What is YouTube SEO, and how do you improve it?

Video marketing has evolved to become one of the strongest forms of digital marketing, as well as the strongest ROI option. When it comes to video content, the platform that stands above is YouTube. However, this success comes with the drawback of a lot of competition. The easiest way to make your YouTube videos stand out is through implementing an SEO strategy, but this can be different than doing it through Google. Here’s what you need to understand and the key factors that impact your ranking.

The Fundamentals

youtube seoAt first glance, YouTube SEO doesn’t sound that much different than traditional SEO. You want to build your videos around keywords that match what your target audience may be searching for. Sounds simple enough, right? Not necessarily. If you were trying to optimise for Google, you would be able to implement keywords throughout your text and on the back end of your site to try and garner interest. However, aside from the description and YouTube tags, there isn’t nearly as much text to work with. In addition, how do you customise the video itself to better help with optimisation? Answering these questions is key when it comes to figuring out the essential factors that impact your ranking.

Ranking Factors

youtube seo ranking factorsWhere should you start with improving your video ranking? We’ve alreadly mentioned some of the text-based options, like:

  • Keywords in the description
  • Keywords in the title
  • Keywords in the tags

However, this is only the tip of the iceberg. As a start, one thing that makes a sizeable difference with your ranking is the actual visual quality of the video itself. YouTube consistently ranks higher quality videos than lower ones, and if you test with a few searches, you will see HD videos topping just about all of the lists.  This may mean a larger investment than you initially planned on in terms of video equipment, but it is well worth it.

Another thing worth investing in to improve your ranking is a custom thumbnail. Technically, the site will allow you to choose a thumbnail from the video if you wish, but it’s been shown that creating your own is a consistent winner for ranking. On top of choosing an appropriate image, consider implementing some keywords if you can.

ranking factors for youtubeHowever, perhaps the biggest thing that separates SEO for YouTube from conventional SEO is user engagement. YouTube doesn’t factor backlinks into rankings like Google does, and instead, it places videos with plenty of high user engagement at the top of searches. If you wonder why so many content creators encourage viewers to like and subscribe, that’s a major reason why. 

The list of YouTube search ranking factors:

  1. Channel keywords
  2. Title
  3. Description
  4. Tags
  5. Quality of your video
  6. User experience
  7. Average watch time
  8. Views count
  9. Suitable thumbnail
  10. Captions and subtitles

Embedded videos vs SEO

As a final note, some people may wonder if embedding videos helps with SEO. The answer here is “not too much.” Google will make a note of it while crawling pages, but it isn’t a true ranking factor. This doesn’t mean you should ignore embedded videos, though, as they can add more value to your existing pages.


Figuring out how to optimise YouTube videos for SEO can be a tall order, especially for businesses that are just starting with their video marketing, and are focusing more on creating quality content than optimizing it. While there are some SEO tools for YouTube available, the exact value they have can vary quite a bit based on circumstances. The true best option for raising your YouTube SEO rankings is having a full SEO website audit done. With the help of an experienced SEO provider, you can learn the optimisation weaknesses not just in your YouTube content, but other areas as well.