8 YouTube Video SEO Tips To Optimize Your Content, Playlists & Channel

Optimizing your content will help ensure that your audience discovers it.

By Greg Jarboe


YouTube is the world’s second-largest search engine, but 100 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute. So how can you ensure that when people are looking for information about a product or something you know lots about, they'll be able to find you? A successful optimization strategy will help your brand get the full benefit of YouTube’s algorithms, which are different from Google’s algorithms.

Another one of the seven ways to improve your video marketing strategy is to optimize your content, playlists, and channel to ensure that your audience discovers them.

The eight YouTube video SEO tips below come with an advisory: best if used before the next algorithm update.

For example, YouTube officially replaced “view count” with “watch time” as a ranking factor in October. On the other hand, “relevance” has remained a ranking factor since the early days (i.e. before Google acquired YouTube for $1.65 billion in October).

So, recognizing that some ranking factors will change, while others will remain the same, here are eight video SEO tips that work as of this writing.

1. Conduct Keyword Research

Google Trends has added YouTube search data going back. That means you can conduct keyword research to find keywords that work in YouTube as well as Google.

For example, web search interest in “Chevy” and “Chevrolet” are roughly the same this month. But, if you compare the YouTube search interest for these two terms, you’ll see that “Chevy” is significantly higher than “Chevrolet.”

2. Optimize Your Content’s Metadata

YouTube uses metadata – your video’s title, description, and tags – to index your video correctly. To maximize your presence in search and suggested videos, make sure your metadata is well-optimized.

  • Your title can be up to 100 characters long.
  • Your description can include up to 5,000 characters.
  • Your tags can be up to 120 characters.

Use every one of these limits for each of your videos.

3. Create Custom Thumbnails For Your Videos

If your account is verified and in good standing, you may have the ability to upload custom thumbnails for your video uploads. Your custom thumbnail image should be as large as possible, since the image will also be used as the preview image in the embedded player.

4. Optimize Your Video’s Watch Time

Create a compelling opening to your videos and then use editing to maintain and build interest throughout the video.

Build your subscriber base: subscribers are your most loyal fans and will be notified of new videos and playlists to watch. Involve your audience in your videos, encourage comments, and interact with your viewers.

5. Use Annotations On Your Videos

Annotations are clickable overlays that you can add to your YouTube videos. Annotations are a great way to encourage your viewers to engage with your video and take meaningful actions as a result.

The key is creating an annotations experience that is conversational and interactive.

6. Use Captions On Your Videos

Providing captions not only make your work accessible to a wider audience, it also acts as additional metadata which helps your video show up in more places on the site. If your video is captioned for multiple languages, it will also be searchable in those languages.

7. Create And Optimize Playlists

Playlists allow you to collect, organize and publish multiple videos together. They increase watch time and create another asset that will appear in search results and in Suggested Videos.

You can create playlists using your own videos, other videos, or a combination of both.

8. Optimize Your Channel Name, Icon, Description

Several customizable channel features help ensure that you’re making your brand more discoverable across YouTube.

Pick a short, memorable channel name. This will appear widely across YouTube, so make sure it’s the best representation of your brand.

Upload a square, high-resolution image to be your channel’s icon across YouTube. The image will appear alongside all your videos on the watch page. (In most cases, you can use your brand’s logo.)

The first few words of your channel description appear most frequently across the site, so highlight your most important branding upfront.

Final Thoughts

How do I know that these video SEO tips work today?

In February, I taught a YouTube marketing workshop at Voyage.tv, home of the world’s best travel videos. Voyage.tv’s channel on YouTube had been created on May 18, but had only 1,510 video views before the workshop. Today, Voyage.tv’s channel has close to 6.3 million views. In other words, learning and implementing these important tips helped Voyage.tv go from an average of 168 views a month to an average of 119,067 views a month.

But you can expect two or three of these tips to be out-of-date a year from now. That would be consistent with the normal rate of change for the YouTube and video environment. So, use them as soon as possible.

What other video optimization tactics would you recommend? Tell us in the comments.