1.7 billion people visit YouTube every month, with 92% of internet users watching at least one form of video content each week. With so many people on the platform, even attracting the attention of 0.0001% of its users would make most businesses profitable.
But you are not alone on YouTube. Your competition knows about its reach and will probably use it at some point—they likely use it already.
You need to follow these actionable, expert-backed video SEO tips to help you outrank your competitors’ videos in search engines.
1. Target topics with SEO potential
High-volume keywords can have search results with millions of views. While targeting these keywords and capturing a portion of these viewers is appealing, your chances of ranking for these keywords are slim with a small channel.
Jim Costa is the head producer of an ad agency making TV, radio, and social media commercials for corporate clients. He reviews the search results to find truly low-competition topics, which leads to increased views in both the short and long term.
Use YouTube keyword research tools like vidIQ to find topics with reasonable search volume but low competition. For Costa, this signifies keywords with 1,000 to 25,000 monthly views and where existing videos don’t have many views, say under 100,000. Once you have the best keywords, you can make videos targeted directly at the audience you want to attract without having to fight for views.
2. Promote your channel with press releases
You can pitch blog posts with embedded videos to news sites to increase the videos’ view counts. The higher view count tells YouTube your video is worth sharing. Sea stack climber Iain Miller uses press releases for brand awareness. Thanks to his efforts, he’s reached hundreds of thousands of people.
According to Miller, the first step for newsworthy videos is to edit them into a suitable length. Most of his videos are shorter than two minutes. The short length helps PR agents quickly see his video and decide if it’s newsworthy.
Compose an email to pitch your press release. “The key points of a press release are email subject title and a link to the footage in the first sentence,” says Miller. Label your email subject line as “Press Release: title of the story.” A study of over a million press release subject lines found that PR agents are more likely to open-labeled pitches.
Include a link to your video in the first line, so that even PR agents who close your email watch your video. You should also include one or two GIFs and images throughout the body of the email—add more than two, and your email will take longer to load and look convoluted.
After your videos gain traction, Miller says, agencies like Newsflare and Caters will offer to promote your footage. Iain always gives permission, but he always asks for a link back to his site.
3. Include your competitor’s tags in your video description
YouTube tags help its algorithm understand your video’s topic. Tagging your video with the same tags as your competitor will tell YouTube that the videos are related. Related videos target the same people, meaning you’ll take a portion of their viewers.
Download vidIQ and search for competitor videos on a topic you plan to record soon. Then, check the right side of the screen for vidIQ’s statistic box to find your competitors’ tags. They’ll have a blue number next to them, so they are easy to recognize.
Tim Vasquez, video optimizer for Dickey’s Barbecue Pit, uses this tip to outrank competitors on Google search and YouTube. He recommends writing a video description that includes these keywords. “I haven’t put my keywords in the tag box for a couple of years,” says Vasquez, “and it hasn’t affected my rankings in the least.” However, by adding them to the description, he’s outranked competitors with millions of views, despite managing a smaller channel.
4. Use a different thumbnail for every platform
Fonts, images, graphic placement, and colors influence a thumbnail’s performance. You can design a thumbnail for each social media platform where you’ll post a video to find the one that generates the most clicks.
Jeff Moriarty from Moriarty’s Gem Art creates high-performing thumbnails and then turns them into his YouTube videos’ cover images. After switching his YouTube thumbnail to the highest-performing one, he sees more views and followers and thus has an easier time ranking with new videos.
Use Canva, Photoshop, or other design software to create different versions of your thumbnail. Change the typeface, text placement, colors, images, or graphics. Then, set a different thumbnail for each platform where you’ll publish your video and track the click-through rate and time spent viewing for each one using the platform’s analytic software.
After a week, use the highest-performing thumbnail on your YouTube channel to increase your click-through rate and views. When these two metrics improve, YouTube will show your videos to other people and increase your rankings.
“When we tested and found the winning thumbnail for our video,” says Moriarty, “we used it for all our blog posts, organic social media posts, and YouTube. It is now one of our highest-viewed videos with over 6,000,000 views.”
5. Optimize your video for your audience first
When posting your video, use a thumbnail and title with words and images that your audience would understand. This setup boosts your video’s views from the start because the video will sound intriguing to your audience.
Once views plateau, switch your title to a more SEO-oriented one. Since you have views and credibility, non-followers will be more likely to find and click on your videos.
Randy Rektor, the senior content producer at Voices, used this strategy to grow the company’s YouTube channel from 9,000 to 21,000 subscribers.
Create a video thumbnail and title that motivates followers to click. “A good example,” Rektor says, “would be ‘This ______ Has ALMOST Everything I Asked For’ with a thumbnail showing a question mark or a missing puzzle piece.” The title doesn’t include specific keywords about the contents of the video but generates curiosity for your audience. Once views plateau, switch the title to something like “The New _____—Beginner’s Tutorial” to appeal to the algorithm.
