How To Ace YouTube SEO In 2016 In 3 Easy Steps

Video is eating the internet.

Video accounts for 50% of all mobile traffic. By 2018, it is estimated that video will take up a whopping 79% of all consumer internet traffic. According to Cisco, online video users are expected to grow to 1.5 billion by 2016.

And of course, YouTube sits at the heart of online video.

YouTube alone receives more than 1 billion unique visitors per month – over 30 million visitors per day. It is also the world’s second largest search engine after Google. Video also appears on 55% of all search results, with YouTube accounting for 82% of these videos.

In other words, if you have a business, you can’t afford to NOT tap this massive source of traffic.

But with popularity also comes competition. During Vidcon 2015 held in July, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki revealed that over 400 hours of video is uploaded on the site every minute.

This is why you need to invest in YouTube SEO. By getting your videos to rank higher, you can not only boost your viewership, but also get targeted traffic.

This post will show you how to ace YouTube SEO in 2016.

You probably already know the top ranking factors for Google search results such as organic link building. But what are the top factors that affect YouTube SEO?

Turns out that these aren’t very different from search ranking factors. Some of the top factors are:

  • Metadata: Your video title, description, and tags. These are core on-page ranking factors, just like search.
  • Video Quality: YouTube wants to serve its users the best quality videos. If you have HD videos, you will outrank someone serving 240p videos.
  • Video Length: YouTube has emerged as the go-to source for longer video content (while Vine, Instagram are the home for short clips). Longer videos tend to do better on the SEO front.
  • User Engagement: Your videos’ likes, views, comments shares, video retention rate, etc. help YouTube quantify your content quality.
  • Channel Engagement: The number of subscribers, comments, total shares, etc. for your channel also impact your rankings.
  • Captions: You have an option to include custom closed captions in all your videos. These captions are searchable and can boost your SEO. It’s not a big factor, but has a definite impact on rankings.

There are plenty of other factors that affect YouTube SEO. You can take a look at some of them on this infographic by TagSEO.

Some of these factors you can control (video title, description, length, etc.), some you can’t (whether people engage with your videos or not).

To ace YouTube SEO in 2016, let’s focus on what you can do to make your videos rank better in 5 easy steps.

YouTube might be the second largest search engine online, but it dwarfs Google when it comes to sheer traffic. If getting more views is your priority, you’ll do a lot better by creating content that regularly shows up in Google.

These keywords are called ‘video keywords’ – keywords where one or more the top results is a video.

For example, for the keyword “how to do a squat”, the second result is a YouTube video:

For the keyword “funny cats”, 6 of the top 10 results are videos:

You’ll notice that both these keywords work better with visual content. You can’t really write an article on ‘funny cats’, but you can make a video about it.

Generally speaking, you’ll see videos in the SERPs for the following types of keywords:

  • Keywords preceded by ‘How to’ (such as “How to clip nails of your cat”)
  • Tutorials (such as “Making working science model”)
  • Funny ‘anything’ (such as “funny baby”)
  • Anything performative, such as Sports, Video, Dance or Performance Arts (example: “Salsa dance”)

Run through your target keywords list. You should easily find several keywords that will work better with video content than articles.

Take advantage of YouTube autosuggest

Another tactic to find video-heavy keywords is to mine YouTube autosuggest. This works particularly well for long-tail keywords.

Here’s how you can do it:

  1. Open the keyword suggest tool from SEOChat and select ‘YouTube’ only:

Enter a broad keyword (such as “WordPress”) and click ‘Search’:

  1. You should see a big list of keyword suggestions.
  2. Select a list of target keywords and click ‘Run Part 3 Useful Suggest’. I usually select long-tail keywords that will be easy to make videos for (up to 100 keywords).

You should see a list of keywords along with their search volume and CPC.

Creating videos for these keywords should be your first priority. Otherwise, you might end up creating videos that no one even searches for.

Pro tip: Make sure that your video keyword has enough search volume for you to be profitable. 300 searches/month is the bare minimum. Try to find something with 1,200 or more searches (the lower your conversion rate, the more searches and views you’ll need).

Before you can optimize your videos for better rankings, do some reconnaissance to figure out what’s already working.

Start by searching YouTube for your target keyword. For example, here’s what I see when I search for “WordPress tutorial for beginners”:

These are the questions you should ask yourself when you see the results:

  • How many views do the top videos have? In my case, the top videos have over 350,000 views.
  • How long is each video? For my keyword, the video length varies from 13 minutes to 2.5 hours. There are no short videos (except in playlists).
  • Do the videos have your target keyword in the title or description? In my case, the top 5 results don’t have the exact target keyword (‘wordpress tutorial for beginners’) in the title or the description. Result #6 and #7, however, have the exact keyword in the title.
  • How many of the top results are playlists? For my keyword, 2 of the top 5 results are curated playlists with short videos (under 5 minutes each).
  • Do the videos use custom thumbnails? You can use a custom image as the thumbnail for your videos. In this case, results #1 and #4 use a custom thumbnail. This isn’t essential for SEO, but can help you get more views.

Answering these questions will help you figure out how difficult it is to rank for your target keyword(s). If the top results are long, heavily optimized videos with lots of views, you’re going to have a hard time showing up at the top of the page.

