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YouTube SEO: How to Rank Your Videos Higher for a Given Keyword

Optimize your YouTube channel and videos with YouTube SEO.

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By Ana Simova
content writer at Ranking Press

Want to create a successful YouTube SEO strategy and rank your videos higher for a specific keyword? If the answer is yes, stick around to learn exactly how.

Around 2 billion logged-in monthly users visit the largest platform for posting videos in the world. If we count YouTube as a search engine, it would be the second-largest one there is, right after Google, but before Bing, Yahoo and Baidu, while also being the second most visited website in the world.

This video platform has its own search engine that has its own algorithm which sorts and ranks the videos when you search for keywords like ‘funny cat videos’ or ‘playing piano for beginners’.

If you want to rank your videos higher for a specific keyword on this platform, you must learn about YouTube SEO (Search Engine Optimization), given that this is the only free way in which you can do so. But what do we mean by YouTube SEO?

What is YouTube SEO? 

YouTube SEO is basically optimizing your YouTube channel, videos, their title and description, tags, meta data, playlists, even the videos’ captions and subtitles.

YouTube’s algorithm uses some known factors to rank videos, which is exactly why you should learn YouTube SEO techniques in order to influence those ranking factors and get higher visibility for your videos.

Don’t have a YouTube channel yet? Learn how to create one by reading our step-by-step guide.

Here you will learn just that! If you follow our tips, your videos will get better performance on YouTube, which means you’ll rank higher for the keywords of your choice. As you already know, higher visibility means more clicks, which leads to more likes, comments, and subscribers, so you’ll get higher engagement and YouTube will recommend your videos more frequently to other users. If you like how this sounds, read on.

YouTube Algorithm’s Ranking Factors

YouTube has a huge number of videos already posted on their platform, and on top of that, 500 hours of new content is added with every passing minute. Because of the enormous number of videos, YouTube needs to somehow sort and rank them. This is crucial for YouTube because if people are satisfied with their search recommendations, they will spend more time on the platform.

To give their users the best and most relevant videos for a searched phrase, YouTube has its own very complex algorithm that works behind the curtains. This algorithm changes constantly, but some very important ranking factors stay almost the same throughout time.

Some of the most dominant ranking factors for YouTube videos include: 

  • video views; 
  • video likes;
  • video comments;
  • channel subscribers;
  • channel views. 

However, these are things that you cannot directly influence, unless you invest some money in advertising, and these important factors have the largest effect on your videos’ rankings. Nevertheless, there are other ranking factors that we can easily optimize so that our videos have more views and potentially gather new subscribers.

Some of these factors are:

  • keyword mentions in the description and title of the video;
  • whether or not the keyword an exact match;
  • the time when the video is published;
  • your audience retention rate;
  • the video’s duration;
  • the video’s quality. 

YouTube’s algorithm takes all these elements (and more) into consideration and in combination with their large amount of data for other videos, it sorts and ranks them as it does for each unique search.

The resulting list of videos from your YouTube search should give you those that have the highest relevance, but also videos that will keep you engaged and present on the platform for a longer time.

Do you want to familiarize yourself with the YouTube algorithm in more depth? Learn more about it in our How Does the YouTube Algorithm Work article.

YouTube SEO: Keyword Optimization

Keyword research is the first and the most important step (after creating a great video) in the process of optimizing your videos for YouTube’s algorithm. Incorporating keywords in the title and description of your videos is the most effective and probably the easiest way to boost their visibility, but how to find them?

Finding Keywords

There are many tools you can use to find keywords that are related to the topic of your video. The simplest thing to do would be to look at YouTube’s suggestions when typing in the search box. This will give you a lot of popular keywords and phrases that people search for and you can start making a list of the most relevant ones for the video you want to optimize.

However, it’s very important to know that it’s really hard to rank for very popular keywords. Those keywords have high competition since a myriad of videos are published for that particular topic. If you have a relatively new channel or not many subscribers, it’s best to use keywords that have fewer searches and are less competitive. By doing this, you’ll rank your videos and grow your channel more easily in the beginning, and soon after you can try to compete for a higher position by using more popular keywords.

Another way to search for keywords is by using Google’s autocomplete which can give you some great ideas for terms that are most commonly searched. While searching for something on Google, you can scroll down at the bottom of the page and see a section where other great keywords are to be found – the ‘related searches’ section.

There are many free and paid tools for keyword research, but I want to mention VidIQ, which is an extension for the Chrome browser where you can find the tags and keywords used in any YouTube video. This can be an excellent way to find out which keywords your competitors are using.

After you’ve gathered some keywords, it’s time to create a list, so you can pick one main keyword and a few secondary ones to use in your video. Beware to incorporate them in such a way so that the text sounds natural and reads smoothly.

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Choosing Keywords

You’ve created a list of keywords relevant to the topic you discuss in your video, but now you need to sort it in such a way that the first keyword is your primary one. Balance is key here. It’s great if your main keyword has a lot of searches, but if the competition is too big, you’ll probably never succeed to rank in the first 5 results on YouTube.

