YouTube SEO: The Ultimate Guideline
How to Be Successful With YouTube in 2023
YouTube SEO is one of the most challenging disciplines in the SEO space, due to the constant changes in rankings, policies, and the difficulty of the media type.
In this guide, I will provide you with strategies on how to use SEO for YouTube to achieve high rankings, increase views, and gain more subscribers.
Introduction to YouTube SEO
A few years ago, novice creators could upload a unique and groundbreaking video and make it go viral. Some famous YouTubers started their careers this 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 had barely any subscribers.
Today, his estimated net worth is $30 million, and it’s all thanks to this first video that paved the way for him to become one of the most well-known YouTubers worldwide.
The truth is, in 2023, it’s not that easy anymore to make a video go viral on YouTube. The video ranking algorithm has evolved in recent years, and even if you have a groundbreaking video, it’s unlikely to get any attention unless you already have a solid fan base and a high-performing YouTube channel.
YouTube has become the world’s largest video streaming platform, and the number of professional videographers on the platform has grown enormously. As a result, YouTube no longer needs to actively attract producers and creators. Although YouTube offers endless opportunities, it is also a crowded and highly competitive space.
If you expect to post a video occasionally and for it to go viral, you will be disappointed. It simply doesn’t work that way.
But don’t despair! The good news is that you can still use SEO to build a great YouTube channel and attract organic traffic.
Instead of relying on luck or YouTube’s promotion, you need to build a strategic YouTube SEO campaign. This is why YouTube SEO was not a significant factor a couple of years ago, but now it has become the primary concept to get noticed on YouTube.
YouTube determines whether your video or channel should rank high based on certain algorithms. Let’s take a closer look at the most important YouTube SEO KPIs that will help you rank better:
Absolute Retention Rate
The most important KPI is the Retention Rate. This metric measures how much of your video the viewer watches before clicking away. Retention Rate is a vital metric for engagement. If 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 better understand Retention Rate, let’s look at the analytics data below for an 11-minute video:
The graph above illustrates how the video was watched, re-watched or terminated.
Looking at the 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 watching and stayed until the end of the video. The average Retention Rate for this video is 50%. This means that half of the audience watched the video until the end.
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 much attention on YouTube.
The conclusion is that you have to create videos that make your viewers stay with you until the end of the video. If YouTube finds out that people don’t like your videos and too many people click away, it will rank your video down, and you won’t be found on the search result pages, which means you won’t get any views. Pay attention to the points where users drop off or stop watching videos. This is probably an opportunity to work on those areas 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 this guideline, so keep on reading.
User Engagement Rate
Consider this metric before launching your video to achieve your marketing goals: the User Engagement Rate. It is the second most important algorithm for YouTube SEO.
User engagement includes comments, likes, and dislikes on your video. That’s why it’s crucial to create content that motivates users to respond, as it shows YouTube that people are interested in your content.
Here are some tips to increase user engagement:
- Leave some room for questions and ask viewers to share their opinion about your video content.
- Don’t reveal and explain everything, leave some space for interpretation and mystery. This 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. A good method is to respond to what YouTube shows as top comments on your videos, because that’s what users see first.
- Leave some information or facts that are not fully explained and require more additions. Users tend to complete the information by commenting. However, don’t try to fish for comments by publishing a controversial video or topic. I will talk about the problem with controversial topics in this guideline as well.
Title of your Video
The title of your video serves two main functions. First, it needs to grab the viewer’s attention. Just like with Google web search, on YouTube, the primary goal is to capture the user’s interest.
You may have noticed that famous YouTubers don’t pay much attention to keyword research or SEO-related elements in their video titles. Titles like “Oh my… what’s that?” can still generate millions of views, and you may wonder if such a title can even rank without a relevant keyword.
However, channels with millions of subscribers have already surpassed the SEO sphere as they have YouTube’s full SEO trust. Regardless of what these YouTubers upload, YouTube will promote their new videos to ensure they get views. Good for them.
But if you’ve just started, you won’t have the same luxury. Unless you’re a YouTube superstar with a million subscribers, your best bet is to use keywords that will appeal to a newer audience who doesn’t know you or your channel yet.
If your channel is not getting high sessions yet, it’s important to conduct research to find the best title for your YouTube channel that will grab attention.
It doesn’t matter how famous you are in the real world or how well you’re performing on other social media channels. YouTube doesn’t care about any of that unless you’ve proven that you’re worth ranking on their platform. The fact is, if you don’t show up in the YouTube search results, nobody will see your video. And it all comes down to visibility.
