The Beginner’s Guide to Ranking Videos on YouTube

August 27 8 COMMENTS

Allow me to unveil a subtle, but potentially hidden truth of the internet…

YouTube is massive (even more so than you thought).

It’s the second largest search engine on the internet… larger than Yahoo, Bing, and Ask combined, and the site gets 300 hours of video uploaded every minute. Three, hundred, HOURS.


At that rate, about 157 million hours (or eighteen thousand years) of video are added to YouTube in a year. By the time you finish reading this post, there could be over a thousand new hours of video uploaded.

However, Youtube’s impact is not only through its sheer immensity, but coupled with the fact that it’s changed the way we think. Ever since it rose to becoming the most prominent video-sharing website in the world, we don’t use libraries in the same way we used to. We don’t ask for help the way we were taught in school, and the process of learning new skills has fundamentally changed.

The simple fact remains that, if you want to learn how to do something new or follow any type of guidelines, Youtube has become the most desirable location on the internet to gain visual and detailed demonstrations.

So what does that mean for SEO?

Looking down into this landscape of video, the opportunity advantage for a business is undeniable when you see how optimizing the distribution channels within Youtube can create an opportunity to control and manage the world’s information.

Getting your videos through the mountains of YouTube data in order to bring in quantifiable results can definitely be a cost effective investment in the long run. That’s why SEO’s get hired, to find a path for your content to rank, and, eventually bring in financial returns.

At this point, we know the sheer immensity of content contained by YouTube. However, if we consider that in 2011 it was reported that 99% of views on the site came from only 30% of its videos, it becomes clear that there’s plenty of room for optimization.

The beautiful truth of YouTube is that it’s overflowing with such videos as Justin Bieber getting shot on repeat and Gandalf bobbing his head to saxophone that last for hours and have millions of views. They provide a laugh for the first minute, but in the end, people will want more out of YouTube.


People want to learn to play the piano, how to skateboard, and do their yoga on YouTube. They want to learn valuable skills that can help them with their jobs. What they want is evergreen content.

It’s Gotta Be Evergreen

Evergreen content can be anything from how-to’s, to tutorials, to product reviews and instructional videos. Basically, content that will stay relevant over time because it provides information that people will want.

On Google, you’ll find sources like AnswersWikipedia, or Quora that host your evergreen content. These sites provide helpful information in lists, instructions, or written answers for popular queries. On YouTube, examples of evergreen content could be video instructions teaching you how to tie a tie, or fix a leaky faucet.

The difference?

While Google and other traditional search engine sites are where people will go to seek written instructions or answers to their problems, YouTube is where they’ll search for visual demonstrations of the help they seek.

Demonstrations are more engaging than instructions written in text and they incorporate a whole new audience of people who are visual learners. Considering the fact that there’s a massive subsection of people who are “visual learners,” it is no surprise how many searches are happening on YouTube every month (roughly three billion).

Both traditional search engines and YouTube are providing valuable evergreen content that people want, but the methods of delivery are so vastly different that, to ignore those differences would be equivalent to ignoring a whole segment of the marketplace. Why limit the range of your message when there are clear paths to expanding your reach?

Evergreen content will always be relevant

Evergreen content will always be relevant

There is an incredible opportunity for YouTube to be a consistent source of accessible knowledge with well-informed and useful evergreen content. However, it’s up to the SEO industry to be inventive and organized in their approach in order to set the standard and make this information as accessible as possible for the people searching on YouTube.

Video SEO Basics

First, let’s establish the very general idea of SEO. The main goal is to rank your video or website on the first page of whatever search engine the user is utilizing, and upon completion of that goal, ranking in the top group of that first page for the primary keywords associated with your site (or video).

cat and computer

Anyone can learn the basics

When we look specifically at Youtube, we can more accurately define the methods and processes to accomplish our primary goal for ranking videos. In order to do this, we have to find keywords and terms that will pull up YouTube video results not only while searching on YouTube, but also while searching on Google and other traditional search engines.

Remember, Google is pretty smart. At this point, it knows to list video content for video-focused queries.

