video seo

Video SEO: 5 Ways to Optimize Video for Search

Jonas Sickler, Digital Marketing Analyst

Key Points

  • YouTube is the second-most popular search engine next to Google.
  • Optimize your video’s title, description, meta data, and tags.
  • Embed the video in related content your own site and share it on social media.

YouTube is a search and social media juggernaut. In fact, it’s the world’s second-most popular search engine. More than one billion users watch over one billion hours of video daily. That means the platform, on mobile alone, reaches more people in the U.S. than any TV network. With that level of impact, video SEO is vital to digital marketing success.

YouTube’s dominance makes it a crucial way for you to round out your search, social, and content initiatives. But the value goes far beyond improved visibility among your target audience segments in YouTube alone. An effective video SEO strategy helps your content to gain real estate in the Google SERPs. As a result, your marketing strategy will derive added benefits from video production and optimization.

If YouTube video production is on the menu for your company, adhere to the following 5 video SEO strategies to ensure that the right eyes see your masterpieces.

1. Conduct advanced video SEO keyword research

YouTube keyword research strategies overlap significantly with Google organic keyword research processes. However, there are some YouTube-specific research tools and platforms that you should leverage.

Despite the platform’s gargantuan size, there’s still less competition on YouTube than on the internet at large. That means you have a unique opportunity to break through and achieve higher search rankings for YouTube video searches while some of your competitors are still on the sidelines.

Better still, search behavior is simpler on YouTube. Long, complicated searches and questions happen less frequently than direct, straightforward queries. That means that while you’ll certainly find long-tail keywords on YouTube, you won’t be building a nest from tons of them in the way that you would with your website’s content strategy.

Let’s dig into some keyword research tools to identify the ideal keyword phrases that you should target specifically to optimize your YouTube videos for SEO.

YouTube Suggest

Just as Google’s auto-suggest feature is a goldmine of content marketing examples and frequently-searched keywords, YouTube’s auto-suggest can do a lot of the heavy lifting for you. Type in queries dealing with your video’s general subject area and see what comes up. There’s a good chance that those are the exact keywords you’ll want to target.

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YouTube Studio’s YouTube Search Data

Are you already producing high-quality videos? Then take advantage of YouTube Studio’s beta analytics and use it to inform your next round of keyword research. This will provide you with a wealth of information about who’s watching your company’s videos – and, critically, what they’re watching.

What else does your target market care about? What do they want to know? Do they favor certain brands or aesthetic styles? This is such a valuable look into the mind of your customer that it almost feels like cheating!

Use this information not just for keyword research and finding content ideas, but as a way to turn your company’s brand personas into living, breathing people with specific preferences and hobbies.

YT Cockpit

Built just for YouTube, YT Cockpit provides rich organic and paid YouTube search information and will suggest additional keywords for you. The tool relies on data from YouTube Suggest, Google Ads, Google Suggest, and Google Related Searches. For any keyword phrase you enter, YT Cockpit will provide you with competitive insights for the top 20 ranking videos.

TubeBuddy Tags

TubeBuddy’s tag explorer will analyze your suggested tags and score them based on the strength of the opportunity. It can also provide tag options and give you a look into competitor data. On YouTube, your tags should aim to exactly-match your keywords (more on this later), so the tag explorer is nearly interchangeable with keyword research.


vidIQ is another tool built just for YouTube, providing a robust look at both keywords and the broader search audience. The tool claims to “increase your library of tags by 10X in less than 10 minutes.” vidIQ reveals engagement metrics, brand mentions, competitive insights, rankings, and on top of all of this, also advises you on the best time to upload your videos to YouTube.

Ahrefs’ YouTube Keywords Explorer

If your company relies on staple keyword research tools like Ahrefs, check to see if they offer information related to YouTube searches specifically. Ahrefs, for example, does: its YouTube Keyword Tool gives you YouTube search volumes, keyword ideas, and search trends in a format that will feel very familiar to fans of the program’s SEO tools. Using the tool, you can also uncover the related questions people are asking, as well as phrase match keywords and newly discovered keywords. (YouTube Setting) is another fan favorite in the search engine optimization world that provides data for your video SEO: simply toggle over to the YouTube tab to get started. Other settings include Amazon, eBay, Instagram, and Play Store. The tool lets you search for keyword ideas as well as popular questions and prepositions that relate to your target keywords.

HyperSuggest (YouTube Setting)

HyperSuggest is a powerful autosuggest tool that features a YouTube setting. Other settings include Amazon, eBay, Instagram, and questions. In addition, the tool also shows you the search trends for your target keywords. HyperSuggest has a special query method that uncovers words of a search phrase preceding the keywords you enter, resulting in twice as many results as some of the other YouTube-specific tools.


