YouTube SEO: a 3-step process to do it the right way

YouTubeAre you trying to build an engaged audience on YouTube and wishing it was easier?

For brands YouTube is an opportunity to reach people when they are looking for answers to their most pressing questions or giving vent to interests and passions.

However, growing a channel (and an audience) on YouTube is not easy at all, especially if you do not want to rely on paid solutions.

Here I’ll present a basic 3-step process every brand can follow to take full advantage of YouTube’s internal search and get more exposure for its own videos.

1. Make sense of your data

As for anything, also on YouTube you need to commit to a strategic approach based on data that can grow your channel while you keep an eye toward the horizon and take advantage of growing trends.

YouTube Analytics can be very good place to start from this point of view.

The suite of analysis tools made available within Creator Studio offers a series of reports on the use of videos and channel that represent a real gold mine in the process of refining and optimising a growth strategy.

You can get answers to questions like:

  • What is the average ‘Watch time’ of my videos?
  • Which of my videos perform better in terms of visualisations?
  • How do my users interact with the content?
  • From which sources do my videos receive more views?

While analysing your data just remember that, besides being found, the key to YouTube’s success is to keep your audience engaged, so a very important part of the strategy should be focused on increasing watch time and user interaction.

2. Find and choose your keywords

Once you understand how your audience is interacting with content, in order to increase the visibility of your channel through organic source you can basically follow the same workflow you would do for any SEO project.

You probably know that, if you need to find topics and keywords for a website’s page, it is critical that before you understand what your user is searching on Google and how.

For videos it is exactly the same, what it differs is just the type of content.

You can start by searching for keywords typed in by YouTube’s users within the network itself, using for example the autocomplete feature of YouTube’s search query box.

YouTube search for how to repair a comp

Another option is just analysing and extracting the queries that are currently used to reach your content organically.

You can find a good selection of these ones within the “Traffic Sources” report of YouTube Analytics. You can simply extract them and verify their search volume with a tool like, in order to find out if better options exist or discover new ideas.

3. Optimise your videos for search

Now that you have your keywords, it is essential to use them right within the elements that most contribute to the ranking of each video within YouTube’s internal search.

Some suggestions from this point of view.

Video Titles

  • Always include the keywords for which you want to be found at the beginning of the video title.
  • Use a length of up to 60 characters (including spaces) for the title. The limit of characters expected for video titles on YouTube is 100, but only the first 60 are generally displayed. Using up to 60 characters for titles will prevent them from being truncated in YouTube search results.
  • Avoid using as the first element of the title the name of the specific playlist in which the video is contained. Use the title of the playlist as an appendix element to the main title of the video instead

Video descriptions

The description represents a great opportunity to show the topic of video to search engines and more text to be analysed and evaluated for indexing.

The channel manager has a maximum length of 5,000 characters for each video description, whose recommended structure is as follows:

  • Line 1 – 2: short explanation of the content. The first two lines of text related to the description of each video are those that – in most cases – Google itself will use to populate the “description” field of their search results. Write an extreme summary of what will be proposed in the video itself, taking care to use the main keywords for which you want to be found (the same that will be used in the video title).
  • Line 3 – 5: First call to action. The third to fifth text lines are those that are included in the video description before the “Show more” button. Insert a first clear call to action in line with the objective for which the video was made.
  • Lines after the fifth: Relevant content. All the space that YouTube makes available to publishers beyond the fifth line of description can be used for the inclusion of relevant and keyword-rich content regarding the single video. You can use HTML here, so linking is strongly encouraged, especially to highlight top performing videos within the same channel.
  • Closing: Default, standard content. Optimised as per default channel settings, this content will appear at the end of each video’s description. It will contain a brief text description of the channel and the main topics covered and a second call to action with the invitation to subscribe

YouTube screenshot Gordon Ramsay top 5 recipes

Tags, Subtitles and Thumbnails

Tags play an important role in defining the recommended video proposal that is presented to the user by YouTube itself, and that almost always represents a quite good source of traffic.

If the video contains relevant audio content, it is then advisable to add subtitles so that they can be accessed not only by deaf people but also by those who see the video without audio.
In order to exploit as much as possible the YouTube channel as a tool for interaction with users and to increase its SEO effectiveness, remember that the content of subtitles is considered textual content, and can therefore be indexed by Google and search engines.

Thumbnails, finally, allow users to quickly get an idea of ​​the content of the video itself when using YouTube. Once the video is loaded, you can choose between three automatically created proposals or you can upload a personalised one.

It is generally advisable to choose an image that leads the user to click, focusing on what is actually told in the video.

It is also critical that the personalised thumbnail – if used – contains a short title / explanatory text of the video directly inside the image, in order to facilitate the immediate understanding of the topic by the user if YouTube is accessed – for example – from a mobile device.

YuuTube screenshot how to do keyword search


So you have set up a basic YouTube SEO process to increase the organic visibility of your channel and videos.

Now what remains to do is just take a look at how your videos perform organically (again with YouTube Analytics), collect new data and use them to refine and optimise your strategy.

As said, it is advisable to work on user engagement, planning the production of new content on the basis of the needs of the average user and of the past performances (for example in terms of social shares and new subscriptions to the channel).

Yes, building an engaged audience on YouTube through SEO is not easy.

But it’s also far to be impossible.

About Marco Megali

Marco Megali is an Italian SEO consultant and digital marketing strategist. He's Head of SEO & SEA at AvantGrade, a digital marketing agency based in Switzerland (formerly Bruce Clay Europe).