That being said, it’s smart to pick a keyword that has low to medium competition, but be mindful that the lower the competition, the less searches there are for that term. That’s why you should do a good keyword research and find phrases that are not too hard to rank for.

To discover whether or not your keywords are easily attainable, you should figure out how many videos there are when you search for that term. YouTube will give you the number of videos that include your searched term, as will Google. After you see the number, you can also see if the first few videos have a lot of views or not. The fewer views they have, the easier it will be to pass them in rankings, but it can also mean that the keyword you use has a low search rate.

Google’s Keyword Planner is another great tool. By using it, you can find the number of searches on Google for each of your keywords. This tool will also give you the competition level for each term – low, medium or high. Using long-tail keywords is very beneficial for new YouTube channels or ones that have a small number of views on their videos. Long-tail keywords are usually lower in competition and number of searches, and in many cases, you can rank for those keywords effortlessly.

Targeting Keywords

After choosing your main keyword and picking a few that are related to the topic of discussion, it’s time to target your keywords into the title, description, and other places in your video and YouTube channel. This is how you’ll optimize your video for those specific keywords, and hopefully, when someone looks for those and other closely related terms, your video will be placed high on the list of results.

You can place your keyword in the title of the video, once or twice, but make sure not to use the same exact-match keyword in the title twice. Make a catchy title that people would be intrigued to click on, but also make it relevant to the video content. Otherwise people won’t see what they expected and will probably leave the video, with that dropping your average watch time and audience retention.

Using synonyms of your main keyword is also a good practice, and you can have more freedom in the description section of your video. This is the place where you can target all your keywords and their related terms. However, get it to look and sound natural, and don’t overstuff it with keywords since it’ll look spammy and it might harm your rankings.

There is a third place where you can target your keywords in your video, and that’s the keyword tags section. Other than targeting the keywords in your video, you can target them on your channel as well – if your channel is about a specific niche that is closely related to your videos, that is. If you have a channel where you post piano lessons, then your videos are probably all about that topic, so you can target some of the video keywords in the channel’s title, description, and tags.

One other thing that often goes unmentioned when talking about YouTube SEO and keyword optimization is your video’s subtitles. They are transcribed automatically by YouTube, so it’s a great practice when writing a script and recording a video to include your keywords and other similar and related phrases in the content.

YouTube SEO: Audience Retention

After you get people to click on your video, it’s time to motivate them to watch it for its full duration. This is what we call ‘audience retention rate’ or the average percentage of how long users watch a video. YouTube keeps the data of each video’s retention rate, and when the algorithm ranks videos for a given keyword, those high on the list, in most cases, have the highest audience retention rate, compared to the other videos on the same list.

Why High Retention is Important

Well, that’s because YouTube’s goal is to keep its users on their platform for the longest possible time watching videos (meaning: watching ads). If people watch your videos almost completely, that’s truly amazing! But that’s rarely the case, because the average watch time is what counts, and if your most loyal fans watch your videos fully, it doesn’t mean that others will do that as well.

How to Get High Retention Rate

We advise you to keep your retention rate above 50%, but in order to make your videos engaging, you need to put more time and effort into the creative process. Your main focus should be quality, not the number of videos. If you publish 5 videos a week and you have a low audience retention rate, think about lowering the number of your weekly videos to three, even two, and you’ll have more time to focus on their quality. You can add better music, beautiful stock images or videos, and record the video from multiple angles.

Make it interesting, fun and informative. If you have a long intro, then make it shorter, or at least don’t start your video with the intro, but with a short and catchy preview of what comes. Insert great visuals, don’t show too much text on screen and if you have a hard time talking to your audience – create a script so they won’t lose focus when you stammer.

Try these tips and experiment with some other ideas as well. You can use humor or insert a quote here and there if changing the angles is not possible for you (which works great for boosting audience retention). In the analytics section of your YouTube channel, you can see the exact minutes when people stop watching your videos. This is great information for improving your retention gate given that you can see where the problem is and correct it for future videos.

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Share and Promote

At last! Your video is done and you’ve made sure to make it engaging so people watch it in its entirety, or at least a large chunk of it. You’ve made it certain to create high-quality content so that your audience retention rate is high enough. Then you’ve made excellent keyword research and optimized the video for YouTube’s algorithm. All that is left now is to share and promote your video, as well as be present and engage your followers in the comment section.

If you have a social media account that accompanies your YouTube channel, then you know what you need to do. Share your video there, whether on Facebook, Twitter or the link in the bio of your Instagram account. Publish stories promoting your new video and try to present it beautifully so it piques your follower’s curiosity. You can even start an ad campaign to boost your video views and get an advantage from the start.

However, if you want to additionally promote your video, you can do it very successfully if you spare some time and find a few places where your content is valued and appreciated – otherwise, it would probably be spamming and you’ll have a low click-through rate. You can promote it on different forums, Facebook Groups, other social media platforms, some specific subreddits on Reddit and so on.

Do you have an Instagram account? If you do, you can learn how to promote your YouTube channel on Instagram and increase your chance for success.

Now that you know all the essentials about YouTube SEO, just keep posting videos consistently and you’ll grow your channel in no time.

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