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SEO Tips for YouTube

SEO Tips for YouTube

It’s no surprise that there’s a growing interest in SEO tips for YouTube, in fact it’s a topic that comes up regularly with our content marketing clients. Here’s the reason why.

YouTube now ranks as the second-largest search engine in the world. Not only that, but users tend to stay on the channel and watch multiple videos much more readily than staying on a single website and reading multiple articles. For social media marketing, YouTube is pretty much mandatory these days.

In this article, we look at YouTube as a search engine, a channel that will draw visitors to your content and by extension, your website.

At Helter Skelter Studios, we make marketing videos for our clients, promoting their goods and services. Naturally, we feature these videos on our own channel – but here’s the thing, no matter how good the video, the viewing figures for client commissioned content on our own channel are terrible. There’s a reason for that – promotional videos are very rarely searched for on YouTube. They are viewed in the main by people that are considering working with us. The natural home for promotional videos is the brand’s own channels.

To get the best out of YouTube as a search engine, as a means of driving traffic to a website, we need to understand how viewers relate to the content.

So first we’ll look at the precis – this article is long and your time is valuable!

SEO Tips for YouTube – Precis

Think of youTube as Search Engine – the same principles apply.

With that in mind, create content that is as useful as possible. Then optimise it properly so that yor keywords are obvious to the search engine and the video is attractive to the viewer as it appears in the search results. Pay attention to

  • Title
  • Description
  • Tags
  • Thumbnail

And don’t forget to also optimise your Channel

  • Front Page
  • Playlists
  • About

Ok that’s the gist of it – now let’s move to the detail!

Understanding YouTube

YouTube is a media channel that started life as a video hosting service and evolved into a sophisticated search engine for video content. It. is now second only to Google in terms of search volume.

Let’s take a look at how we can be more successful on YouTube!

YouTube Channel

One account can have multiple YouTube channels and we do. The idea of a channel is largely brand-centric. It gives you an opportunity to create a niche where your viewers can find a certain type of content or simply to showcase types of content that you may be interested in but don’t necessarily sit well together.

For example, as a marketing business owner I post a selection of our marketing output, but as a photographer, I also post “how to” videos about photography. The two types of content don’t naturally sit together, the channels have different audiences and intent, the first is to demonstrate to potential clients that we make good content, the second is simply passing on expertise to fellow photographers.

A channel has branding and allows you to create playlists that may help your viewers locate the content they want to see.

What Type of Video thrives on YouTube?

There is so much content on YouTube that it’s sometimes difficult to see the wood for the trees. We’re focusing on Search Engine Optimisation here so we can ignore a lot of the content even though it may be successful, in favour of content types that are actually searched for on both YouTube and Google. These include –

  • How-to Videos (“how to make the perfect scrambled eggs”)
  • Reviews (“First Ride on the Orbea Keram MTB”)
  • Tutorials (“How to use layers in Photoshop”)
  • Fitness and Sports (“Leeds United Season 2022”)
  • Comedy videos (Jonathan Pie on UK Politics)

Broadly speaking, unless you are a comedian or a sports personality, then your content needs to be useful.

Like any search engine, YouTube needs to keep its customers happy and so if the first priority is to enable the search algorithms to rank your content, then equally important is that your content delivers to the viewer exactly what they were looking for. If your content is rubbish, then no amount of optimisation will work in the long term.

We can talk about quality until the world turns blue, my rule of thumb is that whatever niche the video serves, new content needs to be “better” than existing content. Before we address that, let’s take a look at the ways in which you can enable YouTube to rank your video.

Video Optimisation

Video Keywords

Just like any other form of content, keywords are of real importance. YouTube has no helpful field entitled “Keywords” though. Instead it uses a variety of other inputs to work out what the keyword is.

Video Title, Description and Tags

The Title, Description and Tags all offer an opportunity to include a keyword or phrase. Ideally the title of the. video should also be the filename and should preferably be the answer to a question.

If the Search term is “How to Rank Videos on YouTube” then the Title could be “SEO Tips for YouTube“.

The best proctice is to place the keyword is at the front of the title. This is a powerful indicator to YouTube that the video is focused on your key phrase.

Tags, hidden in the SHOW MORE section in YouTube offer another opportunity to tell the search engine more about the video and the categories in which it should be included.

Video Description

The Description field allows you to input a fuller description of your video and of course, similar to blog post meta descriptions, should include the keyword or phrase, near the top.

This is not just for the benefit of the search algorithm, it is for the benefit of the viewer. In both the results and in the actual video page, YouTube only shows the first sentence or so.

Video Thumbnail

Always select or create a thumbnail that will reinforce the brand or make clear to to the viewer what the video is about.

These are the inputs that you can use to help YouTube understand what the video is for and why it should be ranked.

Let’s take a look at the off-page ranking factors – these have a lot more to do with quality.

YouTube Ranking Factors

These metrics are everything to do with how engaging your content is. Bear in mind that it is a lot easier to tweak a blog post than it is to re-edit a video, so much of this section is about refining your content on an ongoing basis.

On YouTube, audience retention is the primary measure of Quality. This is drawn from a number of sources.

Audience Retention

These are the factors YouTube uses to determine the quality of a video in terms of whether it suits them to suggest a video as the result of a search. It’s important to be clear about this, it has nothing to do with the production values and everything to do with the YouTube viewing experience.

There are some videos ranking highly on YouTube with abysmal production values, simply because they answer a question that is frequently searched for.

