YouTube SEO: A Step by Step Guide to Rank Your YouTube Videos

YouTube SEO: A Step by Step Guide to Rank Your YouTube Videos

written by Houston Golden
Founder & CEO, BAMF Media
December 18th, 2019
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Videos are powerful.

A lot of marketers have turned to video to create content to supercharge their campaigns, and YouTube has turned into a powerful content delivery system for a lot of people.

In this guide, we take a step-by-step approach to optimizing your videos and getting them to rank online.

From keyword research to boosting your CTR, we’ve got you covered!

YouTube SEO

Inbound marketing relies on the power of great content to drive traffic and push for more conversions.

Video is a great way to bring interactive content to viewers, and you can have tutorials, product presentations, reviews, webinars, and even original content on the platform.

This is why video has grown to be one of the most potent ways to drive engagements.

It All Starts With Keyword Research

YouTube SEO is a lot like regular organic SEO – which makes a lot of sense since Google owns YouTube – you start with keyword research. Most of the searches done on Google are via text searches, so if you want to rank, you’ve got to do your research.

           Using Tools

There are a couple of keyword research tools that you can use to generate similar and related keywords.

All you have to do is enter your seed keyword, switch out the standard search engine for YouTube’s search engine, and presto! You’ve got a list of keywords that you can use.

However, it doesn’t just end there.

You still have to filter out the results

Just as with regular keyword research, it would be wise to run the other interesting keywords through the tool again to get a good overview of the subject at hand.

           Manual Method

The natural way to fish for keywords is to use YouTube’s autocomplete feature – and yes, it’s the same as Google’s autocomplete feature.

youtube seo, YouTube SEO: A Step by Step Guide to Rank Your YouTube Videos

Once you type in your seed keyword on YouTube’s search bar, you’ll get a bunch of suggestions on what other keywords you can target for your campaign.

These keywords are essential to make sure that you only use terms that are relevant to the campaign and that you’re optimizing for maximum exposure.

youtube seo, YouTube SEO: A Step by Step Guide to Rank Your YouTube Videos

As you can see from this example, the suggestions on Google and YouTube are different. This is because they are on two distinct platforms, and people have different searching habits and interests on YouTube.

Keyword research is different on YouTube and Google.

This is what you do.

Start playing around with the autocomplete feature of YouTube and start listing down the keywords that are being suggested. If you find another exciting keyword, then type that down, too, so that you can get more suggestions around that keyword.

If you want to get more suggestions you could try this:

“keyword” + “any single letter” – this is so that you can find alphabetical keyword suggestions. E.g., Growth Hacking A

youtube seo, YouTube SEO: A Step by Step Guide to Rank Your YouTube Videos

Before long, you can build yourself a list of keywords that you can use on your YouTube video title, tags, or description.

Only keep the keywords that have been gaining a lot of momentum, such as those with a least a hundred searches. However, if you are covering a popular topic, expect that number to go higher.

Alternatively, if you’ve found a market for a niche, you’ll find that more than a hundred views could be topping the scale for keywords that you should be using.

You’ll find that there is a substantial market for “How To’s” or tutorial videos because sometimes it is easier for many people to watch a video than it is to read a guide. Tutorial videos are also great because they are engaging, and they show viewers practical applications.

Set your keywords aside because we will be using them extensively later on.

Creating Your Video

There are a lot of ways to create a video, and there are a lot of formats for you to choose from.

  • Tutorials – there are several kinds of tutorials, but we are all used to a video presenter doing the actual tutoring. You can switch it up a little bit and create an animated video or a screen recording; as long as it has excellent narration, it can still be a winner.
  • Lessons or classes – these are very popular with digital marketing strategists and other industry leaders because it allows experts to share their knowledge and expand their networks. However, it’s not just limited to the big guys; a lot of people have gained traction using lessons.
  • Original Media – might be a little more challenging to do, but it really helps bring out your organization’s creativity.
  • One Time Videos – there is no excuse for you not to optimize even singular videos that you release from time-to-time. These could be promotional ones or also company updates and press releases.

The production values matter a lot, and this means going all out – of course, as long as it is still within your budget. Here are a few things to remember.

