Search Engine Optimization

YouTube SEO: How to Rank Your YouTube Videos (2021)

Video marketing is growing exponentially, and the competition for the top video content online continues.

You may be aware of some popular video-sharing platforms like TikTok, YouTube, and Vimeo. Even Facebook and Instagram have video features already, such as FB Live and IGTV.

But among these video-sharing sites, YouTube remains on top. It’s the second largest search engine. 

However, YouTube marketing isn’t all about posting content.

You need to have high rankings to grow your business. Luckily, there’s YouTube SEO.

How does it work? And how can it increase your video content’s visibility and engagement?

Don’t fret; you’ll learn everything here. We’ve outlined the best tips and tools on how to rank your YouTube videos fast.   

What Is YouTube SEO?

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the widely-used strategy for improving your search engine rankings.

Whether you want your content to be on top results or your website on Google’s first page, the goal is to enhance your business’ visibility through SEO. 

As far as ranking is concerned, there’s a practice called “SEO for YouTube.”

To attract traffic and grow your subscribers, you need to learn how to optimize your YouTube videos. YouTube SEO involves optimizing your video, title, description, metadata, playlists, and business channel.

Unlike blogs and articles, YouTube optimization can be tricky. Marketers should be creative on their video’s text, including subtitles, closed captions, and transcripts. 

According to HubSpot, 86% of businesses use video as a marketing tool.

Google also declared that 6 out of 10 people prefer watching online videos over television shows. With these statistics, we can say that video will be a critical part of the future.

Every marketer should strive to be on top of YouTube marketing. 

Is YouTube Using The Same Algorithm As Google?

Google and YouTube are the top 2 search engines, respectively, and you may wonder if they’re using the same algorithm for rankings.

When you visit YouTube, you’re looking for videos and short clips. However, Google is a vaster platform. You can search anything on Google—questions, trivia, places, and other information. Hence, YouTube isn’t using the same algorithm as Google.

The YouTube algorithm is more targeted to a real-time feedback loop. This means that suggested videos are based on different viewers’ interests.

For example, a viewer always looks for “funny videos” on YouTube. Their suggested videos will then revolve around this idea.

On the other hand, a user interested in beauty and fashion may see beauty tutorials or fashion tips more often on their Suggested section. 

To capture search traffic on YouTube, create videos about viral topics and commonly asked questions. Before people will search for your brand, you need to know their interests first.

What Are Some Known YouTube Ranking Signals?

Youtube Ranking Signals Infographics

So how does YouTube rank videos?

Like Google, YouTube uses ranking signals. These factors can either bring your video content to the top or down to the last search results of YouTube. Check the ranking signals below to improve your YouTube video optimization. 

1. Video Length

YouTube doesn’t have specific guidelines for an ideal video length.

Technically, it all boils down to your purpose. If you want to give a teaser about your product or service, you may create a 60-second video. Longer videos like tips and tutorials may range between 3-10 minutes.

If you upload videos longer than 10 minutes, YouTube will now place ads in the middle of your video instead of just putting one at the beginning.

The challenge is to keep your audience interested until the end. Remember, skipped videos are always a red flag on YouTube. 

2. Video Engagement

Video engagement includes likes, comments, and shares. More engagement means a higher rank on YouTube. To increase your video engagement, encourage viewers to comment, like, and subscribe to your videos.

Most users would do this at the beginning or end of the video. You may also share your videos on your other social media accounts and website.  

3. View Count

YouTube view count is trickier than you think. To count your views, a user must click the play button and watch your video for at least 30 seconds.

Regardless of how long your video is, if a user stayed for at least 30 seconds or more, it means that your content is worth watching and engaging.

To entice more people to watch your videos, put an interesting thumbnail and create playlists. You may also go beyond what’s trending and make videos no one else is making.

4. Number of Subscribers

Like any social platform, subscribers or followers are the backbones of your rankings.

Once you have more loyal subscribers, your videos will automatically gain more views and engagement. Subscribers can also share your videos on their social media accounts, increasing your ranking and visibility. 

5. Keywords on Title and Description

Keywords are the most important ranking factors on YouTube.

Since the platform is a search engine, your video rankings rely on your chosen keywords. To optimize your video title and description, use keywords that are relevant to your brand and niche.

Titles must be short—five words or less—and keywords must be placed at the beginning of your title. On the other hand, your description must contain at least 250 words, and you must place keywords in the first 25 words of your description.  

6. Video Quality

Putting relevant keywords and attractive thumbnails would be useless if you have a low-quality video. No one wants to watch boring content, and even YouTube highlights the HD ones on its search results.

