SEO For YouTube: Playing (And Winning) By The Rules

seo for youtubeIf you’re unfamiliar with SEO, then you’re probably thinking one of two things: 1) that SEO is as simple as coming up with quality titles for content, and some people are naturally good at that sort of thing, or 2) you have a vague understanding of what SEO entails and, thus, are more confused than ever.

The truth is that SEO is kind of like a game; every search engine has its own set of rules, and once you know what they are, it makes a seemingly nonsensical game quite easy to play. YouTube, the second most popular search engine in the world behind Google, is no different. Learning the rules changes everything, especially when you aren’t sure whose advice to trust. Below I detail several ways to optimize SEO in YouTube, debunking myths along the way and detailing the rules of YouTube’s SEO game. As you’re soon to find out, this YouTube ranking and optimization mastery course will come in awfully handy.

Watch Time

The first, and arguably most important aspect of YouTube SEO, is creating quality and engaging content from start to finish. This sounds obvious, but the reason for it isn’t exactly intuitive. YouTube gives preference to watch time. If you have a ten minute video with a million views, then that’s a great start, but if the average watch time per viewer is less than a minute, you’re going to lose the SEO battle to a video with fifty-thousand views whose viewers stay tuned for the duration of the video (don’t believe me? do the math). Watch time is everything. It means that people are finding something they like to watch, and YouTube will give these videos preference a billion times out of a billion.


If you upload a video about Romanticism and the French Revolution, you aren’t going to have too much difficulty attaining a high ranking. The competition just doesn’t exist. But if you’re teaching someone about social media marketing, or yoga’s downward facing dog, or even YouTube SEO, you need to get creative to make your video stand apart, either by the quality or entertainment-factor of the content. You need to make sure every viewer watches your video for as long as possible. That’s the most important way for you to climb the charts, and you can get a leg-up on the competition with this video-based course on learning how to create videos that thrive on YouTube.

Geography 101

Ultimately, YouTube SEO is about execution, and in the end it comes down to who has the best content and the best grasp of the fundamentals. There are, however, a few little tricks that still exist and “geotagging” is one of them. This isn’t a game changer, per se, but it is certainly beneficial for businesses as it can help recycle your video based on location relevance.

How to “geotag”:

  1. Locate your video in the Video Manager.
  2. Go to Advanced Settings.
  3. Type in the location of your business (or other desired location) in the Search field.
  4. The location will then be displayed on a map. If the location is correct, click Save. If is it incorrect, you can either enter a new location or drag the map marker hither and thither until your correct location is displayed. Click Save and YouTube will store this information in the form of latitude and longitude coordinates.

If you are, in fact, using YouTube for your business, I imagine you would find this entertaining article on the best business practices and strategies for YouTube quite appealing.

Video Keywords

Keywording is old news, but it’s more important than ever. Yes, you want your video to be keyworded for YouTube, but think about how most people find videos: Google (or other search engines). You have probably noticed in the past few years that if you search for something for which a video is a relevant response (i.e. Wolf of Wall Street trailer), about two-thirds of the page will be filled with links to web pages, but the other third is reserved (that’s right, reserved) for direct links to videos. More often than not, these videos are hosted by YouTube.

Let’s think about what this means. If people on Google are searching for yoga tutorials, and if you have managed, through video keywording, to convince Google that your video is in the top, say, half dozen or so best videos, then you literally have a space reserved for you on the first page. Not only that, Google will display a picture of your video. So instead of clicking on a link that may or may not host a real video, Googlers can ensure that they are going to get what they want with a direct link, they know they can save a click or two by wiring straight to your video, and Google advertises your video with a picture of your content. If you can nail the keywording, it’s like fishing with dynamite. And if all this talk of “first page” got you excited, here is a comprehensive, top-ranked lesson on how to rank up your YouTube videos to the first page of Google.

Keywords: Title

Now that you’re chomping at the bit for keyword advice, let’s take a look at how you can optimize your choices, both for Google and YouTube.

First, your title. Try to keep your title under 60 characters for Google, or Google and other search engines will truncate any extra wording. I think there’s a subliminal aspect to this, as well. When you’re skimming Google’s results, you tend to overlook or mistrust titles that are not fully displayed (because who knows what you aren’t seeing). Your keywords should be at the very beginning of your title, too.  For example, if your keywords are “HTML Tutorials,” then your title should be something like, “HTML Tutorials For Beginners,” and not, “A Beginner’s Guide to HTML Tutorials.” Got it? Good. Now learn how to research your niche and optimize it for keywords with a five-star course.

Keywords: Description

For your description, the character count allows 2-3 sentences (160 characters if you’re going Google specific; 350+ for YouTube; more on this soon). It is very, very important that the primary key words you use in your title also appear in your description at least once.

