YouTube SEO: How To Rank Your Videos

In seven and a half months, we focused our efforts on YouTube SEO and ranked our videos for some of the most competitive keywords in our industry. SEO, eCommerce SEO, local SEO, SEO tips, and the list goes on. This led to an almost 400% increase in YouTubesearch traffic and growth. Our channel isn’t huge. Our industry isn’t exactly “exciting” either. And compared to our top YouTube competitors, our subscriber count is microscopic. But that’s what I love about YouTube. youtube seo

Anyone and everyone have the opportunity to entertain, engage, and rank their videos fast. So in this video, I’m going to show you exactly how to rank YouTube videos, from start to finish. Stay tuned. [music] What’s up creators? Sam Oh here with Ahrefs, the SEO tool that helps you grow your search traffic, research your competitors and dominate your niche. Now there’s a lot to video SEO, so rather than trying to dip into every single traffic source in YouTube analytics, I’ll be focusing on ranking in YouTube search and sprinkle a few tips to rank your videos on Google too.

Let’s get started.


First, what is YouTube SEO?

It’s the process of optimizing your videos, playlists, and channel to rank high in YouTube’s organic search results for a given search query. YouTube explains their discovery and search ranking algorithm in two sentences.

“Videos are ranked based on a variety of factors including how well the title, description, and video content match the viewer’s query.”youtube seo

So there are three important points here.

1.keywords matter in your title and description. need to match the search intent fora viewer’s query.

3. you need to drive engagement fora query in order to rank on YouTube.

But of all these things, the key point to effective video SEO is creating high-engagement videos. So if you can’t engage your audience, your chances of ranking your YouTube videos for a meaningful keyword will be slim to none.


So the first step is to do YouTube keywordresearch. Unlike traditional Google search engine optimization,YouTube doesn’t have an official keyword research tool. And a lot of these third party tools are just pumpingout arbitrary numbers from Google Keyword seo But there are ways you can get estimated search volumes.

The first is to use YouTube suggest paired with Google Trends. Just type a keyword into the search bar, and you’ll see a list of relevant queries that contain your keyword. You can also add a star before or after your target keyword, which will act as a “wildcard.” Now, since we don’t have an official tool to see search volumes, we can throw a few YouTube suggestions into Google Trends. But remember, Google Trends uses “relative popularity” to compare keywords. So take these estimates with a grain of salt.

The second way to get keyword volumes is touse Ahrefs’ Keywords seo Recently, we’ve released our latest version of keywords Explorer, which includes search volumes and metrics for search engines like Google, YouTube, Bing, Amazon, Baidu, and more. Just select YouTube as the search engine and enter a keyword or a list of keywords. Right away, you’ll see country-specific search volumes, clicks data, global search volumes, and have access to five keyword idea reports. You can also enter a list of up to 10,000keywords you want to analyze. The best way to get a list of keywords is to use TubeBuddy or VidIQ’s Chrome extension. Just run a search in YouTube, and look to the right sidebar. You’ll see VidIQ’s “Related Queries,” or TubeBuddy’s”Most Used Tags” sections. Just choose all relevant keywords you want to analyze, click the Copy button, and paste your list into Keywords Explorer. We’ll then show you all keywords that have youtube search volume according to our database. Now, search volumes are great and all, but the power of Keywords Explorer is in generating new keyword ideas.

Let’s say you want to start a channel on makeup tutorials. Just type “makeup” into Keywords Explorer. And I’ll also include a couple common variations like make-up and make-up. Then go to the Phrase match report, whichlists all keywords in our database that contain your seed keywords. youtube seoAnd you’ll see over 202,000 keyword ideas! Let’s narrow in on some more focused topics. So I’ll click on the “include” dropdown and type in a list of related keywords like eye, face, Halloween, wedding, and bridal. Finally, choose the “Any word” tab, which will show us all keywords that contain any of these keywords. And we have over 17,000 relevant topics to create videos on. Bottom line: there is no shortage of great keyword ideas.

