A Beginners Guide to YouTube SEO: How to Optimize Your Videos

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You can publish an amazing video on YouTube, but if you don’t optimize it, will anyone be able to find it? Probably not. Today we’re sharing 10 simple things you can do to each time you upload a video to make sure your content can reach the right people, in the right place, at the right time—every time.

Before we get started, let’s answer a question: what does it mean to optimize content? Think of your video as a destination—optimizing your video is like giving directions so someone can find it. We’ll be using terms like “SEO” and “focus keywords”—essentially, these are the things people are typing into the search bar for when they’re looking for answers. Using SEO and focus keywords helps those people find your content more easily.

1: Stop thinking of YouTube as a social media platform and start thinking of it as a search engine

YouTube is the world’s second largest search engine, and it works directly with Google, the world’s largest search engine. Thinking of YouTube as a search engine will help you strategize when it comes to creating content, engaging with people, and interacting with the platform as a brand in an effective way. Think of it like this: What are people searching for and will they find your video when they search for that content? A note: People search Google and YouTube in different ways, so you’ll need to employ keyword strategies specifically designed for YouTube if you want people to find your video content. How do you do that? Glad you asked.

2: Use focus keywords

Focus keywords are the one thing you want Google to know about your video. A focus keyword is the specific phrase you’re trying to rank for, and it matters because it increases your visibility on YouTube. There are different ways to research keywords for YouTube videos, but the simplest one is to see what YouTube suggests. Just type a keyword (or the one thing your video is about) into the search field, and you’ll end up with a list of suggestions for how to title your content.

For example, I want to upload a video about how to build an Adirondack chair, so I’ll search “Adirondack chair.” Once YouTube suggests keywords, it’s important to name your video file with those suggested focus keywords separated by hyphens before uploading it. Then, when your video has been uploaded with a focus keyword file name, you can add your title. In this case, I named this video “adirondack-chairs-diy” because this is most relevant to what my video is about. 

3: Title videos for SEO

At Belief Agency, we believe data should sharpen but never dictate your message. So, write your titles for people first, but use SEO (search engine optimization) to inform them. This simply means using your focus keywords to look at what people are already searching for and look at how other people are titling their content. Then, look at the first video that “ranks” (or shows up first) for your desired topic to see what they’re doing right and how you could do it better. In some cases it may be unavoidable, but if you can help it, don’t copy the top-ranking title.

4: Write descriptions with SEO

The same SEO rules apply to YouTube descriptions. Write for people, then infuse keywords throughout. Don’t forget that YouTube is still learning how to “read” your video—the description is just another tool that helps YouTube know exactly what your content is about. When writing a description, be sure to include your focus keywords in the first 25 words, make the description at least 250 words long, and include your keywords or keyword variations two to four times. This content also should be original content written specifically for YouTube, and not copied directly from the website. Google is smart and will de-prioritize copy and paste. 

Tip 5: Add links in descriptions

In addition to keywords, it’s wise to add links to your descriptions. If someone watches your video about how to make an Adirondack chair but can’t find the directions you mentioned in the corresponding blog post linked below, they’ll go to one of the other videos to answer their question. It’s also important to include links so you can invite people from your YouTube channel into your web platform.

Tip 6: Choose thumbnails

Be intentional about the thumbnail you choose. Why? Paired with the title, it’s your video’s chance to make a first impression, and it’s competing with all the other videos that showed up when someone searched “how to make an Adirondack chair.” That being said, the title and the thumbnail should both elevate the content, because if someone clicks through to your video and it’s not actually not what they were looking for, they’ll click away, and your rating will go down.

Tip 7: Embed YouTube videos on your site

Eighty-two percent of all video results in Google are from YouTube. If you’re using a different media player, you’re missing an opportunity for your videos to be found. (Remember, YouTube is the world’s second largestsearch engine.) Using YouTube gives you the benefits of Google, enabling you to publish videos on a platform where people are already searching.

Tip 8: Use cards and end screens

Cards can be placed throughout your video to direct users to take action, whether it’s clicking through to a specific landing page, downloading an app, subscribing to your channel, donating to a cause, or answering a poll. When used well, they are a service. When used poorly, they feel like spam. If you’re going to use cards, think about how they will enhance your viewer’s experience, rather than distract from it. End screens are another way to serve your audience and increase view time on your channel. 


Tip 9: Analyze the data

You can measure engagement through views, subscriptions to your channel, and shares. You can measure conversions in CTRs (click-through-rates). Once you’ve analyzed your data, revisit your strategy: What should you start, stop, or change about your existing content to reach even more people? YouTube has a lot of great resources to help you translate your metrics.

Tip 10: Start with your belief

Brands with conviction know the beliefs and values that drive their actions. They know their purpose in the marketplace. They provide value to their customers. When you know what you believe you’ll know what type of YouTube content to create, and who to create it for. Don’t know what you believe? Learn more about uncovering your brand’s belief here.

When it comes to YouTube, there are always ways to improve your content. These 10 tips can help you get off on the right foot.

This post was written in collaboration with Dave Powell, Belief Agency’s digital marketing specialist.