In-depth analysis of top 2-3 results

If you do find a keyword with low competition, do an in-depth analysis of the top 2-3 videos to gauge the competition.

For example, this is the #1 result for my target keyword – “WordPress tutorial for beginners”:

Here are five things you should note here:

  • Video length: This video is 13 minutes long. Usually, longer videos rank better.
  • Channel subscribers: Though not always true, a higher subscriber count can help you with rankings.
  • Total views: This is self-fulfilling – more views = better rankings = even more views.
  • Likes/dislikes: This is a measure of user engagement. Obviously, more likes means tougher competition.
  • Video description: How long is the video description? Does it use your target keywords? How descriptive is it?

After this, click on ‘More’ below the video and select ‘Statistics’. You should see something like this:

Take a closer look at the following stats:

  • Average view duration: This gives you the video retention rate (% of total video watched). The longer the people watch your video, the better it is for your rankings. In the above case, it’s 4:29. For a 13:09 video, this is approximately 30% of the video – not bad at all.
  • Subscriptions driven: This gives a measure of the total people who subscribed to the channel after watching the video. The logic goes that if the video is higher quality, it will drive more subscriptions (though this can be affected by heavily you promote the subscribe button).
  • Shares: The total number of shares – an obvious measure of the video’s quality. Of course, some video types (such as cat videos) will get more shares than others.

With this, you should have a very good understanding of what you’re up against. If the top results look like they are well-liked, have a lot of shares/views, and are well-optimized, you’ll be better off choosing a low competition keyword.

As shown above, your rankings depend on a number of factors. You can’t control all of them (such as the number of likes/dislikes you get), but you can control your video’s metadata, thumbnail, length and quality.

Here are some steps you can take to improve your chances of ranking higher:

Video Length > 5 minutes

Earlier, it was believed that 3 to 3.5 minute videos performed best on YouTube and Google search. But these days, we see that longer videos outperform shorter videos.

This is particularly true for business-focused keywords (such as ‘SEO’).

Try to make your videos at least 5 minutes long. 10-20 minutes is ideal. Longer than that and you’ll lose viewer interest (giving you a low viewer retention rate).

Optimize video metadata

A major chunk of YouTube SEO is related to the details of how you upload your video. Here are the things you should pay attention to:

  • Filename: Name your video according to your primary keyword. For the keyword “beans pasta recipe”, you should name your video ‘beans_pasta_recipe_video”.
  • Title Tag: The title of your video should be at least 5 words long starting with your target keyword. Hence, for beans pasta recipe, your video title can be “Beans Pasta Recipe for Beginners”.
  • Video Description of > 250 words: Remember, Google and YouTube cannot listen to your videos – yet. Long SEO optimized video descriptions that explain your content well – helps them to rank your video better. Typically, you can use your keyword 3-4 times in the description but make sure that you use it at least once in the first sentence.
  • CTA: Your views are meaningless unless they actually drive visitors to your site. Make sure to include a website in your video description. To maximize the CTR (Click Through Rate) of your website link, place it right at the top of the description.
  • Keyword Tags: You can include all your primary and secondary keywords here to give YouTube and Google a better idea of what your video contains. Besides organic search results, tags make your video appear on the sidebar area too – if someone is watching another video with the same tag.

Optimize thumbnail image

YouTube grabs three images from your video automatically which you can choose as your thumbnail image. You also have the option to include a custom thumbnail image. A high quality, evocative custom image will likely get you more views.

Follow these tips to optimize your thumbnail image:

  • Use large, high contrast text
  • Use bright colors
  • Use pictures of people, especially close-ups of faces
  • Use ‘action shots’, i.e. shots of people doing something
  • Use close-ups of products

Here are a few examples of effective thumbnail images:

Keyword: “SEO”

Keyword: “How to make an omelette”

Keyword: “WordPress”

If you follow all the steps above, you should see pretty solid rankings for your videos (especially for low competition keywords).

Try to follow these tips to further improve your chances of top rankings:

  • Curate playlists of keyword-targeted videos: If you look at the top results for most keywords, you’ll see at least one or more playlist in the top 10. Try to organize your videos into keyword-targeted playlists for better rankings.
  • Optimize ‘subscribe’ buttons: Use subscribe buttons at the beginning, middle and end of your videos to get more subscribers/video. This will not only net you more subscribers, but can also push up your video rankings.
  • Use YouTube cards to drive views to related videos: Embed YouTube cards at the end of your videos to drive viewers to related videos. Read more about YouTube cards here.
  • Build backlinks to videos: Just as your regular content, building white-hat backlinks to your videos will help with rankings.

YouTube SEO is a growing field. It is also wildly lucrative, especially since the competition for many keywords is relatively low. Follow the steps above to give your videos a ranking boost, and dominate lucrative keywords in 2016.

  • User engagement, video length, quality and keywords impact your YouTube rankings.
  • Target ‘video keywords’ to get more traffic from Google and YouTube.
  • Analyze top results in YouTube. Take careful note of video length, keywords in titles, and user engagement stats (likes/dislikes, shares, average view duration, etc.).
  • Optimize your videos by using keyword rich titles, long descriptions, and better thumbnail images.
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Puranjay Singh

Puranjay is a writer, blogger and content marketer. He's passionate about helping businesses get leads and increase traffic through content marketing. You can see more of his work at

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