Video Optimization – The Key to YouTube Success

By Susan Rust

Video is crucial to any good website, and video SEO, by extension, is necessary as well. Still a somewhat unexplored arena of SEO, video optimization is infiltrating the to-do lists of search marketers everywhere. Video is popping up in our search results, it’s being used for viral marketing more than ever before (see Kony 2012) and its major players are being used as verbs. Too often I will hear my Mom tell me over the phone to “Just YouTube it!”.

YouTube, owned by Google, is a favorite in Google’s search results and with over 4 billion videos being watched daily it’s not exactly a site to be ignored. Currently there is one hour of film being uploaded to YouTube every second. It’s incredible to see the wave video is riding, so how do we as search marketers take advantage of it?

Well for starters, with great content (one of the pillars to good SEO), also applies to video. But, there is a good deal of optimization we can do in addition to creating share-worthy content. With that said, let’s take a look at some of the tactics we can use to put together a great video optimization strategy.

Image: Electronic Papyrus

YouTube Search Algorithm

In order to understand why we’re putting our focus in certain areas of the optimization techniques available to us, it helps to first become familiar with the basics of video search algorithms. Just like we strive to know what Google really values and how we can “play the game,” it also helps to take a look at what YouTube values when evaluating whether or not a video is relevant to a user’s search query. Watch this short video by one of YouTube’s own, Matthew Liu.

Ranking Factors

Based on Matthew’s talk with ReelSEO in the video above, we can group some of the key areas of focus he mentions into 3 ranking factors for YouTube.


The first is relevancy, which we know includes the keywords in the search query matching the title, description and tags. These are 3 things right off the bat that we can directly control and optimize to the best of our ability. For the video title, we want that to be concise but also include some of our most important keywords. Check out Kevin’s latest post on keyword research for video titles, which covers all the bases and also features one of our furry friends in an exclusive video. The second item we can control is the description we upload, which should include most of the keywords you’ve identified earlier, but kept readable in order to seem less spammy. Finally, use keyword tags liberally, but be sure to keep them related. YouTube looks at all of them, and if they don’t seem to relate to one another, it can hurt your rankings.

User Engagement

The second ranking factor is user engagement, which evaluates factors like the number of comments on the video page, number of times the video has been liked and viewed and how many times people shared the video. We can spark user engagement by creating video content that maybe asks for comments, features controversial topics or even uses humor to inspire comments. To further entice engagement, we can even add annotations within the video that ask the user to leave a comment about a specific portion of the video or click to another page for more information. This could start a lively discussion that is focused, and if done well, could even get users to leave comments related to your targeted keywords.

Trust and Authority

The third ranking factor is trust and authority, which us search optimizers should be more than familiar with. YouTube looks at the number of inbound links to the video and channel, the age of the video and other items like the number of subscribers to the channel to determine rankings. To achieve good authority in YouTube, you can try traditional link building techniques, but don’t forget that this is building links to YouTube and not your site. You should take a good look at the time required and evaluate if it makes sense. Often times, good video content will do all the work for you, since people will naturally want to share a compelling video.

Video Optimization Essentials

In addition to these basic optimization techniques for YouTube (which can be applied to many other sites like Vimeo, Yahoo Video, Daily Motion and Metacafe), you should think about using these other essentials when posting your video. For starters, it helps to vary titles across different sites so you can match search queries in Google for different sets of keywords. Another great tactic is to include your URL at the beginning of your description so that users can easily access your site and complete any on-site goals you may have related to the video.

One essential item I recommend focusing on that can affect click through is the video thumbnail. In the example above, I searched “whiteboard Friday tutorial” and wanted to watch Rand Fishkin talk. Based on the results I was given, I’m only clicking on that last one, even if Rand makes an appearance in all three videos. This reflects a key point, which is to include a face or at least a person in the thumbnail in your video.

On YouTube, you will be given an option of several different frames from your video, which can be limiting, but choose one that accurately represents your video and entices users to click if possible. Vimeo on the other hand allows you to upload images, which is very useful for enticement and maintaining your brand.

Create A Branded Channel

A great way to increase subscribers to your YouTube channel and build user engagement is to create a branded channel. This offers users the chance to interact with your site and continue watching more of your videos, which is great for creating a return visitor out of a first timer.

A nice example of a branded channel is this one for DigitalRev TV, which reviews new cameras and lenses in Hong Kong. The content is great (and often funny), the reviews are informational and the channel allows you to learn more about what you just watched through links to their site. Take a look at the top right where you can even click through to their online store or follow them on Twitter!

So What’s Next?

Get out there and start shooting great video! Once you have the content down you can use all of the suggestions above to make sure your video is ready to be found. The next step would be to define goals for your users and direct them to the proper place from your video. Then you can just sit back and watch the conversions roll in.

Editor’s Note: There are other options available to you outside of YouTube, Vimeo or any other “posted” video site. One of those options is to host the video yourself and create a landing page on your site specifically for that video and its related services. There are advantages to doing this, like being able to better control the branding of your video and keeping visitors on your site. Look for a blog post next week by our own Max Thomas on the ways you can benefit from a hosted video strategy.

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Susan Rust

By Susan Rust

I believe we hear and learn to say "no, it can't be done, that's too hard" rather than say "yes, let's do it now!" I have many mottos, mine for now is "Run fast, break things."

  • Hi Shawn,

    1> How about keywording… When and where to do this…

    Before the video is uploaded, on upload…

    2> And, what if we put the same or similar video on several sites… is that a hit?

    ie, my own site, youtube and vimeo… all, several or only one??