The Ultimate Guide to Ranking Your YouTube Videos: A Step-by-Step to Success

SEO YouTube is an essential strategy to enhance the visibility and reach of your videos. It is an art and a science of optimizing your content to rank higher in search results and attract a wider audience. With the right SEO techniques, your videos can gain the exposure they deserve and reach the target audience effectively. The goal is to make your videos stand out in the vast sea of content on YouTube, and with skillful writing, your videos will have the edge they need.

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What is YouTube SEO?

If you’ve ever looked into SEO, you’re probably familiar with the concept of getting your website to the top of Google’s search results. YouTube SEO, on the other hand, is about optimizing your videos to rank at the top of YouTube’s search results when users search for keywords related to your product or service.

Just because you’ve mastered website SEO doesn’t mean you’ll automatically succeed with YouTube SEO. The algorithms of YouTube and Google are distinct, and what works for one may not work for the other.

Video marketing is currently a popular trend, and as a result, many businesses are turning their attention to YouTube SEO. Since Google’s inception, user behavior has evolved, and their search habits have expanded. Nowadays, users don’t just search in the traditional sense; they also use Google Images and YouTube to find what they’re looking for.

While SEO for websites can be complex and time-consuming, SEO for YouTube videos is often more straightforward if you know what you’re doing. YouTube is currently the second most popular search engine in the world, but only 9% of small businesses utilize it. What’s more, YouTube video searches account for a whopping 55% of all Google searches. This is a huge potential for businesses that should not be overlooked.

To be more specific, when you implement YouTube SEO effectively, your business stands to gain the following advantages:

  • Increased website traffic
  • Attraction of new customers
  • Improved conversion rates
  • Enhanced brand awareness
  • Establishment of customer trust

To achieve these benefits, you need to have a clear roadmap and a well-defined plan for each phase of your SEO strategy.

Before we delve into the specifics of YouTube SEO, let’s take a moment to understand how YouTube ranks videos.

What Factors Does YouTube Consider for Ranking?

Much like Google, YouTube has certain criteria it uses to evaluate and rank videos. As such, it’s crucial to pay attention to the following important factors when optimizing your videos:

As you can see from the diagram above, there are numerous factors that YouTube takes into account when evaluating and ranking videos. However, the following factors are particularly noteworthy:

Audience Retention

Audience retention refers to the percentage of your video that viewers watch. The higher the audience retention, the higher YouTube will perceive the quality of your video to be.

Total Watch Time

Total watch time is the cumulative duration that users spend watching your video. This is considered an extremely important factor in YouTube’s ranking algorithm.

In general, total watch time is more important than audience retention. For example, a 15-second video with an average retention of 11 seconds has a high retention rate, but a low total watch time. In contrast, a 10-minute video with a 50% retention rate would result in a total watch time of 5 minutes, which YouTube would favor because it has more opportunities to display ads during that time.

Engagement Signals

Engagement signals refer to the actions that users take in response to your video content. This includes comments, subscriptions, shares, likes, and other forms of interaction.

Keyword Optimization

This process helps YouTube understand the content of your video and subsequently rank it accordingly. The elements that need to be optimized include titles, descriptions, and tags.

Now that you understand the key factors that influence YouTube’s ranking algorithm, let’s move on to the steps involved in YouTube SEO.

Step-by-Step Guide to YouTube SEO

Step 1: Keyword Research for YouTube SEO

The first step in any successful YouTube SEO strategy is thorough keyword research.

– Brainstorm a List of Potential Keywords

Start by creating a list of potential keywords. From there, you can use various tools to help you identify the best keywords from this list.

You can use software like ahrefs and keywordtool.io to research keywords specifically for YouTube. Ahrefs, in particular, is a powerful tool for building and researching keywords used by your competitors. Simply enter the URL of your video into Ahrefs, and it will provide you with relevant keyword suggestions.

Keywordtool.io, on the other hand, gives you insight into related keywords and their search volumes, allowing you to incorporate these keywords naturally into your video content.

VidIQ is another valuable tool that is certified by YouTube itself. It helps content creators identify the best keywords to improve their search rankings. When you research a particular keyword, VidIQ pulls data from YouTube to give you an overview of the competition for that keyword.

Additionally, there’s a simple method that involves using YouTube’s Search Suggest feature. Just go to YouTube and type in a word or phrase, and YouTube will suggest a list of related keywords based on what you’ve entered.

These suggested keywords represent high-demand topics that you can target with your videos and potentially monetize through YouTube’s advertising program.

– Find Keywords That Are Already Optimized for Videos

To do this, go to a channel in your industry and sort their videos by “Most Popular.” This will display their videos in descending order based on view count.

Next, select a video from this list, preferably one that you believe can be improved upon or used as inspiration for your own video.

However, as long as the video is related to your industry, it should suffice.

Finally, identify the keywords that have been optimized in this video by checking the title, description, and tags.

You can also gain additional insights from YouTube’s “Traffic Source: YouTube search” report, which shows all the keywords that users have used to find your video. In many cases, these may be keywords that you’re already familiar with and have optimized for. However, you may also discover some surprising new keywords.

