In seven and a half months, we focused our efforts on YouTube SEO and ranked our videos for some of the most competitive keywords in our industry. SEO, Ecommerce SEO, local SEO, SEO tips, and the list goes on. This led to an almost 400% increase in YouTube search traffic and growing. Our channel isn’t huge. Our industry isn’t exactly “exciting” either. And compared to our top YouTube competitors, our subscriber count is microscopic. But that’s what I love about YouTube. Anyone and everyone has the opportunity to entertain, engage, and rank their videos fast. So in this video, I’m going to show you exactly how to rank YouTube videos, from start to finish.
Stay tuned. [music] What’s up creators? Sam Oh here with Ahrefs, the SEO tool that helps you grow your search traffic, research your competitors and dominate your niche. Now there’s a lot to video SEO, so rather than trying to dip into every single traffic source in YouTube analytics, I’ll be focusing on ranking in YouTube search and sprinkle a few tips to rank your videos on Google too. Let’s get started. First, what is YouTube SEO? It’s the process of optimizing your videos, playlists, and channel to rank high in YouTube’s organic search results for a given search query. YouTube explains their discovery and search ranking algorithm in two sentences. “Videos are ranked based on a variety of factors including how well the title, description, and video content match the viewer’s query.” So there are three important points here. First, keywords matter in your title and description. Second, you need to match the search intent for a viewer’s query.
And third, you need to drive engagement for a query in order to rank on YouTube. But of all these things, the key point to effective video SEO is creating high-engagement videos. So if you can’t engage your audience, your chances of ranking your YouTube videos for a meaningful keyword will be slim to none. So the first step is to do YouTube keyword research. Unlike traditional Google search engine optimization, YouTube doesn’t have an official keyword research tool. And a lot of these third party tools are just pumping out arbitrary numbers from Google Keyword Planner.
But there are ways you can get estimated search volumes. The first is to use YouTube suggest paired with Google Trends. Just type a keyword into the search bar, and you’ll see a list of relevant queries that contain your keyword. You can also add a star before or after your target keyword, which will act as a “wildcard.” Now, since we don’t have an official tool to see search volumes, we can throw a few of YouTube suggestions into Google Trends.
But remember, Google Trends uses “relative popularity” to compare keywords. So take these estimates with a grain of salt. The second way to get keyword volumes is to use Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer. Recently, we’ve released our latest version of Keywords Explorer, which includes search volumes and metrics for search engines like Google, YouTube, Bing, Amazon, Baidu, and more. Just select YouTube as the search engine and enter a keyword or a list of keywords. Right away, you’ll see country-specific search volumes, clicks data, global search volumes, and have access to five keyword idea reports. You can also enter a list of up to 10,000 keywords you want to analyze. The best way to get a list of keywords is to use TubeBuddy or VidIQ’s Chrome extension. Just run a search in YouTube, and look to the right sidebar. You’ll see VidIQ’s “Related Queries,” or TubeBuddy’s “Most Used Tags” sections.
Just choose all relevant keywords you want to analyze, click the Copy button, and paste your list into Keywords Explorer. We’ll then show you all keywords that have YouTube search volume according to our database. Now, search volumes are great and all, but the power of Keywords Explorer is in generating new keyword ideas. Let’s say you want to start a channel on makeup tutorials. Just type “makeup” into Keywords Explorer. And I’ll also include a couple common variations like make-up and make up. Then go to the Phrase match report, which lists all keywords in our database that contain your seed keywords. And you’ll see over 202,000 keyword ideas! Let’s narrow in on some more focused topics. So I’ll click on the “include” dropdown and type in a list of related keywords like eye, face, halloween, wedding, and bridal. Finally, choose the “Any word” tab, which will show us all keywords that contain any of these keywords.
And we have over 17,000 relevant topics to create videos on. Bottom line: there is no shortage of great keyword ideas. We have an in-depth video on YouTube keyword research, so I’ll leave a link to it in the description. Now, YouTube search is great and all, but why not maximize your views by ranking your videos on Google too? Don’t think it’s that important? Think again. Google search is one of our top external traffic sources and sent us over 7,400 views in the past 28 days.
