YouTube Best Practices

YouTube is the 2nd largest search engine in the world (the 1st is Google, which owns YouTube). On top of that, YouTube search results are integrated into Google search - when searching for keywords on Google that are highly searched on YouTube, you will see YouTube videos in your Google Search Results rankings.

For this reason, YouTube can be an effective means of organic distribution when:

  1. You have a sizeable subscriber base/following on YouTube, and/or...
  2. You are able to get your video to "rank" for a given search term in YouTube

Identify Keywords To Target

To increase your chances of getting ranked for a given search term, first you will need to identify a search term that your video can target. To do this, you should begin by reviewing your performance video and identifying potential keyword targets that are relevant to your video.

For instance, if your performance video occurs in a subway, you might look for ideal keywords involving "subway performers" (i.e. "subway singer", "subway busking", "in the subway", etc.). Then, you can narrow in on the keyword you will target using keyword research tools, such as:

  1. TubeBuddy Keyword Explorer (free Chrome Extension)
  2. (keyword analysis tool)
  3. VidIQ (free chrome extension)
  4. (YouTube search feature)

An ideal keyword target is one with a relatively large amount of "search volume", which is a measure of how often the keyword is searched by users each month, and a relatively low amount of "competition" - a measure of how many videos are competing to rank for that keyword.

Once you have identified your keyword, there are a number of things you can do to optimize your video for search rankings and clicks:

Optimize Your Video Title

Most titles of videos on YouTube are not optimized to include the target keyword or make beneficial use of the visual priority of the title in the search results. When your video appears in search results, the title will be featured prominently - wasting your title on an artist and song name can be a major missed opportunity.

Try to take a "headline writing" approach to your title - to do so, you can use headline analysis tools like CoSchedule's headline analyzer. Include the keyword you are targeting in the title and try to think from the mind of an idle searcher - given that your keyword is not one that indicates the searcher is looking for a tutorial or informational video, it is likely they are looking for entertaining videos to cure their boredom. You can use this to your advantage by targeting their curiosity and focusing on generating a click that investigates further (tip: make use of ellipses)...

Optimize Your Video Description

Your description serves multiple purposes in the context of distributing your video. First, your description will be analyzed by YouTube for main or "primary" keywords as well as supporting keywords that may help you rank for a broader range of search terms.

For example, a description including "Subway performer shocks everyone with this Adele tribute recorded in a Brooklyn subway station" may help the video rank for "subway performer", "Adele cover", "Adele tribute", "Brooklyn subway performer", "Brooklyn Subway", etc. So, its important to include your main keyword as early in your description as possible while also including other supporting descriptors that may help you cover more search results. 

Additionally, your description can and should include next steps for any viewers who end up enjoying your video. The first place they will likely check in such a scenario is the video description, looking for links or other calls to action that can help them find more of your content. However, your initial focus should be on keyword optimization - include any links or calls to action after the block of text that contains your keywords.

Create An Eye-Catching Thumbnail Image

Sadly, obnoxious thumbnails win more often than not. This may simply be because bright colors, text, and human faces and eyes tend to stand out in the search results when compared to stills from the video. Don't fade this - just use it to your advantage! Pull a still from your video into an editing software like Photoshop or Canva and pull yourself (or the artist, if not you) out from the photo. Try adding an outline or "stroke" to the artist, or a shadow or background color to make them stand out.

When including text in your thumbnail, take a similar approach as you did to the video title - think of an alternative headline that could help generate curiosity and clicks (bonus points for including your keyword or a relevant alternative!)

Lastly, if you do plan on advertising your YouTube video in the future, its worth mentioning that doing so can improve your search ranking. Ultimately, the amount of views and minutes watched your video is able to rack up can be a factor in determining how high your video ranks for your target keyword. So, accumulating views and watch time through advertising can positively impact your search ranking, pushing you higher up in the search results.