How to rank #1 in YouTube search results in 2021 (SEO tips)
Written by: Dexxter ClarkRanking in YouTube search is the most important factor for a new YouTube channel to get a jumpstart on YouTube.
Good Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for YouTube search, will also do a good job in Google.
But how do you optimize your video for YouTube search and Google?
That is the question I answer in this article.
MindshiftA lot of people mistake YouTube content for the video itself.
But it’s far from the truth.
YouTube considers content everything that has to do with your video (including the video itself).
The video in itself is meaningless, it’s not searchable, it’s not relatable (in the sense of similar video topics); a video is just a set of bytes.
YouTube tries to get a sense of what the video is about by looking all the other (meta) data that you provide and YouTube can extract from the video file.
If YouTube properly knows what the video is all about, it can rank your video number one in search.
How to optimize your YouTube content for SEO?
The words in the video & closed captionsIn the video editor in YouTube Studio you have to select the video language, so YouTube can do speech recognition.
YouTube transcribes the video for a couple of reasons:
- To get a sense of what the topic of the video is;
Keywords are used in the search algorithm. If you have done your research then you know what your target keywords are.
Make sure to mention them at least once (rather more) in your video.
Words in the beginning of your video are more important than at the end of a video. So make sure you mention your keyword phrases at the beginning of the video.
I make video scripts so I can sprinkle in the search keywords here and there, especially in the beginning. I have found that that is lot harder when I improvise the video entirely.
Experience learned me that videos with deliberate usage of keywords tend to do better in search
- To get the context of sentences:
If the creator is talking about X in the first sentence, he probably means Y in the second.
For example: I’m talking about software for music production. When I say the word ‘logic’, I will probably mean the software ‘Logic’ and not the context of the word ‘logically’.
- To detect bad language:
our video will be flagged if it’s against the YouTube Community Guidelines or Ad-friendly Guidelines. YouTube even detects the beep-frequency and regards it as bad language.
Using bad language is weighted more heavily at the beginning of the video than at the end.
The language setting is important to determine bad language.
The word “cock” is pronounced the same in Dutch, but we mean the profession of cook. The word “ass” sounds the same in Dutch, but we mean ash tree.
- To detect natural language:
To prevent creators gaming the YouTube system, detecting natural language is important.
YouTube has a reference library of word frequency ratios for every language. If your video deviates too much from those ratios the video gets flagged.
A 10 minute video that only has the text “best mortgage” repeated over and over again for the whole length of the video is flagged.
The word frequencies are out of ratio of a normal language in this example. The video is not a valuable addition to the platform, but likely to rank very high in the search algorithm if not detected.
This method is known as: keyword stuffing.
You can “stuff keywords”, but only in a natural flow of a language.
In other words, you can bend sentences to fit your needs, but they also have to fit the needs of the viewer.
- The deaf and hearing impaired can follow your videos as well by reading the closed captions.
The speech recognition fails on many occasions and is the cause of a lot of false positive flags (demonetization i.e.).
Accents for example (foreigners speaking English i.e.) are tough for the speech recognition algorithm.
Therefore it’s a good idea to add subtitles.
You can correct the mistakes that the speech algorithm made, so you can improve the searchability of your video.
Every video YouTube has auto generated subtitles, the fastest way is to use those as a basis and edit them.
You “only” have to correct the mistakes; the timing is already in place.
Video titleThe title is probably the most important search and CTR factor (Click Through Rate).
Thoughtfully crafting a video title is a skill on its own.
The title needs to be a representation of the video content, it needs to be short, it needs to be enticing to click on and contain search keywords.
Your video title is equivalent to the headline of a newspaper.
A title can raise a question that you (as the viewer) want answers to.
Those titles are curiosity driven.
When we take a look at two titles: “10 things you didn’t know about yellow” and “the color yellow”, both describe the video accurately, but I only want to click in the first.
The title must represent the video, expectations are set for the viewer by the title (and thumbnail).
Those expectations must be met, otherwise people will drop off or click the thumbs-down button.
Titles may be edgy but never click bait, YouTube kills click bait videos immediately.
