If you have an audience on YouTube, are you doing everything you can to reach them? Inspired by a large-scale study from Justin Briggs, Rand covers the top factors to invest in when it comes to YouTube SEO in this week’s episode of Whiteboard Friday.
Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we’re chatting about YouTube SEO. So I was lucky enough to be speaking at the Search Love Conference down in San Diego a little while ago, and Justin Briggs was there presenting on YouTube SEO and on a very large-scale study that he had conducted with I think it was 100,000 different video rankings across YouTube’s search engine as well as looking at the performance of many thousands of channels and individual videos in YouTube.
Justin came up with some fascinating results. I’ve called them out here @JustinBriggs on Twitter, and his website is Briggsby.com. You can find this study, including an immense amount of data, there. But I thought I would try and sum up some of the most important points that he brought up and some of the conclusions he came to in his research. I do urge you to check out the full study, especially if you’re doing YouTube SEO.
5 crucial elements for video ranking success
So first off, there are some crucial elements for video ranking success. Now video ranking success, what do we mean by that? We mean if you perform a search query in YouTube for a specific keyword, and not necessarily a branded one, what are the things that will come up? So sort of like the same thing we talk about when we talk about Google success ranking factors, these are success factors for YouTube. That doesn’t necessarily mean that these are the things that will get you the most possible views. In fact, some of them work the other way.
1. Video views and watch time
First off, video views and watch time. So it turns out these are both very well correlated and in Justin’s opinion probably causal with higher rankings. So if you have a video and you’re competing against a competitor’s video and you get more views and a greater amount of watch time on average per view — so that’s how many people make it through a greater proportion of the video itself –you tend to do better than your competitors.
2. Keyword matching the searcher’s query in the title
Number two, keyword matching still more important we think on YouTube than it is in classic Google search. That’s not to say it’s not important in classic Google, but that in YouTube it’s even more important. It’s even a bigger factor. Essentially what Justin’s data showed is that exact match keywords, exactly matching the keyword phrase in the video title tended to outperform partial by a little bit, and partial outperformed none or only some by a considerable portion.
So if you’re trying to rank your video for what pandas eat and your video is called “What Pandas Eat,”that’s going to do much better than, for example, “Panda Consumption Habits” or “Panda Food Choices.” So describe your video, name your video in the same way that searchers are searching, and you can get intel into how searchers are using YouTube.
You can also use the data that comes back from Google keyword searches, especially if videos appear at the top of Google keyword searches, that means there’s probably a lot of demand on YouTube as well.
3. Shorter titles (<50 characters) with keyword-rich descriptions
Next up, shorter titles, less than 50 characters, with keyword-rich descriptions between 200 and 350 words tended to perform best in this dataset.
So if you’re looking for guidelines around how big should I make my YouTube title, how big should I make my description, that’s generally probably some best practices. If you leak over a little bit, it’s not a huge deal. The curve doesn’t fall off dramatically. But certainly staying around there is a good idea.
4. Keyword tags
Number four, keyword tags. So YouTube will let you apply keyword tags to a video.
This is something that used to exist in Google SEO decades ago with the meta keywords tag. It still does exist in YouTube. These keyword tags seem to matter a little for rankings, but they seem to matter more for the recommended videos. So those recommended videos are sort of what appear on the right-hand side of the video player if you’re in a desktop view or below the video on a mobile player.
Those recommended videos are also kind of what play when you keep watching a video and it’s what comes up next. So those both figure prominently into earning you more views, which can then help your rankings of course. So using keyword tags in two to three word phrase elements and usually the videos that Justin’s dataset saw performing best were those with 31 to 40 unique tags, which is a pretty hefty number.
That means folks are going through and they’re taking their “What Pandas Eat” and they’re tagging it with pandas, zoo animals, mammals, and they might even be tagging it with marsupials — I think pandas are a marsupial — but those kinds of things. So they’re adding a lot of different tags on there, 31 to 40, and those tended to do the best.
So if you’re worried that adding too many keyword tags can hurt you, maybe it can, but not up until you get to a pretty high limit here.
5. Certain video lengths perform and rank well
Number five, the videos that perform best — I like that this correlates with how Whiteboard Fridays do well as well — 10 to 16 minutes in length tend to do best in the rankings. Under two minutes in length tend to be very disliked by YouTube’s audience. They don’t perform well. Four to six minutes get the most views. So it depends on what you’re optimizing for. At Whiteboard Friday, we’re trying to convey information and make it useful and interesting and valuable. So we would probably try and stick to 10 to 16 minutes. But if we had a promotional video, for example, for a new product that we were launching, we might try and aim for a four to six minute video to get the most views, the most amplification, the most awareness that we possibly could.
3 takeaways of interest
Three other takeaways of interest that I just found potentially valuable.
Older videos do better on average, but new videos get a boost
One is older videos on average tend to do better in the rankings, but new videos get a boost when they initially come out. So in the dataset, Justin created a great graph that looks like this –zero to two weeks after a video is published, two to six weeks, six to twelve weeks, and after a year, and there are a few other ones in here.
But you can see the slope of this curve follows this concept that there’s a fresh boost right here in those first two to six weeks, and it’s strongest in the first zero to two weeks. So if you are publishing regularly and you sort of have that like, “Oh, this video didn’t hit. Let me try again.This video didn’t hit. Oh, this one got it.This nailed what my audience was looking for.This was really powerful.” That seems to do quite well.
Channels help boost their videos
Channels is something Justin looked deeply into. I haven’t covered it much here, but he looked into channel optimization a lot. Channels do help boost their individual videos with things like subscribers who comment and like and have a higher watch time on average than videos that are disconnected from subscribers. He noted that about 1,000 or more subscriptions is a really good target to start to benefit from the metrics that a good subscriber base can bring. These tend to have a positive impact on views and also on rankings. Although whether that’s correlated or merely causal, hard to say.
Embeds and links are correlated, but unsure if causal
Again on the correlation but not causation, embeds and links. So the study looked at the rankings, higher rankings up here and lower rankings down there, versus embeds.
Videos that received more embeds, they were embedded on websites more, did tend to perform better. But through experimentation, we’re not quite clear if we can prove that by embedding a video a lot we can increase its rankings. So it could just be that as something ranks well and gets picked up a lot, many people embed it rather than many embeds lead to better rankings.
All right, everyone, if you’re producing video, which I probably recommend that you do if video is ranking in the SERPs that you care about or if your audience is on YouTube, hopefully this will be helpful, and I urge you to check out Justin’s research. We’ll see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.