YouTube Search Engine Optimization: A Beginner’s Guide

As one of the web’s most popular multimedia platforms, YouTube reaches more American consumers in an average week than every cable network combined. It draws in around 2 billion unique users each month, who together watch more than two hundred and fifty million hours of video a day. 

Granted, this is all self-reported data from Alphabet, YouTube’s parent company.  It was, notes online magazine Variety, intended as part of the company’s pitch to ad buyers.  Yet even if the numbers aren’t entirely accurate, one thing is clear. 

There’s a lot of money in YouTube. And its power doesn’t solely lie in sponsored content, either. If you know how to leverage them, YouTube videos are an excellent way to bring additional organic traffic to your website.

We’ll discuss that a bit more in a later piece. 

For now, let’s focus on YouTube itself. The first thing you need to understand about the platform is that it has its own set of rules where discovery is concerned.  Fortunately, the YouTube algorithm doesn’t seem to be that different from Google’s – if you understand the latter, you should have no issues with the former. 

That said, there are a few key differences.  Before we move on to how you can use YouTube to optimize your own website, it’s important that we cover the ins and outs of optimizing your content on the platform. Because the better your understanding of YouTube, the better equipped you’ll be to create high-quality, compelling content for your users. 

Keyword Research on YouTube

Your first step, as you might expect, is to start thinking about keywords to target with your videos. The process here is functionally identical to what you’ve (presumably) already done for your website.  If you know what keywords and topics your website focuses on, then you know what to do with for your YouTube videos.

If you need a little guidance, however, the process goes something like this. 

  • Generate a list of keyword ideas. These should be topics you believe your audience is interested in based on your industry and brand. 
  • Enrich your keyword ideas by using a keyword research tool like Google Trends, Ahrefs Keywords Explorer, or Keyword Shifter. You might also consider using a website like Answer the Public or Quora. Lastly, you can type a term or phrase into YouTube’s search bar for a list of suggestions. 
  • Check out other channels in your niche. Focusing on the ones that have the most views, try to figure out what keywords they’re optimized for. Pay attention to the title, description, and tags – we’ll touch more on that later.
  • Once you’ve identified a keyword, you can determine how competitive it is by searching for it on YouTube. The more results a keyword returns, the more difficult it will be to rank for it. As with Google, long-tail is your best bet here. 
  • You’ll also want to use Google’s Keyword Planner to check the search volume of your keyword on Google, while also checking yourself to see if it returns any video results from YouTube. 
  • Lastly, when making a video targeting a particular keyword, try saying the keyword at least once in the video – naturally, don’t force it. 

Optimizing Your YouTube Video’s Title, Description, and Tags

Your video’s title, description, and tags follow the same general rules as website copy on Google. They need to feature your targeted keywords as organically as possible. More importantly, they need to be unique, well-written and searchable, while also providing the necessary context for users to understand what your video is about.

This advice all comes courtesy of the YouTube Creator Academy, a resource published by Alphabet to help people better-optimize their YouTube channels. The Academy also recommends using hashtags in your video descriptions where appropriate, and timestamps for longer videos that let users skip to the sections most relevant to them.  

Finally, you’ll also want to include extra information for users who click on “show more.” This can be the same copy for each video. You might include details about other social media platforms, a link to your website/blog, or information about who you are and what you do.  

Where your title is concerned, you’ll want to pair it with a good thumbnail. Something that draws the user’s attention to your video, but is also relevant to the content the video contains. YouTube recommends keeping titles concise (60 characters or less), and avoid being sensationalist, clickbaity, or deceitful. 

Again – pretty much the same ground rules you’d follow for a website. 

Lastly, you’ve got video tags. These help YouTube identify what your videos are about. Digital marketing specialist Hubspot recommends making your first tag your target keyword, with other tags ordered by importance/specificity – you should also use a few broad tags as well, to describe your video’s overarching topics. 

YouTube’s Most Important Ranking Metrics

Let’s wrap up by going over a few of YouTube’s critical ranking metrics. 

  • Views are pretty self-explanatory – this is how many times your video has been clicked on.
  • Video retention measures how long a video keeps users on the site. Generally, this means YouTube prizes longer videos over shorter ones, assuming all else is equal. 
  • Subscription rate is a measurement of how often someone subscribes to your channel after watching a particular video. This is a huge ranking signal for YouTube, which correlates a video’s subscription rate with its level of quality. 
  • Video shares measures how often a video has been shared on platforms like Facebook and Twitter. 
  • Clickthrough rate measures how often a user clicks on your video when it pops up in their search results. 
  • Likes and dislikes are a bit misleading. Though you might expect a dislike to signify to YouTube that a video is of lower quality,  there’s no evidence to suggest that the platform doesn’t treat the two as equal. That said, publication The Verge has reported that  YouTube’s considering removing the dislike option altogether due to ‘dislike mobs’ abusing it.

The Value of Video

You can gain a lot from mastering YouTube.  Quality video content can not only generate a ton of brand awareness and engagement but also bring a ton of traffic into other platforms. Moreover, through video monetization, you can even establish a secondary revenue stream. Mind you, the guide we’ve written here won’t help you master the platform overnight. It’s just something to help you get started. To help you take the necessary first steps towards excellence.

Author: Terry Cane

Terry Cane is a technical writer for, a reliable and supportive SEO hosting partner.