  • Use a good microphone
  • Don’t settle for a phone camera
  • Use a backdrop whenever possible
  • Make sure that you use a script – it will come in handy in ranking your video, but more on that later.

Optimizing Your Title

Remember that keyword list you built a while ago?

It’s going to be very handy in the next steps.

The most important rule in creating your title is to include your keyword, and the same rule applies to organic search engine optimization, too.

However, YouTube is completely different.

With Title Tags, we’re used to sticking our primary – sometimes secondary – keywords in along with a little bit of branding, but with videos, they just won’t work.

Your titles on YouTube have to encourage potential viewers to click on them even if they are official videos from your company.

This means getting a little creative.

A title such as “Introduction to YouTube SEO – Growth Hackers” might work on other platforms, but throwing in a little flair such as “YouTube SEO: The 30-Second Method” would probably gain more traction if you were to ask us.

Another thing that you have to keep in mind is the title length. The last time we checked, it’s best to keep your titles under 60 characters, although you can push this limit in some cases.

Say you want to make use of the ellipses (…) that are used when your titles are too long to generate some mystery, then, by all means, go beyond the limit and add other keywords along the way.

Your title is the most essential part of the optimization process because it identifies your video and helps it stick out above the rest.

Optimizing Your Descriptions

Your video description is kind of like the meta description of your content.

And it holds a lot of weight.

This is your chance to start effectively using the rest of the keywords that you’ve gathered in your list and start structuring them. Back in the day, one could be tempted to just list down all your secondary keywords and LSI in your description, but we all know that’s spammy.

So how do you go about it?

youtube seo, YouTube SEO: A Step by Step Guide to Rank Your YouTube Videos

Descriptions are supposed to add value to the video, but not go overboard to distract the viewer and appear spammy. You want your video description to add to the main point of the video that you’ve published.

Write a keyword-rich description that summarizes the point of the video on the first line or paragraph. Make sure the primary keyword is in the first line.

Use secondary keywords and LSI, but make sure that it fits in naturally into the description that you’ve made.

You can use the remainder of the description to put in links that you have to your other material, extra notes, and how people can reach you i.e., your social media profile or your website address.

Optimizing Your Tags

YouTube tags are used to help categorize where your video belongs to, and they can help you optimize your video to increase your exposure.

The platform will also help you out in this regard by giving you a couple of suggestions that you can use.

youtube seo, YouTube SEO: A Step by Step Guide to Rank Your YouTube Videos


Do you want to gain an edge?

Check out what tags your competitors are using and throw those into the mix, too. There’s a reason that they are ranking, and you want to take advantage of those opportunities.

Add Cards

Your videos have to drive engagement.

You can think of cards as resource links within the video to help your viewers get more information during the video’s playback. These cards appear as little bubbles that give out suggestions to the viewers as the video plays.

youtube seo, YouTube SEO: A Step by Step Guide to Rank Your YouTube Videos

For example, you can tell your viewers to check out another video explaining something that you’re currently discussing and have a little bubble appear on the video. This adds a lot more value to your content.

There are a couple of cards that you can use in your video:

Suggest that your viewer watch another video or playlist

Check out an external link

Check out another YouTube Channel

Support a non-profit

Invitation to answer a poll

But, here’s the catch.

It might be super tempting, but you don’t want to use too many cards, you want to stay relevant to the topic that is being discussed. You also don’t want to appear spammy and distracting.

Add Subtitles

Imagine Netflix without subtitles.

Wouldn’t that be terrible?

It’s the same with videos on YouTube, people like subtitles because it helps them follow what you’re saying. However, the CC (Closed Captioning) feature of YouTube is intended to help those who are hearing impaired.

Subtitles are excellent because they make sure that your viewers are accurately interpreting what you’re saying.

And guess what.

They’re not at all difficult to make.

YouTube will try to auto transcribe what you are saying, but if you were using a script in the beginning, you can just easily upload the text, and the platform will match the words and the audio.

There is also the option to upload, and auto transcribe, which is very useful if you often find yourself going off script or adding something out of the blue while filming.

Oh, and did we tell you the most important part about all of this?

Marketers agree that captions get crawled.

