What Is SEO for YouTube and Why Does It Matter?

Christy Walters


January 12, 2022 (Updated: May 4, 2023)

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Videos are one of the next great trends in content and social media marketing. A Lemonlight study showed that 99% of respondents enjoyed watching video content from their favorite brands online. This is just one reason that may explain why YouTube is such a popular social media site. If you’re looking to get the most out of your video content on the platform, engaging in search engine optimization (SEO) for YouTube can help.

What Is SEO for YouTube?

YouTube SEO optimizes content on the site to help users find videos for which they’re looking. YouTube is a Google product, so much like the company’s native search engine, YouTube’s internal site search uses algorithms to provide the best and most relevant content to users. SEO in general is the process of making sure your content provides the best user experience and caters to search engine bots and crawlers.

These tools review and categorize your content, then store it within the backend of a search engine to bring it back up when a user makes a related query. A good way to think of this process is to compare it to a filing cabinet or a library. Each piece of content online has a proper place within the search engine index, and you can find a specific piece by using the right keywords to lead you to its location. You can do SEO for any content on any website with an internal site search, like YouTube.

What Are YouTube’s SEO Ranking Factors?

YouTube’s internal site search monitors a variety of items to provide the best results to search queries, including:

Audience Retention

Videos with longer watch times rank better in YouTube searches. The site’s Creator Studio stresses that keeping audience retention as close to 100% as possible with consistency can cause a video to show up more frequently in search and suggestions on the service. YouTube recommends making your videos interesting and valuable to the audience to keep retention high.

Video Comments

Comments alert YouTube bots that people have engaged with your video. Brian Dean and the team at backlinko analyzed over one million YouTube videos to get insights about the ranking factors and found that comments strongly correlated with high rankings. To get people to comment on your video, consider asking questions within the content and encouraging people to respond in the comments.


You’re likely always trying to get new subscribers to your channel, but the viewers who do so after they watch a video of yours may help your SEO. This practice signals to YouTube that your content is so valuable to viewers that they want to see more of it, or even get alerts when you post. To get more subscribers, try asking for them to subscribe at the beginning and end of your video like you would do with a call-to-action in a written piece of content.

Click-Through Rate (CTR)

YouTube pays attention to the clicks of viewers, or which results they choose from searches and suggestions. The percentage of people who click your content is your click-through rate. The higher this percentage, the more people click on your videos. To make your videos more inviting, consider creating an attention-grabbing thumbnail and title.

Thumbs Up or Down

The thumbs up and down feature on YouTube gives viewers another way to engage with and react to your content. This can be one of the clearest indicators of how an audience feels about your videos. Thumbs up means they approve or enjoy it, while a thumbs down means they don’t. You want your content to have more thumbs up reactions, and if it does, YouTube notices.

Video Length

Longer videos often rank better in YouTube searches. While there’s not an exact explanation why, it could be because they provide more information than shorter videos, making them more valuable to viewers. There’s not a magic length that gets the best results. It’s best to do what makes sense for your content. If it can be longer and still valuable, don’t shorten it. If you’re adding extra filler information just to fill time and space, that’s unhelpful to your audience.

Social Shares

It’s common to see a lot of video content on sites like Facebook and Twitter, either from native uploads or shares from other sources, like YouTube. Similar to comments and subscribers, social shares show video engagement. YouTube also values social shares because they bring people from other platforms to the site, increasing usage and viewership.

9 YouTube Features To Optimize for SEO

Use this list to discover nine features on YouTube you can optimize for better SEO:

1. Captions and Transcriptions

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Image via Unsplash by @nordwood

Subtitles, closed captioning, and other on-screen assistive texts are popular not just for accessibility, but also for mobile video watching. Subtitles allow you to watch a video and understand it without sound. They can also help increase recognition and understanding of the content. Both subtitle and closed captioning files contain the full text of what’s said in a video. YouTube may create an auto-generated file or you can upload one manually. Consider creating your own SRT file to ensure accuracy. You can do this for videos on most social platforms aside from YouTube.

The file also contains time codes for each piece of text so that it matches the speech and other visuals on the screen at the right time. Having a video transcript as subtitles or captions allows broader search engines to pick up the content as they would do with written pieces. Say your SEO keywords within your video to add them in your transcript. This allows the bots and crawlers to recognize the theme of your content and pair it with appropriate queries.

2. Video Title

Titles help YouTube index and rank your content, similar to how you would optimize a headline for a written piece. Titles that are at least five words and naturally incorporate your keyword work best. HubSpot recommends keeping your title to an average of 60 characters and putting the keyword at the beginning of the title.

3. Video Description

The description is arguably one of the most important optimization areas for a YouTube video because it’s where you can put the most words. It also tells YouTube what your video is about, so you want to get that message across without keyword stuffing. Whenever you change or update any editable element for a YouTube video, like the description, YouTube reevaluates it for ranking. This means it’s important to get everything as close to perfect the first time to maximize your chance to rank without the reevaluation period.

