hand holding phone with YouTube on screen
The Seer YouTube Video Marketing GuideChapter one

How to Optimize Your YouTube Channel & Videos for Organic Search

Lights, Camera, Action! When creating a video for YouTube, it’s easy to get caught up in the production stage of content creation. Where the true value lies is creating content with users in mind.

Unlike Google search, which takes many signals into account when ranking websites, YouTube measures content quality based predominantly on user experience signals. The more time that users spend watching and interacting with your videos, the higher quality YouTube deems your videos to be.

Want to set your channel up for success and give users the experience they desire? Awesome, that’s what we like to hear! 

In this section, we’ll cover:

What are the YouTube Search Ranking Factors?

youtube search ranking factors graphic

Watch Time

  • Watch time, i.e. the amount of time users spend watching your video is the #1 ranking factor in the YouTube algorithm. Videos with the highest retention rate consistently perform better on YouTube.
  • YouTube’s Creator Academy states:
    • Watch time benefits don’t evaporate when viewers stop watching your content. The total amount of time a viewer spends on YouTube in a single visit is called a watch session. If a video on your brand’s channel drives them to watch more videos, the channel earns some watch time credits for the cumulative minutes accrued.
  • You can view each video’s individual performance for watch time and retention rate in the YouTube Analytics dashboard.
  • Videos should be created in a way that encourages users to watch the majority of the video. Tell them a story! Keep them engaged and wanting more!
  • The analytics dashboard can be used to identify the specific moment where users bounce, adding clickable CTA’s or annotations at this moment is a test that can be performed to check for greater user retention.
  • Engagement Reports can be accessed in the the YouTube Analytics dashboard under Audience Retention.

watch time report example

Channel Activity

  • Channel activity encompasses the number of comments on a video, audience interaction in the comments, and creator interaction in the comments. YouTube’s algorithm caters to channels that consistently interact with their audience.
  • New comments will appear as notifications in the Bell directly adjacent to the YouTube profile. This makes creators aware of new comments so they can quickly respond to viewers.
  • Comment Engagement Reports can be found in the YouTube Analytics Dashboard under Comments.

comment engagement report example

Number of Views

  • Views are no longer the main ranking factor for Videos. However, views can be used as a metric to measure the overall performance and visibility of a video.
  • Views can be found in the YouTube Analytics Dashboard under Overview.

Likes & Dislikes (Thumbs Up & Thumbs Down)

  • Likes and Dislikes are a measure of a user’s satisfaction with the content provided in any particular video. These are selected solely by the user.
  • Encourage users to give a video “Thumbs Up” when appropriate. Create content with titles that accurately describe the content of the video to avoid disappointing the user.
  • Likes and Dislikes Reports can be found in the YouTube Analytics Dashboard under Likes and Dislikes.

Playlists & Favorites

  • Encourage users to “Favorite” a video when appropriate or it add it to their playlists. Create content that is exceptional enough to encourage repeat viewing.
  • Favorites Reports can be found in the YouTube Analytics Dashboard under Videos In Playlists (Videos in Favorites).

How to Perform YouTube Keyword Research & Understanding YouTube Keywords

Conducting keyword research for YouTube videos varies slightly from conventional search, since the intent of a video query may vary from that of the intent of your run-of-the mill search.

For example, if a user types the keyword “Nike air” into Google, they might be looking to solve an information need or buy a new pair of shoes, and the results reflect this. Typing that same query into YouTube will yield reviews, marketing materials, sponsored content, and (sometimes) interesting educational videos.

When we conduct keyword research for videos, we should always consider the implicit need of the search, and if the video we are optimizing helps users find the content they’re looking for on YouTube.

YouTube Suggest

If you’ve ever used Google’s auto suggested terms to perform keyword research, you’ll be familiar with this method of research. Typing a keyword into YouTube’s “search” field will auto-populate with related searches. This is a simple way to see which terms are being used in the platform and allows us to better understand the intent of YouTube related searches.

youtube SEO Search Bar

YouTube Search Analytics

If you Navigate to YouTube’s analytics platform, select Traffic Sources, and then select YouTube Search as your traffic source, you’ll be able to see the specific terms being typed into YouTube’s search bar that are bringing users to your videos.

Incorporating frequently searched terms into your video’s metadata will allow users to more easily discover your content and help you to better understand what, specifically, users are looking for on their path to finding your videos.

YouTube Traffic Sources with sidebar and Graph

traffic source keyword list


Keywordtool.io leverages the YouTube autocomplete feature to generate relevant long-tail keywords about your query. Similar to the manual process described above, this tool allows you to export a large number of onsite YouTube search queries. With the free version, you can set negatives, export a CSV of the listed keywords, and filter results within the page itself.