Also, a study done by GetSTAT shows that Video SERP features increased by around 75% in 2017 for their sample list of keywords. Now in 2019, it’s tough to browse Google for more than ten minutes without seeing a video result. There are a few ways to find videos that get search traffic from Google. The first is to search for your target keyword. If you see a video carousel or another video SERP feature, then you have an opportunity to rank in that position too. Pay attention to video length and titles to get an idea of what Google wants to show. The second way is to use Content Explorer, which lets you search for any word or phrase and get all relevant pages with their SEO and social metrics.
To find YouTube videos that are ranking in Google, I’ll search for: site:youtube.com inurl:watch title:unboxing, assuming that’s the topic I wanted to search for. Then, I’ll sort the result by search traffic and you can immediately see the estimated amount of Google search traffic these videos get each month, as well as the titles, descriptions, and social stats. Once you find a video that interests you, click on the Details button, and then the Organic keywords tab where you can see all of the keywords and the ranking position for the video on Google.
Looking into both Google and YouTube search lets you double-dip your traffic sources and get more views to your videos. Alright, step 2 is to identify search intent. Search intent (or keyword intent) refers to the reason why a user searches for a query in a search engine. Now, search engines are usually good at doing this for you. Just search for the keyword you want to rank for in YouTube and analyze the content and angle of the top 3 results. For example, if you want to teach people how to make a website, then you would probably give them a step-by-step tutorial.
YouTube agrees. But what if you want to rank for “Nintendo Switch games?” YouTube will tell you that people want to see a “listicle-type” video. Now, let’s say that you’re a florist and you want to rank for “viola.” Bad idea. All of the results show that someone searching for this term wants to know about the instrument. Not the plant or the actress. Let’s move on to step 3, which is the most important. And that’s to satisfy search intent with a high-retention video. YouTube says that their goals are to help viewers find the videos they want to watch and maximize long-term viewer engagement and satisfaction. And if you’re matching the reason for a user’s query, then your chance of having higher watch times for the video increases. Here are the exact steps we take to create high-retention videos.
First and foremost, plan your videos before you create them. If you’re creating how-to videos, the last thing you want to do is stumble over your words or show sloppy demonstrations. Proper planning helps keep your ideas on point and gives you the advantage of intentionally including keywords within your video, which people believe YouTube uses in their ranking algorithm. Second, you need to start with a strong hook. The first 10-15 seconds are critical for your video’s success. Hook your readers, and you’ll have audience retention graphs that look like this. Forego the hook and lose the majority of your viewers before you even get a chance to deliver value.
Every niche is different and unfortunately, there isn’t one formula that works for everyone. Being in the how-to and informational space for a B2B audience, I like to start off with stats or proof so that’s worth your time to keep watching. Like in this video on YouTube SEO, I started off by showing you how we rank in the top 3 for a lot of competitive keywords. I also showed you that our search traffic grew by almost 400%. And most importantly, I tell you that I’m going to show you the exact steps we used so you can try and replicate our results. Drop-offs in the first 15 seconds is inevitable. But you can minimize the damage by connecting with your audience’s reason for watching and showing that you have a solution to that problem. Third, you need to edit your videos strategically. For every single video we create, our focus isn’t to impress you with cool tricks. We care about engagement. So rather than getting into a full-out editing tutorial, I’ll leave you with a few power tips.
First, use jump cuts. A jump cut is a transition between two shots from the same position. It creates the effect of the scene “jumping,” hence, the name, “jump cut.” These add dynamics to a video and help polish mistakes. Second, draw your audience’s attention to what you want them to see. Pay attention for a second. If you’ve never used our Site Explorer tool before, and I say something like: “Click on the Linked domains report.” Did you see it? Probably not. But I could easily draw your eyes to the linked domains report by doing this, this, this, or even this. The effects don’t need to be fancy, but they should help your audience follow along to avoid drop-offs due to confusion. The last tip is to entertain with stories or narratives. YouTube is an entertainment platform. But entertaining isn’t easy. So while our primary focus is to teach SEO and marketing, we do our best to make it somewhat entertaining without trying too hard. If you’ve watched up to here, then you’ve probably seen some examples, so I won’t go deeper into that.