If Google thinks you’re searching for a video demonstration, it will do its best to give you what you want. The simplest example of this would be how the content on Google’s SERPs, or Search Engine Results Pages, will change when terms like “video,” or “video demonstration,” are included in the query.

For example, you’ll see a significant boost in YouTube links on the Google SERP for entering “skateboarding video tutorial” as a query compared to simply “skateboarding.

Going further, queries like “funny cat” or “how to tie a tie,” will provide video results on the SERP because Google realizes that even though “video” is not included in the query, video content will be more helpful than a web page to the people entering those queries. The SERP for “funny cat” is dominated by videos (almost all on YouTube), and for “how to tie a tie,” the top result is a YouTube video.


Google knows what we want

Since Google does not have the ability to “view” or “listen” to videos (at least not until the robot revolution is upon us), its bots rely on the text elements of your video to inform their scoring and relevancy algorithms with what the content is about. In terms of visibility, this can make the keywords in your description and title more important than the actual content of the video.

Optimizing For Keywords

In this sense, it can be wise to actually choose your keywords before recording. The guys over at BeatDaBest put together an incredibly comprehensive YouTube SEO guide where they really detail this point, among others. However, the idea is that if you want to rank a video, its not a bad thought to get all of your keywords ready before you even start filming.

Now, let’s look at the traditional SEO elements that search engine bots will use to find your content. This information includes:

  • File name
  • Video title
  • Description
  • Tags
  • Transcription/closed captions (if you have any)
  • Channel authority

Since YouTube places importance on these traditional SEO text elements, keyword research becomes vital to optimizing on YouTube. Luckily, the process of keyword research for YouTube can be similar to researching for Google.

Searcher intent, the value of a keyword, and evaluating opportunities are all important ideas to understand when you are doing your keyword research, but basically it all comes down to getting into the mind of your audience as they enter a search engine, while evaluating the relevance of the most popular search terms to your topic.


Use the YouTube autofill function to brainstorm keywords

There are some easy things out there to help your research process, like the Google Keyword Planner, or the YouTube autofill search suggest function. The autofill function is great for finding long-tail keywords that are being searched for around your topic. Using other tools like ubersuggest or even wikipedia can also inspire great ideas for your key terms.


Use ubersuggest for inspiration

If you want a more comprehensive guide for best keyword research practices on Google, head over to SEONick for a thorough, expert take on the process.

Once you know your target keywords, you should position them into each one of the elements listed above to maximize SEO.

Start with the file name

I’m sure a lot of YouTubers out there don’t realize this, but the actual filename of your video (before uploading & renaming) will have an effect on your video’s SEO. This is why it’s good to get to know your keywords before you even record. Once your video is edited, save that file on your computer with your keyword in the title! Now you can rest assured that you are using best SEO practices from the start.


After naming your file name with keywords in mind, do the same for the video title. This is what you edit after the file has been uploaded to YouTube, and how your video will appear on search results beside the thumbnail. Choose a title that is attention-grabbing, while also being accurate to your video’s content and relevant to your target keywords.


The video description is the next area to drop in your keywords. This area is a huge opportunity to place strong content that informs, while not repeating, the message of your video. You should include your long-tail keywords within the video description since this is the most space you have to get your keywords across.


See all the keywords placed in this description?

Don’t be afraid to extend any points from the video further in this area. Your video description is the copy that will sell your video page to search crawlers, and also keep viewers engaged with you. While including the right keywords is essential to getting picked up by search crawlers, conversation is key. The more relevant information to provide your viewers, the better. Include a link to a related blog post, or better yet, include relevant quotes from the post in addition to the link. If you have steps or listed instructions within your video, you can write them out here for reference.


Tags are another area that will involve some strategic thinking when incorporating your keywords. More tags can be helpful, but again, you want to keep everything relevant. Only include tags if they actually relate to your video, and the more specific they are, the better.


Always keep your tags as relevant as possible

One tip from BeatdaBest was to always tag your videos with your channel name. This way, after viewing one of your videos, a viewer will hopefully be directed to more of your videos in the related videos box.