SEO Tools for YouTube & Competitive Tag Analysis

There are several YouTube SEO tools out there (like TubeBuddy & vidIQ) that let you access video metadata that’s normally hidden. These tools exist as browser extensions that plug directly into YouTube and appear alongside videos when you watch them.

There’s a ton of great information in here, but what we’re specifically trying to see is what the videos have been tagged for. TubeBuddy and vidIQ both allow you to see what a video has been tagged with, and how these tags are performing in the platform. In the example below, our Power BI for Digital Marketers video is ranking in position 8 on YouTube for the term “Power BI”. 

tube buddy with YouTube video

tube buddy tags with rankings

If you find that a competitor has a poorly optimized video that ranks for a keyword you’re pursuing, you may be able to outrank that video by creating new, highly optimized content or by updating older, high performing content to include the term.

YouTube Trends

Google Trends is another tool that allows you to quickly uncover keyword and search demand insights. There’s a separate function built into Google Trends that allows you to see YouTube specific insights that can be accessed by switching the web search functionality over to YouTube Search.

This not only allows you to see the YouTube Specific search trends that are happening, but also the related and most highly searched queries for that topic.  

Using this research method can help you find the topics users are searching for most often, and will give you insight into when it might make sense to launch a new series of videos based on search demand.

YouTube SEO Best Practices & Metadata Optimization

So you’ve made a killer video, optimized your script to address audience desires, and are ready to share your content with the world. What’s stopping you?! Before pressing the big red “upload” button, there are a few more YouTube SEO considerations to keep in mind!

One step that has the potential to make or break the future success of your YouTube video is making sure it has a title and description that will not only stand out to users, but search engines, as well. By following the steps outlined below and understanding the YouTube search ranking factors, you can  set your video up for success!


YouTube breaks videos into one of 15 Categories, these can be selected during or after the upload process of the video. It’s important to select the category most relevant to the topic of each video.

youtube category select dropdown

Sometimes it can be difficult to determine which category your video falls into. In cases where you cannot determine the most relevant selection, try to match your video to a category that makes sense from a semantic standpoint.

If you decide later that your video better fits into a different category, these categories can be switched in the Video Manager, under the Info & Settings tab, under Advanced Settings.  

Video Title Tips

Always create your YouTube titles with search in mind. Use keywords that describe the important elements of each video and that offer a glimpse into what your video is about.

Video titles should always contain your target keyword at least once. In addition, the title should be created in a way that maximizes the click-through rate for that particular video—don’t be afraid to challenge, surprise, or shock your viewers! However, it’s important to note that you should never mislead viewers. If you’re creating an interesting title, be sure you have a way to back it up.

can larry talk you out of applying example

In the example above, our video’s title challenges users not to apply for a job with Seer in an effort to grab the attention of prospective applicants.

Video titles should remain within 60 to 70 characters to avoid truncation and being cut off.

Titles can be edited in the Video Manager under the Info & Settings tab.

YouTube Tags

Adding video tags to your YouTube video is one of the most important steps in getting your video to rank in YouTube search results. These tags help users find your video. When users type words related to your tags, your video has a higher likelihood of being shown, clicked on, and ultimately, viewed by an audience.

The best tags for your YouTube video will be determined during the keyword research phase of the project as the target keywords. 

As your content ages, don’t be afraid to update your tagging structure to reflect current search trends.

There is a 270-character limit on Tags. Make sure that yours fit within this constraint.

These can be accessed and added via the Video Manager in the Info & Settings tab.

Video Description

Like the Video Title, the Video Description should always be keyword-rich without wandering into the dreaded “keyword stuffing” territory. The introduction should function similarly to a meta description, including your target keyword and the general idea of your video in a way that entices the user to continue reading.

Currently on YouTube, the description box breaks into two different portions: the condensed section and the enlarged description box, where all of the “additional” information should go.

The following is borrowed from YouTube’s Creator academy for writing smart descriptions:

“The outlined area…above “Show more” can be seen in search results, on the watch page, and when your video appears on user’s feeds. It’s good to include keywords here that describe what your video is about. Viewers must click “Show more” to see the rest of the description below.”

youtube description sections graphic

Optimize the additional space (show more) with consistent branded information.


  • Social links
  • Links to your main site
  • Background information for your brand

If relevant, also include:

  • Subscription links
  • Timestamps
  • Creator credits
  • Links to playlists

For YouTube in particular, remember to include the “http://” for all links in order to make them clickable.

These can be edited in the Video Manager under the Info & Settings tab.

YouTube Transcripts

Transcripts should be uploaded along with each video. Why? The benefits of doing so are twofold!

