The Ultimate Youtube SEO Guide


Youtube is the second largest search engine. A lot of people are doing SEO for Google – which usually ends up with Bing and Yahoo rankings following suit. What we fail to see is that Youtube SEO can gain you far more search traffic than Yahoo and Bing does. So if you’re not doing Youtube SEO, you’re missing out.

No I’m not posting this because I was one of the winners of the SEOmoz Youtube Contest. I’m really looking into Youtube SEO lately – even before the contest started – for promoting SEO Hacker School. We launched our first video by the way (It’s pretty simple but it’s my first production so please bear with me). I’ll be using this video as our example for most of the screenshots.

First thing’s first – you need a Video

How hard can that be? The average  smartphone today has video capability. Or buy a webcam – it doesn’t cost that much. Plus, almost all laptops have one. Video content creation has never been this easy. Why should you start bothering to create videos to penetrate the Youtube search market?

Here are some statistics to start with:

  •  3.7 Billion Youtube searches per day as of March 2010 according to comScore
  • 48 Hours worth of Video uploaded every minute on May 2011
  • More than 3 Billion views every day
  • 13 million hours worth of video uploaded in 2010 alone
  • 700 billion video playbacks in 2010
  • Youtube owns 10% of the entire Internet Traffic

Applying SEO to your Youtube Video

There are two categories in Youtube ranking factors. There’s your Video Content and then there’s your User Engagement. These two things make up pretty much most of your Youtube SEO. You see, Youtube’s search engine does not work like how Google does. Youtube’s search engine cannot directly tell if your keywords are inside the video. It cannot directly tell if your video is relevant to the tags you put in. So what exactly does it use to know which videos rank first?

Video Content Factors

This is the foundation of your video’s Youtube SEO. It deals with all factors under your control as the publisher – much like how on-site optimization is to SEO.

Get all of these factors right, and you can be ranking top spot even without hitting high on your User Engagement factors.


Youtube Video Title

The Title of your Youtube video is one of the direct, hard-hitting factors where you can put your keywords in. It’s arguably the most important thing in your Youtube SEO. Your Youtube video’s Title greatly affects your Click-through rate (CTR) as it appears in a very prominent place in the Youtube Search Results Page (YSRP).

Of course, you shouldn’t use a Title for the sake of Youtube Search Rankings and sacrifice relevance. Google owns Youtube and Google is all about dishing out the best, most relevant results to its users.

Key takeaway: Put your keywords in the title tag. Make sure it’s relevant and it’s what best describes the video.


Youtube Video Description

Your Youtube video’s description is really the only place to describe what your video is about. This is mostly for people who are searching in the Google Search engine results page:

Youtube Video Description on Google SERP

Or people who are searching in the Youtube Search Results Page:

Youtube Video Description on Youtube SERP

Its primary purpose is to increase click-through rate because people who see an exact match of their search query in your video’s description will immediately realize your video’s relevance to what they’re looking for.

Put your keywords in the description so as not to miss out on your keywords being ‘Emboldened’ in the Search results page if it matches a user’s search query.

Putting a link in your description is fine so long as it is a relevant, qualified link that helps describe what your video is about or helps people to have a further idea about your video.

Key Takeaway: Write around 300-500 words to describe what the video is about. It’s not a transcription of your video, but the more you explain what your video is and the more information you give about your video in the description area, the better.


Youtube Video TagsPut in at least 10 tags, make sure your keywords are in there, make sure they’re relevant to the video. This is where you target those extra keywords where you want your video to pop out in.

Take note: Youtube video Tags are plural and non-plural sensitive. So if you’re talking about a camping bed, you should put in your tags section “Camping bed” as well as “Camping beds” because that’s a Product defining keyword.

Key Takeaway: Don’t be stingy with your tags. Put in as much as you like – so long as they’re relevant.


Youtube Video Captions

Most people don’t know that Youtube automatically transcribes your video. That’s pretty great news isn’t it? You automatically have a written record of every word that you’ve said in your video.

The bad news is that Youtube is extremely horrible at transcribing your video. Take a look at how it transcribed my video:

Youtube Video Machine Transcription

Youtube is indexing your video’s transcriptions and uses it to rank your video for some of the keywords in the transcription. The obvious reason behind this is that you’re using those keywords in the video – and you’d look and sound pretty funny if you repeatedly utter words in the video itself with your face and voice in it.

Chances are that if the keyword is in the video transcription then you probably used it in the video; if a lot of people watched and shared your video, this shows that evidently, you used it well. Youtube will match up the words and will make your video appear in the Closed Caption results.

You can search for videos with captions by choosing “Type: Closed Captions” in YouTube Search or by selecting it in the Filter section:

Closed Captions Filter

Videos with captions display this small logo at the bottom of the player:  Closed Captions Icon

This is how it looks like in the Youtube Search Results Page:

Closed Captions on Youtube Search Results Page

Having a Closed Caption attribute added to your video can indirectly increase your click-through rate in the YSRP and will allow your Youtube video to rank better.

