It has been said many times, but it bears repeating: YouTube is much more than a “video sharing” platform. It is currently the world’s second largest search engine.
What does that mean for content creators?
Three words: Optimize! Optimize! Optimize! Search engines are about much more than “likes” and “shares”: if you don’t give them what they need, you’ll wind up languishing at the bottom of the search results.
Thankfully, YouTube optimization is not that difficult, and most of the tools you need are right there on the platform. While there are plenty of advanced optimization techniques, here are a few things that you should be doing at the absolute minimum!
1. Begin With Keyword Research
Despite being a video platform, YouTube still uses a text-based search engine. When you input keywords into the search bar, YouTube looks for the videos that are most closely associated with the terms you’ve typed.
Just like Google, if you want your content to perform well, it needs to be associated with high-traffic keywords. Ideally, this means using keyword research when brainstorming new content ideas (though you can also use keyword research to find appropriate keywords for pre-existing content).
There are many tools you can use for this, but it can be as simple as typing terms into the YouTube search bar to generate ideas, or using Google Trends to see the popularity of a term over time (just make sure you’re looking at YouTube data and not general search data). While Google Trends doesn’t give you actual numbers (only percentages) you can compare the search volumes using two different terms.
Once you find the keywords you want to target, make sure you add them to the title, description, and tags for the the video. Despite being a video platform, YouTube still uses text to understand what your video is about. If you don’t give it enough information, you’re drastically reducing your chances of ranking.
2. Create Eye-Popping Thumbnails
One difference between YouTube and Google is the visual element. Google listings are simply text, so the title, URL, and description are the only tool you have to get people to click. YouTube, on the other hand, allows you to add big, colorful thumbnails to grab people’s attention.
To add a “custom” thumbnail (that is, an image that is not a video still) you’ll need to have a verified account.
Before you create your thumbnail, type in the main keyword you’re attempting to rank for and get a feel for the types of imagery that other people are using. If you can, use professional photography in your thumbnail and make it bright and eye-catching. Try and avoid too much text or poor quality images.
Instead, create an intriguing visual that conveys what your video is about and that will encourage users to click.
3. Add an Intriguing Title
While the thumbnail is more important than the video title on YouTube, you’ll still need to create a punchy and powerful title that intrigues your audience.
When creating a title, you’ll want to include the keyword you’ve chosen for your video, but avoid using that on its own. Try and convey what the user will get out of the video, and why they should watch it. For example, instead of simply titling your video “How to make cupcakes,” go with something like, “How to make deliciously moist vanilla cupcakes in 30 minutes.”
As I mentioned before, YouTube also uses the title to understand what the video is about, so make sure it’s longer than five words and really conveys what’s in the video.
4. Create a Detailed Description and Transcribe Your Videos
The description is an opportunity to provide plenty of detail on what your video is about. Try and include all the relevant information you can think of here: things like performer bios, links to social media sites, websites, Wikipedia pages, and anything else that will provide more context for the video.
Try and avoid overly simple, one sentence descriptions and make sure your most important link (e.g. a squeeze page) is above the fold.
If you want to be absolutely sure that your video is properly indexed, you should also provide a full transcript of the video’s audio track. YouTube’s auto-transcribe featured a good place to start but not completely reliable. If you use auto-transcribe, review the transcript manually to ensure it is free from errors and time stamped correctly. If you don’t want to transcribe the video manually, consider hiring a professional from a site like Rev.com.
5. Post Killer Content Regularly!
This may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people are still stuck in 2010 when it comes to online video content.
One common myth is that short form videos of 3 minutes or less perform better online. While short videos are good for certain types of content, YouTube wants people to stay on the site longer and watch more ads, so it often favors high-quality, longer-form content. For longer videos, just make sure you provide plenty of action and value to ensure people stay engaged.
If you already have a ton of short form content, use it to create playlists. Curating a playlist of content on a particular topic is a great way to boost your channel’s “watch time,” YouTube’s biggest ranking factor. You can even include videos from other channels in your playlists.
YouTube also loves channels that produce large amounts of content. Instead of posting the occasional video, develop an editorial calendar and post videos monthly, weekly, or even daily if you can. The more high-quality, well-optimized content you’re able to churn out, the more YouTube will love you!
For more great YouTube-related content, check out my interview with Touchstorm Senior Vice President of Search and Social, Jeff Martin, on the Marketing Speak podcast.