No.9 Most Read Article of 2013: Optimizing Videos for YouTube Search

This story was originally published on April 22, 2013, and comes in at No. 9 on our countdown of the 10 most popular ClickZ stories of 2013. As ClickZ looks back over the past year, we’re celebrating the best of 2013, as determined by you, our readers. Enjoy!

In the first part of this series, I talked about how to optimize self-hosted videos (on your brand’s website) to achieve maximum visibility within Google’s organic search results. In this column, I will share some tips and insights on optimizing videos for maximum YouTube visibility, strong brand impression, engagement, and viral social sharing.

There are several steps you must first address before YouTube optimization:

1. Produce emotionally appealing, high-quality video content that will become a likable asset that your audience will want to share, comment on, and reference as a valuable piece. This will fuel the virality your videos need to get in front of as many eyes as possible.

A video asset that spreads widely across the web will get a sufficient number of inbound links and social sharing to rank in top results given its popularity. This “link love” is required to rank well in search engines and in YouTube.

1a. Continue to feed your YouTube channel with high-quality content (no “one-offs”) so your branded channel builds a strong reputation and views over time. By continuously adding good content you’ll gain new and more subscribers who will follow you, and comment and engage with your content on YouTube, which can help build brand loyalty.

2. Before developing video assets look at your current video analytics to evaluate:

What type of videos do your consumers interact with and consider sharable (informational, promotional, interviews, etc.)?

youtube-search-1Where do the specific video types perform best (embedded on; shared via social, through recommendations, or YouTube search)?


3. Perform comprehensive key phrase and audience research. This can be done through a variety of tools and “lenses” including your existing video analytics.


Now on to actual optimization.

Start With Well-Conceived Meta Data

From a search perspective, the meta data – video title, video description, and video tags – are the foundational elements of optimized, organic YouTube search.

Video Title (up to 120 characters)

    • These should be short and catchy, like an attention-getting email subject line.
    • Make the title relatable to your target viewers and relevant to your brand.
    • Be descriptive enough to convey the story but short enough to show correctly on small screens.
    • Use elements of the content you believe will be searched the most.
    • Exact matches to search terms yield excellent search results.


Video Description (up to 1,000 characters)

Describe the video with a short story that reflects your brand’s tone and message, and incorporates keywords and key phrases. Talk about the video, your brand’s YouTube channel (if applicable), or cross-link to other brand pages. However, be careful about how you do this:

      • Avoid keyword stuffing and irrelevant information; this practice won’t fool Google and can ruin the YouTube experience and your search results.
      • Choose your words carefully; be targeted and succinct. About 22 words are visible in the description box (before “See more”), so try to associate your key phrases early and describe as much of the video as you can in that space.
      • If you include a link in the description, use http:// before the URL.


YouTube Tags (500-character limit for entire tag area)

Use powerful search terms that you control, and that are relevant to the video and your brand. All your video content can be tagged with thematic tags for a series, or custom tags for specific videos.

      • Be as detailed as possible by including: brand, location, broad topics, video category, narrow topics or terms, dates, presenters, or celebrities in the video.
      • Use the YouTube keyword search suggestion tool to discover popular searches and the types of results displayed. Check for competitors, type of content, and more.
      • Think about your target viewers – use tags you anticipate them using.
      • No keyword/key phrase stuffing.

Whatever you enter as the title, description, and tags will be translated by YouTube into HTML elements of the video view page and cached by Google; therefore, it is imperative to properly tag your company’s videos for the chosen target key phrases in order to rank in YouTube’s search results.


Next Steps to YouTube Optimization

Once you lay your meta data foundation, maximize your video SEO by:

      1. Uploading a complete video transcript. This closed caption file is searchable content that helps with indexing, allows deaf viewers to read through videos, and provides language support.
      2. Creating a custom thumbnail for each video.
      3. Exporting your video with the frame size 1920×1080 pixels. Google prefers high-definition.
      4. Including at least one call-to-action – a link to a website page or an annotation (see below).
      5. Making the video public so it is searchable.
      6. Choosing the right category for your video.
      7. Creating a playlist – this joins the videos together thematically, by topic, etc.
      8. Embedding the YouTube version on your brand’s website.
      9. Including annotations – these pop-up hyperlinks with your text give your videos extra interactivity by driving viewers to your website or channel. The engagement encouraged by these annotations is reflected in YouTube Analytics.


SEO Factors for High YouTube Ranking

To achieve strong YouTube ranking it is imperative to remember that the video’s popularity, through a number of avenues, creates perceived authority and relevance to the search engine. Therefore, the following factors must converge to rank high in YouTube’s search results pages:

      • Views, frequency – promote your video across channels (social networks, your website, email, blog) to boost video and channel viewership and popularity.
      • Time Watched is a new ranking factor in the YouTube algorithm’s most recent update. Engaging videos that keep viewers watching are rewarded with higher positions within YouTube’s search results.
      • Ratings – each category on YouTube has a popular list by day, week, month, and all time. Make sure yours is at the top by posting quality, shareable content.
      • Shares, likes – formulate a social media strategy you can control to boost engagement, social sharing, and increase inbound links quickly.
      • Comments – interacting with the video boosts its audience relevance.
      • Number of subscribers.
      • Being added to Favorites.
      • Added to
      • Embeds – a video’s source code that is pasted into an external web page such as
        • Embedding the YouTube version of the video on your website is, from an SEO perspective, similar to votes.
        • This raises number of views, and therefore, improves its overall ranking on
      • Flagging (in this case, no flagging is desired).
      • Inbound links – just as with its parent, Google, strong inbound links remain one of YouTube’s most important indicators of importance and relevance. will return a video as a universal search result if it is highly relevant to the entered key phrase; therefore, it’s vital to obtain strong anchor text links from relevant, reputable sources.

Video SEO continues to evolve along with YouTube’s and Google’s search algorithms. Executing these SEO practices, in tandem with a search marketing expert who can help you devise a strategy to implement them, will help your videos achieve powerful search results.

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