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SEO Is Important for YouTube Too

A significant percentage of YouTube video views come from the platform’s recommendations, including the up-next feature.

That’s why you want YouTube to look favorably on your videos and channel. The algorithm factors heavily on audience retention and watch time. A YouTube SEO strategy can help those numbers along with other analysis factors.

Here are some best practices to inform your strategy. (They assume you’ve done all the work necessary to find your keywords.)

Your #YouTube channel needs an #SEO strategy to get discovered by more viewers, says Veronique Wong Kai In of @Reportingeasy via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Video SEO

You can do a lot to get the most out of each video you publish on YouTube.

Say keyword at the beginning

Since 2014, YouTube has used an automatic English transcribing feature. (It’s the most accurate for speakers with a more neutral English accent.)

This means YouTube “hears” what you’re talking about. If you incorporate one of your keywords into the script or conversation, YouTube will better understand the topic when it evaluates videos to serve up as recommendations.

Even better, upload a transcription of your video that YouTube also can consume.

Use a keyword in the opening of your video script so #YouTube can “hear” it, says @Reportingeasy via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Let’s take the example of a popular video – 5 Mind-Blowing Logo Design Tips – on the Digital Art Niche channel by YouTuber Will Paterson. In the first five seconds, he mentions he will be “showing you five logo design tips.” Not only does this introduce the topic to viewers, it acts as a signal to YouTube.

Write a Google and YouTube friendly title

YouTube videos occasionally appear in Google search, often depending on the words in the title. A well-crafted SEO title could let your video rank better on both platforms.

Here are some phrases that are more likely to display on Google’s video carousels:

  • How to
  • Guide to
  • What is

An image showing Google video results for “How to Draw Step by Step”.

An image showing Google video results for “Guide to Digital Art”.

An image showing Google video results for “What is Procreate”.

Adding a keyword to your title also can help. If possible, put it as close to the beginning as reasonable. It still must read organically to the prospective viewer.

Aim for a title between four and seven words. The required length is no more than 60 characters.

Write a @Google and @YouTube title between four and seven words and no more than 60 characters, says Veronique Wong Kai In of @Reportingeasy via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Optimize your description

The description of your video also helps YouTube’s search engine understand what the video is about. The clearer the description, the better.

These tips can help improve your descriptions:

  • Include a keyword in the first sentence.
  • Include a keyword or variations of it up to four times.
  • Use at least 2,000 of the 5,000 permitted characters.
  • Note the chapters. (Chapters visually separate your video in the progress bar. The chapter starts at 00:00. Include at least three timestamps listed in ascending order. The minimum chapter length is 10 seconds.)
Note your video “chapters” – the visual separations in the progress bar – in the @YouTube description, says Veronique Wong Kai In of @Reportingeasy via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet


Tags are not as essential, but they do help. They also are useful in discerning the keywords where your competitors are ranking. Tools like Vid IQ and Tube Buddy can help secure this information.

Here are a few tips to making the most of your tags:

  • Use the main keyword as a starting point.
  • Include multiple variations of that keyword.
  • Use other keywords mentioned in the video.

By using all relevant keywords in your tags, you increase the chances of your video appearing in the “related videos” column.

Use cards

Cards are small links that appear in the top right of the video that suggest other videos to watch like this one with the video “New Font” promoted.

An image showing a video with a card in the top right corner that suggests other videos to watch such as “New Font”.

If your channel is new, it may seem counterintuitive to add cards because they link to other videos, taking viewers away from your watch time. However, YouTube’s aim is to keep people on YouTube. Encouraging people to stay on the channel might make your videos look good in the eyes of YouTube.

Remember, you can always change those cards to your videos once you add the new content.


Search engines can’t watch videos or listen to audio, but they index text. That is why captions are useful to SEO.

On YouTube, you can add captions manually or upload a file with or without time stamps.

While it can be a hassle to set them up, tools like Descript can help. If you want to manually transcribe your video, check out this how-to video from Justin Brown.

If you don’t think adding captions (or transcripts) is worth it for SEO, they are must-haves for your audience members who have hearing challenges.