Video Comments

Comments are the first clue as to how engaging a video is. The more comments, the more engaging it is rated to be.


YouTube measures the number of people that subscribe to a channel after watching the video.

Video Shares

The number of times a YouTube video is shared indicates a level of engagement and how popular the video is with the YouTube audience.

Click Through Rate

This measures the frequency with which your video is selected amongst the search results to be watched.

Thumbs up/down

A very simple metric that tells YouTube whether the video answers the question. In tndem with comments, it also gives a host of other clues, such as whether the presenter is annoying or popular.

Average View Duration

This is the average duration that people spend watching your video. The higher the better. Ideally everyone will watch to the end, in reality there are lots of reasons they may not. Anything over 50% is acceptable.

Watch Time

The total number of hours the video has been watched for.

Why Audience Retention Metrics Matter to You

All of the above data is also accessible to you and it should be used on an ongoing basis to guide the content creation process, see what works and what doesn’t.

Now, let’s go through the process from beginning to end.

How to Improve Video Ranking on YouTube

Choice of Topic

This is not actually as obvious as you might think. As a photographer, I might want to showcase my photography and video work but as we’ve seen above (and as my analytics remind me daily), what people want to see is how I created the pictures I create. So a video that simply records me climbing a hill at dawn, wittering inanities into the camera as I go is all about me – not interesting, rather than the process – interesting.

The single biggest mistake I see on YouTube is people making videos about themselves rather than the much more interesting things that are going on around them. Be useful.

Keyword Selection

Once you have chosen a topic, then the next step like any other content is to choose keywords. You need to build a list and whittle it down rather than simply diving straight in.

YouTube Search is invaluable because just like Google Search, it tells you what people are searching for on a topic you type into the search bar.

Another good way of getting keywords is to look at your competition. This is much easier than it sounds – go to a channel that is in your niche and sort the videos in order of most popular. Find the video that you think you can improve on and look at the keywords in the Title and Description.

Most Popular Videos

The third way is to use the Research tab in YouTube Studio (accessible via the drop down menu under your logo on top right of your channel.

Now, and this is really important, sort out the high competition keywords and ditch them. Until you are a YouTube giant, you need to focus on low competition video keywords. Unfortunately YouTube doesn’t tell you how popular a search term is, but Google does.

Take your shortlist and input them one at a time into Google Search using the formula yoursearchterm site:youtube.* so that Google returns only the searches on YouTube. The results will tell you immediately how popular that search term is and how much content serves it.

Caveat: If there is only one search a month for the keyword it will not serve you well! you can get an idea of search volume from the amount of content as described earlier, but if you have access to a Google Ads account or any of the popular SEO tools, like Moz, Semrush or Ahrefs you can get an actual monthly search figure.

Video Content (Attention retention)

Obviously great content brings its own reward, but you need to pay attention to the concept of attention retention. As described above, YouTube uses metrics associated with engagement to evaluate the quality of your content.

So if your keyword is “SEO Tips for YouTube” you have to demonstrate that in the content. Sounds obvious but isn’t!

If your video at the half way point seems as though it’s going to reveal the answer the question, then people will keep watching. 

Aside from that factor then production values start to matter. Beautiful images will serve you well, and spectacular video footage too. If you are competing wth another video in the same space, make sure your video is better.

Upload the Video

Your filename is probably something determined by the camera. Keeping the filetype extension, change the name to the name of the video (which should also be or include your keyword.

YouTube Studio

The YouTube Studio interface is where you enter the metadata that is used by both Google and YouTube to analyse your video and crucially, assign it a rank in the listings.

Fill in the Title and Description fields making sure that your keyword is featured. Choose a playlist, select an audience and set visibility. Go to the bottom of the page and click Show More.

Allow Automatic Chapters (This allows users to skip to the nitty gritty in longer videos) and fill in the tags. Put your keyword first and then add other tags to help the Search Engine come to the correct conclusions about how your video sits in the context of other videos.

For example – if I turned this post into a video, then my first tag would be SEO Tips For YouTube and I might also include tags such as Video optimisation, Ranking in YouTube, Content Marketing and so on.

Set the language, date, location and licensing and you’re done.

Promote the Video

Don’t rely on SEO to work miracles, remember the most important part of this is how popular, useful and effective your video is, so promote it like mad on every possible platform. Embed it in a tweet, feature it in a blog post. Put it on Facebook with a link to YouTube. In this way, you’ll generate an audience and sow the seeds of good quality rating.

Missed Opportunities

Google Search

If you can get your video to come up in Google Search then happy days! To help with this, in the keyword selection phase, input your chosen keywords into google search just as if you are searching for that term. Some keywords generate a section of videos at the top of the listing. Using these keywords gives you a good chance of featuring in both Google and YouTube Search results.

Keyword in voiceover

YouTube transcribes the videos automatically and its getting pretty good at it! That makes a keyword opportunity.


Playlists give you the opportunity to make it easier for the viewer, browsing YouTube to find the content that is of most interest to them. 

As a content creator, on my personal channel there is content that I have created or contributed to and there is instructional material. I have a playlist for each one on the Playlists Tab.

End Screen and Cards

The End Screen and Cards give you an opportunity to engage the viewer further, whether its by subscribing to. your channel or going to another. video. YouTube will love you for keeping viewers on the platform!


Hopefully SEO Tips for YouTube sheds some light on the process and practice of YouTube video optimisation. Like every other aspect of our business its based on personal experience working with clients. It is sure to evolve, so I’d love to get your feedback – drop a comment in the form below the article!

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