SEO for YouTube – 2019 Guide

According to Alexa traffic ratings, YouTube is the second most-visited site on the web, right after Google—so how come no one watches my YouTube videos?

There are quite a few factors to convince YouTube that your material is top notch:

  1. Quantity of comments
  2. Length of video (the average YouTube video on the front page is 14 minutes, 50 seconds)
  6. Quality (68.2% of front page videos are HD)

Winning on YouTube is about engagement—but before anyone comments, views, shares, or likes, they need to be able to find your video. Let’s talk about getting found on YouTube.

youtube logo and the word seo spelled out with a magnifying glass

The Basics

SEO for YouTube is not the same thing as fighting to show on the first page of Google. Rather than being found through YouTube search, most video traffic on the platform comes from YouTube suggesting videos to their users. Generally, more people will find you in suggested videos than will look you up on YouTube search. Even fewer people will find your YouTube videos on Google.

Keywords & Tags

Just like in regular SEO, the first step of optimizing a YouTube video is to generate a list of keyword ideas. To do this, search YouTube for what one might look up if they were trying to find your video. YouTube will generate a list of suggested keywords in the search bar automatically. Keep these in mind⁠—they are terms people actually search. If YouTube suggests a keyword, we already know that it is popular. (Fun fact: YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world.)

In my last blog, I talked about keyword difficulty. Simply put, the more popular a keyword is, the more competition exists over it. This concept can be applied to YouTube. Try to create a nice combination of competitive keywords and very specific long tail keywords. To check the volume and density of a keyword on YouTube, try the Google Chrome extension Keywords Everywhere.

Another way to come up with keyword ideas is to find a popular video in your niche and to see what words it is using in its title, description, and tags. It might not make sense to use all the same keywords as your competition, but if it’s working for them, it can probably lead you in the right direction.

Tags help YouTube categorize things. They are generally hidden to the viewer but help YouTube understand what video content is about. A well-optimized video should have 5-8 tags. You can see the tags assigned to a video with the vidIQ Vision for YouTube Google Chrome Extension.

Best Tag Practices for YouTube:

  • Put the most important tag first. Let the others fall in order of importance.
  • Have a solid mix of broad keywords about your topic and specific keywords about your content.

Titles & Descriptions

YouTube states: “Well-written titles can be the difference between someone watching and sharing your video, or scrolling right past it…”

The title of your video summarizes what it’s about. YouTube and search engines put a lot of weight in the keywords used in a title, so optimize it wisely. The keyword you use at the start of your title is your focus keyword. Choose wisely, this keyword is the most important: this is the term YouTube will consider first and foremost as describing the content of your video.

YouTube recommends a title that is equal to or less than 60 characters. Try to keep your title as concise as possible while adding a hook to attract attention. After all, this is a headline. We can optimize as much as we want, but if the writing isn’t attention-grabbing and attractive, it won’t yield the CTR we’re looking for to stand out on YouTube.

According to research done by Backlinko, there is no correlation between keyword optimization in video descriptions and YouTube rankings. Consider using this space to share necessary information, but don’t stress about keywords here. However, YouTube has recently enabled hashtags. Descriptions are a great place to include popular hashtags. Don’t go overboard here, 2 or 3 should do it. Hashtags on YouTube function exactly as they do on Twitter, Facebook, etc.

Use YouTube Analytics to measure the effectiveness of your optimization efforts. Look at the first 10-15 seconds for audience drop-off. A sudden dip in the first few seconds could suggest that people didn’t find what they were looking for based on the title of your content. To learn more about YouTube Analytics, check out the Creators Academy.

Audience Retention & Click-through Rate

Audience retention is a huge factor in having YouTube rank and suggest a video. YouTube’s goal is to keep people on YouTube. The better your audience retention metrics are, the more YouTube will view your channel as valuable and show your content to its users.

The point is to get people to keep watching. Defining the point of your video and promising more information to come in the first few seconds can help keep an audience engaged and watching. Try making chapters through your content or “circling back.” Circling back is where you would announce in the beginning your video, “but I’ll talk about that in just a few minutes.” When you get to the point, you’ve made a full circle; the suspense keeps them waiting for more.

YouTube pays very close attention to CTR. The higher the CTR, the better. You can improve your CTR with well-written titles and eye-catching thumbnails.

Add bright colors or a subtitle to your thumbnail image—never let YouTube pick a still from your video. These come out pixelated and often blur movement, we want to be a bit more eye-catching than that. Take a look at your favorite YouTuber’s channel and notice their thumbnails—quality has become a staple here. Make sure the image you create for your thumbnail is 1280 x 640 pixels. Try to come up with something that demonstrates what your video is about while turning heads.

Another important thing to consider is engagement. Many YouTubers claim success from asking their audience to like, share, and subscribe to their videos. YouTube values engagement so aim for it on your videos.

Optimizing Your Channel

Your channel itself can rank on YouTube. A great channel page leads to more subscribers and more views. Make sure your channel looks nice and is using focus keywords in its description without stuffing them in unnaturally. Pick keywords that you would want to rank for on YouTube.


Remember, YouTube is a search engine; it demands optimization just like any other. Pay attention to keywords, titles, and retention. Your goals are to get found, develop a strong CTR, and to maintain solid attention from your audience. YouTube will do you favors by suggesting your videos to other users if you play by their rules.

See how Hall can help increase your demand.