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10 SEO tips for YouTube


Many people are surprised to learn that YouTube is the second-largest search engine. Yep, it's bigger than Yahoo and bigger than Bing, according to comScore. Therefore it is a shock to many search marketing professionals that clients, including large brands, neglect to formulate or act on strategies for YouTube optimization.

Of course, YouTube isn't a perfect fit for every company, but anybody who does business online should consider taking advantage of the huge opportunities for brand impressions available on YouTube. Even if the product or service you sell might be considered dry or boring, think about creating a series of funny or interesting videos that relates indirectly to your core business.

For example, if you sell construction equipment, you could produce videos of stunt drivers doing freestyle tricks in a Bobcat. Or perhaps a clothing company could create video fashion shows of embarrassing styles that were once popular. You don't have to create traditional TV commercials to get people talking about your brand.

Optimizing YouTube pages requires you to follow the same rules as any other search engine optimization (SEO) project, and all SEO can be broken down into three disciplines: content, linking, and architecture. Since YouTube is going to dictate how the page is built architecturally, that leaves you with opportunities to improve the on-page content that boosts the link popularity of the page. We'll leave the linking discussion for another day, and of course the video itself needs to be good enough for people to actually want to watch it. The following tips are designed to help you optimize your YouTube pages in a way that makes them as easy to find as possible. Therefore, we will primarily be talking about what to put on the page and where to put it.

Considering that YouTube streams more than 1.2 billion videos every day, it's easy to write it off as oversaturated and move on. But most of the content is garbage, and few people take the time to properly optimize their submissions.

There are primarily two places you can rank well for your target keywords. The first place is on YouTube itself. For example, if I type "Dwayne Johnson" into the search bar, the results are my choice of "All," "Channels," and "Playlists," with the default view being "All." It is possible to sort the results a number of different ways, but the default sorting method is "Relevance," so the way you see results on a YouTube page is similar to how you might see them on other search engines.

The other place your videos can rank well is on the search engines themselves. Remember that every video on YouTube has its own page, called a view page, that can be optimized the same as any other page on the web.

The most important thing to remember about optimizing for YouTube is that the videos themselves are invisible to search engines. YouTube converts the video files you upload into Flash, and search engines have a difficult time understanding what's inside a Flash file, especially a video. If you need proof, simply view Google's cached version of any YouTube page and you'll see only the text that accompanies the video, not the video itself. This exercise demonstrates how important the surrounding content is to the page's potential ability to rank for your target keywords.

YouTube automatically generates meta tags for every view page. The name of the video becomes the title tag, the description (found in the "more info" section) becomes the meta description tag, and the YouTube tags become the content of the page's meta keywords tag. Of course, Google has publicly stated that its search engine ignores the meta keywords tag, so this feature of YouTube doesn't make lots of sense -- but nobody's perfect.

There are two types of YouTube channels: brand channels and user channels. Brand channels are given out to advertisers who spend a lot of money on YouTube, and these have some distinct advantages over user channels, including auto-play when a user lands on the view page, multiple sub-channels, a 960x150 banner, a 300x250 side column image, a branding box, contest module support, support for YouTube's Carousel, Video Walls, custom gadgets, a larger background image, and support for Google Analytics. But since most of us will be stuck with plain old user channels, the following tips are written for the average user. Additionally, YouTube has great help files for customizing your user channel. Google's YouTube help page is a good place to start.

Quick tips for optimization

  • Include links in profile pages wherever possible. First decide where you want to drive the traffic from your channel/profile page, and then include links to those pages as much as possible. Ideally, you will be linking to other social media profiles like Facebook and Twitter in order to extend the social media experience, but you also might want to drive clicks to a customized landing page. There are many more opportunities to place clickable links than there appear to be at first glance.

  • Include appropriate keywords in the name of the video, and use the word "video" when appropriate. The title is the most important piece of information that the search engines have about your video, and considering that most searchers include the word "video" when searching for a video, this inclusion boosts the relevance of your page as a search result.

  • For each video, write a unique, keyword-rich description that includes a URL. Put the URL at the beginning. This way, even when the "more info" option is collapsed, the user will still see the link. Also, a video's description is the next-best indicator to search engines of the video's content, right behind the title. Use this space to place relevant keywords when appropriate.

  • Provide video transcripts if possible. Until the technology improves, YouTube and other online videos are practically invisible to most search engines. Therefore, the search engines are only guessing about the content of your video based on the information they parse from the title, description, and tags. But if you have a full transcript of your video placed in the description, the search engines will fully understand the video.

  • Take advantage of YouTube's captions and annotation features. You can add notes, subtitles, descriptions, and links directly over the top of the video. Currently only links to other YouTube pages are clickable, but try this: You remembered to add a link at the top of your description, right? Place a call to action over the video that says, "Click here to become a fan of our Facebook page."

  • Tag your videos with keywords. Along with the title and the description, tags help the search engines identify the video's content. If you have relevant keywords, place them here.

  • Encourage participation. For each video, there are options for "Broadcasting and Sharing." It's best to open commenting and embedding as much as possible, but remember that you will need to monitor your videos for spam and naughty comments. Also consider posting your videos as responses to other popular videos. This is a good way to piggyback on the success of someone else's video and divert some of those eyes to your own content.

  • Watermark your videos. It's easy with most video editing software to place a small translucent logo in a corner of the video. It's your video after all, so take ownership.

  • YouTube pulls thumbnails from the one quarter, half, and three quarters marks of every video. You can then choose which thumbnail is displayed. If it's not disruptive to do so, try to manipulate your video so that a compelling image appears at one of these points. Thumbnails have a large impact in a video's click-through.

  • Take advantage of YouTube Insights. This analytics feature of YouTube is robust compared to other video sites and can provide information such as demographics and when people abandoned viewing specific videos. This data can help you improve future submissions.

Who did it great:

College Humor
College Humor has done a good job with its channel design. In the description box, it provides links to other social media profiles. The company also lists the people involved with the production of the videos and links to several awards it has received.

This video from Coke does an excellent job of using the description box, not to provide a verbatim transcript of the video (because there is no dialogue), but rather to describe exactly what is happening in the video.

Mistakes to avoid:
Most YouTube videos and channels are not properly optimized, even by big brands. Therefore, there is still tremendous opportunity to rank well on search results pages for many competitive keywords. Perhaps the biggest potential mistake is to close your videos off to sharing. It is vital to let users interact and embed your videos.

Also, resign yourself to the fact that no matter how good your videos are, people are going to say nasty things. As long as comments aren't profane, negative feedback is good. A mix of negative and positive comments makes the user experience more authentic.

Drew Hubbard is director of promotions and social media at The Search Agency.

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Drew is mainly a dad, but he's also a social media and content marketing guy. Originally from Kansas City and a graduate of The University of Missouri, Drew will gladly discuss the vast, natural beauty of the Show Me State. Drew and his wife,...

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to leave comments.

Commenter: Arindam Dutta

2013, June 04

I think YouTube SEO is still very helpful this year, since Google has expressed that social media will have more weight this year in terms of getting higher site rankings. Like any other type of social media, it has to be used properly to yield the best results.

Commenter: Maggie Heatherman

2009, October 16

Youtube presents an awesome opportunity for companies to market themselves online. Not only does it offer high levels of impressions, but it also enables marketers to post rich, compelling content that can attract viewers in a truly singular way.

...great tips and great topic!