If you have a YouTube channel for your business or, are thinking of creating one as part of your content marketing strategy, it's important to consider SEO and how you can fine-tune your channel for search, both within and outside of YouTube itself. This article covers the must-do's for any type of channel from personal vLoggers to corporate marketers.
Since the first video was uploaded back in 2005, YouTube has grown into a juggernaut with 1.5 billion users logging in each month, and over 300 hours of video uploaded every minute. Many companies and entrepreneurs have YouTube channels but don't invest enough time in making the most out of what the platform has to offer. The idea of focusing on SEO with the same attention they give their website isn't as common as you'd think.
Yep, YouTube is a search engine!
What a lot of people don't realize is that YouTube is more than a platform for hosting video content, it's also a search engine. In fact, YouTube is the web's second-most popular search engine after Google. By thinking of it as such instead of simply a content storage platform, you're opening yourself up to looking at each of your channel's features as SEO firepower.
Branding your channel
Giving your YouTube channel an identity doesn't take much effort. All you need is a name, channel icon, a cover image, and a little info about you or your organization.
Customizing your channel URL
Your channel may be eligible for a custom URL, which you can access by navigating Creator Studio > Channel > Status and features.
If you're ineligible for a custom URL, your channel may be less than a month old, or you don't have enough videos uploaded yet. If you meet these requirements and are still ineligible, visit YouTube's support portal.
You can also add a little more branding to your videos by including a watermark, which is available under Creator Studio > Channel > Branding.
Choosing channel icon
When selecting your channel's icon (or avatar), YouTube has some requirements, the most important being the following:
- The image should be 800x800 pixels (recommended)
- .jpg, .gif, .png, or .bmp format
- No animated gifs
- No copyrighted images
To change your image, hover over it while logged in to your channel page and click the pencil icon:
Adding a cover image
Adding a cover image to your channel helps create immediate brand recognition. YouTube recommends using an image that's 2560 x 1440 pixels and a maximum file size of 2MB. The aspect ratio is important so your cover image scales properly on various screen sizes.
To add your image, select the Add channel art button at the top of your channel's page:
Tip: If adding additional text to your cover image, keep in mind that it may be unreadable when viewed on smaller screens.
Writing your channel description
The Description section on a channel's About page is often overlooked and won't necessarily make or break your SEO, but it doesn't hurt. If you're running a business or non-profit, make sure you have a description in place and include links to your website and social networks.
We won't go too deep into the production side of being a YouTuber, but quality matters to viewers and it matters to your SEO, so let's touch on a few things to make sure you're keeping that needed quality a priority.
The one thing you can count on with YouTube users is if your content's quality stinks, they'll leave a comment and let you know. The exception of course being when the quality is poor by design but effective as part of a shtick.
Most newer phones are suitable enough, provided you have sufficient lighting and, ideally, an external microphone that attaches to your headphone jack. Or, if you have a bit more of a budget you can purchase a camcorder for as little as a couple hundred dollars.
You also needn't spend a lot of money on super-technical editing software. If your computer or other device is running on iOS, you have free access to iMovie which can handle most of your basic editing needs. If you want more features and effects, Adobe Premiere is an excellent choice and the learning curve for basic use isn't very steep. Or cut out the middle man and use YouTube Studio which will let you upload and edit your clips right in the browser.
For more options, check out these free video editing solutions for both iOS and Windows.
Creating interest with a teaser intro
One of the best ways to engage your viewers right off the bat is to create a brief intro that sets the tone for what your video is about.
Here's an example from Fledge Fitness:
Other video intros are simpler, like this animated one from 5-Minute Crafts:
While not all intros are all exactly the same, there are a few common ingredients you can include:
- A welcome greeting and quick synopsis of the video's topic
- An invitation to subscribe to the channel
- High energy and/or and intro music to set the tone
- Title animation
Keep your intros short and to the point so your viewers don't get tempted to start skipping ahead.
An outro gives you the chance to convey some last minute information to your viewers while you have their attention. This can include:
- A reminder to subscribe to your channel (this is common in intros as well)
- An invitation to visit your social media channels and/or website
- Any required credits and acknowledgements
Uploading your videos
If you're wondering whether your video's file name impacts your video's eventual ranking, the answer is yes! YouTube really takes ranking seriously and even your upload's file name matters. A video about dogs eating ice cream that's named dogs-eating-ice-cream.mp4 is better for your video's SEO than 8765309.mp4, or whatever naming convention your video device uses.
When you upload a video, its status is set to Public by default. Feel free to select Unlisted from the options on the upload screen if you'd rather wait until your settings are in place and ready for the world to see.
Titling your videos
Here's where you'll need to do a little research.
Choosing the right keywords for your videos means doing a little digging to see what YouTubers similar to yourself are doing.
