YouTube SEO: The Ultimate Guide

The Definitive Guide to Keyword ResearchYou probably already know that YouTube is the world’s second biggest search engine…

…and a huge untapped traffic source.

(In fact, YouTube gets over 30 million visitors per day)

Today I’m going to show you the ins and outs of YouTube SEO, including how you can rank videos in both Google and YouTube.

Free Bonus: Download a free checklist that will show you how to quickly execute this strategy. Includes 2 bonus YouTube marketing techniques not found in the post.

My Top Ranking YouTube Videos

Before we get into my YouTube SEO tutorial, I want to show you an example of a video that I’ve ranked for a competitive keyword:

This video is ranking #3 for the keyword “SEO strategy“:

YouTube Ranking

Now that you can see that I know what I’m talking about, let’s dive into the step-by-step system that I used to generate this top-5 ranking.

Step #1: Find “Video Keywords”

Like anything in SEO, the YouTube SEO process starts with keyword research.

Your goal is to find keywords that have YouTube results on the first page of Google.

These are called, “Video Keywords”.

Unlike a normal SERP with 10 webpage results, with Video Keywords, Google reserves a good chunk of the first page for video results:

Google Video Results

In general, Google tends to use video results for these types of keywords:

  • How-to keywords (“how to shave a cat”)
  • Reviews (“Bluehost review”)
  • Tutorials (“Setting up WordPress”)
  • Anything fitness or sports related (“Cardio kickboxing”)
  • Funny videos (“Cute animals”)

Why is this important?

Well, let’s say you optimize your video around a keyword that doesn’t have any video results in Google.

In that case, you’ll ONLY get traffic from people searching on YouTube.

But if you optimize for Video Keywords, you’ll also get targeted traffic to your video directly from Google’s first page.

How to Find Video Keywords

The easiest way to find video keywords is to search for keywords in your niche.

Then see if any of the keywords you searched for have YouTube video results, like this:

YouTube Results in Google

Simple, right?

Once you’ve found a Video Keywords, it’s time to check if there’s enough search volume for that keyword.

Because videos don’t take a ton of time to put together, you don’t need to go after keywords with massive search volumes.

Just make sure your target keyword gets at least 300 searches per month in Google (you can find this information using the Google Keyword Planner):

GKP Results

Why 300 searches per month?

If a keyword boasts at least 300 searches per month, then you know it also gets a decent amount of searches within YouTube itself.

And if you can get that video to rank in Google, then a lot of those 300+ monthly searches will click on YOUR video in the results.

That means you’ll get more high-quality traffic to your video, and ultimately, your site.

Here’s a Real Life Example

Because Backlinko is in the SEO niche, I’m going to look for video keywords using searches like “keyword research tips”, “how to build backlinks” and “SEO tutorial”.

Bingo! The keyword “SEO tutorial” bring up two YouTube results in Google:

SEO Tutorial Results

Sure enough, that keyword exceeds our minimum of 300 monthly searches:

Monthly Searches

So that would be a great keyword to create a video around.

Speaking of creating your video…

Step #2: Make Your (Awesome) Video

Like anything in business, the more you put into your video, the more you’ll get out of it.

Personally, I hire a professional videographer for the day, pay an editor to add graphics, rent a studio…

The works.

Here’s an example of one of my most recent videos:

Looks expensive, but it’s not. That video only cost around $90 to produce.

If you’re on a really tight budget, you can record your voice over a PowerPoint presentation using ScreenCast-O-Matic ($15/year).

You don’t need to sweat production value in the beginning. As long as your video is valuable and  interesting to watch, you’re good to go.

I’m emphasizing quality so much because user engagement is THE most important YouTube ranking signal.

If your video sucks, it won’t rank…no matter how optimized it is for SEO.

Unlike Google — which can use backlinks and other signals to evaluate the quality of a piece of content — YouTube has no such luxury.

They judge your video’s quality based on how people interact with it.

The User Experience Metrics That YouTube Uses

Here’s what YouTube uses to determine the quality of your video:

  • Video retention: The percentage of your video people tend to watch (the more, the better).

Video_Retention

  • Comments: If people comment, they probably enjoyed the video (or at least watched it).

Video Comment

  • Subscribes after watching: If someone subscribes to your channel after watching your video that sends a HUGE signal that you have an amazing video.

YouTube Subscribe Button

  • Shares: How many people share your video on social media sites like Twitter and Google+.

