YouTube SEO: How to Rank YouTube Videos in 2023
by Brian Dean · Updated Mar. 27, 2023
In this post, I’m going to show you EXACTLY how to rank your YouTube videos.
In fact, this is the exact process that I used to grow my channel to over 189K views per month:
So if you want to get more views, subscribers and traffic from YouTube, then you’ll love this in-depth YouTube SEO tutorial.
Let’s dive right in…
How I Grew My YouTube Channel From “Oh No!” to “Heck Yeah!”
Before we get into today’s video SEO guide, a quick backstory:
When I first launched my YouTube channel I struggled to get hardly ANY views.
Fast forward to today, and my videos rank for all sorts of competitive keywords, like “SEO”:
Heck, I even rank in the top 3 for “YouTube SEO”:
And because I know how to rank my videos, my channel now generates over 189K views and 4.4K subscribers every single month.
Now that you can see that I know what I’m talking about, let’s dive into the steps that I used to get these results.
Step #1: YouTube Keyword Research
The YouTube SEO process begins with video keyword research.
Here’s exactly how to find the right keywords for your YouTube videos:
First, generate a list of keywords ideas.
Your first step is to generate a big list of potential keywords.
(In the next step I’ll help you find the best keyword from your list.)
One of my favorite strategies is to use YouTube’s Search Suggest feature.
All you need to do is head over to YouTube and pop in a word or phrase…
… and YouTube will hand you a bunch of keywords related to what you typed in:
These suggested keywords are GREAT.
Because these are terms that people actually type into YouTube.
So there’s no need to wonder if they’re popular or not. If YouTube suggests them to you, they definitely are.
You can also go to a popular video in your niche… and copy the same keywords that the video is optimized around.
As you probably know, keyword optimization is a KEY part of YouTube SEO. So if a video has lots and lots of views, chances are, that video is optimized around a popular keyword.
To execute this step, go to another channel in your niche.
Then, sort their videos by “Most Popular”
This will show you their videos that have generated the most views:
Next, choose a video from the list. Obviously, you want to pick a video that you can create an awesome video around (more on that in step #2).
But in general, if the video is in your niche, it’ll work.
Finally, see which keywords that video is optimized around. This is easy.
Just check out the keywords that video uses in its title, description and video tags:
(To see a video’s tags, I recommend the VidIQ Chrome extension. It shows you a video’s tags right on the page.)
You can also find some excellent keywords in your YouTube “Traffic Source: YouTube search” report. This report shows you all the keywords that YouTube users have searched for to find your videos.
In many cases, these are keywords that you already know about (because you optimized your videos around them).
But sometimes you’ll find a handful of keywords that you never would have thought of.
For example, here’s an example of a keyword I found in my “Traffic Sources” report:
This is a keyword I would have NEVER found using any other strategy. But I know that people are searching for it in YouTube, so it makes for a great keyword to add to my list.
Second, find the best keyword from your list
Now that you’ve generated a list of keywords, it’s time to choose the best one from your list.
Specifically, you want to target low-competition keywords.
This is ESPECIALLY important if your channel doesn’t have that many subscribers yet.
If you swing for the fences and go after competitive keywords, your video is gonna get buried in the search results.
Instead, you want to find keywords that don’t have a lot of competition.
How do you check?
All you need to do is:
Search for your keyword in Google.
And check out the “About results”:
This number represents the total number of videos on YouTube about that topic. The higher this number, the more competitive a keyword is. So you want to target keywords that have a low “About results” number.
(How low should you go? Every industry is different. So I can’t give you a specific number to shoot for. Just focus on choosing keywords that have low competition relative to other videos in your niche.)
For example, when I search for “YouTube SEO”, there are 15,000,000 results:
That’s a lot.
So if I was just starting out, I’d try a few other keywords, like “YouTube ranking factors”.
Bingo! That keyword only has 20,900 results.
And that means that this keyword is MUCH less competitive.
Finally, a bonus tip: search for your keyword in Google.
Here’s the deal:
Most views on YouTube come from within YouTube’s platform.
But don’t stop there. Your video can get 2-5x more views if you can ALSO get it to rank in Google.
The trick is to optimize your videos around keywords that already have video results in Google.
You see, Google only includes videos in the search results for certain keywords.
Unlike a “normal” first page with 10 webpage results, Google sometimes reserves a good chunk of the first page for video results:
In general, Google tends to use video results for these types of keywords:
- How-to keywords (“how to make cold brew coffee”)
- Reviews (“beats by Dre 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 a video keyword, you’ll also get targeted traffic to your video directly from Google’s first page.