When deciding which keywords to use, the first rule is to use a keyword that isn't overly competitive, or else you'll be too far at the bottom and your fight to the top will be that much harder. If you do choose a more common keyword, realize that you'll need a lot of views and viewer interaction before you see your video rank well, and it will potentially take more time for it to happen.
Step 1: Jot down the keyword(s) you want to rank for. Write as many as you can think of.
Step 2: Do a YouTube search for those keywords.
Notice that the suggestions in the above screenshot are based on searches done by real people, so any of these would be great for a video on YouTube optimization.
Step 3: Filter the results. Here I filtered by Relevance but you can also filter by Rating.
You'll see some consistency across the highest-ranking titles. You'll want to tailor yours the same way but be careful you aren't using the exact same title word for word as an existing video you want to out-rank. Well, you could, but then you're risking having to compete with that other video's already established ranking.
Step 4: Using your selected keyword or phrase, write your title. Making sure your title communicates what your video's about in the first 70 characters (you have a 100 character limit) ensures it's visible in search results, and on lists of recommended videos where you may appear.
Here are a few examples of some really effective titles that appear on the first page of results for 'youtube optimization techniques':
Tip: Use the LSI Keyword Generator to help you dig even deeper in finding the perfect keywords for your videos.
Writing video descriptions
Your video description is important for two reasons: it provides YouTube more context as to your video's content for indexing, and it gives viewers details they may wish to read before or while watching your video.
You have up to 5,000 characters for your description and a solid one is around 250 characters. Be sure to use your selected keyword(s) 2-3 times and use the full path of any URLs (https://etc...) you include so users can select them.
Here's an example of a video description from one of Dr. Eric Berg's videos that has a combination of items:
Other things you may wish to add to your description:
- Links to references such as data backing up any claims or findings
- Links to your other videos
- Acknowledgements to contributors or creators of assets you've used in your video
- Links to your social media profiles and/or website
- Your bio
- Any necessary disclaimers
Tagging your videos
While keyword meta tags on websites are now obsolete, tags on YouTube still matter. Adding a few to your videos is a good idea to help further categorize your video for search. Use your primary keyword(s) as tags and have a look at what your competition is tagging their videos with for some direction. Also keep in mind that the more accurate and thorough your tagging, the more potential you have for your videos to be recommended to viewers who have watched video on similar topics.
Creating video thumbnails
Video thumbnails come in two varieties: a screen cap automatically selected by YouTube when you upload a video (you can select one of three screen caps once the upload's processing), or you can upload your own thumbnail. The latter is always the way to go.
Image thumbnails should be in .jpg format, 300KB in size (or less), and at 1280x720 pixels.
The text for your thumbnail should be as close to the title of your video as possible, although size constraints may affect that. Keep your keywords in there for sure!
Also make sure that your text is readable when the thumbnail and link to your video are displayed in search results, on the YouTube sidebar, or in lists. What I do when creating mine (I usually use Adobe Illustrator), is view the thumbnail at 10-15%, which should be close enough to see how readable your text is when the thumbnail's smaller, especially on smartphones.
Some added colour contrast that pulls in the eye just a bit quicker is also a good thing to do, and can be easily achieved with the right photo in the background. This may be your face if you're in the video, or a sharp-quality screen cap of an important moment.
Here's an example of some eye-catching thumbnails from Neil Patel's channel:
Including text in your thumbnails can be very effective but ones without text can also be visually stimulating enough to entice views, as these examples from 5-Minute Crafts:
YouTube and Accessibility
We recently wrote an article on the importance of Web Accessibility, which also applies when wanting to extend your reach as far as possible in order to grow your audience. YouTube offers tools to help ensure your videos are accessible to those who are visual or hearing impaired, or speak another language.
When editing an uploaded video, you have the option of adding closed captioning or subtitles by selecting the Subtitles/CC menu item from the top menu:
A few additional tips
Now that you have the basics down, you are well underway to giving your YouTube channel the SEO boost it needs. You can take it even further by doing the following:
- Create playlists and include videos related to your own. Also recommend your playlist at the end of your videos.
- Collaborate with other YouTubers like you to extend your reach and attract the audience of those who are popular and interested in what you are.
- Reply to comments on your videos to stay engaged with your audience. It's probably best to ignore the trolls, though.
As with the work you put into your website, seeing results takes time. Don't expect your videos to go from zero to one hundred thousand views overnight. There's no magic formula or even a guarantee that applying each of the tips in this article will make you a YouTube sensation, but if you're patient, consistent, and producing great content, you're doing things right! Stay the course and let your analytics tell you what is or isn't resonating with your viewers, then adapt accordingly. And, of course, have fun!
Need a hand?
If you're looking for some expertise to help you in planning or executing your video content strategy, get in touch with us and we'll be happy to meet with you!