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YouTube SEO (Part 1): How to Get Higher Rankings
by Dr. William Sen | CEO and founder of blue media

YouTube SEO (Part 1): How to Get Higher Rankings

The Complete YouTube SEO Guideline

YouTube SEO is one of the most challenging disciplines in the SEO space, because of the constant changes in rankings, policies and of course the difficulty of the media type. In this article consisting of 4 parts, I will educate you on how to utilize SEO for YouTube in order to get ranked high, get more views and gain more subscribers.

Introduction to YouTube SEO

A couple years ago novice creators were able to upload a unique and groundbreaking video and make it viral. Some famous YouTubers started their careers that way. When Casey Neistat posted his first video on YouTube on June 7th, 2011 about his funny encounters with vehicles blocking the bicycle lane in New York, he barely had subscribers and was a regular guy with a regular job. Today, his estimated net worth is $30 million, and all thanks to this first video that paved the way for him to become one of the most known YouTubers worldwide.

The bad news is it doesn’t work like this anymore:

YouTube doesn’t allow you to get videos viral like that as the algorithm to rank a video has evolved over the past few years. Today, you might have the most revolutionary video, but don’t expect to get any attention, unless you have already a solid fan base and a high performing YouTube video channel.

It’s sad, but YouTube has stopped promoting or boosting videos that come from low performing YouTube channels.

It might be due to the fact that YouTube has already become the world’s biggest video channel and doesn’t need to attract producers and creators anymore.

The market share and the number of professional videographers have grown so enormously on YouTube that YouTube doesn’t need to advertise or be concerned about the growth of video creators.  Thus, the viral game is exclusively reserved for all the other big YouTubers out there, but not for newcomers.

Inasmuch as YouTube is a platform with limitless opportunities, it is also a crowded and a highly competitive space.

So, if you rarely post a video and expect it to go viral you will be disappointed. It doesn’t work like that.

Yes, I know, the world is unfair. Just when you were ready to become the next Casey Neistat, the rules have changed.

Good news is you can still utilize SEO to build up a great YouTube Channel and get organic traffic.

Instead of relying on YouTube’s will to promote you by luck, you have to build a strategic YouTube SEO campaign instead. That’s why YouTube SEO wasn’t a thing even a couple years ago, but today it has become the primary concept in order to get attention on YouTube.

YouTube determines if your video or channel should be ranked high based on certain algorithms. So, let’s have a look at the most important YouTube SEO KPIs that will help you to rank better:

Absolute Retention Rate

The most important KPI is the so-called Retention Rate: How much of your video is the viewer watching before they click away? The Retention Rate is a vital metric in understanding engagement.  If a only a few viewers complete watching the entire video, YouTube won’t acknowledge your video.

You can track audience Retention Rate from the Audience Retention Report on your YouTube Analytics Dashboard. To understand the Retention Rate, let’s have a look at the analytics data below of a video that is 11 minutes in length:

The graph above depicts how the video was watched, re-watched or watch terminated. In this data above, you can see that most of the views drop off during the first 15 seconds, which is quite normal. At minute 5:11 46% of the viewers were still there and stayed about until the end of the video. The average Rentention Rate for this video is 50%. This means that half of the audience watched this video until the end before they clicked away.

Believe it or not, but a Retention Rate of 50% is actually superb and a very good indicator for YouTube to give your video a much higher ranking on their result pages. Anything above 40% is excellent, while 35% is average, and everything below doesn’t have much of a chance to get higher rankings.

The conclusion is, you have to create videos that make your viewers bear with you until the end of the video. If YouTube finds out that people don’t like your videos and too many bounces off, it will rank your video down, and you won’t be found on the search result pages, therefore won’t get any views. Pay attention to points where users drop off or stop watching videos, probably it is a chance to work on it or make some significant changes for future videos.

But when you start a YouTube Channel, how can you have a Retention Rate, when nobody is watching it, yet?

We’ll come to this later in part 2 of this guideline… so keep on reading:

User Engagement Rate

Think about this metric before launching the video to achieve your marketing goals. The second most important algorithm for YouTube SEO is the User Engagement Rate.

An engagement is considered a comment and also likes or dislikes on your video. That’s why it’s so important that your video somehow motivates users to respond. That’s how YouTube also determines if people are interested in your content. 

And contrary to what people believe, dislikes are no negative indicators for YouTube. They are considered an engagement rate as much as likes.

Here are a couple tricks how to get people to leave comments, likes or dislikes:

  • Keep some room for questions, and simply asks viewers to share their opinion about your video content.
  • Try not to reveal and explain everything, and leave some room for interpretation and mystery in your video. That usually leads to more comments.
  • Engage with your users by replying to their comments. Users tend to comment more when they see that the channel owner is engaging as well.
  • Leave some information/facts that are not fully told and need more additions. Users tend to complete the information by commenting. However, do not try to fish for comments by publishing a video or topic that is too controversial. I will talk about the problem with controversial topics in YouTube SEO Part 4: The Don’ts.

Title of your Video

The title of your video has two functions. Let’s talk about the first one: keywords.

The same as Google Web Search, YouTube is all about keywords.

You might have noticed that famous YouTubers don’t care much about keyword research and SEO-related YouTube elements such as the title of their video. Titles such as “Oh my… what’s that?” can get millions of views, and from an SEO perspective you might wonder: Can this rank, if it doesn’t even have a keyword in it?