Tubics gives you the ability to track how your videos rank in YouTube. The YouTubeSEO analysis tool includes a review of 15 ranking factors of your YouTube channel. In addition, Tubics generates recommended tags for your videos, while also providing you with a prioritized YouTube SEO action plan.

OK, this tool isn’t YouTube-specific. But it’s still very useful as reference for your YouTube video SEO efforts, while directly helping you to rank in the SERP.

Google’s Advanced Video Search gives you a more SERP-focused look at autosuggest. The tool enables you to search by video duration, posting date, quality, domain, and other filters. It’s also a good idea to look at the videos that appear in the Google search results for your keyword searches.

Ranking your video both organically and on YouTube will maximize the exposure and views of your videos. Remember, every time your videos appear in the search engine results pages (SERP), they are not only capturing more SERP real estate for your brand, but they are also pushing down competing content, and therefore strengthening your overall video optimization performance.

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2. Create ridiculously good video content

If you want to win your audience’s attention with video, then you need stand out. There’s tons of incredible video content out there from brands as well as high-profile influencers. So, it’s crucial that you set the bar high when you create and edit video content.

Here’s how to create, edit, and rank videos that your audience will love!

Choose the right format for your videos

One content format that works exceptionally well on YouTube is the how-to or tutorial. And you don’t just have to stick with boring troubleshooting or product set-up videos!

Apple, for example, has a series of how-to’s that tackle the different artistic techniques their customers can explore with their iPhone. There’s a subtle but important difference between videos that address what a product does and videos that address what the product is used for. The latter opens up a world of possibilities, helping the customer see themselves in that experience.

You should always aim for useful or entertaining content that your customers will love. However, you don’t have to nix company promotion in the process. Verizon, for example, created a series called “Real Good Reasons” that shared customer stories. These videos provided greater insight into who the brand is right for.

Follow this approach to simplify your company’s video production strategy:

  • Search for your target keywords
  • Check out the videos
  • Produce a video that’s even better than the best video that appears for that keyword.

If you can’t clear the bar, then brainstorm more creative ideas for your video or choose more strategic keywords. This is the simplest way to make sure your videos beat the immediate competition. And that’s half the battle when it comes to building an effective, profitable video SEO strategy.

Keep videos short

The human attention span for watching videos hovers around eight seconds these days. That means four-minute videos might become a roadblock to your company’s success on YouTube.

Edit your videos to keep them as long as necessary and as short as possible while maintaining the same impact and message.

Focus on the first 15 seconds

Due to those short attention spans, people tend to bounce about 15 seconds into a video. That means you need to hit your audience with the more important or “hookier” information first.

Test longer videos, too

Short videos will likely produce the best engagement. However, your audience’s behavior also depends on the industry and subject matter in your video. Test out longer-format videos to see how your audience responds. In turn, that will also help you identify the optimal video length.

Create a custom, eye-catching thumbnail

Although small, video thumbnails can have a major impact on engagement, so use them wisely. Choose a high-resolution, visually-compelling image and crop it to the appropriate dimensions. Use an image that screams, “Your Company!”

Moz, for example, uses Roger the Robot, the company mascot. Since Roger is synonymous with their brand, their thumbnail clearly and easily communicates who they are at first glance.

Another approach is to include people in your thumbnails. Humans are naturally drawn to faces. So it’s worth testing the performance of thumbnail images focused on branding vs. those featuring people’s faces.

Use “pattern interrupts”

A pattern interrupt is a way to change a person’s mental state by interrupting their prescribed routine or expectations. This works because people are more susceptible to suggestion when their norms are in flux.

If you’ve ever watched someone veer off-course from a “scripted” conversation? For example, when one person asks in passing, “How are you?” and the other person says something other than “Good,” “Great” or “Tired,” then you’ve witnessed a pattern interrupt. Chances are, it took the other person a couple of seconds to come up with an appropriate response to the new information.

Playfully violating expectations is a great way to give your audience something memorable to hold onto. For example, Hulu masterfully introduced a pattern interrupt when they brought back the iconic Old Spice Man to promote Hulu. They imitated the style and tone of the Old Spice commercials and then broke from the expected content.

Make it memorable

Pattern interrupts aren’t the only way to make your videos memorable. Another technique is to  evoke an emotional response from your audience. Use Google’s commercials for inspiration if you want that feeling to be, “Who’s cutting onions?”

3. Optimize your videos for SEO

Once your content shines, there are tactical steps you can take to boost your video’s SEO performance. These are:

Video title

Now’s your chance for that keyword research to pay off. Similar to on-page SEO, you’ll want to work your keywords into the title of your video as naturally as possible. The #1 priority, though, is making sure your video title is catchy and descriptive.