YouTube Sharing Icons

  • Favorites: The number of people that favorite your video or add it to their “Watch Later” playlist:

Watch Later

  • Thumbs up/Thumbs down: Self explanatory :-)

If you want to see how your videos are performing, you can see user experience data in your YouTube Analytics:

YouTube Analytics

If you make a top-notch video you’re MUCH more likely to get high-retention views, likes, comments and all the things that YouTube likes to see in a video.

Make Your Video At Least 5-Minutes Long

Like with text-based articles, longer videos rank better.

I consistently see longer videos outperforming shorter videos in YouTube and Google search.

For example, if you search in YouTube for the keyword “WordPress”, 3 out of the 4 top videos are an hour long.

YouTube Search Results Screenshot

So aim for at least 5-minutes.

If it makes sense for your video to be even longer than that, go for it. Don’t worry about your video being too long. If it’s awesome, people WILL watch it.

OK so you’ve created your compelling video that’s 5-minutes or longer in length. Nice work :-)

Now it’s time to optimize your video and upload it to YouTube.

Step #3: Upload Your Video With YouTube SEO in Mind

Here’s how to extract the most SEO value from your video.

Video Filename

When you’re done with the video make sure that you use the keyword in the video’s filename.

For example, if you wanted to rank for the keyword “weight loss tips”, you’d want to name your video weight_loss_tips_video.mp4.

Video_Filename

Video Title

The title of your video should at least 5-words long. That way, you can include your full keyword without keyword-stuffing.

For example, my Advanced SEO video’s title is 5 words…only 2 of which are my target keyword:

Video Title

Power Tip: Like with a blog post, I’ve found that you get a slight video SEO boost by putting your keyword at the beginning of the title.

So if you were trying to rank for “surfing tutorial” you’d want a title like: “Surfing Tutorial: Learn How to Ride a Wave Today”.

Description

Your videos description is VERY important.

Because Google and YouTube can’t “listen” to videos, they rely on your text description to determine your video’s content.

Here are the basic guidelines for the description:

  • Put your link at the very top of the video (this maximizes CTR to your site)
  • Include your keyword in the first 25 words
  • Make the description at least 250-words
  • Include your keyword 3-4 times

This SEO-optimized description helps tell Google and YouTube what your video is about without being spammy.

Here’s an example of a description for a video optimized around the keyword “Advanced SEO”:

YT Description

Tags

Tags aren’t super-important…but they help.

Just include a few keywords to help YouTube and Google learn what your video is about.

YT Tags

Targeted tags not only help you rank for your target keyword…

…but get you to you show up more often as a related video in the sidebar area of YouTube:

YT Sidebar

When the video someone’s watching has a similar tag as your video– boom!– you’re added to the sidebar.

Once you’re done, hit “Save Changes” and your video will go live!

Step #4: Get Video Views

We talked a lot about user experience signal so far…which are really important.

But in order for your video to rank for competitive keywords, it needs to get A LOT of views.

More views=higher rankings.

But there’s one catch…

…the views need to be real.

YouTube has caught onto fake views. That’s why I don’t recommend using a service on Fiverr to pump up your view count.

And as we already discussed, long-retention views are worth their weight in gold.

Here are some strategies you can use to get targeted views to your video:

Mention Your Video on Quora and Other Q&A Sites

Quora, Yahoo! Answers, and other Q&A sites are some of the most popular sites on the web (Quora rocks a top 500 Alexa ranking).

But if you try to go in there and plaster links all over the place, you’re going to get banned in a flash…

…unless you link to YouTube.

Because you’re posting your video in a place where people are desperate for information on a given topic, the views you’ll get are extremely high-retention.

Just search for a question on your video’s topic:

Quora Search Results

And add a link to your video. Or better yet, embed it into your answer:

Quora Answers

Link To Your Video In Your Email Signature

People that email you (like your mom) generally like you.

And if you’re like me, you get A TON of emails.

So when you add a link to your latest video in your email signature, that means you get high-retention views like they’re going out of style.

Email Signature

Embed Your Videos in Blog Posts

Whenever you write a blog post (on your site or as a guest post for another site), think to yourself:

“Where can I embed a YouTube video into this post?”

For example, when I published a case study about The Moving Man Method, I embedded a video to explain how the strategy worked:

YouTube Embed

This INSTANTLY got my video a few hundred high-quality views.

Here’s What To Do Next…

If you want to get more traffic from YouTube, I’ve got something special for you.

It’s a step-by-step checklist that will show you the exact steps you need to take to get your videos ranking highly in YouTube and Google.

