It seems like everyone’s got a YouTube channel nowadays. But how do you get your videos to show up in Google searches and when people search on YouTube? It’s not just chance. Check out this comprehensive list of pointers below before you launch your YouTube channel (or upload your next video).
- The Difference Between Video SEO and YouTube SEO
- Understand Search Engine Goals
- Understand Searcher Intent
- Optimize Videos for Click-Through-Rate
- Optimize Videos for Engagement and Watch Time
- Optimizing Your Channel for Session Watch Time
The Difference Between Video SEO vs YouTube SEO
Google Video Search
Google video SEO is all about driving more video views from Google search engine results and using videos to increase organic traffic to your YouTube channel and your other online properties.
Google cares about serving searchers’ needs and providing the most relevant and useful results, which means it sometimes serves video to searchers based on what they’re looking for.
Google will surface videos when:
- Someone uses “video” in the query
- It interprets video as the best result type based on the words people use to search and what other searchers have indicated is the most relevant result type (video vs. product vs. local maps vs. rich snippet, etc.)
For example, in the image below, we can see that Google has determined that a video snippet best answers the question, “how to use an iphone.”
Whereas, when I search for “how to sign up for apple id,” Google has figured out that a step-by-step guide with pictures is what users find the most useful to answer their questions.
Marketers have claimed for years that YouTube is the internet’s second-largest search engine.
YouTube SEO is the process of optimizing your videos, playlists, and channel to rank high in YouTube’s organic search results for a given search query.
Videos are ranked in YouTube search results based on a variety of factors, including how well the title, description, and video content match what the viewer is searching for.
Beyond that, YouTube looks at which videos drive the most watch-time and engagement for a query and makes sure it’s easy for viewers to find those videos that keep users ON YouTube for as long as possible.
Understand search engine goals
Google’s main goal is to provide the best user experience. They want people to find exactly what they’re looking for when they use Google as a search engine so that those searchers continue to go to Google as their main source of information online.
We can see that in Google’s developments like featured snippets and rich snippets that give users instant answers (without searchers having to click through to find what they need on a third party website).
As such, Google serves the type of results that it believes best answer users’ queries. There are so many factors that go into how Google determines what type of answer is the best result to provide an individual searcher, but it’s important to remember that the best result is not always video.
Google wants to keep searchers using Google because they want to continue to generate ad dollars.
YouTube can almost be looked at as last-generation Google SEO. Similar to Google, YouTube wants to keep viewers on YouTube for as long as possible so they, too, can continue to generate ad dollars. So it makes sense that the platform is also doing it’s best to interpret what searchers are looking for when they use that search bar.
YouTube does this by matching queries to video optimizations (titles, descriptions, tags, etc.) as closely as possible and serving the most popular results (in other words, videos that bring the most engagement) for each query.
Understand searcher intent
Searcher Intent on Google
When it comes to interpreting user intent on Google, we can infer two main things:
- The first is that searchers aren’t always looking for video. Unless they type “video” specifically in the query or click the video search option after an initial search, it’s up to Google to determine if a video is the best result to serve in a users’ Google search.
- The second point is that they want answers right away. When we search for something on Google, it’s likely that we want to know the answer to whatever it is we seek right away. For example, when we search for the best chocolate chip recipe, most of us want to find the ingredients, read the instructions, see the reviews, and make the cookies. Straight to the point.
Searcher Intent on YouTube
YouTube is obviously different because searchers are looking specifically for videos (which is why they’re searching specifically on the video platform). Sometimes they’re looking for direct answers, but sometimes they’re looking for the story or “honest results.”
Users aren’t always looking specifically for you
It’s very rare that searchers will be looking specifically for your brand (unless you’re an already established YouTube presence, in which case, you could probably be writing this blog).
Keyword research indicates common modifiers for topic-related searched on YouTube include things like…
- How to
- For beginners
- Step by step
- 2020 (or proof that the content is up to date!)
Keyword research specifically for YouTube is the key to understanding what people mean when they’re searching on that platform.
Pro tip: Don’t reinvent the wheel. Want to show up for a YouTube query? Search it and see what’s currently in results. That’s what YouTube believes users want to see on that topic. Then go create that video content in a way that answers all of searchers’ questions and gives them your expertise!
Optimize videos for click-through-rate
So your video showed up in a search result on Google or YouTube. Now what? We want to make it as enticing as possible for users to either watch it in the search result or click through from the search result into YouTube to watch your video. This is called the click-through-rate (CTR), or the rate at which a searcher clicks through from the search result to your video.
Google often serves videos in search results with “key moments” and “suggested clips” that answer user queries. You’ll see this in the short selection that’s highlighted in the video result when you search:
YouTube creators can encourage those key moments for Google search by including the following when uploading videos:
Use timestamps in descriptions
Timestamps tell Google and YouTube what happens in your video at certain times. This gives Google the info it needs to show the suggested clip in search results. Timestamps are just added to the descriptions (and to the pinned comment for users on mobile devices) with the hours:minutes:seconds marked as such.
Pro tip: As an added bonus, YouTube has now added Chapters which means your timestamps show up in the scroll bar timeline in-video to help people get exactly what they’re looking for.
Make sure your timestamps line up with what they say is happening in your video and are descriptive of the actions occurring on-screen.
Add closed captions or transcripts
Along with timestamps, including a closed caption transcript (instead of just letting YouTube’s auto-captions figure it out) can give Google a searchable transcript to understand (kinda like the text content on your website). The transcript is another added layer that indicates, “This is what this video is about, and this is what’s happening on the screen at this point in time.”