Turning on Captions in Youtube Video

Key Takeaway: Take the extra effort to transcribe your video word for word. Upload it to your Youtube video as a text file – it might just make a huge difference in your Youtube SEO efforts.

Channel Authority

A Youtube channel can be very easily searched. Just add the word ‘channel’ at the end of your search query and if there is an existing channel as what you just typed, it will pop up.

Channel Result on Youtube

Google uses your channel’s authority as a basis for your individual videos’ rankings. How is channel measured? We’ll be talking about it in the User Engagement category of Youtube SEO.

You control your content – how much it is optimized, how often you publish videos, how relevant your tags, titles and descriptions are, how you promote it, etc. Consequently, this means you have control over your authority.

Key Takeaway: Take care of your channel and promote it as a whole as it affects your individual videos in their Youtube Search rankings.

Content Delivery

If you make a less than stellar video, Google and Youtube will definitely find out and you’re not gonna rank well. How do they find this out? They measure it using a combination of your Youtube Video Content Optimization and mix it with User Engagement Factors.

Youtube content delivery has everything to do with providing people with awesome videos with or without the tags the transcriptions, the titles, etc. Content Delivery is first and foremost about the video itself and how useful, informative, or entertaining it is to people.

Check out and how the delivery of their video dragged their Youtube SEO upwards without even targeting any real keyword but their brand:

If you have video content that is really poor, users are not gonna like it, they’re not gonna comment, stick around, engage, etc. This sends a negative signal to Google that your video sucks. Don’t expect to rank.

Key Takeaway: Make an awesome video and build from there.

User Engagement Factors

Having laid a great foundation in your Youtube Video Content factors, what you need to work on next is your User Engagement factors. This can be likened to off-site optimization in SEO and cannot be directly controlled by the video’s publisher.

As in SEO, your website’s content will determine user activity and natural links to be built to your website, so great videos and delivery will also determine User Engagement in each of your videos.


It’s pretty obvious that you’re publishing videos in order for them to be viewed. Views help boost your video’s Youtube SEO. How do you increase views?

Promote! Share it in your blog, share it in your Social Networks, embed it in your website, tell your friends and family about it. Do everything you can to make people watch your video.

But it doesn’t stop there – Youtube measures the quality of those views by checking out if the user watched the whole video. The more of your video each users watch, the better the quality of their viewership.

You can check out your viewer’s retention rate of your video in the Analytics section of your Youtube account.

Youtube Analytics

Click on the ‘Audience Retention’ tab in the left sidebar

Audience Retention Sidebar

You’ll see a the graph of your chosen Video’s Audience Retention:

Youtube Audience Retention Graph

Here you’ll see how long people watched your video, where they stopped watching – all while the video is playing:

Youtube Audience Retention Graph Line

You’ll be able to analyze the reason behind your viewers turning your channel off at any specific moment in the time-frame.

Key Takeaway: Check out your videos – why do your viewers quit watching at a specific part of the video? Do something about it.

Inbound Links

It’s no surprise that Youtube is using inbound links to video as a ranking factor much like how Google uses inbound links as a ranking factor.

What most people don’t know is that in Youtube SEO, you have to build links BOTH to the video you want to rank and to your Youtube channel:

Link to your Youtube Channel

This leverages your channel’s authority (which we talked about earlier) and your individual video’s authority.

The great thing about this is, it consequently affects your Google video SERP rankings as well.

How do you build inbound links to your channel and video? The best way is to create great, quality Video Content that will appeal to the emotional triggers of your viewers. People just can’t help but share a video that has ‘touched’ or ‘inspired’ them. Appealing to the emotional trigger of a person is much easier in video than in writing. Take advantage of that fact.

Still, it won’t hurt to promote and share to start the ball rolling.

A good tip is to link your video to websites like Quora and Yahoo Answers. These websites are extremely popular among the professionals as well as experts in the world. It is likely to find people interested in your field to ask a question – which you can answer with your video. Linking your video on these Q&A website not only increases your views and stats, it will also boost your credibility among people in your field.

Wantonly pasting your links everywhere, however, will only get you banned unless you are linking back to Youtube. Precisely because people on these websites (Quora, Yahoo Answers) are actually actively looking for topics that are related to you, they are likely to be high-retention views – which is good for your YouTube channel.

Key Takeaway: Always be building links to your Youtube Channel – profile links in your other social networks, links from your blog, from your website, etc.

Social Shares

It’s really easy to share your video through social networks in Youtube. They have buttons for that. Youtube tracks these shares as social signals and as a User Engagement Factor.