Click on the link below to download the free PDF checklist:

Youtube SEO Checklist Download

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{ 309 comments }
  • Sanj

    Dang Brian, another YT strategy out the bag!
    It works like a treat although I didn’t know about “Video Keywords” so thanks for the heads up!
    Sanj.

    Reply
    • Brian Dean

      My pleasure, Sanj! Let me know how it goes.

      Reply
  • Dom

    Yet another great post. Move over Seomoz your blog has all the info needed to rank a site.

    Reply
    • Brian Dean

      Thanks Dom! I appreciate that :-)

      Reply
  • Shailesh Tripathi

    Very nice article on creating and promoting videos on YouTube. Thanks for share!

    Reply
    • Brian Dean

      Thanks, Shailesh. Let me know how it works for you.

      Reply
  • Charise

    Excellent article! I’ve been looking for legit sites that help get REAL viewers. I had checked out fiverr a while ago and couldn’t had many good resources. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    • Brian Dean

      Thanks Charise! Let me know how it works for you.

      Reply
  • Casey Dennison

    Great post, Brian! I put up a bunch of videos on Youtube that were actually music tracks I produced.. come to find out Youtube banned by account. Why? Probably because I bought views from a website called vingler.com. All the views are from real people, but they are not high retention. I suppose that tripped some kind of red flag and Yotube shut my account down. I still have a personal account, though. I going to try this again!

    Reply
    • Brian Dean

      Glad to hear you liked the post, Casey! Real views FTW!

      Reply
  • Rick

    It’s nice to hear that Google is not as particular about backlinks for videos and they are for web pages but I think I’ll still err on the side of caution. Thanks for the tips!

    Reply
    • Brian Dean

      It’s a smart move to be cautious, Rick. Even for videos I’m varying anchor text and doing some other things to make sure they rank for the long term.

      Reply
      • Julien B

        Hi Brian,
        Thanks for sharing your knowledge, as a SEO beginner I feel like I just found gold nuggets here :-)
        I like your idea to run on the long term, could you tell us what other things you’re doing for that ?
        Many thanks !

        Reply
        • Brian Dean

          You definitely found some golden nuggets, Julien :-)

          That idea permeates every business decision I make, actually.

          Reply
  • Lewis

    Hi Brian, I know building backlinks to your channel are quite important for ranking videos and I was wondering if internal backlinks are worth the effort of creating everyday (e.g. comments, likes, subscribes) to other channels. Do they even have any influence now?

    Reply
    • Brian Dean

      Good question, Lewis. You don’t need to go nuts with a site like YouTube to send some PR to your channel. I’d just comment/follow/subscribe to the top 50-100 of the top PR pages and leave it at that. That’s probably good enough.

      Reply
      • Lewis

        Thanks for the reply Brian, I’d just like to clarify, by pages do you mean videos? … also would you recommend commenting on the “discussion” page on high PR channels? Just a thought.

        P.S. I’ve been following this blog since you launched and the quality is continuously outstanding, not to mention the information you give away via email, it’s absolute gold!!!

        Reply
        • Brian Dean

          Sure thing Lewis. And thanks for your support :-)

          Yes, I meant videos, but you can comment on any page that passes PR (as you pointed out, discussion pages work really well).

          Reply
  • Pat

    Hey Brian,
    Great post. I just recently got into ranking youtube videos (it’s WAY easier than personal web pages!). Do you usually start link building right away, or do you let your video sit for a bit before hitting it with links? I’ve got a video for a big buyer term that’s just about to start showing up on the first page of G. Keeping my fingers crossed!

    Reply
    • Brian Dean

      Sure thing Pat. You’re right: it’s much, MUCH easier than ranking pages on your own site. To answer your question: I usually start building links within the first few days after launching it.

      Reply
    • Pat

      I think you can just delete comments on your own, correct? If you sign in and hover over the comment a little arrow should pop up in the upper right corner. If you click on it it should say “remove”.

      Reply
      • Brian Dean

        I didn’t know I could do that. I’ll give that a try. Thanks for the heads up!

        Reply
  • kuvhlub

    Hi, is it possible to rank on page one for a long tail keyword without building backlink

    Reply
    • Brian Dean

      It’s possible for VERY non-competitive keywords. But they’re usually not worth creating videos for because the search volume is so low.

      Reply
  • Hermine

    Hi Brian,
    I just want to say that I am blown away with the information you provided here on ranking youtube vids. I have a ton of online products that I want to start making tutorials for and your post answered my question about how to get some eyes on my stuff. Thanks again, I’m definitely bookmarking this for future reference.