We have a full video on the workflow we use to edit our videos for YouTube, so I highly recommend watching that, which I’ll link up. Alright, step 3 is to do on-page video optimization. On-page optimizations for YouTube boils down to 4 things: We have the Title, Description, Tags, and Thumbnail. Each of these help provide context to your video and/or will influence your bottomline: click-through-rates. After all, no clicks = no views. Here are a few best practices to craft searchable and clickable videos, according to YouTube. Tip 1 is to use your keyword in the title. YouTube suggests using the most relevant search terms in your titles and descriptions as long as they’re accurate and not excessive. A study from Briggsby also shows that more than 90% of top ranking videos included at least part of a target keyword in their title. While it seems important to include at least partial matches of your target keyword in your title, you don’t want to sacrifice the “click-worthiness” of it. Tip 2 is to keep your titles under 60 characters.
YouTube recommends keeping your titles concise with the most important information up front. From an SEO perspective, that will often mean using your target keyword near the beginning of your title. For example, our target keyword for this video is YouTube SEO. And you’ll see that we added the phrase right at the beginning. Keeping your titles short will also prevent losing clicks from truncation in search, suggested, and browse features. Tip 3 is to write catchy titles that evoke curiosity or highlight a benefit.
If you were to create a tutorial on tying a tie, a keyword rich title might be, “how to tie a tie.” But that’s uninteresting at best. There are numerous angles you could take like: How to tie a tie with the “007 technique;” How to tie a tie in 11 seconds flat; My 3-year old teaches you how to tie a tie. The point is that boring titles are less likely to stand out in a competitive landscape. Tip 4 is to create a thumbnail that complements your title. In my opinion, this is the hardest part to execute consistently. Here’s the thumbnail for our SEO mistakes video. The thumbnail text describes the video since 91% is the majority.
And if you look closely, there’s a picture of Google’s page numbers with the third part circled stating, “You are here.” You can also draw inspiration from things around you and use your image to speak undeniable truths like our video, “How long does it take to rank on Google.” And if you’re stuck, try and get ideas from Google images or stock photos. For example, I searched for the word “system” in Adobe Stock, and was inspired by this image. So I used the idea to create our thumbnail for our link building system video but cooler. The next video optimization tip is to write searchable descriptions. YouTube says using the “right” keywords can boost views and watch time because they help your videos show up in search results. But what are “the right” keywords? For starters, we include our target keyword in both the title and description. But we also include related keywords by analyzing the descriptions of the top ranking videos.
Just type in the keyword you want to rank for, then look through the description for keywords that have relevance to your topic. For example, this video uses language like “free traffic” and talks about traffic in the context of a blog. Another phrase used is “increase website traffic.” These might be keywords that I want to include within my description or other closely related keywords where my video matches the content. Next up are Tags. And tags are another way to give context to your video, which can help you rank in YouTube search and suggested. YouTube simplifies this by recommending to add keywords and phrases that are most descriptive of your video.
You can also use tools like VidIQ or TubeBuddy to see the tags for competing videos in the sidebar. Look for common tags within competing videos, and add them to your video when it makes sense to do so. And as an extra measure, I’ll normally copy all of the tags from the top ranking videos, and paste them into Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer to see the search volumes on these tags. Step 4 are In-Video Optimizations. Creating the video is 80% of the battle. There are additional optimizations you can do to increase retention rate and create a better user experience for your viewers. The first thing is to add subtitles or closed captions. Many creators, including myself, believe that YouTube reads closed captions to better understand the context of videos. And chances are, your viewers come from all over the world with a different native tongue. So it’s worth using a transcription service or if your videos are scripted, just go to the CC tab of your video, select your language, and create your closed captions file.
To give you an idea, around 17% of our viewers use our English subtitles when watching our videos. The second thing to do is to add cards to your video. These are an interactive feature that encourages viewers to take one of these 5 actions. Just select the timecode where you want the card to trigger, select the type of card you want to use, choose an appropriate option, and you’re all set.