Now, YouTube search is great and all, but why not maximize your views by ranking your videos on Google too? Don’t think it’s that important? Think again. Google search is one of our top external trafficsources and sent us over 7,400 views in the past 28 days. Also, a study done by GetSTAT shows that VideoSERP features increased by around 75% in 2017 for their sample list of keywords. Now in 2019, it’s tough to browse Google formore than ten minutes without seeing a video result. There are a few ways to find videos that getsearch traffic from Google. The first is to search for your target keyword.

youtube seo

If you see a video carousel or another video SERP feature, then you have an opportunity to rank in that position too. Pay attention to video length and titles to get an idea of what Google wants to show.

The second way is to use Content Explorer

Content Explorer, which lets you search for any word or phrase and get all relevant pages with their SEOand social metrics. To find YouTube videos that are ranking in google, I’ll search for: inurl:watch title:unboxing,assuming that’s the topic I wanted to search for. Then, I’ll sort the result by search trafficand you can immediately see the estimated amount of Google search traffic these videosget each month, as well as the titles, descriptions, and social stats. Once you find a video that interests you,click on the Details button, and then the Organic keywords tab where you can see allof the keywords and the ranking position for the video on Google.

Looking into both Google and YouTube searchlets you double-dip your traffic sources and get more views to your videos. Alright,

step 2 is to identify search intent.Search intent (or keyword intent) refers to the reason why a user searches for a queryin a search engine. Now, search engines are usually good at doingthis for you. Just search for the keyword you want to rankfor in YouTube and analyze the content and angle of the top 3 results. For example, if you want to teach people howto make a website, then you would probably give them a step-by-step tutorial. YouTube agrees.

But what if you want to rank for “NintendoSwitch games?” YouTube will tell you that people want tosee a “listicle-type” video. Now, let’s say that you’re a florist and youwant to rank for “viola.” Bad idea. All of the results show that someone searchingfor this term wants to know about the instrument. Not the plant or the actress. Let’s move on to step 3, which is the mostimportant. And that’s to satisfy search intent with ahigh-retention video. YouTube says that their goals are to helpviewers find the videos they want to watch and maximize long-term viewer engagement andsatisfaction. And if you’re matching the reason for a user’squery, then your chance of having higher watch times for the video increases. Here are the exact steps we take to createhigh-retention videos.

First and foremost, plan your videos beforeyou create them. If you’re creating how-to videos, the lastthing you want to do is stumble over your words or show sloppy demonstrations. Proper planning helps keep your ideas on pointand gives you the advantage of intentionally including keywords within your video, whichpeople believe YouTube uses in their ranking algorithm.

Second, you need to start with a strong hook.The first 10-15 seconds are critical for your video’s success. Hook your readers, and you’ll have audienceretention graphs that look like this. Forego the hook and lose the majority of yourviewers before you even get a chance to deliver value. Every niche is different and unfortunately,there isn’t one formula that works for everyone. Being in the how-to and informational spacefor a B2B audience, I like to start off with stats or proof so that’s worth your time to keep watching. Like in this video on YouTube SEO, I startedoff by showing you how we rank in the top 3 for a lot of competitive keywords. I also showed you that our search trafficgrew by almost 400%. And most importantly, I tell you that I’mgoing to show you the exact steps we used so you can try and replicate our results. Drop-offs in the first 15 seconds is inevitable.Content Explorer But you can minimize the damage by connectingwith your audience’s reason for watching and showing that you have a solution to that problem. Third, you need to edit your videos strategically.For every single video we create, our focus isn’t to impress you with cool tricks. We care about engagement. So rather than getting into a full-out editingtutorial, I’ll leave you with a few power tips. First, use jump cuts. A jump cut is a transition between two shotsfrom the same position.

Youtube seo

It creates the effect of the scene “jumping,”hence, the name, “jump cut.” These add dynamics to a video and help polishmistakes. Second, draw your audience’s attention towhat you want them to see. Pay attention for a second. If you’ve never used our Site Explorer toolbefore, and I say something like: “Click on the Linked domains report.” Did you see it? Probably not. But I could easily draw your eyes to the linkeddomains report by doing this, this, this, or even this. The effects don’t need to be fancy, but theyshould help your audience follow along to avoid drop-offs due to confusion.

