How to Optimize YouTube for SEO

seo youtubeWhen you consider the popularity of video-based media in our culture, it’s really no surprise that YouTube has become the world’s second largest search engine. And yet, even though the site is behind only its parent company Google in traffic, businesses and digital marketers often don’t take advantage of all YouTube can provide.

With video’s immediacy, and its visual and auditory benefits compared to written copy, incorporating video content into your marketing is a no-brainer, but optimizing that content should be as well. Let’s take a look at how to best optimize YouTube for SEO purposes so you can begin reaping the rewards.

Getting Started

To get the most out of your SEO YouTube optimization efforts, there are a few things you’ll first want to take into account.

First, when optimizing a YouTube video you not only increase its chances for being seen on YouTube itself, but, more importantly, you increase its chances of appearing in the search results of Google for relevant terms and phrases.

Generally, when Google provides video results for search queries, they’re often one of the following types:

  • How-to videos
  • Reviews
  • Tutorials
  • Fitness/sports
  • Funny/viral videos

For a lot of businesses, the first three options offer a wealth of possibilities and can be adapted to fit a variety of goals. The last two options are more limited, of course, but certain businesses could certainly use them to their advantage.

Additionally, longer videos are shown to rank better, and this YouTube article from Backlinko argues for creating videos which are 5 minutes in length or longer. A couple thoughts on this, however:

  • While videos of such length may indeed rank better, it’s also important to remember the attention span, or lack thereof, of internet users. A two-minute video is quick and easy, but a seven-minute video starts to become a commitment, and may be skipped or “saved for later,” never actually being watched.
  • It may make sense to experiment with different video lengths, but with the other optimization strategies we’ll discuss working in your favor, you might want to keep your videos short and to the point. Your main goal is to drive traffic back to your site, after all, not keep users on YouTube.

Once you’ve decided on the approach to your video and its ultimate length, then it’s time to really dig into your online video optimization.

Writing Copy

As internet marketers know, Google favors optimized webpages with lengthier copy over pages with brief copy since the former is seen to have greater authority. A page of 1000+ words has a much greater chance of doing well than a page on the same subject with only 100 words.

This same logic applies to YouTube videos in regards to their “description” section. Instead of leaving this area blank, or writing a single sentence of copy, you’ll want to:

  • Write 250+ words of unique copy
  • Incorporate keywords relating to your video’s subject
  • Incorporate a link to your website “above the fold” (before the “show more” cuts off the copy), which is within the first three lines
  • Use bullets and headers to break up sections and make the content more readable

These 250+ words can essentially be anything related to the video in question – a summary, a list of products or services your business provides, or a company overview.

As stated above, you will want to ensure the copy is unique so Google doesn’t penalize you for excessive duplicate copy from your website. One useful method to use is to simply transcribe the spoken content of the video since it’s likely wholly original to the video itself.

A few other things to remember:

  • Someone who came to your video wants to watch a video, so the likelihood of them reading the entirety of your written description is probably pretty low. When was the last time you read one for a YouTube video?
  • But it’s important to remember that unlike the copy on your website, this copy isn’t exactly meant to be “read” so much as it’s meant to drive customers to the page in the first place through keywords and Google searches.
  • Ensure that the copy works well and presents your business in a positive light, but know that your main goal is to drive customers to your page through the associated links.

On this last point, you can also incorporate a second link at the bottom of the copy in case anyone does read the totality of it. This can be a link to a product or services page, or a contact page. Either way, I’d recommend directing them to a different page than your top link.

Crafting useable copy is an essential step in how to optimize YouTube for SEO, so be sure to follow these key guidelines.

Inserting Keywords

Just like with pages of web copy, finding and using effective keywords for YouTube videos is essential. Some best practices for YouTube keyword implementation include:

  • Using Google Keyword Planner or a similar system to determine which keywords to focus on, finding those which are not only relevant, but have search volume
  • Incorporating a keyword into your video’s title, and starting with the keyword if possible
  • Using keywords 3-4+ times throughout the copy, and using one within the first 25 words of the copy

By utilizing the copy and keywords tactics stated above, for our video “How to Boost Conversions Through Mobile Traffic to Your Site” we were able to rank on the first page of Google’s search results for “boost mobile traffic conversions” and “boost conversion mobile traffic”:


As you can see, not only do we have prominent placement in the Google search for these terms, but we were also the only video appearing on the page. With a picture helping us to stand out from the other links on the page, a lot more clicks are possible as well.

Using Tags

Along with keywords, using tags on your videos can help boost their visibility and searchability.

Once you’ve uploaded your video to YouTube, within the video manager system you can add a variety of tags relating to the content of your video which will go unseen by the viewer. There are no limits on the number of tags that you can use, but you obviously want them to be relevant to the video and your projected audience.

Tags help your videos to appear more prominently in YouTube searches, and allows your videos to be displayed on the sidebar as suggestions when someone is watching a similar video.

For the video shown above, we used the tags:

  • Mobile traffic
  • Mobile friendly
  • Design for conversion
  • Responsive design
  • Responsive site design
  • Mobile site redesign
  • SEO help
  • SEO techniques
  • Digital marketing
  • Mobile conversions

By tailoring your tags to fit potential search queries you’ll be one step closer to getting all you can out of your YouTube marketing efforts.

Adding a Card

For some time now, the only way to add external links to a YouTube video itself was through annotations, the clickable boxes that sporadically appear as a video plays.

While some companies may have success with these if they’re careful and strategic in their use, the annotations themselves are often annoying and distracting, and they also don’t work on mobile phones, which now account for over 60% of all search traffic.

“Cards” are a much better solution in that they are less obtrusive, customizable, and mobile-friendly.

In up to five places in your video, you can place an icon for a card. Once the marked time in the video is reached, the icon will expand with a short bit of copy such as “Learn more” or “Visit our site.” When a user clicks on the icon they will see a card listing information and showing a picture you select, such as in this example:


The card holds an external link that visitors can then click on. Options for this link include:

  • Your company’s homepage
  • A merchandising page
  • A crowdfunding page
  • A nonprofit donation page
  • Another YouTube channel for cross-promotional purposes
  • Another video or playlist
  • A poll question

For website links, you will need administrator access since YouTube will need to verify you control the site you are sending people to, but the process for verification only takes a few minutes.

As stated previously, you can have up to five cards throughout a video, with each containing different messaging and focusing on different goals. Be strategic when placing cards so that they appear during pauses in the video, areas where they can emphasize a point, or as natural calls to action at the end.

Cards are a great addition to your YouTube optimization toolbox, so be sure to utilize them in your future videos.

Make the Most of Your Videos

Creating videos can be time-intensive and expensive, so you want to ensure you get the largest return possible for your efforts. Employ these useful techniques for YouTube SEO optimization and you’ll give yourself the boost you’ve been looking for.

And if you need help in optimizing your videos, contact Sixth City Marketing today.

About the Author

Linton Lewis

Linton Lewis is our Editor and a digital marketing specialist at Sixth City Marketing. He contributes to written and general marketing content for clients and oversees the editing for client work.

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