The second SEO power of your video title comes from user intent and motivation to watch your video. The first thing a viewer sees is the title, whether it’s on their social network pages or search engine result pages (SERP). Does your title speak to the viewer? A title that compels the viewer to watch the video is crucial. We’ll talk about that in more detail in this guideline.
To come up with a title that will get your video ranked higher, here’s what you need to do:
YouTube Title Research
When it comes to producing videos for YouTube, choose topics that have a certain level of interest to your intended audience. Using AI to generate suggestions for attention-grabbing titles can be a smart move.
The Google Keyword Planner, available through Google Ads, can provide valuable insight into how many people search for particular keywords on Google, including YouTube. This information can be especially helpful when searching for interesting topics to produce videos on.
To make the most of your keyword research, it’s important to strike a balance between high and low search volume keywords. While high search volume keywords may seem like the obvious choice, they often have a lot of competition and can get lost in the crowd. On the other hand, low search volume keywords may not attract enough attention. Using a mixture of high, low, and medium search volume keywords in your video title can help improve your chances of being discovered.
Above all, make sure your title matches your video’s content. Since YouTube understands the content of your video, your title should include keywords that are mentioned in the video. This will not only improve your video’s SEO, but it will also help potential viewers quickly determine if your video is relevant to their interests.
Also, a unique and eye-catching title can help your video stand out among the competition.Try to produce videos with topics that have some kind of interest. It’s also vise to utilizie AI to come up with some suggestions how your YouTube title could drive attention.
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 1 videos per week. You can also create Shorts which can help you to get clicks faster.
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
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. The YouTuber community however assumes that the YouTube Algorithm would raise a red flag if you use tags that are against google policies. Use tags wisely, and don’t spend too much time on them, either.
Very similar to tags, YouTube doesn’t care as much what’s in your description anymore in 2023. 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. The description is a good place to have additional informationa bout your video, such as links to your blogs, and other videos.
The number of subscribers is not a ranking factor for YouTube.. However, the number of subscribers can help you to get a faster channel growth. I will talk about that a little further down.
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, a 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.
How to Get More Views on YouTube
I just talked about the technical aspects of YouTube SEO . But getting high rankings do not guarantee views! A successful YouTube SEO as described above will ensure that your video is being displayed high on the result pages of YouTube. However, the next step is as important as the first one: how to make users click on your video?
If they don’t YouTube will stop promoting and ranking your video, and all your efforts will be lost.
It’s imperative that you create high-quality videos from day one that can drive engagement. A high-quality video needs time and resources. Not only does it bring traffic but conversions. If you have just started you might ask yourself, why you’re putting all these efforts into your videos as you won’t get many clicks in the first months, anyway. The reason is: once you get ranked high, the videos have to perform well. Basically, you’re waiting for that special day to come where you can prove to YouTube that your video are worth watching from a user’s perspective.
Create high-quality videos right from the start and never stop doing it. In other words, it requires time and effort to reap. It will pay out later.
Choose a Great Thumbnail for your YouTube Video
Your thumbnail is the most important factor when it comes to arousing interest. Always imagine your thumbnail among other videos. Would you have clicked on it?
There is no trend that will show if less text inside the thumbnail will bring more or less success. This is completely dependent on your topic and channel.
You should also consider using one distinctive and expressive illustration that resemblances your topic like chalk and cheese. Do not allow the automated system of YouTube to choose your thumbnail. Most successful YouTubers spend a lot of time on the thumbnail.
A thumbnail needs work. Usually, it’s being edited in Photoshop. And it’s hard, too. If your topic is about fast cars, it’s an easy task. But when your topic is about regret — what would you choose? Here is a trick: look for similar videos, and get inspired!
Title of Your YouTube Video
The most important factor for the YouTube tite is the attention factor. Choose a title that will arouse the interest of the user the moment they see it. Make it so interesting that they can’t resist clicking.
Here are some tips how to create the best YouTube titles:
Don’t try to explain the topic as if this were a school essay. Make it a mystery. For example, if your video is about “how to flip houses”, don’t call your video “How to flip houses“.
Instead, think of titles like “flipped my house, and this GUY happened!“, “Flipped my house, where is my money?“, “How to flip my house, and lose everything!“.
Also, you might want to think about these titles before producing so you can, in fact, make these kinds of interesting happenings or anecdotes a part of your video. Make sure that the promise will also be fulfilled in the video!
You believe or not, YouTube is one of the rare occasions where clickbait is encouraged! Read more about successful clickbait campaigns and YouTube in my article: Clickbaits: Pathway to Success?