The question is:
How do you find these magical keywords?
All you need to do is search for one of the keywords you found in the last step.
Then see if any of the keywords you searched for have YouTube video results, like this:
Once you’ve found a Video Keyword, it’s time to see if there’s any search volume for that keyword. Otherwise, you might rank in Google for a keyword that only gets 20 searches per month. That’s not worth it.
So make sure target keyword gets at least 100-1k searches per month in Google (you can find this information using the Google Keyword Planner):
Why 100+ searches per month?
If you can get that video to rank in Google, then a lot of those searchers 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” brings up 4 YouTube results in Google:
Sure enough, that keyword exceeds our minimum of 100 monthly searches:
So that would be a great keyword to create a video around.
In fact, I already did. 🙂
Speaking of creating your video…
Step #2: Publish a High-Retention Video
Here’s the truth:
If you want your videos to rank, you need to keep people watching.
The amount of your video that people watch is known as Audience Retention.
And YouTube has gone on the record saying: “Audience Retention” is a HUGE ranking factor. To quote YouTube:
In other words:
If your video keeps people on YouTube, YouTube will rank your video higher in the search results.
(After all, YouTube wants people to stay on the platform so they click on ads. And if you help them with that goal, they’ll promote your video.)
The question is:
HOW do you create a video that keeps people engaged?
(Also known as a “High-Retention Video”.)
Here are 3 simple steps that work GREAT. I had to learn these 3 steps the hard way. But thanks to this short video, you can start creating High-Retention Videos right away.
As you can see, High-Retention Videos DON’T require a fancy camera or microphone. Actually, you don’t really need to sweat production value that much.
As long as your video is valuable and interesting to watch, you’re good to go.
The bottom line?
If your video stinks, it won’t rank…no matter how optimized it is for SEO.
Unlike Google (uses backlinks and other signals to evaluate the quality of a piece of content) YouTube has no such luxury. So they rely on Audience Retention.
That said, Audience Interaction is one of several ranking signals that YouTube uses in its algorithm.
So let me show you the 5 other important YouTube ranking factors:
If someone leaves a comment, it sends a strong message to YouTube that they probably enjoyed the video (or at least engaged with it).
In fact, when I analyzed 1.3 million YouTube search results, I found that comments strongly correlated with ranking highly in the search results:
So make sure to encourage your viewers to comment on your video… and reply to comments that you get.
“Subscribes”After Watching a Video
If someone subscribes to your channel after watching your video that sends a HUGE signal that you have an amazing video.
The best way to get more subscribers on YouTube? Ask people to subscribe.
Seriously: I’ve found that asking viewers to subscribe at the end of my videos significantly boosts my monthly subscribers numbers:
How many people share your video on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook?
Think about it this way: people don’t share low-quality videos, right?
So when YouTube sees that people are spreading the word about your video, they think: “This must be an awesome piece of content!”. And they’ll give you a rankings boost.
(Also, social shares bring more people FROM those networks to YouTube… which they like.)
When someone searches for your keyword on YouTube, which result do they click on?
Your video… or someone else’s?
As it turns out, YouTube pays VERY close attention to this user behavior.
The percentage of people that click on your result is known as “click-through-rate” (CTR). Obviously, the higher your CTR, the better.
In other words, you want YouTube searchers to click on your result.
And YouTube notices that lots of people are clicking on your result, they think: “We need to rank this video higher up in the search results!”.
On the other hand, if people are skipping over your result, they’ll drop your rankings.
The best way to boost your CTR? Create compelling thumbnails and titles.
For example, you can see that my title and thumbnail stand out from the other results for this keyword:
Thumbs up/Thumbs down
Self explanatory 🙂
Like with text-based articles in Google, longer videos rank better.
I consistently see longer videos outperform shorter videos in YouTube and Google search.
And the data supports this. The YouTube ranking factors study that I mentioned earlier also found that longer videos have an edge over short videos (at least when it comes to YouTube SEO):
For example, if you search on YouTube for the keyword “WordPress”, the first two videos are over an hour long.
How long should your video be?
I wouldn’t sweat the specific length too much. Instead, I recommend focusing on creating the best video possible.
If it makes sense for your video to be 20+ minutes, go for it. Don’t worry about your video being too long. If it’s awesome, people WILL watch it.
The coolest part about all of these stats is that you can track all of them in the YouTube Studio:
That way, you can see how you’re doing… and improve your videos over time.
OK so you’ve created your High-Retention video, it’s time upload and optimize it for SEO.
