If you're launching YouTube videos without video descriptions, you're missing out on a huge opportunity to boost views, drive revenue and more. But how does that all work? Do people even read YouTube video descriptions?
In this guide, we'll highlight the biggest benefits of crafting thought-out YouTube video descriptions and will tell you what you should consider adding—and avoiding—in these write-ups.
Why should you care about your YouTube video description?
A strong YouTube video description is a valuable resource for your entire channel. When written effectively, they can drive clicks, revenue and more. They can also help keep viewers engaged throughout long videos and can be a resource for anyone interested in learning more about your channel.
How long should a YouTube video description be?
YouTube video descriptions can contain up to 5,000 characters, but the first 125 are the most important. That’s because the first 125-ish characters (2-3 lines) are what shows up in YouTube’s browse and search features.
Those first few lines are the most important, but that doesn’t mean you should stop there. While you don’t have to take full advantage of the 5,000 character limit (that comes to approximately 800 words), you should go past those 125 characters.
Your video descriptions should be long enough to convey all the information and links that you think will be important for your viewers, but not so long that viewers can’t quickly find the information they need.
What should a YouTube video description include?
YouTube video descriptions should include:
- A description of what’s in your video
- Important keywords to help your video rank
- At least one call-to-action
- Timestamps and chapters for longer videos
- Subscribe links
- Affiliate links
- Links to social channels
- Relevant copyright information
Description of your video
This one feels a little obvious, but we’re going to say it anyway: your YouTube video description should first and foremost be a description of what’s in your video. Ideally, the first 2-3 lines should simply explain what the viewer can expect to see. It should be an extension of the title, which you hopefully chose with some keyword data.
Let’s say your video title is, “What’s the Best Made-in-America Hot Sauce?” Your video description might read, “We tasted some of the best made-in-America hot sauces and ranked our favorites. We included picks like Tabasco, Frank’s, Crystal, and small brands like Secret Aardvark and Bonache. Do you agree with our ranking? Let us know in the comments!”
Keywords and hashtags
YouTube hashtags appear prominently below the video and above the video title.
After you’ve drafted a description of your video, read through it again and add some keywords. We’ve written about SEO for YouTube videos before and included some tools to help you find relevant keywords. Now’s the time to incorporate those keywords into your description in natural ways.
However, avoid dumping a bunch of keywords into your copy to the point where it’s awkward to read. That’s called keyword stuffing, and search engines like YouTube’s parent company Google penalizes it.
Related to keywords are hashtags. Viewers use hashtags to find similar content. Hashtags originated with Twitter and are a big deal on Instagram, but they’re worth including on YouTube, too.
Hashtags are shown on YouTube either above the video’s title or inside of the video description box. They’re very prominent. Look to your competitors to see how they’re using hashtags and be sure to include those. Try to stick to fewer than 15 hashtags in your video description. More than 15 and YouTube will penalize you just like they would for keyword stuffing.
Whenever you release a video, include at least one CTA (call-to-action) that tells viewers what you want them to do after watching your video. Some examples of a solid CTA include:
- Subscribing to your channel
- Leaving a comment
- Liking a video
- Clicking on a link back to your website
- Joining your email list
- Buying a product from an affiliate link
Position that CTA above any other links, and make it clear in your video description that it’s what you want your viewers to do above anything else.
Timestamps and chapters
If you think YouTube videos are getting longer, you’d be right. Part of this is due to content creators trying to drive more revenue and milk YouTube’s search algorithm, which seems to favor longer content.
YouTube guitar demo channel Pedal Partners added chapters in their video description so viewers could visually scan the video’s content.
That might be great for creators like yourself, but longer videos aren’t always viewer-friendly. If your video is longer than five minutes, you should consider adding chapters and time stamps.
All you have to do to add timestamps is type the minutes and seconds into your description—and YouTube will create that clickable time link for you. For example, if you want viewers to be able to skip your introduction and move to two minutes and thirty seconds into your video, you’d type 2:30.
For more advanced timestamps, try out YouTube’s chapters and progress bar. It’s essentially the same as adding a timestamp, but your first time stamp has to be 0:00. You also have to have at least three chapters and they have to be written in a list. For example:
1:00 Chapter One
3:30 Chapter Two
5:45 Chapter Three
Affiliate links are the perfect passive income for YouTubers. This is how they work:
- You join an affiliate program.
- You get an exclusive link to share.
- Wherever someone buys things via that link, you get a kickback.
Sometimes you only make 1% from an affiliate program, and sometimes you make 15%. It depends on the program. There are a few major affiliate marketplaces, like via Amazon. There are also individual affiliate programs that you can join. Look to channels in your niche to see what affiliate programs they promote and try to sign up for those.
While you’re just starting out, you might see one or two sales a month. But as you grow, affiliate revenue could become a big part of your income, and video descriptions are the perfect way to promote them.
In addition to your CTA, you should include links imploring your viewers to subscribe to your channel and email list (if you have one). The email list subscribe link should be either a link to an embedded form on your website or from your email marketing software.