The last tip is to entertain with storiesor narratives. YouTube is an entertainment platform. But entertaining isn’t easy. So while our primary focus is to teach SEOand marketing, we do our best to make it somewhat entertaining without trying too hard. If you’ve watched up to here, then you’veprobably seen some examples, so I won’t go deeper into that. We have a full video on the workflow we useto edit our videos for YouTube, so I highly recommend watching that, which I’ll link up. Alright,

step 3 is to do on-page video optimization. On-page optimizations for YouTube boils downto 4 things: We have the Title, Description, Tags, and Thumbnail. Each of these help provide context to yourvideo and/or will influence your bottomline: click-through-rates.

After all, no clicks = no views. Here are a few best practices to craft searchableand clickable videos, according to YouTube.

Tip 1 is to use your keyword in the title.YouTube suggests using the most relevant search terms in your titles and descriptions aslong as they’re accurate and not excessive. A study from Briggsby also shows that morethan 90% of top ranking videos included at least part of a target keyword in their title. While it seems important to include at leastpartial matches of your target keyword in your title, you don’t want to sacrifice the”click-worthiness” of it.

Tip 2 is to keep your titles under 60 characters. YouTube recommends keeping your titles concisewith the most important information up front. From an SEO perspective, that will often meanusing your target keyword near the beginning of your title. For example, our target keyword for this video is YouTube SEO. And you’ll see that we added the phrase rightat the beginning. Keeping your titles short will also prevent losingclicks from truncation in search, suggested, and browse features.

youtube seo

Tip 3 is to write catchy titles that evokecuriosity or highlight a benefit. If you were to create a tutorial on tyinga tie, a keyword rich title might be, “how to tie a tie.” But that’s uninteresting at best. There are numerous angles you could take like:How to tie a tie with the “007 technique;” How to tie a tie in 11 seconds flat;My 3-year old teaches you how to tie a tie. The point is that boring titles are less likelyto stand out in a competitive seo


Tip 4 is to create a thumbnail that complementsyour title. In my opinion, this is the hardest part toexecute consistently. Here’s the thumbnail for our SEO mistakesvideo. The thumbnail text describes the video since91% is the majority. And if you look closely, there’s a pictureof Google’s page numbers with the third part circled stating, “You are here.” You can also draw inspiration from thingsaround you and use your image to speak undeniable truths like our video, “How long does ittake to rank on Google.” And if you’re stuck, try and get ideas fromGoogle images or stock photos. For example, I searched for the word “system” in AdobeStock, and was inspired by this image. So I used the idea to create our thumbnailfor our link building system video but cooler.

The next video optimization tip is to writesearchable descriptions. YouTube says using the “right” keywords canboost views and watch time because they help your videos show up in search results. But what are “the right” keywords? For starters, we include our target keywordin both the title and description. But we also include related keywords by analyzingthe descriptions of the top ranking videos. Just type in the keyword you want to rankfor, then look through the description for keywords that have relevance to your topic. For example, this video uses language like”free traffic” and talks about traffic in the context of a blog. Another phrase used is “increase website traffic.” These might be keywords that I want to includewithin my description or other closely related keywords where my video matches the content.

Next up are Tags. And tags are another way to give context to your video, which can help you rank in YouTube search and suggested. YouTube simplifies this by recommending to add keywords and phrases that are most descriptive of your video. You can also use tools like VidIQ or TubeBuddyto see the tags for competing videos in the sidebar. Look for common tags within competing videos,and add them to your video when it makes sense to do so. And as an extra measure, I’ll normally copyall of the tags from the top ranking videos, and paste them into Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorerto see the search volumes on these tags.


Step 4 are In-Video Optimizations. Creating the video is 80% of the battle. There are additional optimizations you cando to increase retention rate and create a better user experience for your viewers. The first thing is to add subtitles or closedcaptions. Many creators, including myself, believe thatYouTube reads closed captions to better understand the context of videos. And chances are, your viewers come from allover the world with a different native tongue. So it’s worth using a transcription serviceor if your videos are scripted, just go to the CC tab of your video, select your language,and create your closed captions file. To give you an idea, around 17% of our viewersuse our English subtitles when watching our videos. The second thing to do is to add cards toyour video.

