You’ve heard the stories. Somebody who doesn’t even know what SEO stands for posts a YouTube video goes went viral and racks up 6 million views. It happens—but that’s an infinitesimal exception to the rule. It’s possible, but the odds are against you. Here’s a video that will put it into context for you.

These YouTube video posters didn’t just get lucky. It’s also possible they don’t know much about SEO. That works in their favor.

You can hope for a YouTube audience, or you can plan for it. If you choose the latter, here’s the way to go about it.

Do everything you can to encourage comments

YouTube wants you to publish video that maximizes engagement. Analyses show that YouTube videos with multiple comments always rank higher in searches.

Short videos don’t perform as well as longer ones

Pay no attention to the supposed short attention span of a YouTube viewer. Statistics show that’s bunk. If you need a bit of convincing, spend some time using YouTube’s search function. The average length of a video ranking on the first page is over 14 minutes.

YouTube has something to do with that, of course. They reward total watch time with higher rankings. In fact, they were granted a patent for an algorithm that uses watch time as a ranking signal.

We often think of SEO in terms of keywords, but search engine optimization for YouTube video is more about how long you can keep people watching. If you want an example, search for a how-to video. The longer the length, the higher it’ll be ranked.

Encourage shares

Who’s going to argue with Google? They claim that outside social media doesn’t play any part of their ranking algorithm. But something many people miss is that the YouTube ranking algorithm is not the Google algorithm.

What that means is YouTube can precisely measure sharing activity. They know who their users are—which can’t necessarily be said if they tried to measure sharing on other social media networks. The result is a pure number that can accurately indicate how popular a YouTube video is based on the YouTube viewers who decide to share it.

That carries a lot of weight, and it’s worth your effort to take explain why you want people to share the video.

The higher the view count, the higher the ranking

Sure, that’s a no-brainer. But there’s more to this than meets the eye—and we mean that literally. The assumption is that high view count indicates high quality.

What YouTube discovered, though, is that views often can give just the opposite indication about quality. It’s the main reason why they changed their ranking algorithm to instead emphasize engagement and retention.

Yes, the total number of views will still add to a YouTube video ranking. But, consider the necessity. Without the views, YouTube can’t look at the other things they evaluate for overall ranking. Nevertheless, you’ll get a higher ranking if you concentrate on what YouTube wants to push: engagement.

Create a channel

YouTube loves channels. Prove it to yourself with a search. Creating a channel can be a great equalizer for you. It’s not uncommon to see channels with a small amount of subscribers outrank those with exponentially higher subscriber counts. Again, it’s because YouTube is looking at more than just pure numbers.

Ask for Likes

How does YouTube know that viewers are engaged with your video content? If you convince them to click on the “Like” button, you’ve obviously engaged them.

It’s a natural correlation if you think about it. Videos that have lots of Likes will also probably be of high quality. That in turn generates audience retention. Now you’re speaking YouTube’s language. You’re going to get a much higher ranking.

Ask viewers to subscribe to your channel

Videos that cause channel subscriptions make YouTube jump up and down! If a viewer subscribes, it means they plan to come back. That means YouTube can serve more ads to them.

This piece of YouTube video SEO voodoo is probably the most simple of all. Never fail in your video to ask people to subscribe. Don’t just put it in the description. Include it as video content.

Don’t get too caught up with keyword-rich tags and titles

Google might own YouTube, but you can’t apply Google SEO tactics to YouTube and expect the same results. There are more diplomatic ways of putting it but it boils down to one thing: it’s the video, stupid.

YouTube exists to display video content and embed advertising in it. They’re not so interested in helping you lay a bunch of keyword landmines meant to draw people away to your website. Straightforward video titles that explain exactly what viewers will see is the only SEO worth practicing here. Besides, if the subject of your video doesn’t effortlessly match your selected keywords, you’ve made too much of a stretch from the start.

Don’t skimp on video production quality

There’s no proof—and YouTube prefers not to say—that ranking criteria favors HD quality video above SD quality. Unless you call proof doing a few searches yourself and comparing the results.

You’ll likely find HD videos with lower viewer totals ranked above videos that are only SD quality. Note that this phenomenon is more relevant to searches on the first page of results.

Your YouTube takeaway

It’s not possible—nor is it a good idea—to apply SEO best practices to your YouTube videos. Yes, people search for videos. However, the practices that rank your website higher on search engines don’t correlate with those on YouTube.

Higher rankings in YouTube searches depend on your video’s ability to:

  • Engage
  • Maintain attention
  • Be shared.

So, in some ways, YouTube really is the great equalizer. And maybe that’s why we continue to hear stories about unlikely videos that have achieved crazy—yet unintentional—viral status.

Their creators had the singular intention that should be your only objective. Tell a good story!

Video is one of the best additions you can make to your website to help increase engagement, improve your search engine optimization and connect with your audience by telling a great story. We have a great program for helping you do just that – contact us and we’ll fill you in!