Put your most important keywords in the first few sentences of your description and keep it between 200 and 250 words maximum. Brevity with value is key. YouTube’s creator resources can also help you optimize your descriptions and other areas of your video to the fullest potential.

4. Tags

Tags can help your videos get included in groupings with other similar content. They’re also another way to target keywords for your video. Include your exact target keywords, variations, and tags for other important topics or content which you cover, even if they’re not the focus of the video. There is a limit to how many tags you can use per video, so make sure you’ve included the most important tags before adding secondary ones. Tagging may get you added to the suggestion bar on other videos with similar tags.

5. Category

Categories within the search engine allow users to filter content that’s related to each other. Putting your video in certain categories can increase the chances of a user finding it through search. YouTube offers a variety of content categories in different areas, such as music, gaming, education, news, travel, and people. This allows you to find just the right segmentation for your video.

6. File Name

Include your keywords in the video file name. Videos with the target keyword in the upload file have a better chance of getting ranked and gaining more search volume. You can only change your file name on your device or machine. The easiest way to do it is to save the file with a name that has the keyword in it rather than trying to make a copy and save the file later. You cannot change the filename once you’ve uploaded it to YouTube unless you delete the file and re-upload it under a new name.

7. Translations

YouTube lets you provide foreign language translations for your videos. Similar to closed captions, you can provide translations for viewers around the world without re-filming your content. To do this, translate your transcript into the desired language and then create an SRT file and upload it to YouTube.

8. Links

You can add links to the description of your video to get your subscriber base to explore other places you create content. While this might not do much for your YouTube SEO, it can help your overall SEO on sites like Google by creating authority. Send your subscribers to your social channels, e-commerce site, blog, or website to get more backlinks.

9. Channel Information

You can optimize your channel itself for more information because your channel preview can rank in search results on the website or app. Making your page visually appealing can help. This means including a profile picture and a header image that are eye-catching and relevant. You can also include some of your most popular, important, or common keywords in your channel description.

16 SEO for YouTube Tips To Rank Higher in Search

Use these tips to help your YouTube videos rank higher within internal site search:

1. Understand Your Video’s “Why”

Why are you making and sharing this video in the first place? Understanding who you want to see your content and what it provides the viewer are two simple principles that can help guide the rest of your optimization strategy. For example, this can help determine what keywords you investigate, how you structure your titles and descriptions, or what metrics are most important to track for your analysis.

2. Conduct Keyword Research

Just like for any other SEO, starting with the right keywords can help shape your strategy. Do keyword research and look for terms that can get you more search volume with less competition. You can use the same tools you do for other SEO to find those that rank best. Plug those keywords into YouTube’s internal search engine and look at the suggested feature to get ideas for additional keywords. These are terms people actually use while searching the site. That means using those keywords or creating content around them can fill a need people already have.

3. Look for Reach Potential

Reach potential simply means how many viewers can you expose to your content based on their searches. Your keyword research helps with reach potential, especially if you target long-tail keywords. These keywords do not get the most traffic or have the most competition, but if someone is looking specifically for those terms, you have a better chance to rank. The most common long-tail keywords are questions because they’re more specific than basic keywords. For example, searching the term SEO could bring up a variety of topics, but searching for “how to do YouTube SEO” is more specific.

4. Promote Your Content

Don’t just create your content and let it sit there. Sharing it around the internet can bring more people back to YouTube and help raise awareness of your videos in the internal search criteria. Ways you can promote your video content include:

  • Mention your video on Q&A sites: Question and answer sites and threads like Quora and Reddit allow you to share video links to relevant topics and provide actual solutions while getting more views.
  • Link to your videos in your email signature: If you work in an industry where you send and receive a lot of emails, adding the link to your latest video in the signature can encourage people to watch.
  • Embed videos into other content: Embedding your videos into your blog posts or on your website can get people to watch them and increase your viewership from elsewhere online where they interact with your content.


If you’re looking to syndicate other forms of content like blog posts and articles, CopyPress can help. Schedule a call with us today to learn more.

5. Create YouTube Playlists

YouTube playlists allow you to group related videos and content for continuous viewership on the same or similar topics. Playlists advance to the next video automatically so that viewers don’t even have to do additional work to keep watching. This can lead to more views and better SEO.

Theme your playlists around a similar topic. One way to do this is to look at your keywords or tags and choose videos that use similar ones. You can also add a description to your playlist, which is another place to share your keywords and provide more information about your channel or content for the internal site search to crawl.

6. Use Hashtags

Hashtags are popular across social media, including YouTube. Users can follow specific hashtags to get updates about information that interests them or that’s important to them. Hashtags can also make key trends more visible to the search engine. Adding them to your description allows them to appear above the title of the video and turn into hyperlinks users can click to view more content on the same topic.