If you want to increase your views and engagement, you should invest in making high-quality videos. Video quality also impacts user experience, and it will entice viewers to watch your content until the end.  

7. Average Time on Video

In 2012, YouTube confirmed watch time as a ranking factor. According to YouTube, watch time is “the amount of time in aggregate that your viewers are watching your videos.”

This ranking factor is more than just views—it’s more involved in the total number of minutes and seconds a user has watched your videos.

To optimize your YouTube video’s watch time, create engaging and entertaining content. Don’t forget about the thumbnails and create playlists to make them watch more videos from your channel. 

8. Video Tags

Tags are one or two-word descriptions that you select before uploading your video content. Ideally, you can add up to 10 tags, and like keywords, they should be relevant to your video.

Tags may not be as impactful as your title and description, but they still contribute to your YouTube rankings. To choose the best tags for your video, think of specific and well-generated keywords.

Make sure your content is visible when people search for related topics on YouTube.  

9. User Experience

User experience focuses on various metrics, and engagements are the top indicators of a good user experience.

If your video acquired more likes, shares, and comments, YouTube interprets your video content as engaging and high-quality. Furthermore, when your viewers convert into new subscribers, it means that your content is indeed amazing.

Video retention is also an essential indicator of a good user experience. If you have a five-minute video and the user only watched it for 60 seconds or less, YouTube may see your content as less interesting.  

How to Increase My YouTube Video Rankings

How to Increase Youtube Rankings Infographics

So, you already know what YouTube SEO is and what are the different ranking signals of YouTube. It’s time to get down to business—how to rank your YouTube videos. 

Step 1: Do YouTube keyword research.

YouTube is a video search engine. Hence, the first and most crucial step to increase your video rankings is to find relevant keywords.

Finding popular keywords on YouTube is easy—you can do it on the search box. But before doing your research, make sure you’ve generated a list of keyword ideas. Once you do, you can directly proceed to your keywords hunt.

Head over to YouTube’s search box. Then start typing a keyword to get suggestions from YouTube. When YouTube suggests a word or topic, it means that they’re 100% popular.

There’s no need to argue over that—the platform showed these terms because most users looked for them on YouTube.

Another effective method for keyword research is checking your competitors’ videos. 

When you visit their channels, filter the results to “Most Popular.” You’ll then see their videos that have the most views and engagements. After seeing the results, check the videos’ title and description.

Write down the keywords that they used—they’re indeed great keywords because their video content received favorable attention on YouTube. 

Lastly, you can use SEO tools to find popular and relevant keywords on YouTube. We’ll tackle more about them in the latter part of this article.  

Step 2: Identify the intent of those keywords.

Keyword intent refers to the user’s purpose for the search. When you identify the intent, you can give the searchers what they want. There are four types of keyword intent: commercial or high intent, informational, transactional, and navigational intent. 

Commercial or high intent represents the searcher’s intention to buy, join, or subscribe to something. The best modifiers for this type of intent are coupons, deals, free shipping, and anything that includes buying.

On the other hand, informational intent is the “how to’s.” People searched for these keywords because they wanted to know more about a product or brand.

When users are interested in knowing more about a product and intend to purchase, that’s already a transactional intent. These queries can contain the words reviews, top 10, best, and so on.

Lastly, navigational intent reveals keywords that contain brand names. It means that people already know your brand. You just need to provide for their needs. For example, your brand name is Content Marketing.

The keywords should revolve around Content Marketing pricing, Content Marketing services, Content Marketing location, and other brand assets.

Keyword intent is an essential component of your keyword research. To identify a user’s search intent, you may use Google Ads or examine your analytics. Keyword intent optimization also depends on your goals and preferences.  

Step 3: Address the intent of those keywords in your video.

Once you’ve figured out your goals and the users’ search intent, you can now create videos that address their needs.

The best examples for a commercial intent are product teasers, special offers, and giveaways. For informational intent, you can never go wrong with tutorial videos and life hacks.

Meanwhile, you can feature a customer reviewing your product or make a top 10 slideshow about topics related to your niche. Do your research carefully and create a video that converts. 

Step 4: Optimize your video titles, descriptions, tags, and thumbnails.

As mentioned earlier, titles, descriptions, tags, and thumbnails are critical factors in strategizing your SEO for YouTube videos.

Well-optimized video content can rank higher on the platform and gain more attention, while poorly-optimized videos will be ignored or unseen. To optimize your video, just follow the tips we’ve given in the Ranking Signals section.