Now, when a viewer hits that timecode, the title of the video will slide in as a suggestion. Finally, use end screens. End screens are similar to cards. The purpose is to keep viewers on the YouTube platform. For our channel, we have a Subscribe button as well as a suggested video the viewer should watch next. This can help you get more subscribers, keep viewers consuming your content, and increase one of the metrics YouTube uses in their ranking algorithm, session time. I’ll expand on this in a bit. For now, let’s move on to step 5, which is to publish and promote your video. The first 24-48 hours from publishing can make or break your video.
So you need to promote your video as hard as you can right away. Here are some rapid-fire tips to do that. First, promote to your existing audience. At Ahrefs, we publish at around 8:00 AM Eastern time on Wednesdays. We then use an inapp alert to notify our customers about a new piece of content we created. At noon, we tweet out our video link, which sends us more viewers directly to our video. And of course, we send an email newsletter to our blog about 24 hours after the video was live. Now, if you don’t have an existing audience, a few things you can do are to post on relevant niche forums like Quora.
Just search for the topic of your video, provide a helpful answer and include your video in the mix. You can also post on other platforms like Reddit, Facebook, or wherever. The point is that you need to get involved where your audience hangs out. Last but not least is to use YouTube ads. Right now, from our experience, YouTube ads are super cheap. You can target by interest, keyword, or custom audiences.
If you have a great video, set up some search ads based on your target keyword with the intention to earn their subscription. As your subscriber base grows, they’ll begin to get notified with your future videos and help accelerate your growth without breaking the bank. The last and final step is to optimize your videos for session watch time. Session watch time is the total time a viewer watches videos on YouTube without leaving the platform. YouTube said in its Creator Blog: “We’ve started adjusting the ranking of videos in YouTube search to reward engaging videos that keep viewers watching.
As with previous optimizations to our discovery features, this should benefit your channel if your videos drive more viewing time across YouTube” Here are a few more ways to improve session time. First, create series. Think of series like #AskGaryVee or 490 episodes of Casey Neistat’s Vlog. Series hook people and if they like what they see, they keep watching, which increases your total session watch time.
We’ve created 3 series in total. One on keyword research, another on link building, and a shorter one on WordPress SEO. The first two were made to educate our customers, while the WordPress SEO series was meant to rank. And rank we did. To encourage viewers to watch the next video in the series, add it as an end screen or add a card to the next video near the end. This will make it easy for viewers to find the next video in your series. Now, the next part is where the magic happens. And that’s to turn your playlist into series playlists. A playlist is a list of videos that plays in the order they’re set. Whereas a series playlist is everything I just said, but it’s also a creator’s way to tell YouTube that your group of videos is an “official” list of videos.
Think of how Netflix does it with seasons and episodes of your favorite show. They’re in a specific order and skipping a couple episodes probably wouldn’t be a good idea. Using series playlists helps YouTube understand order and increases your chances of claiming the “up next” spot. If you’ve done the card, endscreen, and series playlist, you now have 3 places where your next video will be recommended to viewers. The last and final tip to boost your video SEO is to use my channel page hack.
Your channel page will likely be one of your most visited pages so it’s worth optimizing. Here’s how the channel page hack works. If you look at our channel, the first 4 videos in this stripe look kind of random. But they are not. Each of these videos is the first series in one of the 3 series we have on our channel. And the only reason the fourth video is in the same series as this video is because we don’t have a fourth series. Now, since all of these videos are separate series playlists, look what happens when I click on them. The up next video is always the next video in the series. So no matter which video you click, it heightens our chances of getting viewers to keep watching videos on our channel.
While YouTube doesn’t have a “session watch time” metric in their analytics, I’m a strong believer that my channel playlist hack contributed to our massive increase in overall watch time since the day I added it. YouTube SEO from a technical perspective is easy. Optimize your titles, descriptions, and tags. Then add relevant cards, endscreens or description links and you’re good to go. But the most challenging part of video SEO is engaging your audience. So take these processes and tips and focus your attention on these 3 things: entertain, engage, and rank. Now, if you enjoyed this video, make sure to like, share and subscribe, and if you have any questions about our video SEO process, leave a comment below and I’d be happy to help.
So keep grinding away, create your videos strategically, and I’ll see you in the next tutorial..