Step 2: Crafting Effective Video Titles

Your chosen keywords should be incorporated into the title and tags of your video.

Using a consistent and effective title structure will make it easier for viewers to identify and understand your channel.


  • At the same time, it helps YouTube analyze and categorize your channel, making it more likely to be suggested to the right audience.

– Standard Video Title Structure

Video Name | Keyword | Channel Name | Video Quality

Series Name | Part Number | Video Name | Keyword | Channel Name | Video Quality

Video Name | Series Name | Keyword | Channel Name | Video Quality


– Explanation of the Video Title Structure

  • Series Name: This refers to the overarching theme or category that your video falls under. It’s something you define and use to group related videos together.

For example: “SEO Onpage Optimization – Part 1 – SEO Overview | Thiệu NV”

According to this structure: Series Name | Part Number | Keyword | Channel Name


  • By adhering to this structure, you can easily and consistently name your videos within each theme or category. Of course, the smaller categories should still align with the main theme that your channel focuses on.

The specific elements you choose to include will depend on the content of your video. You don’t have to include all the elements in every title. Instead, select a structure that suits your preferred way of naming videos.


  • If you have a series of videos dedicated to a particular keyword, it’s a good idea to include that keyword directly in the title, as shown in the examples above.

For standalone videos, incorporate the keyword in a way that feels natural and relevant to the content.

Step 3: Writing Video Descriptions

The description of your video should be placed directly below the video after it’s been uploaded. There are two main criteria that your video descriptions should meet:

Firstly, they should help YouTube and Google better understand the context of your video, thereby improving your search rankings. Secondly, they should increase the likelihood of your video appearing in YouTube’s “Suggested Videos” section.

Here are some basic guidelines for incorporating keywords into your video descriptions:

  • Use your primary keyword within the first 25 words
  • Ensure the description is at least 250 words long
  • Repeat the keyword 2-4 times throughout the description

A well-optimized description will clearly communicate the topic of your video to both Google and YouTube. Be careful not to overuse the keyword, as this may be perceived as keyword stuffing, which can negatively impact your rankings.

The ideal length for a video description is between 1000 and 2000 words. In addition to including your primary keyword, you should also include a few links to relevant pages on your website. This not only helps viewers learn more about your brand but also improves your website’s SEO.

Don’t skimp on the description, as Google uses it to assess the credibility of your video.

Step 4: Optimizing Video Tags

Your video tags should definitely include your primary keyword. In addition, you can include various related keywords and synonyms as well as potential user search queries. Here’s how you can structure your tags:

  • Tag 1: Primary keyword (e.g., “SEO Youtube”)
  • Tag 2: Related keywords and variations (e.g., “YouTube Optimization,” “Video SEO”)
  • Tag 3: Additional relevant keywords or topics (e.g., “seo onpage,” “seo onsite”)

Remember, the purpose of tags is to help YouTube and Google understand the context of your video, so there’s no need to overdo it. Just a few well-chosen tags will do the trick.

Important Note:

  • Using your primary keyword as a tag helps you compete for that keyword and increases the chances of your video appearing in the “Related Videos” section.
  • Don’t be afraid to use the same tags as your competitors. If someone is watching a video with similar tags to yours, YouTube is more likely to suggest your video in the sidebar.

Step 5: The Importance of Thumbnail Images

Instead of using the default thumbnail that YouTube generates for your video, consider designing your own custom thumbnail. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

– Center Your Thumbnail Text

Place your preview text in the center of the thumbnail image. This makes it easier to read and ensures that it doesn’t get cut off, especially on smaller screens. Feel free to adjust the positioning to suit your design, and consider adding some decorative elements to make it stand out.

Just make sure that any text doesn’t obscure the main subject of the image, as this can look awkward and unprofessional.

– Use Expressive Facial Close-ups

  • People are naturally drawn to faces, so consider using a close-up of a person’s face in your thumbnail.
  • This is especially effective if the person in the image is expressing a strong emotion, as it piques viewers’ curiosity and entices them to click.
  • Many successful YouTubers use this tactic, and it often results in higher click-through rates.

– Use Contrasting Colors to Make Text Pop

  • Using a contrasting color overlay on your thumbnail helps ensure that your text is legible, even at a small size.
  • As you can see in the example below, the text on the right-hand image is much easier to read due to the use of contrasting colors.
  • This is a simple yet effective trick used by many YouTubers to create high-performing thumbnails.

– Important Considerations When Creating Thumbnails

All thumbnails must adhere to YouTube’s Community Guidelines. This means no nudity, explicit content, offensive language, violent or harmful behavior, or dangerous activities. Violating these guidelines can result in temporary or permanent suspension of your ability to upload custom thumbnails.

If YouTube flags your thumbnail, you’ll receive an email notification, and the issue will be noted in your Channel Settings. You can appeal the decision if you believe your thumbnail doesn’t violate the Community Guidelines. If your appeal is successful and you haven’t changed the thumbnail, YouTube will restore it.