According to Rektor, new videos receive more views right off the bat with this technique, typically outranking Voices’ old videos. He also says they rank very high when they swap the title to be more SEO-oriented.
6. Add your target keywords to your video file name
Add your target keywords to your video file name, so the YouTube algorithm better understands who you’re targeting. According to Cesar Valencia, who has over 10 years of YouTube video production experience, nine out of 10 videos that don’t follow this tip rank lower or perform more poorly than those that did.
Choose a keyword using vidIQ, Ahrefs, TubeBuddy, or other YouTube keyword research tools. These tools will give you information about the keyword’s competition and volume.
Unlike when choosing the keyword to target with your video, pick high-volume keywords regardless of competition. The algorithm will relate your video to these keywords, even if your channel is not big enough to rank for the keyword’s top search results. Once you find high-volume keywords, add them to your video and thumbnail file names.
7. Study your target audience to help the algorithm rank your videos
Target topics related to your audience’s pain points, wants, or needs, even if keyword research tools say these topics don’t have promising SEO value. YouTube’s algorithm will show your video to fewer people if the topic is too specific. But the video’s specificity means most viewers will come from people aligned with your business’s ideal customer.
Russ Knopf owns a YouTube channel on dividend investing. For a recent video, he discovered people didn’t know if they should buy or sell AT&T stocks after a dividend cut. So, he created a video explaining why he bought more. This is one of his best videos because people who didn’t know, like, or trust him would have a rational self-interest to click and find out about his decision.
Engage directly with your audience to learn about their wants and needs. Ask your target audience for an interview or survey in exchange for a reward, like a guide teaching a skill they value or a discount code for your product. You can also read YouTube comments and relevant subreddits to see what’s bothering your viewers lately.
Write a list of recurring problems that your audience has and that you can solve. Then, use the same words, metaphors, and stories your audience uses to discuss problems during your video. Add them to your thumbnail and title. While not every person will decipher the video’s topic right away, viewers interested in what you offer and know will be excited to watch your video.
8. Include the words you want to rank for in your script
Google uses auto-transcriptions to understand your video’s content. As a result, including your keyword on your video ensures that Google finds it, understands your video’s topic, and shows it to relevant viewers.
Travis Johansen, the lead video producer at Provid Films, includes keywords in the scripts he creates for clients like Best Buy and U.S. Bank. The videos rank well because of this small action. He offered a great example: If you want to rank for “Best manufacturing company in Minnesota,” say that phrase near the beginning of the video and then a few more times.
Alternatively, find a keyword that your video mentions a lot and add it to your title. Johansen did this trick to boost a video that wasn’t performing as he wanted. The algorithm understood the video better after the change, resulting in over three million views.
9. Embed videos on your website
You can embed videos on your website to increase the time people spend on a page. A longer page session tells Google that website visitors enjoy your content, boosting your site’s ranking on the search results. More ranks for your post mean more views for your embedded videos.
As part of his marketing agency job, Richard Garvey embeds clients’ videos on their websites to take advantage of Google visitors.
Find blog posts discussing topics you covered in videos. Then, embed these videos at the top portion of the article to raise the likelihood of readers seeing your video. When Garvey’s team embeds videos on posts, they usually see views skyrocket within a few months.
10. Add timestamps to your videos
Google shows your YouTube video’s timestamps in its search results as “key moments.” Each moment ranks for the keyword in the timestamp’s name, meaning that one video can rank for multiple keywords in Google’s SERPs.
Divide your video into sections. If your video title is “6 ways to cook chicken,” each cooking method would have its own timestamp. Make sure to include important keywords in the titles of the timestamps. You should also include the timestamps in your video description to maximize the reach of your keywords.
David Lynch drafts outlines and optimizes Payette Forward’s YouTube channel of over 900,000 subscribers. Adding timestamps to videos has been a core part of the channel’s success. He structures timestamps as the section number followed by the title of the timestamp with the keyword included and ends with the minute marker. So, for the chicken example, a timestamp would look as follows: 5. Broil chicken with spices [7:51]. This simple structure ensures timestamps are organized and include keywords.
11. Group videos discussing similar topics in a playlist
YouTube promotes channels that keep people on the platform. The auto-play feature from playlists is perfect for this goal, as it encourages binge-watching. Through playlists, you promote other videos to viewers that get to the end screen, reducing their likelihood of leaving the site.
To create playlists, log into YouTube Studio and head to the Playlists section on the left. Click on New Playlist and include a keyword that you want to rank for that describes the playlist’s topic. Then click the playlist thumbnail and then on the three dots to add any of your videos.
Paul Baterina groups videos into playlists as part of his job as COO at Sleep Advisor. Sleep Advisor has a sub-series reviewing mattresses. Once they grouped these videos into a playlist, some started receiving tens of thousands of views instead of a few thousand.
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