Remember, a channel with millions of subscribers has already surpassed the SEO sphere as it has YouTube’s full SEO trust already. No matter what these YouTuber’s upload, YouTube will make sure that they get views, by constantly promoting their new videos. Good for them. But that doesn’t help you if you have just started. So, unless you’re a YouTube star with one million subscribers, you’re way up is to use properly researched keywords on your video title.

When your channel is not showing high sessions yet, you can’t miss the opportunity to utilize keyword research for YouTube SEO. And it doesn’t matter how famous you are in the real world, or super performing on other social media channels already. YouTube doesn’t care about all that unless you have shown that you are worth being ranked for on their platform. Fact is, if you won’t show up in the YouTube search results, and nobody will see your video. And that’s all that it comes down to — visibility.

The second SEO power comes from user intent and motivation to watch your video. The first thing a viewer looks at is the title of the video whether from their social network pages or search engine result pages (SERP). Is your title speaking to the viewer? Viewers realize the title of the video whether from their social network pages or the SERP. A title makes a viewer compelled to watch a video. I will talk about that more in YouTube SEO (Part 2): How to Get More Views.

This is how you have to come up with a title that will get your ranked higher:

YouTube Keyword Research and Search Volume

Try to produce videos with topics that have search volume. The Google Keyword Planner (available on Google Ads) will show you how many people type in certain keywords per month on Google which includes YouTube.

Below are some tips:

High search volume keywords tend to have lots of competition. Using these won’t make you visible as your video will get lost in the shuffle. If you produce videos with low search volumes, you might not get enough attention. Make sure you use a good mixture of high, low and medium search volume keywords in your video title.

Of course, if you can find a keyword with high search volume but nobody seems to have produced a video on that topic. Well, that’s what we consider a jackpot in SEO. In YouTube SEO, the keyword in the title is critical.

It’s imperative though that your title matches with your content. As YouTube understands what’s being said in the video, your title should have words included that are being mentioned in your video. Besides, let the title standout for people to find it worth clicking. 

Frequency of Uploads

Last but not least, upload frequently. If you have just started with the growth of your channel, the first thing you want to do is to signalize YouTube that your channel is worth ranking for. This is called the YouTube SEO Trust. Once established, you can go easy on the frequency and upload videos at a smaller pace. But until then, a frequent publication process is due.

In order to get YouTube’s attention, be ready to make a commitment to publishing at least 2 videos per month. Pre-production is always a good idea. Don’t publish all videos at once. Try to understand that you have not gained YouTube trust, yet. YouTube will slowly rank some of your videos. When this happens, your videos should cause a high Retention Rate as described above.

It’s the moment, where you suddenly get more views and wonder this is really happening after so many months of hard work. This is where you know that you have gained a higher YouTube SEO Trust.

The YouTube SEO Trust is an algorithm that determines your channel’s rank. But you won’t see it anywhere as YouTube keeps that score confidential and doesn’t even talk about it. When your channel rank increases, it’s because YouTube has acknowledged you as a real YouTuber. As a result, YouTube will rank your videos higher in the search results and even promote them to users by displaying them as suggested videos.

If by then viewers don’t stay on your videos and bounce off, you might lose your channel rank again. That’s why it’s imperative that you start uploading high-quality videos from the day you begin — although they have almost no views.

Not So Important KPIs

  • Tags
    YouTube stopped giving this feature much attention since its algorithms now are able to determine the topic by automatically text mining the video itself and user comments. It never hurts to provide appropriate tags, but don’t expect wonders.
  • Description
    Very similar to tags, YouTube doesn’t care as much what’s in your description anymore in 2022. As YouTube is not a blog, your verbiage and efforts utilizing high search volume keywords in your description won’t help much to rank your video. But the description part has another important aspect which I will mention in YouTube SEO (Part 2): How to Get More Views.
  • Subscriptions
    The number of subscribers is not a ranking factor for YouTube. But I will tell you in YouTube SEO Part 2, why the number of subscribers will help you to get a faster channel growth.

User Intent / User Expectation

We have only talked about how to support the YouTube algorithm to get higher ranks. But the same amount of importance goes for user expectation and user intent (UX/UI).

As I said, YouTube will start promoting and ranking your videos after a couple months, when you follow these guidelines. But, still, the user has to click on the video. And if they don’t, YouTube might stop with their promotions and you will end up having no views and no YouTube Trust.

That’s why it’s extremely important to get the attention of users and motivate them to click on your video. In YouTube SEO (Part 2): How to Get More Views, I will talk about the things your YouTube Videos and channel needs in order to get views, such as setting up the right Thumbnail, Title, Description, and many more.

Read more about YouTube SEO and how to get more views in YouTube SEO (Part 2): How to Get More Views.

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CATEGORIES Search Engine Optimization Social Media Marketing
About the Author
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Dr. William Sen CEO and founder of blue media

William Sen has been an SEO since 2001 and is a Software Engineer since 1996, and has been working as an Associate Professor in Germany for the University of Dusseldorf and Cologne. He has been involved in developing custom SEO tools, large website and software projects. William has a PhD in Information Sciences and has worked for brands such as Expedia, Pricewaterhouse Coopers, Bayer, Ford, T-Mobile and many more. He is the founder of blue media.

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