How to Manipulate YouTube SEO
SEO is at the center of all types of digital brand growth – blogs, landing pages, social media, and paid ads all rely on search optimization to get seen. It’s an integral part of your digital marketing toolkit.
But what about videos? How do you optimize a YouTube video for search queries – are the bots listening and taking notes on how many times you mention a keyword?
Well, not exactly. But yes. Kind of.
SEO is as important for growing your brand on YouTube as it is anywhere else. Here’s how to implement SEO into your YouTube videos and get your content seen by the widest possible audience.
Youtube & Keywords
The most common question about YouTube SEO concerns how keywords get noticed in non-written content.
- You are writing content. Your YouTube video has a title, a description, and tags. These are all opportunities to get your keywords noticed by search algorithms.
- Bots don’t have ears. They monitor SEO in YouTube videos through closed captions. We’ll explain why it’s much better to create your own closed captions than rely on speech-to-text software later – for now, remember that the bots are listening.
Optimizing a YouTube video is slightly different from optimizing a blog post or landing page, but the fundamental principles are the same. Here’s what you need to know.
Keyword Research for YouTube Videos
The primary focus of keyword research is your main keyword. For example, if you’re making a product review video for a camera, the camera’s make and model plus the word “review” form your main keyword.
Likewise, if you’re making a recipe video, the recipe title is your main keyword. This needs to be included throughout your content, including:
- Closed captions
You’ll also want to include secondary keywords. Check out the top-listed videos for your main keyword – that’s a good start to finding out what other words and subjects are ranking.
For example, a video on “growing basil at home” will likely throw up results for “growing herbs at home,” “potting basil,” “propagating basil,” “herb garden,” etc. The top results page is an instant goldmine for keywords you can include throughout your content.
The title should always include your main keyword. You may wish to change the question depending on the angle.
For niche videos, you may wish to phrase the title as a question. For more general guides, you may wish to make it a “how to…” or “review” video.
The more you can fit this into a punchy, clickable title, the better. The primary aim is to answer search queries, but a powerful title will attract views if your video appears on viewers’ suggested feeds.
Keywords in Descriptions
The video description is an excellent opportunity to include your most powerful secondary keywords. The description should read naturally – don’t spam it with related questions and keywords.
If you want to link back to your website, it’s best to lead with this. Only the first ~120 characters of the description are visible before a viewer clicks “expand,” so your highest-priority link should go there.
Viewers often click a description to get a quick idea of the video. Include primary and secondary keywords in helpful advice that ultimately directs the reader to keep watching the video.
Splitting the video into sections and providing timestamps is a good way to include long-tail questions without the description looking “spammy”.
YouTube Tag Keywords
Tags give you 500 words to include your most important keywords. Should you use all 500? Probably not.
Tags help YouTube identify the subject matter of your video. If your content straddles multiple subjects, tags are a great place to establish it as relevant to different viewers.
Say you’re making a video showing how to remove or fill small cracks in a wooden table. Your video appeals to multiple audiences – woodworking, home improvement, DIY, furniture restoration, etc. Don’t let these markets go untapped – let the algorithm know you have something to offer all these viewers!
Always include this as your top tag if you’re reviewing or advertising a certain product. A long-tail keyword should fully identify the product, e.g., “X Brand Camera Y Model Series 0000.”
Closed Captions & YouTube SEO
Closed captions on YouTube are a strange thing. Closed captions in traditional TV were designed for the hard of hearing and are widely associated with older people.
YouTube has turned that trend on its head – it’s been reported that Gen Z and Millennials are far more likely to use closed captions when watching YouTube content than older viewers.
We’ll come to this in a second, but you should also know that closed captions are perhaps the most important part of your YouTube SEO operation. Here’s why.
Adding Closed Captions
YouTube provides an automatic speech-to-text service for most videos. It doesn’t always get it right, but it’s better than nothing. If you can’t provide your own closed captions, remember to speak clearly – this gives the software a better chance of interpreting your words correctly.
The popularity of CC among younger users is a great reason to write your own closed captions. This demographic contains the heaviest YouTube users and typically represents your main target audience for video content. YouTube’s speech-to-text algorithm is far from perfect, and your viewers will appreciate the extra care.
Most importantly, closed captions are what bots use to identify your video content. This is a golden opportunity to get your content ranked, and far too many brands don’t realize it.
Optimizing Your Script
Whether it’s a voiceover or dialogue, any speech in your video should be captioned. You’re almost certainly using a video script anyway, so it’s easy enough – just copy it into the captions! It requires a little more editing, but the small time investment can produce amazing results.
Your script should include your primary keyword in the first few sentences. Think of how a blog post tries to include the main keyword in the first paragraph. It’s the same rule. Set your stall out for the algorithm.
Include secondary keywords and long-tail keywords organically throughout the script. It helps keep your viewers focused on the topic at hand and lets the algorithm bots know what the video is about.
You should still provide captions if your video doesn’t include any speech. Simply describe what’s happening on screen and optimize the script with keywords!
SEO Linking on YouTube
YouTube is the home of distraction. Viewers are frequently looking for something else to watch once they’ve finished your video. You can make sure it’s more of your content!
Link in Description
As mentioned, if you have a sales link for your product, it should be at the top of the description box. Otherwise, include links to related videos (along with an SEO meta title) at the top of the description box. Keep your viewers interested.
YouTube Cards (In-Video Links)
There are on-screen ways to keep viewers hooked on your content. YouTube Cards are a great example – these are the links that pop up in the corner of the screen as suggestions.
These are most effective when you introduce a new subject during your video. If you have a niche explainer on a related subject, link to it in case your viewers are interested.
End screens are the “watch next” boxes that pop up and ruin the final seconds of almost all YouTube videos today. They’re a fantastic tool for keeping viewers on your content – here’s what you need to know about using them.
- Everyone is using them, so don’t worry. Unfortunately for viewers, end screens have become a normal part of YouTube. Fortunately for brands, they’re an excellent way to keep your viewers watching your content.
- Ask viewers to like, comment, and subscribe before the end screens pop up. Don’t include anything important in the closing seconds of the video. It’ll either make the viewer more aware of the annoying end screens, or they’ll just skip over that vital part of your content.
Tracking Your YouTube SEO Performance
Any SEO campaign relies on analytics. Here’s how to track your SEO performance on YouTube.
- Clickthrough from impressions. This tracks how your video performs among viewers who saw it in their “recommended” sections. It’s an especially useful metric for tracking video title SEO.
- Watch time. This measures how long viewers spend watching each video. If a video’s performance tails off halfway through, consider inserting a YouTube Card to divert readers before they lose interest.
- YouTube Card clickthrough. This tracks how effective YouTube Cards are. You may wish to remove cards if they’re prematurely diverting viewers away!
- Subscriber report. Track which videos earn you the most subscribers and when.
- Traffic sources. This explains how viewers come to view your content. It can help you understand which related subjects your content is appealing – you can then adjust your SEO to match.
The Takeaway: You Need to Care About YouTube SEO
SEO for YouTube videos isn’t so different from optimizing written content. That’s because you still need to publish written content.
- Not using bespoke, optimized closed captions? Start doing that.
- Not using your description box and tags? Time to begin.
- Not optimizing your titles and letting your viewers instantly know what you’re about? Change it up.
Work YouTube SEO into your branded content and watch your performance skyrocket.