These are an interactive feature that encouragesviewers to take one of these 5 actions. Just select the timecode where you want thecard to trigger, select the type of card you want to use, choose an appropriate option,and you’re all set. Now, when a viewer hits that timecode, the titleof the video will slide in as a suggestion. Finally, use end screens. End screens are similar to cards. The purpose is to keep viewers on the YouTubeplatform. For our channel, we have a Subscribe buttonas well as a suggested video the viewer should watch next. This can help you get more subscribers, keepviewers consuming your content, and increase one of the metrics YouTube uses in their rankingalgorithm, session time. I’ll expand on this in a bit. For now, let’s move on to step 5, which isto publish and promote your video. The first 24-48 hours from publishing canmake or break your video. So you need to promote your video as hardas you can right away. Here are some rapid-fire tips to do that. First, promote to your existing audience.

At Ahrefs, we publish at around 8:00 AM Easterntime on Wednesdays. We then use an inapp alert to notify our customersabout a new piece of content we created. At noon, we tweet out our video link, whichsends us more viewers directly to our video. And of course, we send an email newsletterto our blog about 24 hours after the video was live. Now, if you don’t have an existing audience,a few things you can do are to post on relevant niche forums like Quora. Just search for the topic of your video, providea helpful answer and include your video in the mix. You can also post on other platforms likeReddit, Facebook, or wherever. The point is that you need to get involvedwhere your audience hangs out. Last but not least is to use YouTube ads. Right now, from our experience, YouTube ads are super cheap. You can target by interest, keyword, or customaudiences. If you have a great video, set up some searchads based on your target keyword with the intention to earn their subscription. As your subscriber base grows, they’ll beginto get notified with your future videos and help accelerate your growth without breakingthe bank.

The last and final step is to optimize yourvideos for session watch time. Session watch time is the total time a viewer watches videos on YouTube without leaving the platform. YouTube said in its Creator Blog: “We’ve started adjusting the ranking of videosin YouTube search to reward engaging videos that keep viewers watching. As with previous optimizations to our discoveryfeatures, this should benefit your channel if your videos drive more viewing time acrossYouTube” Here are a few more ways to improve sessiontime.

First, create series. Think of series like #AskGaryVee or 490 episodesof Casey Neistat’s Vlog. Series hook people and if they like what theysee, they keep watching, which increases your total session watch time. We’ve created 3 series in total. One on keyword research, another on link building,and a shorter one on WordPress SEO. The first two were made to educate our customers,while the WordPress SEO series was meant to rank. And rank we did. To encourage viewers to watch the next videoin the series, add it as an end screen or add a card to the next video near the end. This will make it easy for viewers to findthe next video in your series.

How to Get More YouTube Subscribers in 2020

Now, the next part is where the magic happens. And that’s to turn your playlist into seriesplaylists. A playlist is a list of videos that playsin the order they’re set. Whereas a series playlist is everything Ijust said, but it’s also a creator’s way to tell YouTube that your group of videos isan “official” list of videos. Think of how Netflix does it with seasonsand episodes of your favorite show. They’re in a specific order and skipping acouple episodes probably wouldn’t be a good idea. Using series playlists helps YouTube understandorder and increases your chances of claiming the “up next” spot. If you’ve done the card, endscreen, and seriesplaylist, you now have 3 places where your next video will be recommended to viewers. The last and final tip to boost your videoSEO is to use my channel page hack. Your channel page will likely be one of yourmost visited pages so it’s worth optimizing.

Here’s how the channel page hack works. If you look at our channel, the first 4 videosin this stripe look kind of random. But they are not. Each of these videos is the first series inone of the 3 series we have on our channel. And the only reason the fourth video is inthe same series as this video is because we don’t have a fourth series. Now, since all of these videos are separateseries playlists, look what happens when I click on them. The up next video is always the next videoin the series.

So no matter which video you click, it heightensour chances of getting viewers to keep watching videos on our channel. While YouTube doesn’t have a “session watchtime” metric in their analytics, I’m a strong believer that my channel playlist hack contributedto our massive increase in overall watch time since the day I added it. YouTube SEO from a technical perspective is easy. Optimize your titles, descriptions, and tags. Then add relevant cards, end screens or description links and you’re good to go. But the most challenging part of video SEO is engaging your audience. So take these processes and tips and focusyour attention on these 3 things: entertain, engage, and rank. Now, if you enjoyed this video, make sure to like, share and subscribe, and if you have any questions about our video SEO process, leave a comment below and I’d be happy to help. So keep grinding away, create your videos strategically, and I’ll see you in the next tutorial.

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