If you want inspiration for compelling headlines, go to the book store or the grocery store and check out the covers for gossip magazines.
You will notice that there are just a couple of headline templates that are used over and over again.
Here are some compelling title templates:
- “10 things you didn’t know about the color yellow”
- “The best kept secrets about the play and pause button” instead of “play pause button tutorial”
- “hidden features of the utility menu”
- “mysteries of the jog wheel”
- “best plugins for chords”
- “the most deadly snakes”, “the most extravagant X” , “the most awkward Y”
- “the 5 most powerful questions ever”
- “top 10 best free daws”
- “10 psychological tricks to get her to like you”
- “secret formula of song arrangement”, “one simple formula for song arrangement”
- “unknown features of the hot cue”
- “the truth about X”, “the shocking truth about X”, “the undiscovered truth about X”
- “you did not know this about the tempo function”,
- “what you didn’t know about the tempo function”
- “the 10 secrets you don’t know about X”
- “debunking myths about the quantize function”
- “don’t start a YouTube channel before you watch this”
- “how to start a YouTube channel”, “how to become successful entrepreneur”
- “the ultimate tax shelter” (teaser + curiosity driven)
- “how does a pilot know when to descent a plane?” (curiosity driven)
- “do have planes have keys” (curiosity driven)
- “block every online ad with this” (curiosity driven)
- “why you have to duck lower frequencies in a song”
- “why is it dangerous to pee on an electric wire”
- “why can’t we do X without Y”
- “What nobody tells you about X”
- “How to make 1 million dollars - What They Don`t Tell You”
- “what really happened to X” (that can be a product or famous person).
- “forbidden tactics / tricks to change peoples minds”
- “don’t watch this if you have enough money” (tell people they shouldn’t do something)
- “If you watch this you never have to be lonely again”
- “If you do THIS and you’ll be blind for life”
- “before buying a house watch this”
- “the best and only video you have to watch about success”
- “can you solve this riddle?”
- “the software that everyone talks about” (curiosity drive)
- “the X that disrupted the Y industry
These are only a couple, in the free YouTube video title generator on this website you can find many more.
The title generator generates helps you constructing compelling titles for your YouTube videos.
Video descriptionA proper description is the second thing (next to the title) that is vital to score in YouTube search results.
A lot of creators don’t use the description: that’s a wasted opportunity!
The first few lines are the most important.
The first 3 lines are the ones that are shown in the search results list when you search for a video.
A unique opportunity to convince potential viewers to watch your video!
The first few lines are also the most important for the YouTube search engine to determine the topic of the video.
If you make video scripts, you can put your script in your description, it tells YouTube and Google exactly what the video is about.
You can also use the description to put links to your crowd funding platform, website and social media.
In my videos I try to add value to the description (affiliate links, contents of the video, a list etc) and refer to that in the video, so people read the description and hopefully see the other stuff you put in there.
ThumbnailThe thumbnail is the movie poster of your video.
It’s the graphic that sells your video to potential viewers.
Of the ‘holy trinity’ of importance (title, description), the thumbnail is number three.
Some creators use stills of their video, but you can have a far better CTR when you design a custom thumbnail.
Basic photo editing skills may come in handy here.
Using stills is difficult because the quality is never as good as a photo.
Stills are often blurry because of the motion in the video, also you can’t zoom in without losing quality.
It’s hard to find a good still where you are not looking like a complete idiot and represents the video well!
Serious YouTubers take a separate photo for their thumbnails.
When you take a separate photo you can look the way you want and try different variations and pick the best photo.
I make my thumbnail photos in batches, so I have a library of pictures to choose from.
I found that making pictures in front of a green screen is a huge time saver to get rid of the background in photo editing software.
A good thumbnail also tells a story.
when I’m making a video about laptops for music production, I take a picture of me with my laptop (pointing at the laptop), replace the background with a screenshot of software to make music.
Now every viewer that sees the thumbnail knows that the video is about music production and about laptops.
Studies have shown that these thumbnails work well:
thumbnails with high contrast and bright colors
thumbnails with human faces thumbnails with emotional facial expressions. I call them “ee, oh, ah”-photos.
if you use text, use a maximum of 6 words
try to gain interest in some way
Your thumbnail has to stand out against the rest, so a lot of YouTubers make a couple of different variations and paste them in a mockup of the YouTube home screen in their photo editor.
