YouTube is an amazing success story and it’s hard to remember a time when it didn’t exist.

But it did and, back then, the world was a very different place. The internet was slow and cumbersome, and video could only be consumed via the TV or on media such as VHS tapes.

The world changed in 2005 when the first video was uploaded to a new service called “YouTube” on 23rd of April that year. It was called “Me at the zoo” and featured the site’s co-founder, explaining why elephants are so “cool”. He wraps up with the immortal words “and that’s pretty much all there is to say” before the video abruptly ends.

Only, that wasn’t all that would be said on this embryonic platform – not by a long stretch.

By 2006, YouTube had turned into one of the fastest growing websites on the Internet and in November that year it was acquired by Google for an estimated $1.65bn.

Clearly, if Google valued it that highly, YouTube’s influence on web video was only going to climb further into the stratosphere.

Youtube logo

Fast forward to 2017, and YouTube has over a billion users. This remarkable growth has spawned a new generation of filmmakers occupying everything from their spare room to professionally outfitted studios and has put content consumption levels through the roof; people simply can’t get enough of online video.

Marketing professionals consider video to be one of their most important routes to market, which is no wonder when you look at the latest statistics on video marketing. The numbers involved are, often, mind boggling.

Of course, the fact that YouTube is owned by Google has undoubtedly contributed to shifting what was once a platform for bedroom video bloggers and clumsily-shot home videos into a far more serious advertising and content marketing channel.

Another very important statistic – especially from a search engine optimisation (SEO) perspective – is that YouTube is now the second largest search engine.

It’s easy to forget that we often head directly for its search bar whenever we want to find the answer to something. Shunning Google in that manner represents a compelling change in the habitual behaviour of internet users and hints further at just how “sticky” a medium video is on the web.

In addition, video results from YouTube often appear within the organic search results on Google itself.

This makes the king of the video sharing platforms very attractive to all SEO agencies, but have you ever thought of combining SEO tactics with YouTube? The results can be very rewarding.

Of course, to take full advantage of the opportunities YouTube has to offer from an SEO perspective, you need to be able to rank your video content. This is a challenge, but one that is uniquely addictive once you dip your toes into it.

In this post, I’m going to explain how you can rank your video content on YouTube.

YouTube Ranking Factors and how to rank your videos on YouTube

Before we get started – a little caveat. As with all ranking factors in SEO, the collection I’ll be listing below is based on observation, correlation and personal experiences. We shouldn’t forget that Google always keeps its cards close to its chest.

The team behind the world’s largest search engine have never revealed the exact ranking factors that are used, nor are they ever likely to do so. Sure, we’ll see the occasional blog post hinting at a ranking factor or two, but there is no “official” list, as such.

This means we have no choice but to rely on experience, intelligent guesswork and, occasionally, the odd bit of good fortune. This has been the case for traditional SEO for many years and things are no different when it comes to video.

OK, so you want to rank on YouTube for some keywords. The first step – just as with any SEO campaign – is deciding on what you want to rank for.

The constituent elements of SEO have remained consistent for a long time, but they rely on some creativity and focus on your part if they’re to prove successful. In particular, you need to be strategic when it comes to deciding upon the keywords for which you’d like to rank.

Think about the content of your video, your niche and the target audience. How does the latter use search engines? What kind of questions are they asking? What phrases and subtle nuances are they likely to type into search bars to find what they want?

Conduct your keyword research just as you would any SEO campaign before you go anywhere near YouTube SEO. It’ll be time well spent – trust me!

When you’re ready, read on!

YouTube Ranking Factors

Video Title – similar to page titles on webpages, this is one of the most important ranking factors. Be sure to include your keywords within the main keyword at beginning. Make it descriptive and interesting and remember that, for as important as ranking is, you still want people to feel compelled enough to click on it.

Video Description – this is similar to the body content of a webpage in SEO. Don’t be lazy – aim for a minimum of three-hundred words and make sure that you make good use of your keywords by including the most important within the first paragraph. If the goal of your video is to drive traffic to your website, then be sure to include a link at the very top of your video description, too.

Video Filename – one of your easiest SEO tasks; treat it as you would image files on your website.

Video Tags – use relevant keywords as tags to help YouTube understand the content of your video. Add as many as you see fit but do not spam.

Video Length – there is no golden rule when it comes to video length (the first ever video uploaded to YouTube was just nineteen seconds long, setting something of an admirable precedence) and let’s not forget that the focus here is on ranking. That said, on average, longer videos often seem to perform better.

This can, of course, vary from niche to niche, so do your research and check out the length of the videos that rank top for your keywords (just keep in mind that there are other ranking factors involved as well).

Generally speaking, it’s best to follow your nose; if a video feels like it’s the right length, go with it and ignore industry norms.

Subtitles & Closed Captions. Captions are “crawlable” which means – yes, you’ve guessed it – search engine “spiders” or bots have an easy time digesting their contents. Having subtitles and closed campions present on your videos will also help with accessibility, enabling people with hearing impairments as well as those from foreign countries to enjoy your content unabated.

User Engagement – this is something of a catch 22 situation as it’s rather difficult to achieve high volumes of user engagement without focusing on ranking, yet you need user engagement to help you rank. It’s a bit like that first-ever job search when you’re constantly asked for experience you haven’t had time to build.

There are ways around this, though, and one of the methods you can use to get more views while increasing your YouTube ranking is to embed video on your blog and encourage others to embed and link to your video.

Share this type of content on your social media channels and, if necessary, use paid promotion to give your video that extra push. Equally, if you have an email list then you should definitely consider including a link to your video within your next newsletter.

Thumbnails – although not a ranking factor, these can make a huge difference when it comes to click-through rates. People often like to see what’s contained within a video before deciding whether or not to view it, and by offering thumbnails, you’re giving them the perfect mini preview of your content.

This in turn will give you more views and better rankings. YouTube will automatically generate a thumbnail for your video, but avoid taking the easy route and instead create your own hand-picked thumbnails, as these will almost certainly perform better.

Other important engagement factors are likes and comments. You can influence both by having clear call-to-actions at the end of your video. This is why you will so often hear YouTubers say at the end of their pieces “please like, comment, share and subscribe if you enjoyed this video”.

Your YouTube channel – having a strong and well optimised channel will help with your video rankings. Make sure you write a description for your channel’s “About” section and use the channel keywords feature in YouTube’s advanced settings.

Last but not least

It should probably go without saying, but your videos should be high quality and focused on delivering value to your viewers, be it in the form of actionable information or entertainment. After all, the best SEO in the world will fall flat if it doesn’t have good content to work with!

Note: The opinions expressed in this article are the views of the author, and not necessarily the views of Caphyon, its staff, or its partners.

  1. Very nice and detailed info. People often forget that Youtube is a part of Google’s assets and that it has some major factors for helping you rank your site and your business. Great job Izabela.

  2. I think that a lot of SEO and content marketing experts are starting to see that the grass is greener on the other side beyond Google.
    While I do agree that ranking for long tail keywords is a great strategy, so is diversifying where your traffic is coming from in the first place.

  3. Hi,
    This post offers very detailed information. I did not know that Youtube is owned by Google until now. So if you develop a site and it gets so popular and some big guy want to own it, you make a fortune. The people who founded Youtube in the first place are sure creative and admirable.
    Thanks for sharing.

  4. You hit the nail on the head! One of the key parts of YouTube seo is truly having engaging content. Whenever a user likes a video or subscribers after watching- it sends a very positive signal that your content is worth watching, which leads to it being shown on related videos etc. One tip that I had not explored as much is the usage of custom thumbnails, after reading your guide I implemented them and noticed a huge increase in my views!

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