This means having keyword-rich captions might have the effect of being ranked higher than standard videos.

So in effect, you better be mentioning your keywords when you do your video in the first place.

Read More: How to Reach Millions of Views on LinkedIn

Ending Your Video Well

Don’t just say goodbye.

youtube seo, YouTube SEO: A Step by Step Guide to Rank Your YouTube Videos

You can still optimize your video until the last second.

YouTube allows you to place a couple of suggested video links towards the end and an option to place a link to subscribe to your channel. However, if you want to make use of these features creatively, then you will want to create an overlay at the end of your video.

Provide some room on the overlay in order to be able to put two video links and the subscribe button from YouTube. You can even get creative with this process and place extra text or have an overlay that still plays a portion of your video telling your viewers to like and subscribe.

youtube seo, YouTube SEO: A Step by Step Guide to Rank Your YouTube Videos



Ever picked out a video just because the thumbnail looked interesting?

Of course, you have.

And, this is the reason why picking out a proper thumbnail is extremely important when optimizing your video. If you think about it, the thumbnail takes up more space than the video title and its description. This is why it is as critical as the rest of the text itself.

It can be considered to be your video’s call to action. The thumbnail gives your viewers an idea of what the video is going to be like.

youtube seo, YouTube SEO: A Step by Step Guide to Rank Your YouTube Videos

You could have the most exciting video in the world, but if it has a boring thumbnail, nobody will want to see it. Your thumbnail has to get people to click the video in effect, improving your video CTR rate.

There are a few types of YouTube thumbnails.

  • Still photo – the still picture is an action still shot taken from the video itself, it gives potential viewers a glimpse of what’s going on in the video. This is a standard way to do a thumbnail, but it’s not always recommended. Sports videos benefit the most from this because still, action shots look engaging enough.
  • Custom graphic thumbnail – a visual thumbnail can be composed of several things. You can have a custom background with some text, a call-to-action embedded, and you can even use an edited still shot with text from the video itself.

We recommend that you use a custom YouTube thumbnail for all your videos because it gives you room to be more creative with the way you call for people’s attention.

youtube seo, YouTube SEO: A Step by Step Guide to Rank Your YouTube Videos

Here’s what you do.

  • Create the background – you can use a photo of the video’s presenter over a colored background, an action shot in the video itself where the presenter only takes up a third of the scene, or an action shot without any clutter. If you go for a colored background, make sure that it contrasts with the text so that your potential viewers can read it quickly.
  • Create some text to go with the background – the current standard is to put the text to the right-hand side of the presenter, but you can put it anywhere that you want to as long as it is clear. The text can be a subheading of your video’s title or even a shortened version of the title itself.
  • Keep it as short as possible; you do not want to overpower the thumbnail with too much unnecessary text. If your title is, “Top 20 Growth Hackings Tips”, the text on your thumbnail could be “Growth Hacking Like a Pro.”
  • Make sure that your text is legible, so increase the font size whenever you can. Do a quick check on a mobile if the text is clearly readable on a standard smartphone; this is important since YouTube also commands a sizeable mobile share.


  • Make sure the thumbnail size is at least 1,280 x 720, as YouTube recommends this size. Use a ratio of 16:9 as it also coincides with your video.
  • It has to be less than 2 MB in size

Whatever you do, don’t use the standard thumbnail that YouTube provides for you.

Read More: 5 Tools Every Growth Hacker Should Be Using

Your video needs to gain momentum after you publish it, and there are a couple of ways of doing this.

Ratings, Comments, and Views

First start with getting people to comment on your video, if you can’t get a crowd on it, ask your team or friends to check out the video and leave a quick comment. This not only drives engagement for the videos, but it makes it look like a video has a following.

It serves as social proof of the worth and effectiveness of the video. People want to get onto a video that is popular because it just goes to show how many people are agreeing to the video’s content.

At the same time, ask people to leave a rating for the video.

           Sharing and Embedding your Video

Take a look at all the mediums that you have online for sharing media: email, social networks, etc.

Now decide what type of buyer personas these mediums cater to, and start crafting posts and emails that encourage people to check out your video.

