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YouTube is the internet’s second-largest search engine (surpassed only by Google), in terms of content as well as traffic. With over 500 hours of video uploaded every minute, it’s hard to even conceive of how big the platform really is.
But, with that much content to compete with, how do you stand out and get people to see your content? The answer is SEO, or Search Engine Optimization. By getting smart about SEO, you can rank higher on YouTube and Google, drawing more viewers to your videos and attracting more YouTube subscribers.
Search Engine Optimization is the practice of optimizing content to make it more discoverable on search engines. This means thinking like your viewers to determine which keywords they’re searching for, then using those keywords strategically to get your content to rank higher in searches.
Keywords are at the heart of SEO. Any word or phrase can be a keyword, as long as it’s relevant to your content, such as “what is SEO” (see what we did there?). Understanding how to use keywords effectively is the first step toward getting more views and higher rankings.
Say your viewers want to learn how to play “Stairway to Heaven” on guitar. They might search for “How to play Stairway to Heaven,” “Stairway to Heaven chords,” or “Stairway to Heaven guitar lesson.” If any of these phrases appear in your video’s title or description, they’re much more likely to find your content.
However, if your video is called “Lesson: The Best Led Zeppelin Song” or “How to Shred STH by LZ,” potential viewers will be far less likely to find it. No matter how good a guitar teacher (or makeup artist, podcaster, pop culture critic, gamer, etc.) you are, none of it matters unless people can find your content.
Sometimes, the best keywords to use are obvious. Other times, you may need help finding the best keywords to use for a particular video. To complicate matters further, the obvious keywords aren’t always the best to use. The more popular a keyword is, the more traffic it gets, and the more competition you’ll have trying to rank for it.
SEO services like SEMrush, Moz and Ahrefs can help you find the best keywords to use for your videos, analyze your videos’ search engine performance to further optimize your content, and even assess your competitors’ search rankings to learn valuable insights. Each of these services have slightly different feature sets and pricing models, so we’ve broken them down to help you find the best fit.
Best of all, SEMrush gives you up to ten requests per day at no cost, making it one of the best free SEO tools. Paid plans range from $99.95/month (Pro) to $399.95/month (Business), with custom and enterprise plans available as well.
Moz also calculates Difficulty and Priority stats to help you make decisions on which keywords to focus on for the best results and least competition (you can even set a custom “My Score” for your own reference. Another cool feature is the MozBar toolbar for Google Chrome, which lets you easily analyze any page, any time. Moz offers a free 30-day trial and paid plans from $99/month (standard) to $599/month (Premium).
If there’s a downside to Ahrefs, it’s the price—a seven-day trial costs $7, and plans range from $99/month (Lite) to $999/month (Agency). Still, if you plan to utilize backlinks heavily in your SEO strategy, Ahrefs is a fantastic choice.
If a premium SEO service isn’t in your budget, you can still take advantage of free SEO tools like UberSuggest. Google’s free Google Ads Keyword Planner is another great place to start (no AdWords account necessary), and Google Trends is handy for tracking the popularity of specific search terms over time.
SEO is the key to higher rankings on YouTube.
Now that we’ve covered the basics of SEO and keywords, you’re probably wondering how to turn that information into higher rankings on YouTube. On the surface, it sounds simple: just find the best keywords for your videos, then copy and paste, right? But good SEO goes much deeper than that, touching every piece of text on your channel with the ultimate goal of guiding viewers to the content they’re looking for—your content.
If you haven’t already filled out the “About” section of your channel page, this is where you should begin your YouTube SEO journey. And, if you already have an About section, now’s a great time to give it a refresh from an SEO perspective. While the main function of this section is to give viewers a broad overview of your channel, it’s also a natural place to stick some keywords.
Don’t worry about getting hyper-specific with your keywords just yet (you’ll have a chance to do that with each video you create, anyway). The keywords in your About me section should relate to any and all content you make, so it’s best keep them fairly broad.
You’ll quickly start finding opportunities to refine existing text for better SEO. For example, “I make daily motivational vlogs” could become “daily motivational vlogger.” Likewise, “pro gaming organization” could become “professional eSports team,” and so on.
When it comes to optimizing individual videos, the title is arguably the most important piece of SEO. This is the first thing people see in their search results, and it lets them decide quickly if your content is relevant to them or not. Titling your videos effectively is an art and science, but when it’s done well, it can have a huge impact on views and rankings. Here are some tips for titling videos:
Located just below the video itself, the video description is the ideal place to add additional information, links and (you guessed it) keywords. Use this opportunity to sprinkle in additional keywords that didn’t make it into your title, but don’t go overboard, or the algorithm may penalize you.
The description field can fit up to 5,000 characters, but only the first 166 are shown directly below the video (the rest are hidden below the fold until the viewer presses “show more”). With that in mind, enter details in order of importance, using the first 166 characters for important information like a product link or a call to subscribe to your channel.
After that, you can add anything you want, like timestamps for quick access to different parts of your video, links to other videos, and of course, all your social media handles. Timestamps are especially useful, as Google often uses them to direct searchers to specific information in a video. The order of your keywords doesn’t matter here, so just work them in wherever it feels natural.
YouTube’s Creator Academy channel has lots of great tips for making your videos more discoverable.
Tags are a great way to associate your video with specific keywords—especially ones you can’t fit in your video’s title or description. To add tags to a new video, scroll down to the bottom of the upload window and select “More Options.” To add tags to an existing video, click “Edit,” then go to “Video Information.”
When tagging your videos, start with the top keyword you want to rank for (and be sure to spell and phrase it exactly the way it is in the title). Then, start adding related keywords in order of relevance. Finally, cover your bases with more general tags like “tutorial” or “compilation.”
One little-known but powerful SEO strategy is to create captions, transcripts and translations for every video. Search engines primarily analyze text, so the more text you create for your videos, the more discoverable they’ll be. Plus, it will increase accessibility and help more people enjoy your content. To maximize the SEO impact, make sure to say your keywords several times in each video.
When used effectively and strategically, SEO can do wonders for your videos’ ranking and discoverability. Implement these tips with every video you make, and you’ll be on the path to more views, more subscribers and higher rankings. For more tips on maximizing your reach on YouTube, read up on how the YouTube algorithm works.