Step 5: Optimize for user experience.

Optimizing your video for user experience is a huge factor for your YouTube marketing success.

To improve your user experience, you may put subtitles and closed captions on your video. Start the video with a welcoming vibe and end it in a way that viewers will want to watch more of your content.

You can also embed your social media links on the description to get more shares. Above all, create high-quality content and use relevant keywords on your title.  

Step 6: Make your videos engaging.

Engaging videos have sensible subjects in them. Whether your video involves people or things, the goal is to connect to your viewers.

To make your videos engaging, encourage your viewers to like, share, and comment on your video. Ask their opinions and create a room for an open forum. Don’t forget to tell them to subscribe to your YouTube channel and turn on that “bell symbol.” 

Interacting with your audience is easier when your videos have people in them. You can simply say the magic words at the beginning or end of your video.

The challenge is when you do slideshows, animations, or any content that doesn’t involve people. But you can always be creative—add banners, cards, links, and symbols in your video that will engage your viewers.   

Step 7: Promote your videos.

You can promote your YouTube videos in three ways: organic, paid, and through collaborations. A great promotion starts with best SEO practices.

If your video content isn’t well-optimized, it would hardly reach on top. The best way to promote your videos organically is by sharing them on other social media sites. If you have Facebook and Instagram accounts, you can post the video on your feed and stories and provide the YouTube link. 

Paid promotions are possible through Google Ads. You’ll just set up a budget, do the necessary targeting, and run an ad campaign. There’s no minimum price for paid ad campaigns on Google Ads, and you can stop the campaign whenever you want. 

Lastly, you can promote your videos by collaborating with influencers. Influencers are influential people on the Internet, and they already have established followers across different social media platforms.

To maximize your influencer marketing strategy, find an influencer that matches your business’ niche and values. Make sure their number of followers aligns with their engagement rate, and their target audience is what you’re exactly looking for.

Most importantly, build long-term relationships to establish brand loyalty and consistency. 

Step 8: Track your video’s performance and look for optimization spots.  

Like any campaign, you should track your video’s performance to determine its successes and failures.

Video metrics include play rate, social sharing, engagement, comments or feedback, and bounce rate. You may track all these Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) on Google Analytics or other measurement tools.

We’ll discuss the different video metrics details further in another section.  

Useful YouTube SEO Tools

Your YouTube video optimization would be incomplete without SEO tools. Here are some of the best SEO software that will help rank your video content on top of YouTube’s search results. 

1. YouTube Autocomplete

YouTube Autocomplete is the leading keyword tool for your YouTube video optimization. Like Google Autocomplete, this SEO tool helps users find videos faster by suggesting related keywords when typing in the search box.

Autocomplete gives marketers insights into how users search related to their products, niche, and offers. However, it’s only limited to that function. If you want a tool that provides in-depth keyword analysis data, you need to consider other options. 

2. Kparser

Kparser is another excellent tool for your keyword research.

It provides long tail suggestions from different sources, including YouTube, Google, Amazon, Yahoo, and Bing. Kparser’s free subscription allows users to export up to 2,000 words, search for YouTube tags, and look for keywords using different languages.

If you want to get real-time data for your videos, you need to upgrade to a premium account.  

3. YouTube Analytics

YouTube Analytics is YouTube’s native tool. You can access it on your channel’s dashboard, and it will give you an overview of your channel.

The tool also provides reports about the latest trends, your viewers’ demographics, what they enjoy watching, and which videos generated more engagement.

Through these analytics, you can create relevant and well-optimized videos, increasing your YouTube rankings.

4. Quintly

Quintly is an analytics tool that tracks and compares your social media networks. It provides data on your profile’s behavior and your competitors’ online activities.

The best thing about Quintly is you can customize your metrics—whether you’re tracking your YouTube videos, Instagram stories, or Facebook posts. It’s a game-changer for businesses, an all-in-one social media analytics tool. 

5. YouTube Tags

YouTube Tags is a Chrome browser extension that allows you to see video tags. Usually, tags are hidden in a video—you only see them when you’re the uploader.

To effectively use this tool, make sure that the video you’re viewing has tags. Video tags are ranking signals, and knowing your competitors’ tags can improve your keyword research and optimization.    

6. RapidTags

If there’s a tool that helps you see video tags, there’s also a tool that generates tags. RapidTags is a YouTube tag generator that gives you effective SEO tags.

Just enter your YouTube video title on the app’s search box, click the Search symbol, and you’ll see several tag suggestions. Technically, these tags are generated based on your title, so make sure to create an optimized title that contains all your relevant keywords. 

