how to optimize your videos for seo

Video is a big part of how people consume information online. On average, people send 6.8 hours every day watching online video, and that number’s on an upward trajectory year to year. 

For businesses, video is essential. 54% of consumers said it’s their preferred format for brand content, making it the top choice—beating out email, social, and blogs. 

video content is favorite form of brand content

That means if you want to reach people online, video is a good way to do it. But as with any type of content you publish on the web, you should anticipate having a lot of competition. Over 400 hours of video are added to YouTube every minute. 

Anyone hoping to get their message out using video has to figure out how to rise above the rest of the noise to reach the right people. 

How to Optimize Your Videos for SEO

Video SEO isn’t about doing one or two things. It involves a whole strategy. While taking steps to optimize each individual video you create is part of it, making sure you’re making the right videos and building out a channel that earns authority is just as important. 

1.  Perform keyword research for your videos.

You’re probably already doing keyword research for your overall SEO strategy, and may figure you can just apply that research to your video strategy as well. Sorry, it’s not that easy. The keywords that get a lot of traction on Google are different than the ones that are most popular on YouTube.

And most searches on Google don’t produce results with video, unless the searcher makes a special point of clicking on the video option in the menu.

video tab in google search results

Google’s algorithm tracks data on the type of results people click on when doing different types of searches. If they’re not showing video on page one of the search engine results page (SERP) for a keyword, that means people searching that term aren’t usually interested in watching a video for their answers. 

Video keyword research is focused on learning what people are searching for on YouTube, and what keywords produce video results in Google. Within YouTube, you can gain a lot of helpful keyword suggestions by paying attention to their autofill feature. You start to type a phrase relevant to your business, and see what YouTube suggests.

use youtube autosuggest for video keyword research

To find out what keywords produce video results, do SERP research. Simply type your top keywords into the search bar, and see what shows up on the SERP. If videos show up on page one, that’s a strong keyword for video SEO.

search keywords in google to find video seo keywords

Both of these tactics for video keyword research can take a lot of time, so you can speed the process up a bit with SEO tools. Some general SEO tools will provide an analysis of what the SERPs look like for different keywords, so you can more easily learn when a keyword produces things like video results or an answer box. And there are keyword research tools that focus specifically on YouTube keywords, such as VidIQ and YTCockpit.  

2. Research the competition.

Once you’ve identified a list of keywords worth focusing on, start doing competitor research. Identify who’s ranking in both YouTube and Google for those keywords now. Watch their videos. Pay attention to the titles, descriptions, and tags they use. And visit their channels.

Take notes on what you learn, so you can better spot trends in what the winning videos and channels have in common. Those insights will help you figure out how to compete effectively in your space. 

3. Create a video SEO marketing strategy.

Use what you learned in the first two steps to make a plan that covers:

  • What your YouTube channel’s branding will be
  • What topics to cover in your videos
  • How long each one should be 
  • How often you’ll release a new one
  • How you’ll promote your videos

Your plan will change and evolve as you collect more data on what works for your audience. But having a clear roadmap will help you get the early traction you need to collect that data to begin with. 

4. Optimize your YouTube channel for SEO.

Ideally, you don’t just want people to watch one of your videos and move on. You want them to click to see more after that first one. Or even better, click that Subscribe button so your new videos start showing up in their main feed. So before you worry about optimizing each of your videos, make sure you’ve built a strong channel page.

Add an original header image that’s visually arresting and says something about your channel’s value. Write a killer channel description that tells people why they should subscribe. Consider making a trailer for your channel that tells people what it’s all about, and why they should follow it. 

Having a strong channel will add some extra legitimacy to each video you put out there and help you use your video content to build a more ongoing connection with your audience. 

5.  Include your target keyword in the video title.

Take care in crafting the best possible video title. Your title needs to accomplish multiple things at once:

  • Clearly communicate to potential viewers what the video is about
  • Convince them that your video is worth clicking on
  • Include your target keyword

If you’ve chosen good keywords, those three goals won’t be in opposition. 

6. Include your target keyword in your video script.

When writing the script for your video, include your target keyword somewhere in it. Don’t overload it with keywords, of course. And don’t try to shoehorn it in where it doesn’t fit. But if your video’s genuinely about the topic the keyword represents, including it in there shouldn’t be hard to do naturally. 

This is important because YouTube can parse a lot of what’s said in a video, which will influence which videos they decide to include in the results for a search. It also matters because of the next tip. 