Make sure your video has high-quality audio
It’s critical that your video has high-quality audio that is clear, understandable, and aligns with what’s actually happening in the video. This way even if you don’t have an uploaded transcript, auto-generated closed captions have the best chance of capturing what’s happening and displaying it in search results.
Optimize video titles and thumbnails to stand alone in SERPS
It’s also crucial that you optimize titles and thumbnails to stand alone in search engine results pages (SERPs). For example, if you look at the two videos below, the first tells you exactly what the video is about, who published the video, and what you can expect from it. The second video doesn’t tell you what we’re adding products to or what inventory we’re managing. The thumbnail gives us no clues either.
If these results were to show up in Google search results, it’s likely that we’d click the first one and skip over the second.
Include keywords in titles
YouTube most often serves an exact match based on title or query in its search results, so it’s critical that you understand the user intent side of things and what they’d be searching to find answers on YouTube.
Pro tip: Think about your video titles BEFORE YOU RECORD THE VIDEO. Don’t wait until after your video is uploaded to think about what to call it. That way you can cater the content to that title and make sure that searchers’ questions are answered–which will increase watch time.
Pique searcher curiosity with interesting titles
Along with including keywords in your titles, it’s important to make them interesting so you can drive curiosity and make people want to click through to watch your video (see the example above!). Lots of times people like stories and honest results in YouTube videos, so ensure that’s reflected in your titles if it makes sense for it to be there.
Don’t use auto-generated thumbnails
And just like for Google, optimize thumbnails for user interest and click-through rate. Check out the examples below, the titles they chose, and the different thumbnail designs:
Write searchable descriptions
It’s critical to write searchable descriptions for each video you upload and for your channel as a whole. These descriptions need to indicate to the searcher what the video is about, how your video answers their query, and gives them even more than they asked for.
Take advantage of tags
Too many new YouTubers forget about adding tags to their videos. Tag are essentially keywords that give YouTube context about a video. They give metadata to Google and YouTube about the video topic, what category it falls into, and more.
In fact, Backlinko did a small study and found a decent correlation between keywords in tags and ranking in YouTube search results–so it’s an add-on you won’t’ want to skip.
Optimize videos for engagement and watch time
The key to showing up in any search results is to prove that your content meets the searchers’ needs. This is interpreted by search engines (Google and YouTube) at the most basic level in interactions, popularity, engagement, and watch time.
Engagement for Google
There are a few ways to do this for Google serving videos in SERPS:
- Satisfy the searcher’s original intent. They will click through, watch longer, and engage when their questions are being answered.)
- Add timestamps for “key moments” in SERPs
- Add a closed-captions file, as it delivers a text-based transcript of your entire video and opens it up to search engines.
Remember, Google wants users to keep searching with their search engine, so making sure that their needs are met is crucial in video SEO.
Pro tip: Ask yourself a few questions before you hit record: what are people searching for? What do they want when they search for that? Am I providing it in my video? Then create an outline to make sure you cover those bases in the content.
Engagement for YouTube
YouTube rewards videos/channels that keep viewers on YouTube. They want to keep getting those ad dollars and the best way to do that is to keep users on the platform.
Add closed captions or transcripts
Along with helping you show up in search results, captions keep viewers engage in videos. According to a study by the United Kingdom’s Ofcom, 80% of people who watch videos with closed captions on do not necessarily have a hearing disability. A major reason people use captions is due to their environment not allowing audio: commuting, at work, sleeping baby, etc.
By adding captions, you’re letting them stay on your video without audio being an issue.
Use suggestion cards
YouTube’s Creator Academy says:
“Cards are preformatted notifications that appear on desktop and mobile which you can set up to promote your brand and other videos on your channel… Once they’re set up, a small rectangular box, or teaser, will appear in the top right corner of the video… If viewers tap or click the teaser, the card associated with the video appears along the right side of your video.”
You can use these to suggest other videos, playlists, or series from your channel to increase your watch time on other videos.
Ask for the like, subscribe, or share
Sure, we’re all used to YouTubers asking viewers to subscribe. And I’m sure you probably find it a little annoying that every video does it, but there’s a reason.
YouTube interprets video interaction as a sign of engagement. So when you comment, like, subscribe, share, etc. it’s almost like a vote in that video’s favor in YouTube algorithms. (This is almost comparable to backlinking in SEO.)
Find a creative way to encourage interaction on your videos!
Take advantage of end screens
Someone watched your whole video all the way to the end! Now what? Encourage them to keep watching your channel or playlists by adding end screens to your videos.
According to YouTube, “End screens can be added to the last 5 to 20 seconds of a video. You can use them to promote other videos, encourage viewers to subscribe, and more.”
Adding end screens keeps watchers ON the YouTube platform and encourages them to watch YOUR other videos at the same time.
Optimizing your channel for session watch time
Along with optimizing each video for watch time, it’s critical that you also give your YouTube channel some love, too.
Session watch time is the total time a viewer watches videos on YouTube without leaving the platform.
As of 2012, session watch time became a YouTube ranking factor.:
“There are two key benefits to increasing session time:
- It keeps viewers consuming your content for longer.
- Your entire channel should get more suggestions and views.”
There are two main ways to do this:
- Create a series or playlists to encourage visitors to keep watching videos from your channel.
- Optimize the channel page for subscriptions and ease of viewing. This means making sure your hero video is high quality and would interest your target market–even encouraging new subscribers! Ensure you’re using channel tags,
Video SEO for Both Google and YouTube
There’s a lot of crossover from Google to YouTube, but it’s important to know why these SEO elements matter for each platform. By checking the boxes on the list above, you can ensure your high-quality content gets seen by your target audiences in search.
Need help with your keyword research? Check out Search Hermit’s keyword research options.