Optimising video performance is one of the most important things you can do (outside creating great content). Optimising for content discoverability is how you get viewers and grow a channel, so it pays to learn about YouTube and SEO – and what you must nail to ensure your video performs:
YouTube video title
Video titles are one of the biggest factors in how to improve YouTube performance. This is due to:
1. Impressions click-through-rate (CTR): Your video title, along with your video thumbnail, is a key factor in users deciding whether to click and watch. A strong title needs to be simple, relevant – and enticing.
2. SEO: Your title, like your description, gives an overview of your video. Prioritising your 1-2 keywords early and with emphasis in your title establishes your subject matter and makes finding your video easier for YouTube.
The title field has a maximum of 100 characters, but only 70 of these will show up in Google Search, so aim for less is more.
YouTube video description
Your video description is a summary of your video, that when combined with your keywords drives discoverability in YouTube search (aiding views and watch time, again helping you get found). While the description is a single text field, it helps to think of it as split into two parts: above and below “SHOW MORE”, the grey drop-down link displaying the rest of a description. The text above this ‘fold’ is what appears in search results as well as user feeds. For performance, YouTube recommends:
- Paying attention to the first few lines – 2-3 sentences – as this is what users will see, along with your title, when choosing your video. Put your primary 1-2 keywords near the beginning of your description for the most impact, ensuring they’re relevant to your video content.
- Natural language is your friend. Don’t think spammy keywords; think about how to describe what your video is about, in a way that’s clear and concise but still compelling for viewers to click on.
- In the text below the fold, you can include info like a 1-line blurb about your channel, metadata and links to your website / landing page / social etc. (set a default description to auto-populate).
- Description length should be 200+ words, with additional, contextual keywords. The description has a max. of 5,000 characters.
- A note on hashtags: you can use them in the description, however YouTube will ignore them if there’s over 15 in total.
YouTube video timestamps
In 2019, Google launched ‘key moments’ for Google Search, based on timestamps labelled in YouTube videos. These timestamps effectively split videos into chapters, with the goal of improving user experience by helping viewers find what they’re looking for more efficiently and effectively. A core benefit of this update was its impact for SEO, in that searches could now serve videos as featured snippets and specify exact timecodes for content. Consequently, timestamping your videos is an excellent way to help them show relevance and get discovered, both on YouTube and Google Search.
For more information on timestamps, check out Shootsta’s blog, ‘YouTube Timestamp Links – What They Are And How To Use Them’.
YouTube video tags
YouTube tags (or video tags) are described by YouTube as ‘descriptive keywords’, but don’t let that fool you into thinking you can hack search queries by stuffing; there’s a 500-character limit. Tags are useful for highlighting key misspellings of your content – and while it’s good form to make your first tag(s) the exact 1-2 keywords you’d like to rank for, this is more to alert viewers to your subject matter, than to force search performance. A benchmark of 10+ tags, with plural and singular words / phrases is advised.
YouTube video subtitles / closed captions
In today’s modern world of sound-off for mobile (or even your computer at work), it’s best to include closed captions or subtitles for your videos. This is even more important when you factor in accessibility for the hearing impaired, or foreign viewers. But the final advantage comes down to SEO, in that your video should reference priority keywords, which will boost chances of getting found in YouTube search. You will need to upload an SRT file for captions – if you don’t have one, YouTube does give you the option to provide automatic captions based on its machine-learning algorithm (that said, quality can vary, so always check and correct any errors manually).
YouTube video cards
Cards add a level of interactivity to your videos. Cards can be channel cards, video / playlist cards, donation cards or link cards e.g. to your website or a landing page (note: there is criteria here, as you need to be eligible for the YouTube Partner Programme). Video or playlist cards are useful as you can link users to related video content or playlists, while channel cards are good for promoting sponsorships.