Step #3: YouTube Video Optimization
Here’s how to extract the most SEO value from your video:
SAY Your Target Keyword
You’ve probably noticed that YouTube now automatically transcribes your videos. And they’re pretty darn accurate:
So if YouTube sees that you mention your target keyword in your video, they’ll “hear” it. And because you’re actually SAYING the keyword that your video is optimized around, YouTube will better understand that your video is about that term.
The title of your video should be at least 5 words long. That way, you can include your full keyword without keyword-stuffing.
For example, this video title from my channel is 8 words …only 3 of which are my target keyword (“higher Google rankings”):
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”.
Your video’s description is super important.
Your video description helps YouTube and Google understand the context of your video. And the better they understand your video, the higher you’ll rank (and the more often you’ll show up in the Suggested Video sidebar).
Here are the basic guidelines for the description:
- Include your keyword in the first 25 words
- Make the description at least 250 words
- Include your keyword 2-4 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 of mine that’s optimized around the keyword “On-page SEO”:
Notice how I include my keyword a couple of times… without being spammy? That’s what you want to do.
Tags aren’t super-important…but they help.
Here’s how I use video tags for my videos:
- My first tag is my exact target keyword (Example: “Google SEO”).
- I also include a few variations of that word or phrase (Example: “Google search engine optimization”)
- Finally, I make a few of my tags other topics that my video covers (Example: “Link building”, “Content marketing”)
In short: just include a few keywords to help YouTube and Google learn what your video is about.
Pro Tip: Targeted tags not only help you rank for your target keyword…
…but get you to show up more often as a related video in the sidebar area of YouTube:
So don’t be afraid to use the same tags that your competitors use. In fact, it’s a YouTube marketing best practice that has worked for YEARS.
When your video’s tags match a video that someone’s watching, you have a good chance of showing up in the Suggested Video section.
And that’s all there is to optimizing your video to rank in YouTube.
With that out of the way, it’s time for a step that many people skip over: video promotion.
Step #4: Promote Your Video
We talked a lot about creating videos that maximize Audience Retention and user experience signals. Which is important.
But for YouTube to measure these signals, you need to get views on your video!
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, forums and other Q&A sites are some of the most popular sites on the web (in fact, Quora is one of the most popular sites online).
But if you try to go in there and spam your blog content, you’re going to get banned. That’s why you want to link to YouTube videos.
And not only can you get a high quantity of views… but the views you get from Q&A sites are high-quality too.
(In other words, high-retention views.)
Think about it:
You’re posting your video in a place where people are desperate for information on a given topic. So the people that watch your video will watch a good chunk of your video to help them learn more about that topic.
To execute this step, just search for a keyword that describes your video’s topic. Then, find a question that you can answer.
When you find a question that seems like a good fit, answer the person’s question as best you can. Finally, link to your video at the end of your answer.
Here’s an example:
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, you just set up a pipeline is high-retention views.
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 mentioned “The Skyscraper Technique” in this guide, I embedded a video to explain how the strategy worked:
This INSTANTLY got my video a few hundred high-quality views.
Playlists are one of the BEST ways to get more views on your videos. After all, playlists automatically play every video in the playlist… which can lead to thousands of extra views every month.
Here’s how to set them up:
First, look over your videos. And identify 4-5 videos that have a common theme or topic. For example, when I look at the videos I’ve published on my channel, I notice that I have quite a few that cover the topic: “link building”.
Then, create a playlist that includes that set of videos.
Finally, include that playlist on your channel page. Rinse and repeat until you have at least 3 playlists on your channel.
Speaking of your channel page…
Optimize Your Channel Page
An optimized channel can help your videos rank better in two ways:
First, your channel itself can rank in YouTube. Here’s an example:
Second, a great channel page=more subscribers. And getting more subscribers can indirectly improve your rankings.
First and foremost, you want your channel page to look nice and professional. In fact, when I updated my channel page to look like this…
…I noticed an uptick in views and subs.
Also, include keywords in your channel’s about section. Here’s an example:
See how I use terms like “white hat SEO”, “link building” and “search engine optimization” in my channel description?
These are all keywords that I want to rank for on YouTube.
Obviously, you don’t want to use keyword stuffing or any shady stuff like that. Just naturally sprinkle in words and phrases that you want your videos to rank for.
Here’s What To Do Next…
OK, so I hope this guide helped show you how to rank your YouTube videos.
Now I’d like to hear from you:
What’s helped you rank your videos on YouTube?
Let me know by leaving a comment below right now.