7. Blender

Looking for a 3D video animation tool? Blender has you covered.

The software supports animation, rendering, video editing, compositing, and game creation. It’s also easy to navigate and has customization features.

With Blender, you don’t need to be a professional video maker and editor—the app is simple, and their staff is accessible anytime. 

8. Canva

While Canva is popularly known for graphics design and presentations, you can also use it for video and audio content creation. The tool offers thousands of free templates, stock videos, music tracks, and animated graphics.

You can create short videos and download them without watermarks. Some of Canva’s ready-made videos are educational videos, travel videos, sales and marketing videos, and beauty and fashion videos. 

9. Snappa

Snappa is one of the best YouTube thumbnail makers online. It’s free, easy to use, and provides excellent marketing graphics. The software offers stylish templates in pre-set sizes depending on your social media image use.

No need to worry what’s the ideal size for Instagram images, YouTube thumbnails, or Facebook photos—it’s all set in Snappa. You can produce eye-catching graphics in a snap. No excellent design skills are needed.  

10. HootSuite

Hootsuite is the most widely used SEO tool and social media management platform with over 18 million users worldwide. It’s the best platform for building customer relationships and growing your revenue.

Moreover, HootSuite ensures that your video content is compliant with YouTube’s standards, checking your video format, dimensions, and file size.

You may also use this tool to schedule or publish videos on YouTube and share them across your other social media networks. 

11. TubeBuddy

As the name suggests, TubeBuddy is your best YouTube buddy. It helps optimize your videos by suggesting tags and keywords, reminding you to add thumbnails, and encouraging you to post comments.

The software also provides a detailed analysis of your video’s performance and allows you to view other channels’ drafts. According to the platform’s users, their videos ranked top 5 on YouTube’s search results since they used TubeBuddy.   

YouTube SEO Best Practices

Your YouTube SEO journey has already come a long way. And now, we’ll tackle the best practices to boost your rank and increase your views. Here’s a quick list of YouTube SEO best practices:

  • Find the right keywords.
  • Add a clever title, description, and tags.
  • Check your competitors’ most popular videos.
  • Add cards (represented by the “i” icon on videos).
  • Optimize your videos using essential SEO tools.
  • Add an end screen or thumbnails found at the end of your video to increase your engagement.
  • Keep high audience retention.
  • Create playlists to increase your overall views and watch time. 
  • Encourage watchers to like, share, and comment on your video and make them subscribe to your channel.
  • Create closed captions and subtitles.
  • Cross-promote your YouTube videos on other social channels. 
  • Make your videos public. 
  • Remember all the tips and tricks we’ve shared in this guide. 
Youtube SEO Best Practices Infographics

Tracking Your YouTube SEO Campaign

As mentioned earlier, the five primary video metrics are play rate, social sharing, engagement, comments or feedback, and bounce rate. 

Play rate is the percentage of users who clicked and watched your video. Meanwhile, high social sharing means increased brand awareness. Engagement represents the number of likes, comments, shares, and subscribers and includes the average watch time. 

While you can track feedback on your videos, you must also check the comments’ qualitative aspects. You can do this by responding to comments and compiling general thoughts from your audiences.

Lastly, a high bounce rate indicates that your videos aren’t that relevant to your viewers. If you’ve placed links on your video content and your audience didn’t click any of them, you can’t expect leads, sales, or conversions.   

Tracking your YouTube SEO campaign can help improve your future video optimization. You may not get the best results in a few trials, but you’ll eventually succeed if you’re persistent.

Determine what worked and what didn’t. Adjust your videos according to your audiences’ needs and choose the best YouTube SEO tool for your campaign.

Summary & Takeaways

A successful YouTube campaign begins with good content. And good content must have excellent SEO practices.

To rank your YouTube videos, make sure your viewers are watching high-quality and relevant content. Address their needs, know the trend, and learn how the YouTube algorithm works.

Most importantly, optimize your videos, use essential SEO tools, and track your campaign’s performance.

Remember all the tips we’ve compiled and take your YouTube videos to the top.

By Zac Almeida

Before joining the team at Ethical Digital, Izaias built a successful SEO agency in São Paolo, Brazil. With over twelve years of experience providing data-driven SEO, he has worked with businesses of all sizes - from SMBs to Fortune 500 companies. After selling his business to travel the world with his wife, "The SEO Hustler" has been helping companies in more than 15 countries and 6 languages thrive in the digital and search world.


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