Here is some basic keywording advice that will help your video rank higher in YouTube (and, for that matter, just about any other search engine):

If a video is deemed instructive, you get huge ranking points. So things like “How to . . .” or “Tutorial on . . .” or “Building a . . .” or “Setting up . . .” or “Review for . . .” etc. are all excellent choices. Current trends that are probably going to stick around for a while include anything pertaining to sports and, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, fitness and health. If you can communicate that your video is funny, that doesn’t hurt either.

Keywording Myths (Among Many, Many Others)

There are so many myths out there . . . it’s depressing to think how much time has been wasted in keywording vain. You can get more free, reputable advice from this blog article on streamlining SEO tips.

First of all, keywords are irrelevant in file names. Normally, the more places your keywords show up, the better. But file names are not one of them. End of story.

Second, tags and transcripts. You will find this in almost every single tutorial on ranking YouTube videos, and it is one hundred percent false. Honestly, I don’t know who started this rumor and how they got it to proliferate (especially considering the fact they don’t know proper SEO). The myth is this: since you’ve already written a transcript for a video, it’s so easy to boost rank by just copy/pasting it into the description. Wrong.

The best advice for descriptions is what I already gave you: for Google, no more than 160 characters; for YouTube, however, you want to write a few very informative paragraphs. Like I said, at least 350 characters, and if you can mention your keywords two or three times, even better. While a good description probably won’t work instant magic on your rankings, it’s all part of lesson number one: quality content. It will inform viewers of what they are going to watch and often carries its weight in increasing watch time. I found this blog post both well-received and quite informative on how to get more out of keywording.


While the transcript deceit going around is quite horrifying, I feel that “tags” deserves its own paragraph. Why? Because, believe it or not, copying popular video tags into your own video is against YouTube policy. You can scroll through YouTube’s nearly infinite policy center, or you can take my word for it. I recommend the latter. Give it a Google search if you have your doubts. Has anyone ever suffered severe consequences for violating this policy? Honestly, I don’t know. I couldn’t find anything doing my own research, but I doubt something like this would make the news. If someone flags you, though, I don’t think YouTube has any problem banishing a rotten egg, what with all the billion good ones laying around.


As a matter of fact, views can be as important as watch time, and you can learn to rock your YouTube views with this slick tutorial.  But there’s a big catch these days. First of all, have you heard of Fiver ( Fiver is this ingenious, although totally ridiculous, service in which you can pay for things like views, likes, dislikes (that’s right, you can pay to have your competition’s videos disliked, how low is that?), etc. YouTube, being a hulking search giant, easily squashes these falsities under foot. Real views are all that matter. And this brings us back to viewer retention. The longer people watch your video (as long as said people are real, live human beings), the better. And the more of them you can get, better still. If you’re interested in spreading content around, this is a really wonderful blog post that goes into some pretty awesome statistical info on YouTube and Vimeo. It’s a fun read either way.

YouTube Channel

I don’t want to spend a lot of time here because this is more indirect SEO. The short story is this: if you have a relatively popular channel, or if your business does, or if anyone you are, or can be, partnered with has a solid YouTube channel, it is beneficial to post a video on a channel rather than by itself. A popular channel already has a backlog of views, watch time, all that stuff. A stand-alone video has to start from square one. This rule spans the entire internet. Posting a blog article? You’ll get a lot more attention if you use an established platform. If you want to get your hands on some great info, this course supplies everything you need to know about setting up and managing a successful YouTube channel.

Closed Captioning

This is mostly a myth, so I wouldn’t waste too much time on it. Captions aren’t entirely useless, though. If you have what you think is a breakthrough video, captions can help Google and YouTube more accurately rank your video. Accuracy doesn’t mean “more,” mind you. But it can help make your video easier to find.

It also has the benefits of expanding your audience. YouTube is a worldwide website, and if you can add a few languages into your tutorial, that, in my opinion, is pretty awesome. Even if it doesn’t score you gobs of views, it represents the good side of the internet: sharing valuable information with as many people as possible. Even if you can’t get another language in there, you can still add English captions for the deaf. Either way, captions are advantageous in the fact that they expand your audience and make your video more accurate. They do not, however, automatically boost your rank. Myth = busted.

Aging With Grace

Wow, who would have though SEO could be so poignant? While age does not – I repeat, does not – increase your video’s rank, you can play it to your advantage. If you create something lasting, such as, “The Key To Happiness,” then you’re video will appreciate with time; since happiness will always be relevant, you can predict that your video will gain more and more views and watch time with each passing day. I don’t mean to toy with your hope, but one day you just might see it at the top of the list.

On the other hand, a video about iPhone 3 probably hasn’t been viewed in the last decade (I mean, seriously, iPhone 3?). So while age has no effect whatsoever on rank, it can definitely be played to an advantage.

Once you’ve mastered SEO for Youtube, make it work for you. Check out this sweet course on leveraging YouTube to drive sales and traffic.  It’s even been updated to account for recent changes in YouTube layout.