Importance of the YouTube Description
Take advantage of the description that will help a user decide whether to view it or not. The first sentence of your description will be shown to your users. Some YouTubers tend to post links in there — don’t do that as it doesn’t say anything about your video. Actually, the link can lower your click-through rate (CTR). Use that first sentence to describe your video. If you are an SEO you might understand that the first paragraph of the description is almost the same as the Meta Desc for your video.
It’s okay to add links and everything else in the description more below, but don’t make it the first sentence.
End Screen & Annotations
This is a useful YouTube resource to help you drive traffic. Now that somebody is watching your video, what are you going to do with that user after he/she watched your video? Are you ready to lose that user or do you want that user to watch more of your videos? Needless to say, you have to drive engagement to make people to watch more of your videos.
Using the End Screen & Annotation feature, you can prompt “subscribe” or just encourage users to see more of your content. Don’t miss the opportunity to promote at least one videos of yours, available on the last 20 seconds of your video.
Design and cut your video always the way that it will allow you to place these end annotations appropriately to avoid obstructing the content.
Also, don’t cover important footages using end annotations. That’s not only going to annoy the user, YouTube has already started to remove annotations automatically that cover important parts of your video. And it’s never a good sign for YouTube if it has to take measures into its own hands — we call this “negative actions” in the SEO world. Negative actions tend to rank down your content and decrease your channel rank. That’s why it’s important to consider and plan end annotations when creating the video.
As shown above, the video on the right has already accounted for the placement of end annotations, while the left video… well, you can see for yourself what happened here.
It is also a common technique just to give your audience only one video annotation to click on. That sometimes help to let them focus on one click instead of overwhelming them with 3 or more choices.
When your video is being shown on the YouTube result pages, the users will see 3 things — and in that order:
Because the thumbnail is where the eye goes first. Secondly, users will read the title and finally, the small description underneath.
You still might think — gosh, how long before I can benefit from all this and get views and subscribers? Well, they are a couple tricks how to fast forward your efforts. I have revealed some of the most secret YouTube growth tricks below.
How to Grow My Channel Faster?
As I mentioned, the number of subscribers is not an indicator for YouTube to rank you higher or provide more views. However, there is a concept and relation between subscribers and views. I have also mentioned: the higher your Retention Rate, comments, likes and dislikes, the higher your video be ranked. Above all it means one thing: you need viewers first.
Here is the trick:
If you have a good number of subscribers, they will usually watch your new uploaded video immediately as they will be notified, and also get your video displayed on their YouTube accounts. That means your video will get views once it has been uploaded immediately.
If you have a good fan base, consider that around 5-30% will watch your videos within the next 3 days.
This will be enough for YouTube to collect data and determine the Retention Rate of your video I talked about already.
And that’s why subscribers are so important: they provide analytics data for YouTube to rank you accordingly.
But how you get subscribers, then?
Subscribers will subscribe to your channel when they like your video channel. The most important thing, therefore, is to get more views first, so let’s talk about that:
How to Get More Views
Now that you know that the ranking game will start once you get views, here is a trick how to actually get people to watch your video:
- Facebook Ads
Promote your video through Facebook Ads. That will include some budget spent, but will give your YouTube Channel a nice kickstart, especially if you have just started.
- Facebook Posts
It doesn’t have to be paid media. If you have a solid fan base on Facebook, start posting your videos on Facebook. But don’t upload your video on Facebook as this won’t drive any traffic to your YouTube channel, but to your Facebook channel instead.
- Google Ads
Google Ads is much more expensive and harder to manage than Facebook Ads. But it is a great tool to drive traffic to your videos.
- Social Media Channels overall
Are you engaged in social media overall? Do you have a blog, are you actively writing in forums, and many more channels? Spread the message — place your video among the people who know you, like you, and are interested what kind of videos you have to offer. Instagram is also very recommended.
While you’re eager to get more and more views, some tend to exaggerate. But be careful. Some of the ways to drive traffic to your channel will also bring your channel down. You can end up facing the closure of your channel if you do a couple things YouTube doesn’t like at all. That’s why this next part below, I will educate you about the things you should avoid at all times.
Never Do This on YouTube
According to YouTube’s guidelines, Google doesn’t like controversy. Not long ago, YouTube would even call it by the name and talk about “controversial topics”, and stop supporting such content. That led to a huge discussion within the community and hit the news with another controversial topic about YouTube’s standpoint on freedom of speech and censorship. Until today YouTube has refused any comments on that matter, but simply relabeled their policy to “advertiser-friendly content” which made it even more devious.