When viewers click on a subscribe link they’re immediately asked to confirm their channel subscription.
For a YouTube subscribe link, you first have to find your channel’s YouTube URL. To find that, click on your channel logo in the upper left corner of your YouTube Studio page. Then, take that URL and add “?sub_confirmation=1” to the end of it. Now, when users click that URL, they’ll be asked to confirm that they want to subscribe to your channel.
For example, that link for Blue is https://www.youtube.com/user/BlueMicrophones?sub_confirmation=1
Links to social channels
In the same vein as affiliate and subscribe links, your YouTube video links should direct viewers to your branded social media channels. Gaining followers outside of YouTube can both grow your overall profile as a content creator and can make your content more attractive to potential sponsors and partners.
Though intellectual property law says you don’t need to explicitly include copyright notices, it’s still best practice to do so. It’s easy to forget that the videos that you create and upload to YouTube are your intellectual property. That means others can’t reproduce your content—for example, reupload your videos to their own channel—without your permission.
A copyright notice should be short and to-the-point. Here’s a copyright template you can use:
© [Year of Publication] [Name of Copyright Holder]
An example would be “© 2020 Jane Doe.”
That’s it. You can include additional language such as “Unauthorized reproduction will result in legal action,” but it’s not necessary. Plus, you might want to save those extra characters for the rest of your video description.
What to avoid when writing a YouTube description
While there aren’t a lot of rules about what you should avoid when writing a YouTube description, there are a few things to keep in mind including:
- Formatting restrictions
- Character count limits
- YouTube’s Terms of Service (TOS)
A full transcription (unless your video is short)
You might think that the best way to add relevant keywords to your video description would be to use a transcription service like Descript. While we love transcriptions, your video description isn’t a good place for them.
The biggest reason you should avoid transcriptions in your video descriptions is due to the character limit. 5,000 characters might seem like a lot, but it’s only about 800 words. Unless your video is short, that doesn’t leave a lot of room for the other important information you need to include in your description.
But what about those who have difficulty hearing videos or prefer to read their content? YouTube has a better solution: captions.
YouTube will automatically generate captions for you, which you can edit via YouTube Studio. Or, you can use a tool like Descript that allows you to edit your captions just like a Word document—which is easier than YouTube’s tool—and then upload them to your video in YouTube studio.
Special characters and HTML
If you want to bold text, drop in hyperlinks or add any HTML to your YouTube video descriptions, you’re out of luck. YouTube only allows basic text in their video descriptions. They will, however, hyperlink any URL that starts with http:// or https:// and they’ll automatically create clickable timestamps for you, so you probably won’t miss the HTML too much.
Irrelevant or deceptive links
All of your links in your video descriptions should be relevant to your video and it should always be clear exactly what viewers are clicking on.
Irrelevant links are any links that don’t serve a purpose to your channel, your content or your viewers. One example would be peppering in a dozen affiliate links pointing viewers to expensive equipment that has nothing to do with the video. Links like this will clutter your video description and confuse your viewers.
An example of a deceptive link is asking people to click on a link to get a coupon, when in fact they’re clicking on a YouTube subscribe link. You might think you’ve found a quick way to get subscribers, but all you’d actually be doing is breaking trust between you and your viewers.
Technically, there’s nothing wrong with using shortened links in YouTube video descriptions, but we recommend against it, anyway.
Unfortunately, some folks over the years have used link shorteners to hide malicious links. The result is that some viewers may not trust the shortened link as much as they would a full-length link, and YouTube might be wary of those links as well.
The good thing is, YouTube truncates links in the video descriptions, anyway. That makes using a link shortener less necessary because YouTube is already shortening those links for you.
Copyright infringement is when you sell, distribute or use someone else’s intellectual property without permission. The most common types of copyright infringement on YouTube involve songs and videos that are used without permission.
Copyright infringement can get really complicated, so let’s give an example.
Let’s say you have a YouTube channel where you review popular songs. Since you can’t put the entire song on your video to stream without getting a takedown notice, you might ask viewers to listen to the song on their own.
An appropriate way to have viewers listen to the song you’re reviewing would be to link to that song on Spotify or another online music marketplace. However, if you included a link to directly download that song via a file transfer service without permission from the artist, that’s copyright infringement.
Anything that violates the YouTube Community Guidelines
It should go without saying, but don’t include anything in your video descriptions that could violate YouTube’s Terms of Service or Community Guidelines. Violating community guidelines is a quick way to get your entire YouTube channel pulled, which means all your hard work would go to waste.
How to set a default description on YouTube
There are a few things in your YouTube descriptions that will mostly be the same in every video, including:
- General affiliate links
- Subscribe links
- Social links
Setting a default description on YouTube will save you a lot of time as you publish more content. To set up your default description, go to YouTube Studio and click on “Settings” in the left-hand sidebar.
You’ll then see the Settings pop-up. Click on “Upload defaults” to set up all of your video upload defaults, including your video description.
Before you start writing your YouTube video descriptions, learn more about SEO for YouTube and how to growth hack the YouTube algorithm.