You should look into sharing your video on different platforms such as Facebook, Reddit, LinkedIn, and even Quora. Now Facebook and LinkedIn are pretty straightforward, and you can share your video immediately with a short description.

However, Reddit and Quora require a different approach. In these two platforms, you should aim to share your video when a question is being asked.

youtube seo, YouTube SEO: A Step by Step Guide to Rank Your YouTube Videos

For Reddit, you could share it as a link on a thread to drive conversions. However, the caveat is that you have to be an active member of a thread for people to take your video seriously. If you aren’t, they’ll know that you are just engaging in everyday old marketing tactics in order to get views.

Quora is a different platform to work with, as well. You can embed your video in answer to a question, so that you may be able to support it. But, as mentioned, you need to answer the question via a text answer first before the embed.

Just like Reddit, you might be misconstrued as someone who just wants to build links.

Try sharing your video as much as possible on different platforms; you need to be able to generate traction as soon as the video is published.

           Linking to and Building Links

Building links to your video can involve asking people to share it on their web properties and sharing it on your website as well. Links to your video increase the video’s authority because there are more people referring to it. The more authority a video has, the more likely it is to rank higher.

If you’re going to build links and link to your video, do not forget to link to your channel as well. Your channel mainly relates to all the videos that you have, so you will want to feed it some link juice so it will trickle down to everything on your channel.

Create Playlists

Playlists are another great way to drive engagement because they group videos. The reason we love it is that it tells the platform that videos are related and in turn, keeps people on a channel for longer.

In a way, it’s conversion rate optimization.

The following video in the series will usually be suggested to your viewer, and it increases their tendency to consume more of your content.

Now you want them to do this often.


Not only does it give your other videos more views, but also it establishes you like a channel that helps them with their needs. This type of inbound marketing helps drive conversions and gets you noticed by search engines.

Pay Attention to the Metrics

Growth hacking means proper tracking.

The YouTube platform has its signature analytics platform that you can use, but there are also other tools out there that can help you track your progress.

You need to track the performance of your video to find out what works and what doesn’t in your channel. It makes no sense to invest in videos that garner less engagement than those that really appeal to your audience.

Once you find your unique formula – almost every channel has one – you can then proceed to make some more videos of that caliber.

Your analytics and insights will help determine if you are ranking well, should you find out that switching out a particular line improves your rankings then you better document it so you can do it again.

You can even throw your video in a rank-tracking tool like SERP Robot and find out how it’s ranking for different keywords daily. This helps the monitoring process.

Alternatively, do a quick Google and YouTube search of your video’s keyword and see how you’re ranking; this should give you a good picture of your content’s visibility.

The notes that you get from here will paint an accurate picture of your propensity to rank higher.


If you find yourself still a little confused about what keywords to use or what kind of content you should be releasing, look at your competitors. Growth hacking involves competitor research. You need to be able to determine and study what works for other people and apply those successful lessons on your own videos.

YouTube has turned into one of the most potent video delivery mediums in the world. It’s come to the point that if you want your videos to do well, they have to be on the YouTube platform, too.

Now, this doesn’t mean that Facebook or LinkedIn don’t offer great content as well, but YouTube already has an established base, and its database has become a powerhouse search engine on its own.

To this date, if anyone were to think of online videos, we will always think of YouTube first. Just like its parent company Google, it’s become part of our vocabulary where we “YouTube tutorials of…” when we don’t know how to do something.

But, here’s the catch.

It’s a competitive world, and you can’t win with great content alone. You don’t just need to optimize to come up on top; you need to be able to monitor and adapt to changes, too.

Remember: Improvise. Adapt. Overcome?

On YouTube, it’s Optimize. Adapt. Overcome.

Read More: 5 Free Keyword Research Tools

About the Author

The name's Houston Golden. I'm the Founder & CEO of BAMF — a company I've grown from $0 (yes, really) to well over $5M+ in revenue over a span of 5 years.

How did I do it? Well, it's quite simple, really. I've helped hundreds of business owners and executives get major traction (because when they win, we win), I tell all on this blog.

Growth hacking is a state of mind. Follow along as I explore and expose the unknown growth strategies and tactics that will change the way you think about marketing.
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