  1. Your video will reach a larger audience. Closed captioning is only available for videos that have transcripts uploaded with them. In doing this, you are ensuring that your content can be enjoyed by those with impaired hearing as well, thereby increasing your brand reach to your complete audience.
  2. When you upload a transcript alongside your video, this enables Google to crawl your video for keywords and additional context about your video to rank better. Not only will it be easier for others to find your video in their search engine, but it’s easier to find for others searching on YouTube, too.

why upload a video transcript graphic

YouTube has an integrated caption functionality, meaning that it can provide auto generated subtitles. However, it’s best to have a .SRT file (YouTube’s Preferred Basic Caption File). Including full transcripts can raise the likelihood of your video appearing for a Google Suggested Clip.

These files can be uploaded via the Video Manager in the Subtitles/CC tab.

Seer has used websites like SpeechPad.com in the past but there are a variety of services that provide similar offerings.

Custom Thumbnails

Thumbnails and titles are the first things a prospective viewer will see upon finding your video. If your thumbnails and titles are misleading, users will not likely watch your content for long. YouTube encourages creating thumbnails that give an interesting sneak peak into your video without falling into clickbait territory.

YouTube has built-in functionality that allows you to create custom thumbnails within the creator studio. YouTube provides instructions and guidelines for creating good thumbnails with the main points, such as:

  • Format your thumbnail to have resolution of 1280×720 with a minimum width of 640 pixels
  • Upload your image in formats like .JPG, .GIF, .BMP, or .PNG.
  • Keep your file size under the 2MB limit
  • If possible, use a 16:9 aspect ratio since it’s the most used format in YouTube players and previews

Here’s an example of an interesting custom thumbnail:

this is not yellow thumbnail example

Once your video has been uploaded, you can check the Audience Retention Report in YouTube Analytics. If there is a sharp decline in viewership in the first few moments of a video, your thumbnail or title may be misleading to viewers. Try updating your title and thumbnail if you observe this to see if it makes a difference.

audience retention report example graphic

To Sum Up Optimization:

well optimized video elements graphic

Interactive Features

How to Create Link Cards

Cards are created in the YouTube Video Manager and allow you to link your video to to an approved URL or to your own website. Cards can be customized with an image, title, and call-to-action. Cards are generally used to showcase a product from a video, drive users to your website, or to promote playlists or other videos from your channel.

  • On a computer signed into a YouTube account linked with your target website, go to your Video Manager.
  • Find the video you want to add cards to and select Edit.
  • Select Cards in the navigation above the video and choose what type of card you want and click Create.
  • Add your target URL to the Link URL bar. (Hint: See Chapter 3 of this guide for tips on tracking clicks from these links with UTM parameters)
  • Fill out your Card Title, CTA, and Teaser Text, and Start Time.  
  • Upload an image or select one of the suggestions from the site if applicable. Uploads need to be in .jpg, .gif, or .png format and no larger than 5MB. Keep in mind that this image will be cropped to be square.
  • Select Create Card.

How to Embed a YouTube Video

Inbound links (links from other websites to your website or video) are important in terms of traditional SEO. They are also important for YouTube SEO since an embedded video (when a YouTube video’s code is added to a website, displaying the video outside of YouTube) functions like an inbound link.

tips for embedding youtube videos graphic

Video Transcripts for Embedding

When embedding videos on web pages, add your transcript to the page if there isn’t other relevant content. Avoid creating pages with just an embedded video.

  • Similar to including them on YouTube itself, transcripts help search engines decipher the contents of a video.
  • Consider creating the video into a blog post if relevant, giving users another medium to consume the same content (this may include screenshots or relevant images embedded on the page).
  • Having a video and a web page targeting the same keywords may help a brand rank more than once for relevant keywords.

Video Sharing

Every time you post a video that’s relevant for general sharing, blog about it, tweet it or add it to your Facebook page. Strong social signals help add authority.

  • Engage with the YouTube Community or with other companies that are relatable to yours.
  • Include a call to action within your video, such as an annotation added to the video or in the description that tells viewers to “like” or share.

Allow Embedding from Others

Embed your most recent videos onto your website or within a blog post.

  • Embedding videos within websites or a blog post will create a valuable way for other visitors to see the content. It can also increase your organic page results for those sites in search engines.
  • Allow others to embed your videos within their sites by allowing the code to be shared from the video’s page (turn on embed option under Advanced Settings in the video editor).
  • Within your YouTube analytics, you can see how many views each embedded video gets per site.

embedding in youtube

Schema (Structured Data) Markup

When YouTube videos are embedded on a web page, add Schema markup to help Google determine the content of the video.

  • Relevant markup includes: URL, length, name, description, thumbnail, and upload date.
  • For implementation instructions, Seer suggests visiting Google’s Webmaster blog for a step-by-step guide.


Phew! You’ve officially optimized your YouTube video for SEO. Ready to learn more about promoting your video and tracking its performance? Let’s keep the lessons rolling.