A lot of creators don’t realize that YouTube does text recognition on thumbnails.
This to check for violations for of their Community Guidelines and Ad-friendly Guidelines (like bad language i.e.).
YouTube never said officially that they use this text for search, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they do since they probably use Google`s Cloud Vision artificial intelligence algorithm.
Go to https://cloud.google.com/vision/ and go to “try the API”.
Upload your thumbnail and see what the machine interpretation is of your thumbnail.
You can make changes to your thumbnail to change the results.
Using this technique will save you some unwanted false-positive flags.
HashtagsHashtags have not proven their full potential yet.
Nobody knows exactly how to use them and YouTube is very vague about it.
Therefore few creators and viewers use it.
I wouldn’t be surprised if YouTube would deprecate this feature in the future.
A hashtag is a search term, but at the same time, not.
You can put a hash sign (#) followed by keywords without spaces in your video description, like “#musicproducer”.
Use as few hashtags (max 3 - 5) as possible so to give them more weight if you use them.
You can use a maximum 15 in total, YouTube will penalize you in ranking for using more.
A hashtag is only useful when big channels use them.
When viewers click on a hashtag of a video, they see a list of videos that use that hashtag.
That list is not a regular ranked list (where channel authority is king), also smaller channels are in there and content freshness is a ranking factor.
As a small channel you can get in that list when you serve fresh content.
Using hashtags can be a useful strategy for a small channel.
TagsTags were used in the past as search terms, but their significance for search has declined to almost nothing (in contrast to popular belief).
Title, description and thumbnail are far more important for the algorithms to understand what a video is about.
If you do keyword research, note them down, so you can use them as tags, but otherwise don’t bother much about the tags.
I wouldn’t be surprised if they disappear from the video editing page within the next couple of years.
Because most creators believe that tags are important, it’s easy to spy on the competition to see what keywords they target in their video.
Tags helped to determine what a video is about, so it can establish a correlation between other videos with the same tags.
After all: two videos with the same topic should have the same tags.
If you hope to show up as a suggested video to a viral video by copying the tags, I have to disappoint you.
A couple of years ago that would have worked, but that trick has lost is power.
It was misused, so YouTube lowered the importance of tags.
The algorithms have taken over the role of the tags, which is harder to misuse.
The first couple of tags are more important than the last.
Sorting your tags in order of importance is useful.
Start with the specific ones and end with the more general topics.
For example: a video about how to use an equalizer (in music production), the first tags could be:
“how to use an equalizer”, “how eq works” and I would close with:
“DAW software” and “music production”.
You see that the first ones are specific and the last ones are more general?
There are tools out there (VidIQ, Tube buddy and Morning Fame) that can help you with tags.
Those tools can determine the priority of tags as search terms.
If you are smart you use them also in your description and title.
CommentsThe content of comments (and the amount of comments) are used as a ranking factor in YouTube search.
You as content creator should moderate your comment section, if you don’t, YouTube will remove your comment section or even terminate your channel.
YouTube has made it abundantly clear in the 2019-comment fiasco that they don’t want to take any responsibility for comments.
YouTube points the finger to the creator as the responsible party.
Although the American Federal Trade Commission doesn’t agree and fined YouTube heavily for it.
The Community Guidelines also apply to comments posted by viewers.
If you can’t moderate, you have to disable your comments, according to YouTube.
But fewer comments means less promotion, so very little creators are taking that route.
The weird thing is, that properly moderating comments is fairly impractical.
The comments-section in YouTube Studio provides no viable way to do this (when I wrote this).
You can see new comments posted, but there is no way to spot replies on existing comments.
You might think that deleting comments will hurt your promotion.
But that is not the case, under the hood they still count as a comment.
When you delete a comment, it becomes invisible for viewers and creator.
This is YouTube’s incentive for creators to moderate their comments.
Want free YouTube tips and tricks?
Check out the YouTube channel for this website. (opens YouTube in new tab)
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