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SEO for YouTube: How to optimise a YouTube video

By Will Stevens - September 5, 2017

YouTube is huge. It has over one billion users, and a billion hours of video are watched each day. And how do users find videos to watch? By searching for them.

In fact, after Google, YouTube is the second biggest search engine in the world. That means using it can get you noticed by new potential customers. But as with any search engine there are ways of ensuring your content gets noticed more often.

Let’s take a look at how you can optimise your YouTube videos in a way that will help them rank highly in the platform’s internal search engine, as well as in all-purpose search engines such as Google. At the end of the guide, there’s a link to a YouTube optimisation cheat sheet, which you can use to guide you whenever you upload a video. And if you’re not already creating videos to promote your business, you can learn how to get started in this guide.

Getting started

Before we look at how to optimise your YouTube videos for search engines, it’s important to understand the principles behind the advice you’ll be following.

Optimising YouTube videos is all about getting the metadata right. Now if you want to get technical, metadata is data that describes other data, but in practical terms, for YouTube videos, metadata includes things like the title of the video, the video description and the tags used when uploading the video.

Using the right metadata will help search engines understand what your videos are about, and so increase the chances of them topping the search results when potential customers run searches.

Ok, with that out of the way, here’s what you need to do to optimise your YouTube videos.

Video filename

Before you upload your video, you need to make sure the name of the file is descriptive of the video content. In this case, the filename we’ve chosen isn’t ideal. We would have been better off going with something like “gTLDS-the-new-generic-domains-from-123-reg-final.mp4”. For your video, include the name of your brand and any product mentioned in the video.


Video title

Again, your video title should be descriptive of the video’s content. You should also include a relevant keyword or phrase. In the below example this is “New Generic Top-Level Domains. It’s also important to include your brand so people can easily see who is responsible for the content they’re watching.

However, space is at a premium here so whenever possible keep the title to a maximum of 60 characters (including spaces). If this isn’t possible, ensure you include the most important information (such as your keyword) in those first 60 characters.


Choosing a thumbnail

The thumbnail is a static image displayed before a YouTube video starts to play. The ideal thumbnail is eye-catching and gives people a taste of what they can expect from the video. YouTube will automatically generate three thumbnails for you to choose from. However, these aren’t always great so you may need to upload a custom thumbnail to ensure you use the best possible image.

Tip: If your video features someone talking and you want to use a picture of them as the thumbnail, take a still photograph at the time of recording. Freeze frames of people talking rarely look flattering.

Tip: The recommended image size is 1280×720 pixels (a 16:9 ratio). Maximum file size is 2MB and file type should be .jpg, .gif, .bmp or .png.


Video description

Here you get to go into detail about the content of your video. Make sure your description is unique (eg don’t just copy and paste a description you’ve used on your website), includes your main keyword or phrase along with other relevant keywords and that it accurately summarises what the video is about.

Tip: Make sure your description is at least 200 words long. It should also be unique. Also include links to other videos on your YouTube channel, or to your social media accounts.

Tip: Make sure you include a link back to your site at the top of the video description. That way people won’t have to click “see more” to find the link.


Video tags

Tags offer another chance to add keywords. Simply add any tags that are relevant to your video. Don’t forget to include your brand. However, there is a limit on the number of tags you can add, so make sure you add the most important keywords first.


Tip: Want to see what tags your competitors are using? Try the TubeBuddy plugin for Chrome.

Tip: Why not perform keyword research to discover what tags you should be using? You can do this in the same way you would (and should) for your own website. If you haven’t done keyword research before, check out this guide. In addition to the advice in that article, you can also use YouTube’s autosuggest search feature. Just go to the search bar, type a short keyword relevant to your video and see what longer searches are suggested (see the example below). You can then use these as tags.


YouTube automatically transcribes speech in uploaded videos and uses that information to help identify which keywords a video should rank for.

However, as this is done using speech recognition software, it’s not 100% accurate, and there are occasion when YouTube isn’t able to create a transcript at all.

So you can either check and correct YouTube’s automatic transcription, or create your own transcription and upload it to YouTube as a .txt file.

You can learn more about editing the automatic transcription in this guide.

SEO for YouTube cheat sheet

By following the above steps you’ll be able to ensure your videos are easy to find. Below is our YouTube optimisation cheat sheet. Keep it handy and use it whenever you upload to YouTube.