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Written by Luke Ferris | April 5, 2023
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YouTube is a search engine, plain and simple.
Yes, it can provide hours of entertainment, information, and art, but YouTube is designed by the same kings of search that own it–Google. That’s why you need YouTube SEO frameworks to make a video that’s worth a watch.
Uploading a video to your channel and crossing your fingers that somebody will see it is like shooting a half-court shot blindfolded. Instead of a guaranteed miss, why not learn the fundamentals so you can score with an easy layup?
We talked with YouTube expert and video strategist Justin Brown and Aaron Marino, creator of the alpha m. channel with over 6M subscribers, about the standards of effective YouTube SEO.
Stop recording. Why are you making a video for YouTube? Who’s your audience? And what are they searching for?
The foundational elements of YouTube SEO begin with the understanding that people use YouTube to solve problems, answer questions, and discover solutions. These can be as time-sensitive as “how to fix a leaky pipe” or as pointless as “why does Tom Cruise run in movies?” Either way, people are using YouTube to discover.
It’s what Brown calls the 2 a.m. problem. What are people searching for on YouTube in the middle of the night?
“What are they searching for? Not what I think they need or what I know they need […] Where are they actually stuck?”
Then, you need to understand how your video shows up to help them. For example, a search term might inform you if the person is a beginner or expert, a casual fan or diehard, so you can start outlining what the video content looks like. You can find these 2 a.m. problems by doing keyword research. Plenty of tools like Semrush or Google Trends aggregate the volume of search terms across Alphabet Inc.’s platforms.
But there’s even a simpler way–use the YouTube search bar.
You can find what people are searching for and see what types of videos rank for that search term. Then, you can replicate (not plagiarize) what those high-ranking YouTube videos are doing, so you’re not reinventing the wheel, just optimizing what’s already working.
“If you’ve got something to say, just say it in your voice,” Marino says. “You don’t necessarily need to copy what they say, but look at them, look at their most popular videos, and then do your version of that topic and see what happens.”
An advanced tool to use for this type of research is Keywords Everywhere, which is a plugin to measure the competitiveness and volume of queries within the YouTube search bar,
Alright, now that you understand why you’re making a YouTube video, it’s time for the Xs and Os of YouTube SEO.
Don’t Skip: How to Grow Your YouTube Channel
The title and topic of your video relate to the research you’ve already done before making the video. You’ll need to reverse engineer what people are searching for with the solution in your title. Brown provides a search term from his channel Primal Video (1.7M subscribers).
Search Term: “color grading tutorial”
YouTube Video Title: How to Fix the Color Grading in My Video
See how Brown’s title goes beyond replicating the search term. It instead explains the outcome the viewer will get from watching the video.
Before the title, your thumbnail will be the first thing viewers see when searching for a video on YouTube. Brown says,
“People judge a book by its cover [and will judge your] YouTube video by its cover.”
Thumbnails are all about first impressions. It can make or break whether someone watches your video or keeps scrolling.
“It’s all about grabbing attention,” Marino says. “You’re competing with all of these eyeballs for that watch time.”
To capture these eyeballs, your thumbnail needs to include these things:
Thumbnail tactics are constantly evolving. Brown says that testing out different thumbnail ideas will help you understand what’s working and what’s not, even if it means taking a photo of yourself pointing, smiling, or making a face like an animated cartoon.
“As humans, we like to see other humans,” Brown says. “I’d much rather have people see our videos and be feeling like an idiot.”
Pro Tip: For advanced thumbnail tactics, use Tube Buddy for A/B testing.
Tagging your videos will help boost your channel’s YouTube SEO by helping the platform learn what content categories you specialize in. Incorporate a mixture of general and niche tags for a logical description of your ideal viewer.
Using Brown’s color grading example, here’s how you could tag the video:
Video Title: How to Fix the Color Grading in My Video
Tags: video editing, video production, color grading, video color grading, color grading hacks
You can make a video with an engaging thumbnail, optimized title, and appropriate tagging, but the most important part of YouTube SEO is making a video that people watch.
The fastest way to deteriorate your ranking on YouTube is to trick your audience into watching and not answering their problem. That’s because YouTube’s algorithm rewards watch and rewatching time.
“If you get very high click-throughs but then [the audience] tunes out real quick and they leave, that is telling the YouTube algorithm, ‘OK, this is not something that is really interesting or engaging.’” Marino says. “Once you have them in a substantial watch time, how long can you keep them? Because that is ultimately going to tell YouTube that the video that they are recommending is relevant to the searches.”
So, here’s how you can make sure your content connects:
A more advanced YouTube SEO strategy is to create updated and relevant content. Depending on your channel’s niche, this could be updating a topic every year or making sure you discuss a subject with a new angle.
“If you’re watching content and it’s all outdated, at some point YouTube’s gonna be like, ‘“Hey, people are clicking off this because it’s old,’” Brown says. “So there’s a massive opportunity for brand new content to show up and to take [over] older content on the platform.”
Pro Tip: Returning to the research step of YouTube SEO, updating a topic is an easy way to start competing with the highest-rank videos in your niche.
Keep Learning: How to Get More Views on YouTube
Brown and Marino emphasize that if you want your YouTube videos to rank, you need to always be testing. What works today on YouTube might be irrelevant tomorrow. So, make sure you’re constantly researching what’s working for YouTube SEO success.
All it takes is typing in the search bar.
Are you ready for more advanced strategies for using YouTube to grow your business? Then, check out our free YouTube ads training and use a tried and tested advertising strategy to gain brand awareness and new customers.
About Luke Ferris
Luke Ferris is the contributing editor at foundr and writes entrepreneur features for the magazine and website. He has been writing, editing, and curating stories covering entrepreneurship and small business for a decade. He is a graduate of Michigan State University's journalism school. When he's not writing, he's podcasting, discussing cinema over coffee, watching Tottenham Hotspur FC, or reading a book at the beach.
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