7. Customize the Thumbnail Image

Thumbnails are the first images a searcher sees when discovering your video on YouTube. Having an engaging thumbnail may not only increase clicks but lead to more watch time, which positively affects your ranking. While you’re able to use a still image from your video as a thumbnail, creating a custom image may be more attention-grabbing. Custom thumbnails can also help with branding or categorizing. For example, a library may use a custom thumbnail for each different type of children’s program to better organize the content.

8. Add Cards and End Screens

Cards are a video feature that can provide more information for viewers throughout a video. You can add up to five cards per video to promote your brand or other content to your audience. Types of cards to choose from include:

  • Channel: Send viewers to another channel
  • Donation: Encourage donations to a U.S. nonprofit organization
  • Fan Funding: Encourage donations to the creator to produce more content
  • Link: Send viewers to an external site or platform
  • Poll: Pose questions to viewers to vote on responses
  • Video or Playlist: Send viewers to another YouTube video or playlist


9. Increase the Production Value

While the interest and value of video content are two of the most important parts of getting views and increasing the rank in search, having a more polished or professional video can create the illusion that your content is valuable. Some simple ways you can increase the production quality of your videos include:

  • Getting a tripod, stand, or stabilizing device for your camera or phone
  • Adding a solid background or backdrop, either by choosing a clean, uncluttered filming location or using a green screen
  • Focusing on the lighting and investing in stand lights or ring lights if necessary
  • Investing in an external microphone to boost sound quality


10. Do Competitor Research

What are your competitors talking about in their YouTube videos? What keywords are they using and for which are they ranking? Just like with any other content research, knowing what your competition is doing can help you find gaps and create valuable content that doesn’t already exist. CopyPress can help you find these content gaps using our content analysis tool.

“CopyPress gives us the ability to work with more dealership groups. We are able to provide unique and fresh content for an ever growing customer base. We know that when we need an influx of content to keep our clients ahead of the game in the automotive landscape, CopyPress can handle these requests with ease.”

Kevin Doory

Director of SEO at Auto Revo

11. Review Your Analytics

Your YouTube analytics report can tell a lot about your content and its performance. Looking at these numbers frequently can tell you what content is already performing well, which can do better, and if the changes you’re making are contributing to better numbers. Reviewing the content that’s already performing well can give you an idea of how to optimize new or underperforming content for better results. Watch time, returning viewers, and engagement reports may all be helpful for this effort.

12. Create Partnerships

Like you may do with influencers or guest bloggers, get featured on another YouTube channel. This may mean appearing in someone else’s video, sharing your products or content, or linking to your videos. The collaboration strategy may be different for each creator partnership, so it’s best to talk it out with your team to figure out what works for all parties involved. A good rule may be to work with channels that complement yours but aren’t direct competitors so that you have a slightly different subscriber base.

13. Stick To a Schedule

Because you’re trying to create a subscriber community and bring people back repeatedly for content, posting optimized videos on a schedule can help. The exact schedule can be flexible to fit your content creation team’s needs, but make sure it’s consistent. You may post daily, weekly, monthly, or bimonthly, depending on the length and type of content you share. It’s also important to post on the same day at the same time.

YouTube now has a premiere feature where you can list a video as premiering on a specific date and time. An alert goes out to your audience so they can expect and even set a reminder to watch the video when it comes out.

14. Add a Call-To-Action

You can add calls-to-action (CTAs) to your videos like you would in written content. Make the CTAs specific to YouTube to increase your SEO. Ask people to subscribe or leave a comment on your video. You can also ask people to come back for your next premiere, look for a hidden card in one of your videos, or any verbal command you can give to get them to further interact with your content.

15. Optimize for Search Intent

The search intent for videos is like other content. Knowing why people are searching and what they’re looking for can help you optimize for that content. The most common types of search intent include:

  • Informational: The searcher wants to learn something about a topic
  • Navigational: The searcher wants to find a specific location on the site
  • Transactional: The searcher wants to find a place to buy a specific product
  • Commercial: The searcher wants to research a product they may buy in the future


16. Target Google

Even though YouTube is a Google service, you can still do additional optimization to get your videos to show up in Google’s own search results. Doing this can help your videos get more traffic from around the internet, not just on YouTube itself. Try to optimize your videos for keywords that already have video results in Google. The search engine may suggest video results for certain keywords at the top of the first search engine results page (SERP) for topics such as:

  • How-to content
  • Reviews
  • Tutorials
  • Fitness and sports content
  • Entertainment content
  • Humorous content


Whether your goal is to rank number one in YouTube search or just to improve viewership on your videos, creating and implementing a YouTube SEO strategy can help. Getting better at YouTube SEO can help you with SEO in different content areas and with your digital marketing practices overall.

Author Image - Christy Walters
Christy Walters

CopyPress writer

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