Youtube Video Social Sharing

Key Takeaway: Share it on your own social profile and pray that other people share it too.


The embed function is meant to take your video outside the bounds of Youtube. Even so, Youtube can track all instances of your video being embedded on other websites. They count it as a positive User Engagement signal – boosting your video’s Youtube SEO.

Youtube Video Embedding

Key Takeaway: Always allow embedding.

Allow Embedding

Your video is public anyway and it’s free marketing to boot!

Comments / Responses

This is arguably the most powerful User Engagement factor there is to Youtube SEO. Getting user comments and response videos gives a huge relevance and authority signal to Youtube.

Create a Video Response on Youtube

Warning: Youtube is really good at figuring out which comments are spam and which ones are genuine. Don’t try to game the system.

Gain more comments by commenting back and responding to your viewership. Reach out to them. Ask them to subscribe to your channel.

Here’s the tricky part – how do you get video responses? Who’s hardworking enough to create a video just to respond to your video?

It’s pretty tough – but it’s also the reason why it’s holds good weight in your video’s Youtube SEO. No one just gives away video responses. You have to earn them.

Getting a video response means that the responder was really, in any way, affected by your video. Or it can also mean that you have a friend who was kind enough to do your Youtube video a great favor by responding to it.

You can add a response to your own video but that holds little bearing.

So how do you make a video response on Youtube? This Youtube Help section says it all:

To make a video response, click the All Comments box located underneath the video’s information (the same place you would click to write a comment). A hyperlink on the right of the box called Create a video response will appear — click this link. You will be given two options for choosing your video response:

Choose a Video

The Choose a Video option lets you respond with any video you’ve already posted. Each video in your account can only be used as a video response one time. You’ll notice that your videos that have already been used as video responses have an asterisk (*) beside them.

Upload a Video Response

This option works like the normal upload process. Simply go to the upload page and upload the video as usual. Once this is complete, return to select your newly uploaded video as the video response.

Key Takeaway: Create and deliver great videos so you won’t be ashamed to ask for video or comment responses.

Like (Thumbs Up), Thumbs down and Favorites

Youtube has a Thumbs up and Thumbs down button – much like Facebook’s Like button (although Facebook doesn’t have a Dislike button). Obviously, you want to get a lot of Thumbs up for your video instead of a Thumbs down. But hey, bad publicity is still publicity, right?

Like, thumbs down and favorite

The thing is, I’ve yet to hear about a video with a lot more thumbs down than thumbs up that didn’t rank because of the thumbs down – it probably was a bad video with poor relevance in the first place.

Getting a Thumbs up, Thumbs down or a Favorite signals User Engagement. Getting these again, depends on the quality and delivery of your Youtube video.

Key Takeaway: If you’re already asking your friends to share your video in their social network, don’t forget to ask them to Like and add your video to their Favorites list.

Hustler Tips from Markus Allen of

Look for “Video Blended Results” for a 3-word search query on Google.

For example, when you search Google for these search terms:

“Boiled Eggs demonstration”

We then see that Google displays Video Blended Results on it first page. This lets us know that Google considers the three-word phrase as a “video worthy” phrase to optimize for.

Also, these search query words and phrases tend to get videos to show up on the first page of Google:

– Tutorial

– Review

– Test

– What is ________

– How-to

– Demonstration

– Explanation

– Video

Additional Readings for Youtube SEO:

Bonus: This Whole Guide has been Turned into a Youtube SEO Infograph that you can embed on your site:

Embed this on Your Site!

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  • I agree that all business owners need to look at video marketing. Making video now-a-days is dirt cheap but the upside is major. The main point I think you hit on with your post is that the video’s content needs to be solid.

  • Fantastic piece. Loved it so much you got a mention in my blog in a post entitled ‘Broadcast Your Business’ (which can be found here if you feel so inclined!).

    I’ve been an avid subscriber to the SEO Hacker blog for sometime now, and your wisdom never fails to make an impression on my day-to-day SEO activity! More people need to know just how much YouTube can have an impact on their user interaction and engagement rates.


  • I’m just finished my seo training and I’m looking forward on doing this YouTube SEO.Thanks for the step by step instructions!Your really a great help!

  • Some things in here I have not thought about before. I am happy to find this post very useful for me, as it contains lot of information.

  • Video marketing is going to be popular soon in the year 2013. As we are after google search youtube stantds. I really want this tip from long time. Thanks.

  • Lionel

    Thanks for this awesome insight post about Youtube Seo. This will help the marketers to make better optimize their videos.

    • Hey Lionel,
      That’s the whole point – this is the best, most extensive guide to rank your Youtube videos that I’ve seen thus far. And it really works. Although there’s the Human Emotional Filter effect when it comes to ranking Youtube videos too – which you could harness when you have a great video, this is pretty much what you’ll need in a more technical aspect.