Video description

Your video description is another opportunity to add keywords. And with up to 1000 characters, you’ll have a lot more room to play. Put your most critical information first, and remember to include a call to action and an incentive. Most importantly, include a link to your site to learn more.

YouTube video tags

Video tags are a prime opportunity to add your keywords. Unfortunately, a lot of people go overboard with them and hurt their SEO. Just like with Google, stuffing your tags with keywords will backfire.

YouTube won’t understand which keywords have weight, so you’re less likely to rank for any of them. Instead, focus on 5-8 targeted, well-researched tags. Put your target keyword first, then add your secondary keywords. Finally, include some common variations along with one or two long-tail keywords.

Include a video transcript

Video transcripts will both directly and indirectly impact your video SEO optimization. Crawlable text directly helps YouTube and Google index the video more accurately. And indirectly, this accessibility feature allows your hearing-impaired customers to watch your videos. By the way, 15% of adults have some form of hearing loss. Further, some people just prefer to read rather than watch videos.

Create a video sitemap

For any videos that are embedded on your site, it’s a best practice to create a separate video sitemap. This helps Google differentiate each type of content and index it more successfully.

Optimize metadata

Also related to embedded video files, optimize the meta descriptions on the page where the video resides. This will help out both your video and on-page SEO, reinforcing the relevance of your keywords.

Say your target keyword in each video

Want to make sure your keywords are as relevant as possible? Speak them in each video. Even if you didn’t formally transcribe your video, YouTube is good at auto-transcribing. That means it will take notice if your keywords aren’t actually part of the video.

Make the video the focus of the page

Do you plan to embed the video on your website? Make it a prominent part of the page to give it the attention it deserves.

Ensure the rest of your page is relevant to the video

Another great way to stress your video’s importance and relevance is to surround it by related content on the page. Reinforce the same point through imagery, video and text while keeping the focus tight. That will send a crystal-clear message to Google about the topic of the page.

When search spiders crawl through your site, they use the site’s links as their roads. Therefor, it’s important to add relevant links both to and from your videos so they get discovered and indexed. However, make sure you follow best practices when building out your internal linking strategies.

Don’t embed the same video in multiple places

Finally, don’t confuse the search engines by forcing two pages to compete for the same content. Choose one place on your site to embed your video, and then focus your energy on improving that page.

4. Get social shares and engagement 

Social proof in the form of social media and website views compels others to watch the video due to FOMO. Social shares help spread your video far and wide. All of this leads to more backlinks when your videos are embedded in your web pages or blog posts.

Social proof helps to catapult the video to greater visibility in the search engines. So boosting views and shares is a key ingredient in video SEO.

Here’s how to do it:

Share on social media

It may seem obvious, but it’s actually somewhat common for companies to forget to share their videos on their social media platforms. This usually happens when their video production team is too far removed from their social media team, which leads to campaigns that aren’t integrated. Foster collaboration and make sure there’s a process in place so that every video that gets produced will get shared on social media.

When sharing on social media, upload directly to each social platform. This will trigger auto-play and probably produce your best results.

In addition, though, also be sure to share your web or blog pages that contain your videos. As a result, any social sharing and linking will benefit your own website’s SEO performance.

Have employees share with their networks

A great way to kickstart a video’s social media success is to ask your employees to share the video with their networks. This is low-hanging fruit for amplifying your content and nurturing more social sharing and backlinking.

Your employees’ willingness to do so (or lack thereof) could be an early indicator of how useful and shareable the video is – so if you email your employees and the only person who shares the video is your lovable HR Director Linda, take note.

Ask viewers to subscribe

It’s easy to forget that sometimes, all you need to do to inspire action is to ask. Viewer subscriptions are a perfect example of this; many people are willing to take the short, painless action and subscribe, but it’s not top-of-mind for them. Give them a nudge at the end of the video and ask them to subscribe.

Ask people to comment (and reply to them)

The same principle applies here: just ask! And if your company does get comments on their videos, make sure somebody is available to respond right away. Responding to people who comment is an effective way of keeping them loyal, sharing your videos, and coming back to view more themselves.

Allow others to embed your videos

If a viewer wants to share your video on their blog, they may be happier embedding the video than including a text link to it. Making your videos embeddable is a simple toggle in your YouTube settings, so double-check that you’re not creating unnecessary barriers by restricting sharing. 

Send videos to your email subscribers

This is another low-hanging fruit tactic. Your email subscribers are some of your most loyal and enthusiastic audience members, so drum up some engagement right off the bat by starting with the easy crowd.