Channel Authority

Channel authority is an SEO element unique to YouTube, similar to the idea of page authority or domain authority on traditional search engines. Basically, a more popular channel will have a higher authority and will automatically rank higher than lower authority channels. A lot of what goes into this metric is determined by user interaction factors.

Closed Captions

As mentioned earlier, Google does not have the ability to “view” or “listen” to your videos (until the robots). Basically what that means that any possible keywords that are spoken in audible dialog can’t help your SEO juice. However, in this reelseo study, a number of channels reported significant increases in views after adding closed captions to their videos.

One example from the study was Discovery Digital Networks, a video production company that captioned 125 of 334 YouTube videos published between January 2013 and April 2014 and measured the effects of captioning against the 209 uncaptioned videos. In just two weeks, the channel saw a 13.48% increase in views, and a 7.32% increase all-time.

That’s a big deal!

With this data in mind, it becomes clear that captions can be one more avenue to take creatively when inserting your keywords. For example, If your video is a how-to or a tutorial, you could include closed captions whenever mentioning your keywords throughout the video. What this does is translate your audio dialogue to a language that the major search engines speak, increasing the number of times the search engines are picking up your keywords. Anytime we start speaking the same language as the search engines, we are positioning ourselves for successful SEO.


If you’re feeling particularly bold, you could try inserting your entire script into closed captions. However, you have to ask yourself whether or not this approach will sacrifice any user engagement with these captions, or if they will add to the overall quality of the video. Some people do find subtitles annoying, which could potentially lead certain viewers to leave your video. Remember, these traditional SEO elements are not everything for ranking your video.  Making the video page engaging to encourage interaction is just as, if not more, important to rank your video.

The Other Ranking Factor: User Interaction


Make it a conversation

So above we just went over the traditional SEO elements involving keywords and authority that contribute to your video’s rank. In addition to those factors, there are several user interaction factors that play just as heavy of a role in ultimately ranking your video. In Brian Dean’s excellent YouTube SEO guide, he brings to light the valuable difference between our two largest search engines, Google and Youtube:

“Unlike Google — which can use backlinks and other signals to evaluate the quality of a piece of content — YouTube has no such luxury…. They judge your video’s quality based on how people interact with it.”

To give a brief list, the following are all examples of user interaction that YouTube will reward you for and help your video rank higher:

  • Video Retention
  • Views
  • Comments
  • Likes AND Dislikes
  • Favorites
  • Social Shares

One of the top factors that YouTube takes into consideration when ranking your video is the idea of retention. Video retention is the amount of the video that users watch before either leaving the video page or clicking the pause/stop button. This metric measures your video’s level of engagement at the most basic level; how long people choose to watch your video. Keeping your video from getting boring or feeling like it wastes people’s time is crucial to having a higher retention.


Making things boring is BAD

But don’t just engage with your video!

In your description, ask for comments or questions about your topic, and initiate positive, interesting conversation with other users in the comment section when you can. This encourages user interaction while also helping to guide the results of said interaction. Having great content is beneficial, but having great content that sparks a lively conversation is how you are going to get the most effective interaction that will boost your video’s rank.

To strengthen the sense of trust among your viewers, you could link to a relevant blog post in your video’s description. In order to develop that further, link a collection of authoritative resources within that description. Remember that at the end of the day, providing evergreen content will be most effective, so the more content you give them that will stay relevant over time, the more trust you’re developing and the better chance your video will have to rank.

For example, if your video is teaches viewers how to ride a skateboard or perform tricks, you should leave some other online skateboarding resources, like a link to the shoes you use, some of your favorite skate videos, or other helpful video lessons you’ve posted. The more work you put in to develop the trust your viewers have in both you and your brand, the more effective your videos will be and the more impact they will have for you in the long run.


Obviously, the number of views your video has is another large factor for not only ranking but also trust. Before YouTube users click on your video, they will judge its quality on the number of views it’s gathered. Number of views can be the first step in the ladder of trust between you and your audience.


As for how comments can be a great tool to promote your channel across your targeted niche, let’s look at what Scott Beuhler pointed out in his Youtube Traffic Guide.