7.  Include a transcription for your YouTube video.

Including a transcription of your video does a couple of important things at once:

  • It ensures there’s text that Google can understand. That makes the page your video is on stronger in terms of Google SEO, since their algorithms have more information to learn what the page is about.
  • It gives your audience more than one way to consume the content. Obviously a lot of people like watching video, but some people prefer reading to watching. With a transcription, you give people a choice. 
  • You make your video more accessible to people with disabilities. You can load a transcript file to YouTube that is used to provide closed captioning on the video itself.  And one experiment found that videos with closed captioning get over 7% more views on average.

And because you included your target keyword in your video script, your transcript gets it onto the page another time or two. Learn more about the benefits of adding closed captions to your videos.

8. Write a strong video description and include your video keywords.

Always fill in the description section for your videos. It gives you an additional opportunity to convince visitors that your video is worth watching, and provides another space for you to encourage people to subscribe to your channel. 

Your video description is one of the best places you have to give YouTube information on what your video is about. Use at least 200 words to describe your video. And of course, use this as another opportunity to get your keyword in there (naturally). 

8. Add tags to your YouTube videos.

YouTube also lets you add tags to your video. These probably aren’t as strong of a ranking signal for them as the other parts of the page we’ve covered already, but it never hurts to make good use of this section. Use your main keyword as a tag, along with any secondary keywords on your list that are relevant. 

If you’re not sure what to put here, go back to the notes you took when analyzing your competitors’ videos to get some ideas. 

9. Select the best thumbnail option.

While all this text is helpful for SEO, one of the main ways YouTube and Google will decide if your video is a helpful resource for the topics it covers is whether people actually watch it. Picking a good thumbnail for your video won’t directly impact your SEO, but it’s important for getting people to click on your video. 

Video’s a visual medium, so you want the first image people see to be compelling enough to make them want to click to see more. Don’t just settle for the default image YouTube grabs, take a minute to figure out the best screen to capture for your thumbnail and customize it. 

10. Promote your YouTube videos and channel.

As with website SEO, some of the ranking signals that determine whether your videos show up have to do with communicating to YouTube and Google what your video is about. But others have more to do with trying to gauge the quality of the video—the two search engines care whether or not people see something they like when they click.

That means metrics like how many people subscribe to your channel, view your video, and how long they view the video for all have a role to play in whether or not your videos show up in search. To start getting the kind of impressive metrics that prove to YouTube and Google that your videos are awesome, people have to watch your videos to begin with.

So once you’ve created your channel and started releasing your first videos, actively promote them. Send them to your email list and share them on social media. Embed them on your WordPress website and in related blog posts.

Consider if it’s worth promoting your channel via a paid advertising campaign to give it an initial boost. Your first viewers will help you both get the metrics that signal quality to the search engines. And if they like the videos, they’re likely to share and help promote them as well. 

11. Analyze your YouTube metrics.

With every new marketing tactic you try, you’ll probably get something wrong. Even the best content creators and marketers can’t fully predict what people will like and not like. But luckily, digital channels come with analytics that tell you what’s working and what’s not.

Pay attention to your metrics on YouTube to learn what your audience likes. Which topics get the most views? Which videos do viewers tend to drop off from early, and at what point do they stop? Which ones do people give the thumb’s up and thumb’s down for? 

Every video you launch will help you gain some new data on what your audience is interested in. Put that to work by revising your video strategy over time to better create a channel that’s truly useful to your audience, and that performs better in the search engines.

Why SEO for Videos is Important

Creating great videos requires a significant investment in time and money. If no one ever finds the videos you create, nothing you spend making them will pay off. If you’re going to put work into making videos, it’s just as important to also put work into making sure people will be able to find them. 

Search engine optimization (SEO) is mostly associated with text, since so much of it is about using the right terminology to match the language your audience uses when they’re searching for information. But video SEO is one of the best tactics you have to make your video content more discoverable. 

What is Video SEO?

Video SEO is the collection of steps and best practices you can use to increase the odds that your video will show up in the search engines. But where SEO is typically focused on one main search engine—Google—in video SEO, we have another that’s at least as important: YouTube. 

YouTube is the most visited website in the world. So while you also want to get your videos to show up in Google as often as possible, YouTube should have a special place in how you approach your video SEO strategy.

The good news is that what’s good for YouTube SEO and what’s good for Google SEO are essentially the same. Google owns YouTube, and 88% of videos in the top 10 results on Google are pulled from YouTube.

Video SEO: One More Channel to Reach Your Audience

Optimizing your videos for SEO is important for getting them in front of more people. But it’s always important to remember that showing up in the search engines is never the whole point. It’s about connecting with your audience. 

Using video and promoting what you create via SEO are just another way to establish that initial connection required to provide something of value to your audience.

What’s even more important is what happens after they click. Strive to create videos that earn the attention and time people give to them, and that will both improve your SEO and help you gain a more loyal audience that cares about your content.