Youtube SEO : The basics of Youtube rankings

youtube seo ranking

YouTube search results and Google SERPs (both Web and Video) are actually similarly structured. Ranking factors or signals are also conceptually similar but since the contents of a video can’t be crawled the same way as a text content, adaptive YouTube SEO strategies need to be employed in order for a video to rank both within YouTube and on Google SERPs.


Just appearing on the first page of YouTube search results is quite an advantage. YouTube is considered the second largest search engine with more than 3 billion searches a month. With this in mind, how can one optimize video to appear on the first page of the search results? The answer is not always straightforward but there are important aspects of YouTube SEO that needs thorough attention. These are: Keywords (planning and placement), links (link cards, outbound links, and backlinks), important ranking metrics (Watch Time, view count, and video length), and user experience signals (video quality, thumbnails, comments, shares, etc.).


Next, we will have a closer look at YouTube SEO’s different aspects. First up are keywords.


Keywords :

Keywords mostly appear in the video’s metadata – the searchable part of the content. YouTube (and Google) crawls the meta information of every uploaded video for indexing purposes. After several weeks, YouTube once more crawls your video’s meta information which is one incentive to update metadata to optimize search performance.


Keyword Planning

The main goal is to land on top of the search results page but just like in text-based content, it is advisable to optimize for the right keyword to decrease bounce rate. Improperly used keywords can influence the Watch Time metric especially if the keywords, though related, don’t really describe or represent the video’s content.


You can do a competition keyword search, and see if any of the videos that came up in the results are exact matches and contain the desired content. Searcher intent is an important consideration in keyword planning. If you primarily optimize your video for the keyword [youtube seo tips] but then the video’s content is only about optimizing video description, the searcher would immediately bounce back to the results page to search for a better option.


This is also applicable when optimizing for Google SERPs. The only difference is that your target keyword should trigger a video result. Dubbed as “video keywords” these type of keywords appears in results that anticipate the searcher’s intent for a visual demonstration of the topic. Some of the most common video keywords are:

  • How-to
  • Review of
  • Tutorials
  • General sports or action keywords
  • Funny
  • Compilation



Keyword Placement

Keyword stuffing is still frowned upon but the use of synonyms and permutations are alright though, as long as it is not crammed, without any sensible meaning just to fill in the character limit.


Title – Limited to 100 characters but only 66 characters are displayed on results. It is advisable that the target keyword is at the beginning of the title. Playlists titles can also be optimized. The titles can be used to categorize your videos or organize them into keyword groups.

Description – Limited to 5,000 characters but only 166 characters are displayed on results (60 on Google SERPs). The target keyword and other secondary keywords should be present in the first 25 words. The target keyword should also be mentioned at 3-4 times. It is advisable that the description should be at least 250 words.

Video Tags – Limited to 120 characters. You can set default tags (only for web uploads) that would consistently appear on your video uploads (can be overridden on individual uploads). This makes the likelihood of your videos referring to one another in the related or suggested videos sidebar.

Video Transcript – Video transcripts are mainly used for closed captioning but some video creators paste video transcripts on the description. The transcript would be indexed nonetheless (unless you used YouTube’s automatic captions (don’t it would hurt your video’s SEO)) and add keyword density to the video.

Channel Keywords – These keywords define your channel in general terms. You can access/edit these keywords through Channel Settings > Advanced > Channel Keywords. Ten, non-niche keywords would be an optimum number. Aside from these keywords, you can also optimize your channel title and description using a keyword or two.

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Link Cards (Annotations) Link cards are used to either direct the viewers to related video, information or as a call-to-action. It keeps them on engaged on your brand and most importantly, keeps them on your channel.

Outbound Links – Include links to your website or other videos in the description. The link to your website should be at the top of the description and place a call-to-action.

Backlinks – Links from relevant websites can have positive impact on your video’s SEO.  But link building can be a slow process and you can’t just wait until someone link back to your video. You can make an effort to market and distribute your videos. Use these sources to link (or embed) your videos:

  • Embed your video on a landing page in your website.
  • Email marketing with embedded videos
  • Private blog networks (PBN)
  • Web 2.0 platforms (WordPress, etc.)
  • Quora
  • Featuring your video as a guest blogger
  • Press releases
  • Contacting social media influencers
  • Social media groups/pages


Important Ranking Metrics for Youtube SEO

Watch Time – Views aside, Watch Time is an important metric in determining the quality and performance of your video. It is equivalent to the web SEO metric, bounce rate but there is the factor of time. The length of time a viewer spends watching your video before abandoning it and returning to the results page may reveal slow spots, editing flaws, and keyword problems. YouTube favorably ranks videos that have longer overall Watch Time than videos who have more view counts but shorter Watch Times.

View Count – Though YouTube’s algorithm prioritizes Watch Time, view count is still an important metric, albeit prone to manipulation and abuse. But videos with high view count (especially those amounting to millions of views) never rank poorly relative to videos with low view counts. Popularity, it seems had been a positive signal for ranking ever since. This is especially true when videos are ranking for competitive keywords.

Video Length – Relatively longer videos tend to rank higher. Videos that are 5 minutes or more (some set the minimum to 2 minutes) get more views. But it is also argued that increasing the length of the video doesn’t necessarily increase Watch Time. The video still needs to have engaging, entertaining and high-quality content.


User Experience Signals

Video quality is perhaps the most important ranking factor in YouTube. But it isn’t just about pixels and editing – video quality are actually assessed based on how viewers interaction or lack thereof. Watch Time and view count definitely contribute to the videos’ perceived quality but here are other important user experience signals that are sometimes overlooked:

  • Videos with customized thumbnails have higher click-through rates, therefore, higher view count. High quality, high contrast images in a 16:9 aspect ratio are preferable, especially those with 1280×720 px resolution.
  • Comments
  • Subscription after watching video
  • Shares
  • Inclusion in viewer’s Favorites and Watch Later list
  • Thumbs up/down


User engagement is a strong signal signifying the video’s quality and relevance. Simple actions like commenting, subscribing, and sharing of videos from YouTube actually creates a chain effect that creates positive ranking signals for the videos. Use call-to-action, viewer questions/suggestions and properly placed link cards to invite viewers to engage in the video.

youtube seo ranking


Mustapha Ajermou
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