Additionally, YouTube may automatically disable your thumbnail for certain searches if they deem it inappropriate for the audience.

Step 6: Increasing High-Retention to Optimize Your Channel and Monetization Potential

High-retention refers to your ability to keep viewers engaged and watching your videos for longer periods.

It’s important to understand that simply attracting viewers to your YouTube channel isn’t enough. You need to keep them engaged and watching your videos for as long as possible. The longer people watch your videos, the higher your audience retention will be.

This metric, known as Audience Retention, is a critical factor in YouTube’s ranking algorithm. In fact, YouTube has stated the following:

“Audience retention is one of the most important factors in our ranking system. Our goal is for viewers to watch the videos they’re interested in for as long as they want.”

In other words, if your videos consistently keep viewers engaged, YouTube is more likely to rank them higher in search results.

Like any search engine, YouTube wants to keep users on the platform and encourage them to click on ads. If you help YouTube achieve this goal by creating engaging content, they will reward you with higher rankings and increased visibility.

So, how do you create videos that keep viewers engaged and interacting with your content? Here are some simple steps to increase high-retention:

Note: As long as your videos provide value and are engaging, they will naturally become high-retention videos.

– What is a Sub?

A “sub” is short for “subscriber,” which refers to someone who has chosen to follow your channel and receive updates when you post new content.

Important Note

Even if you follow all the YouTube SEO tips and tricks, a poorly made video won’t perform well. Unlike Google, which relies heavily on backlinks and other external signals to assess content quality, YouTube primarily focuses on audience retention.

Audience retention is one of the most critical factors in YouTube’s ranking algorithm. If viewers leave comments on your videos, it sends a strong signal to YouTube that your content is engaging and worth promoting.

In fact, a recent analysis of 1.3 million YouTube search results found a positive correlation between the number of comments

Frequently asked questions

There are several key steps to optimizing your YouTube videos for SEO. First, conduct keyword research to identify relevant and popular search terms. Incorporate these keywords into your video’s title, description, and tags. Optimize your video’s thumbnail image to make it catchy and appealing, as this can significantly impact click-through rates. Create engaging and informative content that encourages viewer engagement and sharing. Utilize closed captions and transcripts to make your video more accessible and provide additional text-based content for search engines to crawl. Engage with your audience by responding to comments and building a community, which can lead to more subscriptions and repeat viewers. Finally, promote your video through social media, your website, and other online channels to increase its reach and visibility.

To effectively promote your YouTube channel and videos, consider implementing the following strategies: Build a strong online presence by consistently creating and uploading high-quality, engaging content that caters to your target audience’s interests. Optimize your channel’s artwork, including the banner and icon, to make it visually appealing and reflective of your brand. Utilize social media platforms to promote your videos and engage with your followers. Consider running contests or giveaways to encourage subscriptions and sharing. Collaborate with other YouTubers in your niche to cross-promote each other’s channels and reach a wider audience. Engage with your audience by responding to comments and creating community posts, which can foster a sense of community and loyalty. Utilize YouTube’s built-in analytics to gain insights into your audience demographics and video performance, allowing you to refine and improve your content over time.

Increasing viewer engagement on your YouTube videos can be achieved through several strategies: Start by creating compelling and informative content that provides value to your audience, whether it’s entertainment, education, or practical solutions to their problems. Optimize your video titles and thumbnails to make them catchy and intriguing, encouraging viewers to click and watch. Utilize cards, end screens, and annotations within your videos to promote interaction and direct viewers to take specific actions, such as subscribing or watching another video. Respond to comments and build a community around your channel, fostering a sense of belonging and encouraging repeat viewers. Encourage your audience to share their thoughts, opinions, and feedback in the comments section, and actively participate in those discussions. Consider running contests or polls to engage your audience and create a sense of involvement.

To optimize your YouTube video descriptions for SEO, follow these tips: Start with a concise and engaging introduction that captures the essence of your video and includes relevant keywords. Provide a detailed description of the video content, using natural language and incorporating additional keywords and phrases. Include timestamps alongside key topics or moments mentioned in the video, making it easier for viewers to navigate and increasing the chances of your description being displayed in search results. Use relevant tags and keywords that accurately describe your video content, helping it appear in relevant searches. Consider adding links to your website or other social media profiles within the description, allowing viewers to easily connect with you on other platforms. Keep your description concise, readable, and free of keyword stuffing, as this can negatively impact both viewers and search engine rankings.

Analyzing and improving your YouTube channel’s performance can be achieved through the following steps: Utilize YouTube Analytics to gain insights into your channel’s performance, including viewer demographics, engagement metrics, and traffic sources. Pay attention to key metrics such as watch time, average view duration, subscriber growth, and audience retention. Identify trends and patterns in your most popular videos, and try to replicate those elements in future content. Experiment with different types of content and formats to discover what resonates the most with your audience. Listen to viewer feedback and comments to understand their preferences and make adjustments accordingly. Regularly review and update your older videos’ titles, thumbnails, and descriptions to keep them fresh and optimized for search engines.