Use @DescriptApp to help with adding captions to your videos. They are must-haves for your audience members who have hearing challenges, says Veronique Wong Kai In of @Reportingeasy via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet


First, let’s talk about the video’s click-through rate on search – the percentage who click on your video from the results of their query. YouTube pays close attention to this behavior, rewarding videos with higher CTRs. That’s why you want the video’s thumbnail to stand out so searchers click on it and watch.

Here are some tips for great video thumbnails:

  • Use unique colors
  • Include a face to make it more human (i.e., personal)
  • Avoid clickbait

In these examples, the third video down stands out for its color choice, while the last one differentiates itself by including a person.

Image showing video thumbnail examples that use color and a person to differentiate.

Note: To customize a thumbnail, you need to verify your account. More on that in the next section.

End screen

Your video’s end screen is five to 20 seconds to tell the viewer what they can do next. These are the five options allowed by YouTube:

An image showing the five end screen options allowed by YouTube: Video, Playlist, Subscribe, Channel, and Link.

The link feature is only available to YouTube partner program members. (Eligibility requires a channel to have at least 4,000 watch hours in the last 12 months and at least 1,000 subscribers.)

Take a Will Paterson video. He publishes a clear call to action and provides links to two related videos as well as a subscribe feature. Though the inclusion of the subscribe feature on end screens can seem overused, but it works.

An easy free tool to create your end screen (and a thumbnail) is Canva. Search for YouTube outro or YouTube thumbnail to get access to its appropriately sized templates.

Use the free @Canva tool to create #YouTube end screens and thumbnails, says Veronique Wong Kai In of @Reportingeasy via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Channel SEO

You should optimize the individual videos, but don’t forget to optimize your YouTube channel.

Verify channel

You should first verify the channel. Verification allows your channel to publish videos longer than 15 minutes, create custom thumbnails, conduct livestream, and appeal any claims challenging content identification.

Follow these instructions to verify your YouTube account.

Banner art

When someone clicks onto your YouTube channel, the first thing they’re likely to see is its banner. Crafting a professional banner within the right dimensions and with your keywords is a great way to increase views.

Here are two great examples of banners:

Both of these banners personalize the channel, including a photo and their targeted keywords. They use arrows to drive people to their links. Such eye-catching banners can really indicate your videos come from a professional.


If you include links – and you should – decide before or as the banner art is created.

Links are only visible in desktop mode, appearing on the right bottom. Many YouTube channels use the space to link to social channels. In the example, Marketing TV links to its free resource guide along with their social channels.

An image showing a banner from Marketing TV that uses links in the bottom right corner to social channels and its free resource guide.


People can learn about your channel in your description. It should tell what the channel does and who is involved. That information is more likely to prompt people to subscribe to the channel.

Your channel also can rank in YouTube search. Add keywords into the description too.


Playlists are helpful in channel optimization. Viewers consuming your playlists increase your channel’s watch hours – and keeps them on YouTube. That makes your channel more interesting to YouTube.

Create a #YouTube playlist for channel optimization, says Veronique Wong Kai In of @Reportingeasy via @CMIContent. #SEO Click To Tweet

In the case of Will Paterson, his well-designed playlists make it easier for a new viewer to see the different content he offers.

An image showing Will Paterson’s YouTube playlist.

A few more tips

While those off- and on-page video tips are designed specifically for SEO, never stop working to improve YouTube’s two favorite metrics – audience retention and watch time.

Here are couple more ways to do that:

  • Create open loops: Frequently talk about what’s coming up next within a video and about upcoming videos. Serialize your content into multiple videos. For example, talk about a topic in one video and let viewers know you’ll be talking more about it in the next video.
  • Include brief CTAs during the video: Ask your audience to engage during the video itself. For example, ask them not to forget to “like, comment, and subscribe” or it could be a small text pop-up.

Make the most of video optimization

A YouTube strategy must address on- and off-page video search. For individual videos, don’t forget to format your title, description, and thumbnails properly. Take advantage of the tags, cards, and end screen. For your channel, verify your account and customize your banner, craft helpful descriptions, and add playlists to suit the needs of your audience.

And never forget, it’s all about audience retention and watch time.

All noted tools were selected by the author. If you have a tool to suggest, please include it in the comments.

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute