YouTube SEO Guide: How to Optimize Your Videos for Search 

It’s no secret that YouTube SEO is important. YouTube is where your brand must be to pull audiences. Sure, Facebook and LinkedIn matter, but they don’t have what YouTube has working for it. YouTube is a video-first platform. And it’s more than entertainment people want from YouTube. Google found that 67% of YouTube users look to the platform to solve problems related to work, studies, or hobbies. 

YouTube SEO ranking is also able to add large volumes of views via search engines. While most have caught onto videos appearing in search, additions like snippets and timestamps have dramatically enhanced video search. These two elements make it possible for Google to find specific mentions of terms and better serve its audience. This means optimizing your videos for YouTube search can help boost your rankings in Google search results, something that can also help you build a bigger and more omnipresent brand.

But to rank in YouTube search (and Google), you’ve got to optimize your videos effectively. And that’s what this blog post is all about. We’ll show you exactly which elements to optimize to generate the best possible rankings. 

YouTube SEO: How to Optimize Your Videos for Search:

Identify Your Keyword

There are many ways to find keywords for your videos but not all are created equally. In this video by Sam Oh, he explains that gathering the right data to support keyword research isn’t always as simple as using one tool, or the tool that most people use. Sam shares four tools. These are TubeBuddy, VidIQ, Ahrefs’ Keyword Explorer, and Google Trends. 

Keyword research is essentially all about identifying which term to use to help people find your video on YouTube. Thing is, there are a lot of ideas about how to find those keywords. Using a combination of tools, you’ll be able to gauge viewer interest and spot a correlation between the data each tool offers. 

For example, Google Trends indicates interest overtime, where Ahrefs’ Keyword Tool shows search volumes and other related terms you can use to create more valuable videos for your audience.

Sam uses these tools to generate amazing results for Ahrefs’ YouTube channel, so this video is worth the watch.

Change Your Video File Name

Video file names, like titles and descriptions, matter. YouTube is a metadata-driven platform. It searches videos for text that matches search terms to return the most helpful content to users. Unless you’re using terms that people are searching for, it becomes really hard to position your content to be found. 

That’s why your video file name must be labeled with your keyword. Making this change is a quick and easy one, but can position your videos for better potential rankings. 

Optimize your YouTube Video Titles

Video titles are a big deal and possibly the worst kept YouTube SEO search secret. All you need to do is add your keyword to the title of your video. But don’t create your title for YouTube’s algorithm, write it for people. While YouTube is ultimately going to decide which video is ranked highest, there are many other factors that influence YouTube’s ranking algorithm. One of those is click-through rate and another watch time. Together, these tell YouTube that your video gets a lot of clicks and people watch a lot of it too. 

And as you can tell, people determine if your title is clickable and whether they want to watch the video to the end. Does this mean you shouldn’t front-load your title? Not necessarily. Just be sure that what you create is easily understood by people first. 

Optimize Your Video Description

Video descriptions offer more insight into what your video is about. For your description to help rank your video, use your keyword throughout the description. Backlinko’s Brian Dean’s research doesn’t show any correlation between rankings and descriptions optimized for certain keyword terms, but he made another observation. Dean found that descriptions can help videos show up in the suggested videos sidebar--powerful real estate that generates tons of video views.

To optimize your video description, work your keyword into the first 2 sentences, making it easier for YouTube to quickly pick up. It also reassures any viewers who read the description that they are in the right place.

Add Tags

YouTube video tags have and will continue to be a bone of contention in the YouTube SEO world. According to some, they offer no value, while others believe that they serve a purpose. Backlinko falls into the latter group and we think Dean is worth listening to given his success as an SEO expert. 

Dean recommends using tags, but do so sparingly. Too many tags can confuse YouTube, making it hard for the platform to pin down what your video is all about. Dean recommends what he calls the ‘TAB Formula’.

The ‘T’ stands for ‘target keyword’, which you should add as a tag. For example, if you’re creating a video about a new digital camera and your keyword is “canon camera”, use that as your target keyword.  

The ‘A’ stands for ‘alternative keywords’. It involves using 2 to 3 alternative keywords that are still related to your target keyword. Using our digital camera example from above, your alternate keywords could be “canon digital camera” and “best canon camera”. 

Lastly, the ‘B’ is for ‘broad keywords’. These are terms related to the industry your in, giving YouTube more context for your video. A broad, industry-related keyword could be “photography”.

Create an Attractive Thumbnail Image

Earlier, we explained that there are many factors that influence YouTube search rankings. While briefly covered, click-through rate it’s a big one. Click-through rate is likely a clearer indicator that the way you’ve optimized your video for people is actually working. Click-through rate is influenced by how attractive your title and thumbnail are. 

Since we’ve covered how to optimize your title, here’s what you need to do to create engaging thumbnail images:

Use a Face

Ever notice that almost every YouTube thumbnail you see includes a person? That’s because people are immediately attracted to thumbnail images with faces more than inanimate objects. When using one, the more emotive, the better. People react to emotion. 


Think Media does a great job of using faces on their thumbnails. In the image above, note how Sean Cannell is looking toward the camera and how it’s pointed at him. Together, these placements draw the viewer into the center of the image which is where the caption is prominently displayed.

Break the Mold

Color is a major factor when scanning YouTube for what to watch. When you decide on a color for your videos, opt for a combination that’s different from YouTube’s red, white and grey. Colors that clash or stand out more will draw more attention. 


Brian Dean and Ahrefs illustrate how to use color to stand out. The bright green and orange backgrounds are easily eye-catchers and more likely to get more clicks than the video in position number one.

Also, experiment with outlines that break the flow of the platform. Take Gary Vaynerchuk’s video thumbnails. The different outline makes them stand out clearly in a feed.


Use Text

Adding a caption to your video is important. People turn to YouTube for value. And when considering value, as a marketer or video content creator, value is translated through your ability to tell engaging stories. Your story starts on the search results page. Create captions that compliment your video’s title and content. Don’t give away what your video is about, instead, allude to what viewers will gain by watching it. 

Important: don’t create click-bait captions. They may work to attract viewers for a short while but will end up hurting your channels as fewer people watch what you have to offer.


Economics Explained shows how to find the perfect balance between caption and title copy. Note how the title explains what the video is about, where the caption pulls the viewer’s attention by making a bold statement.

Add Subtitles

Subtitles are searchable by YouTube. And as such, having them present can help rank your video higher in search. The great news is that including them isn’t difficult to do. YouTube automatically creates subtitles for videos. Thing is, they aren’t accurate. 

You have two options. First, you can upload your own subtitles, or, second, you can take what YouTube provides, edit subtitles, and reupload them to YouTube. Either way will work well, but the latter may save you time, especially if you haven’t scripted your video and don’t want to worry about syncing video with subtitles manually. 

How do you upload your subtitles? Here’s a quick and helpful YouTube video from VEED STUDIO on how to do just that.

Use YouTube Cards and End Screens

YouTube cards and end screens are some of the most underutilized real estate on YouTube. When used correctly they can help channels generate more clicks for their content boosting overall channel ranking, something that influences how well individual videos are ranked and suggested. 

Using YouTube Cards

Make the most out of your YouTube cards by inserting them as specific moments in your video. This is what makes cards effective. They act as enhanced annotations that you can call out in your video, drawing the attention of viewers and driving more and more traffic to other videos (to boost your channel’s views and rating) or monetize your videos through landing pages to generate leads and sales.

Adding a card to your video is done by accessing a video through YouTube Studio, then clicking on Cards in the top navigation menu. Cards can be added by clicking on the Add Card button and selecting the type of card. 

You can choose from: 

  • An Associated Website: this can be your site or another website
  • Fan Funding: offer fans the option to pay to support your channel
  • Fundraising: a way to motivate people to support causes your passionate about
  • Merchandise: list merchandise for sale
  • Video or Playlist: link to a video or playlist

Here’s a complete video from YouTube expert Deral Eves on how to add YouTube cards to your videos.

Using End Screens

While they may look sophisticated, end screens are not hard to create. In fact, you can easily create one with a free tool like Canva. Canva offers “YouTube Outro” designs that you can use for your channel. They come as moving and still versions, and you can customize them by adding your face or channel logo, and more. 

Here’s a helpful video from Think Media on how to use Canva to create your end screen.

Wrapping Up

YouTube SEO and YouTube search are not difficult to master. The guide above shows that with a little elbow grease, you can optimize your videos to start ranking higher. While anyone can pull on any of these levers, be sure to create great content. Lean into topics that your audience is interested in, and focus on going deep instead of scratching the surface on subject matter. This way, your work will begin to pay dividend. 

And remember, like all things SEO, ranking takes time. Give yourself a few weeks before you expect to see results.