Video – I’d say it’s the hot new thing, but it’s not 2005.

When YouTube burst onto the scene in the mid-2000s, it wasn’t nearly the giant it is today. Holding the monopoly on video content on the internet, YouTube is the world’s second-largest search engine behind its parent company, Google. YouTube’s monthly active users eclipsed 2 billion worldwide (Statista, 2020) in 2020. And that’s just users with an active Google account!

But most importantly, 8/10 marketers (78.8%) believe it’s the most effective platform for video marketing, which is astonishing considering that only 58.5% of marketers think the same about Facebook.


YouTube SEO is similar to search engine SEO, but instead of optimizing websites to rank in Google, Bing and beyond, we’re optimizing videos, playlists, and channels to rank higher in YouTube’s organic search algorithm for any given keyword. 

When we talk about where we want to rank higher, we’re actually talking about six different areas in the YouTube platform:

  • In search results
  • In the recommended streams
  • On the YouTube homepage
  • In trending streams
  • In channel subscriptions
  • In notifications

With that much exposure at stake, it’s hard to imagine why you wouldn’t try to invest in an organic strategy.


The goals of YouTube’s search and discovery system are pretty self-explanatory – they’re easy to grasp, and common sense (if you’re an SEO).

YouTube’s goals are to:

  • Help viewers find the videos they want to watch, and 
  • Maximize long-term viewer engagement and satisfaction.

That gives us a bit of an insight into their search and discovery algorithm. 

Videos are ranked in a similar way to organic search results. They’re ranked on how well the title, description, and video content match the user’s intent and query. Where it gets interesting and a little tricky for organic marketers is that beyond the standard “intent” based algorithm, YouTube takes into account which videos have the most engagement, and makes it easier for viewers to find those.

So, not only do we have to keep kicking butt at intent matching, we also have to take into consideration engagement metrics with these videos. This makes sense if we go back to their goals:

  • Help viewers find the videos they want to watch ← Intent matching
  • Maximize long-term viewer engagement and satisfaction ← engagement metrics

YouTube has baked in engagement metrics to their algorithm to keep you on YouTube.

More video views = more ads = more bank for YouTube.

So what do we mean when we say “engagement metrics”? Google’s patent for the YouTube algorithm here, but we’ve distilled it below. Some can be seen in the YouTube Analytics platform:

  • Engagement
    • likes, dislikes, shares
  • Impressions vs plays
    • what people watch or don’t watch 
  • Watch time, or retention
    • how much time people spend watching your video 
  • View velocity, rate of growth
    • how quickly a video’s popularity snowballs, or doesn’t 

Others that may not be so obvious but are somewhat in our control include:

  • Upload frequency
    • how often a channel uploads new video
  • How new a video is
    • new videos may get extra attention in order to give them a chance to snowball
  • Session time
    • how much time people spend on the platform
  • ‘not interested’ feedback

We’ll outline how to make tactical changes to your current video setup to maximize both engagement metrics and capitalize on user intent matching.


YouTube is a search engine – people are searching everyday for video content. That means that for the most part, content creation for YouTube requires the same depth of strategy as content for your website, which for SEOs, that means keyword research and intent matching.

Unlike typical keyword research that one would typically use for Google or Bing, YouTube doesn’t have a fantastic set of keyword research tools out there. Or any kind of marketing tools really. It’s like the wild west of search.

But there are some fantastic tools and tricks we’ve found that you can use to assist in your research.


The OG intent matching tool. Autocomplete helps us understand what users are actually searching for related to your area of expertise. For the purpose of this article, my area of expertise is Golf (it’s not in real life, ask anyone).

Just by typing in Golf Swing, we get popular searches just on the platform. Now, this is helpful in a qualitative data way, but it isn’t backed by quantitative data. For that, we need another tool. Enter: Google Trends

Not many people know this, but Trends has a YouTube Search filter which will give YouTube specific search data in percentages, which makes it great for comparisons!

We can see by this example that “golf swing basics” – the first topic recommended by YouTube Autocomplete – has the highest average search volume over the last 12 months, so that’d be a great place to start.

If you need a vague number of searches per month to feel secure in your choice of keywords, I recommend downloading the Keywords Everywhere extension and enabling it for YouTube Search:

While this may not be an accurate representation of how many people are just on YouTube searching, it can help with prioritization.


There is so much we can learn from those who are already succeeding with YouTube optimization. To extract keywords from our competitor’s YouTube channel is quick and easy.

Step 1: Go to your competitor’s channel and sort their videos by “Most Popular”

This shows you what content is resonating with your target audience.

Step 2: Choose a video of theirs that is in line with what you want to create

Step 3: Review what keywords are being used in the title, description and video tags.

Video tags can be found by using the free VidIQ extension:

While all of those tags might not be relevant to what you want to promote with your content, it’s still useful to understand what other markets are out there that your competitors are speaking to.


Now that you’ve got the keywords you want to target all nailed down, it’s time to start creating your video. Coming back to YouTube’s goals, your videos will rank when people keep watching and audience retention is high.

But how do you do that? There’s 3 things you need to know (and if you’re an SEO copywriter, you already know them)

  1. Start your video off by answering the audience’s question. Sounds like a no-brainer, but 20% of people who start your video will leave after 10 seconds if they don’t hear the topic of the video repeated. 
  2. Jump right into the content.  Don’t waffle. Similar to answering the audience’s question in the first line of copy, we need to make sure we are efficient and that viewers understand what is happening at all points in the video. One way to do this is to:
  3. Give the user a verbal “table of contents”. Continually remind the viewer what they’re watching to increase engagement and let them know what’s coming up next.