    Reply
    • Brian Dean

      Thanks for checking it out, Hermine! Let me know how my system works out for you :-)

      Reply
  • James

    Hey Brian.

    Thanks for the post. I found you through a G search for how to rank a YouTube video. I honestly think with the recent G update, they are trying to force their adwords and YT and everything else they own to the user. So I think that the new “niche site” is going to be YT videos. I lost a ton of rankings to my niche site over the weekend. My entire website went from average 800 UV a day to 10… Really made my heart sink. Just as I was starting to do well with SEO ha ha.

    Anyway, I’m going to try some ClickBank + YT methods and hopefully get a few more affiliate sales back. No doubt I’ll have more questions as I go along, but I just wanted to say thanks for the post.

    Cheers!
    - James :)

    Reply
    • Brian Dean

      I like the way you put that: YT videos are the new niche site. And they’ll be more durable to updates because Google doesn’t want to penalize their own property. Thanks for stopping by, James :-)

      Reply
  • Chris Parillo

    Hey again Brian,

    You’re probably sick of seeing my name by now, haha.
    Anyway… I’ve been pulling out all the stop to get my Youtube videos ranked, but NOTHING is working. I have just realised though that all of my purchased, drip-fed, high-retention views are from mobile devices. Is this why I’m nowhere to be seen on Google’s SERPs? Also, do you have an e-mail address I could contact you at? I don’t want to take over your comments section single-handedly lol.

    Regards,

    Chris

    Reply
    • Brian Dean

      It can take quite a while (up for a month depending on your keyword) for Google to rank your video. Not sure about the mobile device views, but that might be a sign of fake views within YT’s algorithm. Just keep building views and you’ll eventually show up.

      Reply
  • Lewis

    Hi Brian,
    I was wondering, if you had 10 high quality backlinks to use, how many of those would go towards individual video URLs and how many would you use on your channel URL. I am just trying to gauge how important it is to get links pointing to your channel vs each video.

    Thank you!
    -Lewis.

    Reply
    • Brian Dean

      I’d put 9 to my videos. I haven’t done much link building to channel pages.

      Reply
  • jojo

    Hi Brian,

    Do I have to write a fresh content for the description?
    Or copying content from my website is ok?

    Thank you
    Jojo

    Reply
    • Brian Dean

      Good question, Jojo. I always write a unique description and that seems to work well.

      Reply
  • Chris

    Hi Brian,

    Great post, which explained why some of my videos rank page one and other don’t….likely the “Video keyword” theory that you suggested.

    I’m at the top of Youtube but page 4 for a keyword in the travel niche.

    It is frustrating because I am offering this as a service for offline clients as it is selling like hotcakes.

    The only issue is getting to page one every time. I will try buying more views, the software links and also try blog networks. Great tips!

    Perhaps we can create some sort of mastermind around this strategy??

    Thanks again,

    Chris

    Reply
    • Brian Dean

      Glad you enjoyed that one, Chris. I never thought of offering this as a service. Great idea! As you said, if you start buying some real human views and building serious links to the video it WILL rank for those video keywords.

      Reply
  • pascale lessard

    thanks for the useful information. I know about keywords, but you opened my eyes on other important elements.

    Reply
    • Brian Dean

      My pleasure, Pascale.

      Reply
  • Simon

    Awesome post ! I’m gonna try to do some blast on my videos via fiverr and will let you know how it’s work. What about linking youtube channel together ?

    Reply
    • Brian Dean

      Thanks Simon! I’ve actually never tried linking youtube channels together but I think it could work really well :-)

      Reply
  • John

    I have found that these links building tactics are the best (for me)

    - PAD submission (software submission)
    - RSS submission
    - Private blog networks
    - Social bookmarking

    I know most of you probably have heard that some of these don’t work for SEO.I don’t know about SEO, but for Youtube SEO they are GREAT !!!

    Here is a proof

    youtube.com/watch?v=UR_mycV8Tj8

    Check this video for these keywords:
    surveys
    surveys for money
    online surveys

    And notice that I have so little views and likes, but I rank so high because of my backlinks.I also rank on Google for many related keywords…

    Reply
    • Brian Dean

      Thanks for your insights, John. Glad to hear that you’re crushing it with YouTube SEO (even without any views and likes). It looks like it’s all about backlinks for videos too :-)

      Reply

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Brian Dean is the founder of Backlinko, the training hub for digital marketing professionals with over 60,000 monthly readers and a popular email newsletter. Continue reading