  • This is a brilliant article.

    One point you didn’t seem to mention … and I don’t know if this is because it is a recent change & I’ve only started looking into this in the past couple of months … is that YouTube now sets the first 160 characters of your video description as the meta description.

    • Hi Adam,
      When did Youtube implement this change? I haven’t noticed that one yet. Thanks for pointing that out!

      • Hi Sean,

        I noticed it at the start of January. I have a little YouTube channel and I was trying to work out how to get more views. Playing with the description helped loads and after some digging (right click view source) I noticed why!

        The first 160 characters are set as the meta description.
        The first 120 characters are shown next to your video in YouTube search results.

        Like I said though, I have no idea when YouTube actually implemented this!


        • Hi Adam,
          That’s a good insight! This is a huge HEF factor for Youtube videos. I usually read the description before I click-through. We better start putting the best, most concise descriptions from now on.

          • I have since discovered YouTube’s own advice on video SEO:


            Bizarrely, their example shows a video description which starts out with a “subscribe to my channel link”.

            I’ve tried that… and can definitely say I get better results optimising the first 160 characters as I would for a blog post.

  • Very comprehensive presentation about YouTube SEO, Sean. I got a lot of good information from your article which can be very useful to me concerning YouTube optimization.

  • Sean @ really great observation and research presentation for content marketing consultant as well as normal bloggers and webmasters those are struggling for organic traffic. Thanks for the share!

    • h3sean

      My pleasure Shazida!

  • Ledz Gonzales

    Hi Sean,

    Im glad that I’ve stumbleupon this post :) I’ll give it a try and would like to see how it works with my campaign. Thanks!

    • h3sean

      Give it a go and tell me how it worked out for you :)

      • Ledz Gonzales

        i sure will, thanks! :)

  • Sergio Ricardo Santos

    Great post..added you to my G+.everyone serious about online SEO should read this.

    • h3sean

      Thanks Sergio. Glad this helped you out!

  • April

    Write more, thats all I have to say. Literally, it seems as though you relied on the video to make your
    point. You clearly know what youre talking about, why waste your intelligence on just posting videos to your site when you could be giving us something informative to read?


    Great Youtube SEO guide right here! Also your website lots up fast! What host are you using?

    Can I get your affiliate hyperlink for your host?

    I want my website loaded up as fast as yours lol

    • It’s A Small Orange :)

  • Great web site you’ve got here.. It’s hard to find
    high quality writing like yours these days. I seriously appreciate people like you!
    Take care!!

  • Isabelle

    Hi Sean.

    Great comprehensive guide and I’m sorry I have a much more basic question… Our channel description doesn’t seem to update (It has been 2 weeks now!). Can you please confirm the channel description Google uses as meta description is the text one inputs under the “about” section?
    Many thanks in advance.

    • Isabelle,
      It’s supposed to be what Google is using. However right now, we’re seeing Google doing a change in how it indexes and displays meta descriptions in its SERPs. I’ve seen it happen with some of our clients. It’s not pretty – Google is taking reins of what’s going to display in their SERPs and what’s not in a way that we can’t control anymore.

  • Vo Dang Tung

    Hi Sean,
    Google ranking factors has changed its algorithms all the time, no one knows what should be done, however your blogs same as mine one. The facts are boilling down to the SEO, tags, drisription for videos, annotation for videos, SEO title. …

    the unique and relevant content help rankings higher, as we all know content is king. however, the influenced contents should direct to the tittle.

    Thank you for your great blog, would like to hear from your feedback.

    Vo Dang Tung

  • dijemima

    Hi Master SEAN.
    I am very happy to meet with this site, but there are constraints on language, I am not proficient in English ….
    I hope, can learn a lot about seo youtube….Thnks

    • I’m sure you will :)

  • Sean,

    I really liked your guide on YouTube SEO. I see many YouTube videos that have not been optimized. The title may be “close”, but the description is often empty. Great opportunities missed.

    Your guide removes all excuses anyone could have for not giving their videos the best chances to be more competitive in the rankings.

    Thanks for making this available.

    • Howard,
      Thanks for the kind words. Glad this guide helped you out :)

  • Jay

    Hello Sean, is there a way you could “refresh” all this info? there could have been many new implementations or changes in general sorrounding youtube’s seo, i can see this post is like 3 years old and many things could have changed since then (sorry if i made a grammar mistake, me no american).

  • Jon

    I love the infographic! I also agree that Youtube is a great way to generate more traffic, and to get more opportunities to get on the SERPs for local, and even broad keywords for any niche. One thing I might add is that you can use IFTTT to broadcast/Syndicate your videos all over the internet

  • I really love this article. I am trying to grow on YouTube and these tips really helped.

  • Yaj

    Great article. Highly recommended.

  • Steady. Comprehensive one