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YouTube SEO: The Ultimate Guideline
by Dr. William Sen | CEO and founder of blue media

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, because of the constant changes in rankings, policies and of course the difficulty of the media type.

In this guideline, 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.

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 in 2023.

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 might be due to the fact that YouTube has already become the world’s biggest video streaming platform and doesn’t need to desperately attract producers and creators, anymore. There are already here and everyone is trying.

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.  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, pewdiepie or Mr. Beast, 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.

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, 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 bounce 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 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.

Here are a couple tricks how to get people to leave comments and likes:

  • 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. A good method is to have a responded to what YouTube shows as top coomments.
  • 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 this guideline as well.

Title of your Video

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

The same as Google Web Search, YouTube is all about getting the attention of the user.

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?

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 rockstar with one million subscribers, you’re way up is to use keywoards that will speak to a newer audience that do not known you nor your channel.

When your channel is not showing high sessions yet, you can’t miss the opportunity to conduct research what might be the best title for your YouTube channel that drives attention.

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? A title makes a viewer compelled to watch a video. I will talk about that more in this guideline.

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

YouTube Title Research 

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.

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. This also can give you a hint how much interest there is for certain topics if you are in the phase of searching for interesting topics for a video that you have not produced, yet.

Below are some tips when performing keyword research:

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. Also remember: You will get the most views from YouTube suggestions and not from keywords you have researched. Keyword research will only help you to understand of certain topics are trending.

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 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

  • 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. 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.
  • Description
    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.
  • Subscriptions
    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.

High-Quality Videos

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.

YouTube Description Example

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.

YouTube End Annotations

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:

  1. Thumbnail
  2. Title
  3. Description

Because the thumbnail is where the eye goes first. Secondly, users will read the title and finally, the small description underneath.

The Tricks

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

Controversial Topics

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.

YouTube Automation

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:

YouTube Spam Commenting

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.

Click Generators

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.

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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