YouTube is the second largest search engine with 4.95 billion videos viewed per day, 1.325 billion users, and 3.25 billion hours of video watched per month. This mass appeal creates ample opportunity for large and small businesses alike to share knowledge and draw in potential customers.

Users are searching YouTube to fulfill a range of needs from educational (How To’s) to emotional (funny cat videos). Ranking on YouTube uses the same methods regardless of video content, just like Google ranks websites regardless of theirs. So, before you promote your videos, ensure they are optimized for SEO and the best user experience.

How Does YouTube Rank Videos?

Ranking on YouTube uses complicated algorithms much like Google. Marketing professionals have uncovered positive correlations between videos with good content and good user metrics and their high ranking in YouTube.


When we refer to content on YouTube, it includes more than just your video. Content also refers to the ability to write unique Titles, Descriptions, and Annotations for each video that’s posted.

Ensuring you have all these elements will enhance your chances of ranking higher when someone searches a phrase that’s related to your video. Similar to doing onpage SEO for websites, you also need to do onpage SEO for your YouTube video, starting with the Title.

1. Title

The title of your YouTube video should be long enough that you can comfortably inject keywords without stuffing. A good rule of thumb to live by for title length is five words.

If you need inspiration for your main keywords, search potential phrases users might use to find your video. Then, see how many video results show up. Do these results mirror the content of your video? Are they what you want to rank for?

Next, use Google’s Keyword Planner to see if these are viable keywords. The higher the keyword volume and search results, the harder ranking will be. Remember, good keywords don’t need to have +1,000 volume. It’s more important that they are valuable to your service or product.

Pro Tip: Place keywords towards the beginning to capture users’ attention quickly.

This user placed their keyword “Magento Tutorial” in the beginning and descriptors towards the end.

2. Description

Don’t neglect video descriptions. It’s the only opportunity to write expansive, crawlable text. Give users and crawlers a 200-500 word description with straightforward information about the video.

Keep in mind that YouTube only shows the first ~157 characters in results tab, before the “Show More” button. So, use your keywords in the beginning of your description and reinforce the video’s theme so users know they’ve chosen a video that matches their query.

This is also an opportunity to include external links that are relevant to your video. For example, if you have a landing page with a conversion path, add the link in the beginning of your content and utilize your CTAs. What do you want a user to do after they watch the video? Get free download or subscribe to a newsletter? Whichever action you want them to take, guide them there with links.

This user took advantage of external links, but could benefit from a more elaborate description.

3. Annotations/Cards

Annotations are text and links in different formats that show up while your video is playing. Cards are the same thing, but in a card format with title, description, and white background. Use your annotations to bring attention to different CTAs, but don’t distract from the video.

Do’s and Don’ts of Annotations
  • Do use muted colors as to not distract from the video.
  • Do consider where in the video you place annotations. Letting the user watch the entire video before asking them to subscribe with an annotation is better than sticking your annotation halfway through when they haven’t had a change to take in all the content.
  • Don’t make the duration too long. 5 seconds should do it.
  • Don’t cover parts of your video. The best spots for annotations are in the top left and right corners.
  • Don’t place too many annotations in one video.

Pro Tip: Annotations won’t show up on mobile, only desktop. Cards work on mobile and desktop.

Annotations give users creative freedom to transform videos into Choose Your Own Adventure games, video games, and more. Once you get a hang of them, get creative with your Annotations.

As an example, the Sesame Street video below uses Annotations to create clickable graphics that lead to different videos. They are teaching kids which items float or sink so children can click on each picture, then be directed to a video of said item either sinking or floating, turning their video into an interactive game.

All of these boxes are clickable links that lead to different videos.

User Metrics

User Metrics are YouTube’s second ranking metric. While user metrics aren’t directly in your control, you can practice good social sharing and community involvement to boost your ranking potential.

1. Watch Time

This is one the most important user metrics in YouTube. Before YouTube was advanced, it would count viewing sessions as high user engagement. Now, not only do users have to click through to your videos, they have to watch it for a significant amount of time.

Tips for Increasing Watch Time
Analyze Your Data & Take Advantage of Annotations

Navigate to YouTube Analytics (under Creator Studio in your profile) to see the average length of time watched and where users dropped off. Integrate annotations at that point to see if you can guide users to another video. Or tease them with what they would miss if they dropped off. If this video is your most popular, guide them to a similar video since it’s clear users enjoy this content.

Use this dropping off point as leverage for your next video creation. When you make new content, try to vary your videos so you keep the users attention. Based on your video content, try to understand what made users drop off at that point and tweak it for future content.

Video Length

Videos around 5 minutes in length tend to perform better in search, so the longer the video the better. Keep in mind that you do risk sacrificing watch time with an incredibly long video.

If you find your video length is stymying watch time, break it up into sections and use annotations to guide users to part 2, 3, etc., combating users abandoning the video.

2. Engagement

User engagement includes actions users can take on your video like: comments, subscriptions, likes/dislikes. These should happen organically in response to users enjoying your content, but you can help the process along by utilizing social and YouTube’s own community.

Tips to Increase YouTube Engagement
Create Your Own Transcriptions

It’s vital for videos to have transcriptions because crawlers cannot understand video content. YouTube transcribes your video automatically, but these transcriptions are very hit or miss. It’s better to upload your own transcriptions.

The benefits: users who don’t speak English or are hearing impaired can watch your video, YouTube displays CC on your videos, and you can re-purpose your transcripts for website content. Transcriptions are essential for accessibility for both crawlers and users.

Promote Your Video

Write a blog about your video content and embed your YouTube video on your blog. Use transcriptions as the content of your blog so Google can crawl your page and understand what your video is about. Be sure to promote your blog and video to social media where videos have high engagement.

Get involved with Quora or other forums and post your video in response to users’ questions (make sure your video is on topic and answers users’ inquiries). Another easy promo tactic is adding your video to your email signature.

Actively Participate in the YouTube Community

Follow users who are influencers in your niche. Comment and subscribe, integrating yourself into groups of people who would enjoy your videos. Some marketers also believe involvement in the YouTube community enhances your channel authority. To expose your brand and strengthen your channel authority, get involved.

Create Custom Thumbnails

Your video thumbnail is the graphic promoting your video so make sure it’s as good as it can be. You can choose a certain part of your video as the thumbnail or create a custom graphic and upload it (if your channel is verified). I suggest creating a custom graphic with strong visuals and a clear picture. Follow YouTube’s best practices for custom thumbnails:

  • Have a resolution of 1280×720 (with minimum width of 640 pixels).
  • Upload in image formats such as .JPG, .GIF, .BMP, or .PNG.
  • Remain under the 2MB limit.
  • Try to use a 16:9 aspect ratio, as it’s the most used in YouTube players and previews.

YouTube is a vast wealth of information and engagement that can help all sorts of brands, small or large. But it can also be a large undertaking, if you need help contact us. We <3 YouTube!

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