Most YouTuber’s are not sure about what that means and what YouTube actually is trying enforce . Some know but leave it at that as they don’t want to lose their channel’s trust and fall into YouTube’s disfavor.
What we know: YouTube uses automatic topic detection algorithms and performs speech recognition, and image mining to understand what your video is about. The algorithm is very flawed, and many videos are being discredited which have no controversy at all. Videos talking about home renovation and mentioning “Nailgun” are being discredited,because they are assumably encouraging violence. Videos are being ranked down that mention the life of Donald Duck, where the YouTube algorithm thinks it’s a controversial topic about Donald Trump.
Long story short, YouTube is all about entertainment. Frankly, political controversy no matter which direction and topic, can rank down your video and even your whole channel. So, if you know the truth about who controls the world, you better keep it to yourself and create videos about chocolate cookie recipes instead.
On your journey, you will encounter some tools that will promise you channel growth. If you hear anything about tools that automatically subscribe, comment or whatsoever — run away from it! Any automatic engagement or whatnot is against YouTube guidelines and will be considered spam.
It’s most likely that YouTube won’t even warn you. In the past, YouTube’s philosophy was always to avoid transparency about their negative measures towards your channel or videos. This method is known as Ghost Banning. It’s when YouTube has not banned you officially, but has given you zero visibility, instead.
Imagine what it would be like when your YouTube account, email, Adsense, and Google Ads is nuked because you used a bot to get likes, earnings or views. You want to avoid being banned or ghost banned altogether. Google may feel like you are gaming their system.
Always build the channel naturally, it pays in the long run.
You will see a huge drop of views on your channel if you act against Google’s guidelines. And videos and even your whole channel may even completely disappear from the result pages. Only when it’s too late already, you will know that YouTube has excluded you from their realm without warning. In the SEO world, this is called “getting hit”. You don’t want to “get hit” by YouTube or Google.
Here is a good video that explains it pretty well:
Sadly, almost all positive reviews about YouTube Automation tools are biased. It’s because almost all these tools offer so-called affiliate deals when people advertise for them. That means, these scammers give their promoters an individual link, so they can share it with the community. When people click on that link and buy the product on that page, these affiliates pay their promoter up to 50% of the revenue generated. You will find hundreds of posts and assumable honest reviews how great these YouTube Automation tools are. Don’t fall for it!
Other tools will proimise you a better insight into analytics, will provide better dashboards and visibility on what is going on with your YouTube Channel. Such tools are good to go as long as they do not try to manipulate the Google Algorithm.
Advertising on Other Channels
So, you want to accelerate viewership, eh? Why not just post your video’s URLs to the comment section of a bunch of other videos? Bad idea: it’s called Spam Commenting.
If you have really something to say and your link is genuine, and you do it once a while — fine! But if you start to post and advertise your video URL consequently to other channels, YouTube will classify you as a spammer. And again — you won’t get noticed or warned as usual and simple be Ghost Banned. From your standpoint, it will look like everything is going well. While on the other end, your comments will be under the “Likely Spam” folder of the YouTube creators like this:
As you can see above from this real case example, these people think they’re successfully advertising their videos. Without them knowing, however, YouTube has already flagged them as spam commenters. Once you’re flagged as a spammer, no matter what you write… your comments will land on everybody else’s “Likely Spam” folder.
If you’re already thinking how to create more accounts and try to outsmart YouTube, let me tell you this: Google has been facing spammers for decades who constantly try to outsmart them. No matter how many disguising techniques you might think of, Google knows them all. It won’t work.
When you say things line “check out my channel” in the comments section it sounds like spam. Use natural methods to let people know about your channel. Don’t force it.
Don’t buy clicks or subscrbubers … ever! Not from eBay, not from Fiverr, not from anywhere! As much as getting organic hard, creating artificial clicks will jeopardize your channel. Also, click generators don’t create Retention Rates and Watch Time.
For YouTube, it will look like people have watched 1 second of your video and bounced off. That data will downrank your video immediately . This would be considered negative YouTube SEO. Besides, YouTube has measures to identify automatic click generators. This trick worked more than 15 years ago — automatic click generating times are long over. These are not the 90s anymore, remember: It’s the time of AI Analytics. Google has become smart.
Let’s talk about the things you might have heard, because everybody talks about it. But it’s hoax. That’s why in my next article I’m talking about the Top YouTube SEO Myths.