percentage who click on your video from the results of their query. YouTube pays close attention to this behavior, rewarding videos with higher CTRs. That’s why you want the video’s thumbnail to stand out so searchers click on it and watch.
Here are some tips for great video thumbnails:
In these examples, the third video down stands out for its color choice, while the last one differentiates itself by including a person.
Note: To customize a thumbnail, you need to verify your account. More on that in the next section.
Your video’s end screen is five to 20 seconds to tell the viewer what they can do next. These are the five options allowed by YouTube:
The link feature is only available to YouTube partner program members. (Eligibility requires a channel to have at least 4,000 watch hours in the last 12 months and at least 1,000 subscribers.)
Take a Will Paterson video. He publishes a clear call to action and provides links to two related videos as well as a subscribe feature. Though the inclusion of the subscribe feature on end screens can seem overused, but it works.
An easy free tool to create your end screen (and a thumbnail) is Canva. Search for YouTube outro or YouTube thumbnail to get access to its appropriately sized templates.
You should optimize the individual videos, but don’t forget to optimize your YouTube channel.
You should first verify the channel. Verification allows your channel to publish videos longer than 15 minutes, create custom thumbnails, conduct livestream, and appeal any claims challenging content identification.
Follow these instructions to verify your YouTube account.
When someone clicks onto your YouTube channel, the first thing they’re likely to see is its banner. Crafting a professional banner within the right dimensions and with your keywords is a great way to increase views.
Here are two great examples of banners:
Both of these banners personalize the channel, including a photo and their targeted keywords. They use arrows to drive people to their links. Such eye-catching banners can really indicate your videos come from a professional.
If you include links – and you should – decide before or as the banner art is created.
Links are only visible in desktop mode, appearing on the right bottom. Many YouTube channels use the space to link to social channels. In the example, Marketing TV links to its free resource guide along with their social channels.
People can learn about your channel in your description. It should tell what the channel does and who is involved. That information is more likely to prompt people to subscribe to the channel.
Your channel also can rank in YouTube search. Add keywords into the description too.
Playlists are helpful in channel optimization. Viewers consuming your playlists increase your channel’s watch hours – and keeps them on YouTube. That makes your channel more interesting to YouTube.
In the case of Will Paterson, his well-designed playlists make it easier for a new viewer to see the different content he offers.
A few more tips
While those off- and on-page video tips are designed specifically for SEO, never stop working to improve YouTube’s two favorite metrics – audience retention and watch time.
Here are couple more ways to do that:
- Create open loops: Frequently talk about what’s coming up next within a video and about upcoming videos. Serialize your content into multiple videos. For example, talk about a topic in one video and let viewers know you’ll be talking more about it in the next video.
- Include brief CTAs during the video: Ask your audience to engage during the video itself. For example, ask them not to forget to “like, comment, and subscribe” or it could be a small text pop-up.
Make the most of video optimization
A YouTube strategy must address on- and off-page video search. For individual videos, don’t forget to format your title, description, and thumbnails properly. Take advantage of the tags, cards, and end screen. For your channel, verify your account and customize your banner, craft helpful descriptions, and add playlists to suit the needs of your audience.
And never forget, it’s all about audience retention and watch time.
All noted tools were selected by the author. If you have a tool to suggest, please include it in the comments.
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute