April 19, 2016

Video SEO: 7 Tips For Ranking Videos On Youtube And Google

Aaron Levenstadt CEO & Founder at Pedestal Search

Aaron Levenstadt CEO & Founder

April 19, 2016 | 5 Min Read

Article updated on August 25, 2022

Video SEO is a variant of search engine optimization (SEO), which can be implemented to optimize videos created by a business so that they receive a high ranking on Google or Youtube’s search engine results pages (SERPs). One of the key facets of an SEO strategy is that a business publishes online content that is relevant to its target audience, or current customers. This content should be unique, informative, and entertaining. When consumers engage with this content, they are building a relationship with the business, while being informed of the products, services, or solutions that the business offers. Video, along with blogs, ebooks, white papers, and infographics, is one of the most popular forms of content that businesses publish as part of their SEO strategy. For many web users, video can be much easier to digest than a large block of text. Video also allows a business to incorporate more of its personality. Youtube is now considered to be the second-largest search engine in the world, after Google, and has more than a billion users.

Leveraging a video SEO strategy can help a business to increase the visibility of its online presence. Here are 7 tips for getting videos seen.

video seo youtube logo
  1. Choose the perfect keyword.
Before writing or filming the content, it is best to consider what topic the video will focus on, and select a keyword to represent it. This keyword can then be included in the video title, Youtube description box, and the script for the video itself. There are those who think that it is advantageous to use the keyword as the name of the actual file to be uploaded on Youtube (e.g., “video-seo.mp4”), but there is no hard evidence to support it.
  1. Optimize the title and description box.
Youtube allows titles to be 100 characters (including spaces), but it is beneficial to keep titles to approximately 70 characters to avoid having them abbreviated to Google or Youtube’s SERPs. The video title should begin with the selected keyword, followed by a secondary keyword or additional information. Text in the description box should be between 200 and 400 words. These should include the primary keyword, and variants on it, but must flow like natural language and avoid keyword stuffing. Add a link to the website or particular landing page early in the description so that it does not get covered up by the “show more” button. The text in the description box will appear as a rich snippet on the Youtube and Google results pages. The text in the title and description should never mislead the audience about what is contained in the video. This can negatively impact audience retention.
  1. Select thumbnails that will attract attention.
When uploading a video, Youtube will automatically create 3 thumbnails that the uploader can choose from. These are simply randomly generated screenshots from the video. However, users with a verified account are able to create custom thumbnails. These thumbnails can use text and images. Images used should be of high resolution so that they are clear and sharp on all devices. Additionally, making the thumbnails colourful, and using contrasting, complementary colours, will attract a user’s eye. If the video is hosted by a person–rather than being narrated or animated–include a close-up of the host looking at the camera. This creates a sense of eye contact, which many viewers find inviting. Much like the titles, thumbnails should not mislead viewers about the content of the video.
  1. Optimize tags.
Optimizing Youtube tags is a fundamental aspect of video SEO. Google and Youtube bots crawl these tags to get a basic understanding of what the video is about so that it can be presented to searchers with relevant queries. It is tempting for some to go overboard with tags, but resist the urge. Doing so can read like spam to Youtube and Google and will negatively affect ranking. Tags should include the focus keyword phrase, the channel name, and additional information. Keyword phrases or long-tail keywords should be placed between quotations.
  1. Upload a transcription into the “closed caption” section.
Youtube uses an algorithm to automatically transcribe spoken audio in a video which can then be read on-screen by the hearing-impaired, or ESL users. Unfortunately, the technology often gets much of the language wrong. It can be confused by thick accents or complex language, music, and background noise. Because of this, Youtube and Google do not crawl this transcription, as it is not often very accurate. However, Youtube allows users to write and upload their own transcriptions. These do get crawled. If the video script is rich with keywords, the crawler will read them in the transcription which can greatly improve ranking. Some schools of thought believe that it is advantageous to post the transcription in the description box as well, assuming that it will fit into the 5,000 character limit. Web crawlers can’t watch video to understand what the content is. Instead, they rely on text like titles, description, and tags. Including a transcription helps the bots recognize what the video is about.
  1. Gather likes, shares, and subscribers.
Google and Youtube no longer factor numbers of likes, shares, and subscribers as ranking criteria. Previously these had been considered to be factors, but it was decided that numbers are too easy to fabricate by buying likes and subscribers. Increasing these numbers will not affect ranking on Google or Youtube. However, collecting likes can provide a trickle-down effect. When a Youtube user likes a video, the video may appear under the “What to Watch” tab for that user’s subscribers. This increases impressions and potential views of the video for all of those users. While shares also do not affect ranking, their benefits are obvious. The more a particular video gets shared, the more likely it is to be watched. Every share increases the video’s online visibility. Increasing the number of subscribers on a channel is advantageous for a business because subscribers watch twice the amount of a channel’s content than non-subscribers. Creating engaging content is essential for increasing liking and sharing. However, a very simple, yet effective way to gain likes and shares is to simply ask for them. If the video has entertained or informed the viewer, they are more likely to like or share it if the video ends with the call-to-action (CTA) to do so, particularly considering that they viewed until the end. This can be done verbally by having the host say “if you enjoyed this video, please hit the like button, subscribe and share”. One can also create a subscribe button that will be embedded in the video. Users can click this to be taken to the channel’s home page where they can subscribe.
  1. Produce outstanding content.
Video SEO is about marketing a business by providing video content that will educate or entertain consumers that are looking for that information. It stands to reason, and yet it can’t be expressed enough, that this content must be exemplary. Every other tip mentioned above is meaningless if the published content is of poor quality. To be successful, Youtube videos need to look and sound good. Invest in cameras, lights, and microphones to produce a product that looks professional. Most importantly, however, the content must delight the consumer. The viewer is looking for specific content to either entertain them, or help them solve a problem either through a product, service, or instruction (a tutorial, for example). One of the most significant factors for ranking videos on Youtube is watch time, rather than just clicks. A click on a video doesn’t suggest to Youtube that the video is of good quality, particularly if the viewer navigates away quickly. However, if a good percentage of users are watching the video in its entirety, Youtube and Google can infer that the video is engaging its target audience, and they will rank it higher because of this.

Implement a video SEO strategy

These tips can help grow any business that wants to make video marketing part of its overall marketing communications plan. By achieving a high rank on the results pages of Google and Youtube, businesses can increase their online visibility, and grow their customer base through engaging video content. Stay up-to-date on all things SEO-related by reading Pedestal’s search engine marketing blog.


Content Marketing, Digital Marketing, SEO

Aaron Levenstadt CEO & Founder at Pedestal Search

Aaron Levenstadt

CEO & Founder

Aaron Levenstadt completed his degree in Statistical & Data Science at Stanford University. That focus has given him an unparalleled data-driven approach to search engine digital marketing. Prior to founding Pedestal Search, Aaron worked at Google at the company’s headquarters in Mountain View California. At Google he worked on the Organic Search, Paid Search and Google Analytics products, which equipped him with extensive knowledge of the mechanisms driving Google’s algorithm and other internet search engines.