Send videos to influencers

As you develop relationships with influencers who reach your company’s target market, it can’t hurt to share new videos with them if you think their audiences would like them. Videos that are clever or funny or compelling enough get shared…a lot! If it’s that good, then maybe some of the influencers tight with your brand might not only share it on social, but might also embed it in a relevant blog post or create other related content where it will have a longer shelf life.

Embed videos in your blog posts

Weave your videos into your blog strategy to inspire a wealth of related topical content. Lowe’s, for example, embeds videos in their how-to blog posts.

Promote other videos in your end screen

You have control over what appears in the “What to Watch” pop-up at the end of each video. Think about each video carefully and choose the best related videos you can. This is a great way to send the customer on a journey, offering new information each step of the way. Netflix, for example, links related videos based on the type of movie or show the viewer might like next.

Add a grab-em-by-the-collar, kick-butt, get-them-talking trailer to your YouTube channel

Your channel trailer is like a movie trailer: you don’t just want to intrigue your audience; you want to grip them. Keep your trailers to under two minutes if you can, and give your audience insight into who your company is and what they care about.

Airtable is a prime example of providing an engaging overview through its channel trailer, using a super cute cast of kids to explain how the database solution works as they walk you through their work in putting a movie together.

True to form, Geico doesn’t disappoint with its trailer, featuring a who’s who of past Geico commercial celebrities and a behind the scenes look at the “Best of GEICO” winner’s participation in the making of the video. (Yes, don’t worry, it includes Caleb, the “Hump Day” camel!)

And if funny or gripping trailers just don’t fall within your company’s brand guidelines, don’t sweat it; clear information, presented in the brand voice that resonates with your audience, works just as well. The channel trailer for Jaime Oliver’s Food Tube, for example, tells the audience everything they can expect from the channel, and it’s all presented in Jamie Oliver’s personable, affable voice.

5. Use analytics to improve UX and video SEO

Finally, don’t release your videos into the wild and let them ride off into the sunset, never seeing them again. Keep tabs on the results of each video so that you can continually refine your video strategy and user experience. Here are some data points to pay special attention to:

Completion rate

How much of your video did the viewer make it through? If they quit well before the end, the most likely culprit is the length of the video. Experiment with making shorter videos and see if it alters the completion rate. Alternatively, it might be that the beginning of your video is not compelling enough and should be reproduced.

Total watch time

Within YouTube’s analytics, the watch time is the amount of time the user spent watching the video. This is closely tied to completion rate, as they’re both indicators of the same thing: the customer’s attention span when it comes to your videos. Both completion rate and watch time are powerful comparative tools; use watch time to compare very similar videos to see which one performs better.

Session watch time

YouTube’s goal is to get people to stay on YouTube as long as possible, and the session watch time monitors this. If your video led to a click on a related video and increased the viewer’s session watch time, YouTube will reward you with a visibility boost. As you explore this metric, note which videos have higher click-through rates and inspire related views.

Viewership Fluctuations

Keep track of any fluctuations in your viewership. These spikes in data tell you that something happened on a particular day. As you sleuth out what it was, you’ll get a better understanding of how different days of the week or other video marketing SEO activities impact your viewership.

You can implement a video link-building strategy just as you would for a website or blog post. Video SEO services can help you reach out to high-authority, relevant websites, blogs, publishers, partners, and influencers to ask them to share the video. The same rule from the website link-building world applies here, too: give them a reason to share it, and make it as easy as possible for them to produce related content.


If you include a specific CTA at the end of your videos, keep track of the actions completed. Whether it’s signing up for your mailing list or scheduling a demo or anything else, tracking and optimizing for maximum conversions is one of the most important things that you can measure with your videos.

Turn winners into a video series

Once you’ve collected enough data to determine which videos are the clear winners, turn your top-performers into a series. You’ve already done the hard job of getting your audience hooked; now you just need to consistently produce videos that keep adding value. The result should be a compound effect across your entire video library. Someone who likes your series is far more likely to remain engaged than someone who stumbles across one video.

Lyft for example, has been running its popular Undercover Lyft series for more than three years.

The overall goal is to give your audience more of the content they love. That, in turn, will boost your video SEO via the all-important “session watch time” metric.

Play with keyword variations for each video to target additional interested viewers and broaden your reach. But keep your primary keyword consistent across all videos in the series. This will act like a hashtag, helping viewers find videos in the series quickly and easily.

In addition to focusing on what works, use videos as a testing ground for new subject matter. You’ll find new ways to spread your wings and creatively express your brand’s voice. When you combine this with your video SEO strategy, you can make sure that magnificent, helpful, authentic, compelling, you’re-gonna-love this company videos don’t just get made. They’ll also get noticed.

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