Similar to the “build it and they will link” philosophy SEOs have, videos on YouTube with higher engagement opens the floodgates for your content to perform well going forward, but only if those engagement metrics are maintained.


Ok, your keywords are ready, your script is down, but now you’re asking yourself “how long do I make this thing?”

Again, let’s look at those goals:

  • Help viewers find the videos they want to watch, and 
  • Maximize long-term viewer engagement and satisfaction.

When we take “long-term” viewer engagement from those, we start to get the feeling that longer is better. And if you take YouTube’s goals and extrapolate them out, they want to be able to compete with TV. So when you’re thinking about your content, it could be better to create content that keeps people engaged for a long period of time rather than something that is short and sweet.

That all being said, it’s important to first and foremost know your audience and answer their questions in an efficient manner. If your competitors are posting 1 minute how-tos, and there’s nothing above 2 minutes, it may be that your 20 minute content piece is too long. Like content on websites, it’s a balancing act between creating the right amount of content that covers the topic and keeping users engaged enough to reach the end. Just be sure to keep your eyes on “watch time” as a metric. As watch time became more prevalent in the search algorithm, YouTube released a statement in which they answered the question “How can creators thrive in this new world?”

“The best thing creators can do to be successful on YouTube is make videos that people want to watch.”

Or, as SEOs like to say “build it and they will link”.


So now you’re a YouTube creation wiz, but you’re asking yourself “how often do I need to keep pumping out videos?”

And the answer shouldn’t surprise you by now:


YouTube isn’t just about one video’s success, it’s about the success of the overall channel. We mentioned before some factors affecting your YouTube success, including upload frequency and how new a video is, indicating that you need to form and engage with a subscriber base. Do this by posting regularly and forming trust with your viewers. Trust is formed through consistency online.



Just like the title of an article, the title should have the target keyword in it, preferably at the beginning. And just like in SEO-driven content, titles play a huge part in helping the user to understand what your content is about. The general SEO consensus on title length is that it should be somewhere between 5 and 10 words. The upper limit before truncation is 70 characters, so keep that in mind when creating your title.


This is where your SEO copywriting skills really have their moment in the spotlight.

Video descriptions help YouTube and Google to understand the content and context of your video more than they help the user. The copy should be descriptive and have the target keyword in the first 25 words. Just like our competitors, we want to make sure that we use a variety of keywords, all closely related, that give a clear indication of what the video is about.

Oftentimes with our clients, we recommend creating a blog post to accompany their video if we think it could be traffic driving. If that’s true for you also, make sure to include a link to the corresponding blog post in this description.

The upper character limit on descriptions is 5,000 characters (800 words) – and I wouldn’t be a very good digital marketer if I didn’t tell you to try to use every bit of it in a way that’s impactful and useful to the viewer.


Adding relevant tags to YouTube videos helps YouTube to better understand what your video is about. You can find relevant tags for competitor content by using the VidIQ tool mentioned above, and that may help build out your tags in a way that puts your content in the same arena as your competitors. Tags are important as they not only help you rank for those keywords, they can assist in getting your video to rank in the “suggested video” sidebar:


YouTube cards are a great way to encourage engagement from your viewer. You can encourage viewers to:

  • Watch another video (the most common)
  • Tune into another channel
  • Donate
  • Answer a poll
  • Visit a link

With all those calls to action, it’s important to be tactful on where cards are placed. Just like CTAs on blog posts, these cards are also susceptible to banner blindness, so don’t overuse them.


Playlists are one of the best ways to implement a hub and spoke model on YouTube. Creating content that is structured and organized helps Google and YouTube to understand what your channel is really about. Use your keyword research to find your niche and create content on that topic that all fits into a playlist. Once you start thinking about playlists as hubs and spokes, it’s impossible to go back.


The last thing I’ll touch on is how to optimize your channel page. It’s something that’s overlooked, but as I mentioned before, YouTube is looking for engagement with your subscriber base.

Here are 3 easy ways to optimize your channel page from an SEO perspective:

  1. Put the important information above the fold. Just like in web design, information below the fold is information lost. Add features like a Featured Video or push your playlist carousel to the top of the page for higher visibility.
  2. Add About Information that utilizes key, high performing keywords that your brand is trying to rank for as a whole.
  3. Ensure links to your site and socials are up to date. I see this time and again, where brands created a YouTube channel in 2006, and haven’t touched their links since – some people are STILL linking to their Google Plus page (embarrassing). Ensuring your socials are up to date gives search engines like Google a clearer picture of who your brand is and where they’re present on the internet.


Organic video promotion is where you can get creative. There are a couple of ways to get your video out into the world with the resources you have that can help your initial viewership and engagement numbers.


Not only is posting a blog about your new video a great way to gain traction, it’s an excellent way to give more context to the video as a whole. It gives you a chance to dive deeper into the content your video is about and get users to engage at a different level. It also gives you the opportunity to create a transcript for accessibility – and for people like me who watch videos on 2x speed and go back to read the transcript.


If you’re anything like me, you send countless emails every day. Adding a link to your new YouTube video can help increase it’s visibility and market directly to your target audience without costing you a cent.


Everyone’s got an email newsletter – Our newsletter is a great monthly wrap up of all search news from the past month, with some original gems in there too – you might have even stumbled on this article through it, in which case, thanks for your support!

Having a variety of content in your newsletter can help increase engagement and adding a link to a video or a video embed may just be the thing your newsletter is missing.


In this era, it’s hard for me to imagine a company that does not have a Twitter account, a Facebook page, or in some industries, a LinkedIn page. Yes, social media is taking over in these troubled times, so it’s the perfect place to promote your content to the people who know you best – your social media friends and fans.

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