“… there’s something most people miss which could be the difference between your channel getting noticed or ignored. YouTube comments. This is extremely obvious to me, however, I’m noticing that other people either don’t know to comment or ignore commenting out of pure laziness. When you take 20-60 minutes of your day and spend that time commenting on other people’s videos, you are effectively spreading awareness to your YouTube account name and to your account in general. Each time you comment, your name is linked and points to your main YouTube profile for other people to find out more about you.”

The more you engage with your viewers, the more they will reward you with engagement. Putting your voice out there in the comments of both your videos and others will grow your brand, and continue to link to your channel. You’ll see an increase in likes AND dislikes if you create controversial material, and both metrics can help your rank. (Yes, dislikes will boost your video’s rank)

Likes, Dislikes, Favorites and Shares

Users that trust you to be a verified and consistent provider of quality content will reward you with likes, subscribes, comments, and even shares. All of these elements build views and contribute to the chance of virality. Don’t be afraid to ask for viewers to comment or subscribe in your video. Just the fact that you mention this will increase the likelihood of getting subscribes and comments. Favorites and social shares will do wonders for your video’s popularity, and will spread its reach to get views from plenty of more avenues on the web.


So many likes, so many dislikes

Channel Authority

Once you delve deeper into the effects of all these comments and subscribers and views, you’ll begin to build your channel authority. Much like domain or page authority on Google, this is a metric YouTube factors heavily into ranking your video.

The more subscribers your channel has, the more authority YouTube will give it. For example, the RihannaVEVO channel (17 million subscribers, 6 billion views) has a much higher authority than say, the MTV channel (600k subscribers, 209 million views), and would automatically have a higher likelihood of ranking a video. Basically, if the same SEO text practices (file name, description, title, tags) were employed on an identical video posted by both channels, the video would rank higher from the RihannaVEVO channel.


Always build your trust

It’s definitely not easy to get your videos ranked in the top of YouTube’s SERPs right away, but with these best beginner practices you can start developing trust, and improve your ranks for your specific keywords! I’ll leave you with one more list of helpful tips that can help your videos rank, build your channel’s overall brand, and strengthen the level of trust your viewers have with you.

Advanced Channel Settings – Turn on Channel recommendations and insert some channel keywords for YouTube to understand what your channel is about. This will give you a bit more authority and make your appearance more professional.

Branding Watermark – Encourage viewers to subscribe with a branding watermark on the corner of your videos. Using an audible call to action in conjunction with this tool will be most effective in increasing your subscribes.

Use High Quality Thumbnails – This is a little obvious, but having a high quality thumbnail that catches the eye and works with your video title to engage YouTube users to click through can be invaluable to the popularity of your video.

Custom Channel URL – With a custom channel URL, users will be able to find your videos more easily, and it will be easier to search for. There are some eligibility requirements to acquiring your own custom URL, so be sure that your channel is ready for this.


Now that you are armed with a bevy of tools and tricks to help you produce and promote your Youtube material, go out and conquer this ever growing search engine. Ideally, with an educated front of SEOs, YouTube can become a cleaner search engine of information and an easy way to find the most impactful content that users are looking for. As the volume of videos collects by the thousands, it’s up to the SEO industry to keep up with the data and make sure that the immensity can be navigated proficiently by the consumers.

Thanks for taking the time to read, please let me know if you have any feedback, or share your tips and thoughts on how to rank videos on YouTube in the comments.



  • Avatar Peter Attia says:

    What’s up, Luke!

    Great post. I haven’t done anything on a massive scale with Youtube. However, I was publishing some FAQ type videos for a client a few years back. One thing we did was throw $100 or so on each video in adwords ads. We noticed the video would immediately rank if we threw cash at it. Is this something you’ve also tested and seen?

    I was never really able to pinpoint why this would help the video rank. I always assumed it was just from having an immediate view count.


    • Avatar Luke Harsel says:

      Thanks Peter! I’ve never personally tested or seen that before, but that’s pretty interesting. I’d be curious to see how far you could push a youtube video with a solid adwords campaign.

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  • Avatar Evonn Evale says:

    In 2015, using keywords is far more about semantics.




    Our data driven approach to keyword research.