Pop quiz! Who doesn’t love videos? No one. And where do most of us go to find videos? YouTube.

Do you want your videos to rank super high on YouTube and get more subscribers? Yes and yes. 

Nice one. 100%. 

This post is packed with info so let’s get started.

We’re going from beginner to advanced with YouTube SEO Strategies for 2021 and we’ll be covering:

  • YouTube SEO Ranking factors
  • How to get more views out of YouTube
  • What to do before you make a video to guarantee it’s a success
  • How to upload a video and optimize the proper settings
  • Best SEO practices to rank higher (faster!)
  • How to promote your video
  • And more

First, let’s go over the difference between ranking on YouTube and ranking on Google.


YouTube is a Search Engine

YouTube is one of the most popular search engines (along with Google).

And, if your YouTube video covers a popular topic or keyword, it can be a goldmine for driving traffic to your website, creating brand awareness, increasing sales, getting subscribers, shares, likes, comments, and a whole bunch more.

That is if your video is properly optimized (SEO).


You Need to Think of YouTube Separate From Google

Many people have a bit of a misperception regarding YouTube SEO.

They try and/or want to rank high on Google’s organic search for their YouTube videos.

This is the wrong way to optimize your videos.

When you’re optimizing your YouTube videos, you want to focus on optimizing them for YouTube search.

You have to think of YouTube as a separate search engine from Google because, well, it is. 

YouTube videos and channels don’t drive a lot of traffic from Google’s organic searches. Meaning, it’s not as likely that your video will rank high on Google Search as it would on YouTube. Google just doesn’t display as many videos in the top spots, whereas YouTube only displays videos. So, think of them separately. 


How does YouTube Rank Videos?

YouTube openly states:

“Videos are ranked on a variety of factors including how well the title, description, and video content match the viewer’s query and make sure it’s easy for viewers to find those. Search results are not a list of the most-viewed videos for a given query. Beyond that, we look at which videos have driven the most engagement for a query, and make sure it’s easy for views to find those.”


To be clear, SEO is super important, but engagement is key. If your users don’t find your video engaging, no matter how much effort you put into optimizing, YouTube will stop showing it. Plain and simple.

Okay, now for the good stuff.


YouTube Basics for SEO

Three Stages of YouTube SEO

There are three main stages of YouTube SEO:

  • Optimizing before you load your video
  • Loading your video and optimizing the YouTube settings properly
  • Promoting your video


All three stages play a vital role in your YouTube marketing success.

So here’s what you need to know for the first stage… 


First – Find the Keyword Sweet Spot

You want to find the keyword sweet spot for each of your videos.

If you’re just getting started, gather a list of keyword ideas.

Type your keywords into YouTube search to see what appears. YouTube will start to autofill the search bar and provide you with a bunch of keywords related to your keyword and you know they’re gonna be great keywords because YouTube is handing them over to you! 

This will help you generate a list of keyword ideas.

YouTube often ranks videos that include the following types of keywords higher:

  • How-to (fill in the blank)
  • Reviews
  • Tutorials
  • Funny videos
  • Fitness and sports-related videos


Target keywords that are long-tail (longer keyword terms).

You should also take advantage of your YouTube “Traffic Source: YouTube search” report, which tells you all the keywords searchers used to find your videos. Of course, some of them won’t be surprising, but others will enlighten you and allow you to add to your list of successful keywords.

Now, that you’ve got an idea of what keywords might be right for you, let’s take it to the next level.

Feel free to find a channel within your niche and filter their videos by “Most popular” to get quick, relevant keyword intel. 

Spy on your competitors for any search term you can find that’s ranking well on YouTube that would be appropriate for your video. Look at what titles, descriptions, and tags they’re using.

You can use a tool like vidIQ or Rival IQ to assist.

Using vidIQ, look for a video that’s ranking well for a particular keyword in your niche that doesn’t have a lot of subscribers.

That means that keyword falls into the category of a keyword sweet spot for you, leaving lots of room to rank (for channels that have lots of subscribers on them). 

Remember, low-competition keywords are best. They make you stand out. If you’re using the same keywords as everyone else, you’re likely to get buried in the overwhelming YouTube universe.

And, yes, we mentioned Google is different than YouTube, but we still want you to utilize it because they can work together. Head to Google and type in your keyword(s) to see the videos that populate. 

Use Google Keyword Planner to find the number of searches your target video keyword gets per month and if it’s over 100, snag it. 

Other keyword tools that deserve an honorable mention include:


Focus on Creating Longer Videos and Audience Retention

There are a few YouTube ranking factors that we need to account for when it comes to retention and video length:

  • Length of video
  • Audience retention
  • Total watch time
  • Session time


Audience retention, which is a significant ranking factor, is the percentage of video a viewer watches. The longer someone watches your video, the better.

Let’s do some audience retention math:

Person A creates a video that’s two minutes long. Person B creates a video that’s five minutes long. Each video has the same audience retention of 50%.

Which video will YouTube promote more, or are they equal?

The answer is: person B’s video will outrank person A’s video.


50% of Person A’s video is equal to one minute.

50% of Person B’s video is equal to two and a half minutes.

Two and a half minutes is longer than one minute.

YouTube wants to promote videos that people watch for a more extended period. Meaning, the more minutes that people watch your video, the more likely it is for YouTube to boost your rankings.

And yes, we’ve all heard that both YouTube AND its users want short videos. Don’t buy into that, the metrics say different.

Plenty of tests have concluded that longer videos outrank shorter videos.

Please note, that does not mean you should drag your video out to be extra long just to try to increase your YouTube rankings. Be informative throughout and stop when it makes sense.

If your video stinks, no one will watch it, no matter the amount of SEO you put into it. Also, when creating your video, be prepared. No beating around the bush, no stammering, stay on target, and engage with your audience.

Total watch time is also a ranking factor. Total watch time is the accumulative number of minutes people have watched your video over its lifespan.

How do you develop a high-retention video for YouTube that will increase total watch time? 

Here are some tips:

  • Include a summary of what your video covers (including your keyword phrase) at the beginning
  • Jump right into content – keep the intro short
  • Make viewers want to stay till the end by previewing what’s coming up later (towards the end of your video) at the beginning of your video, give them a reason to stick around
  • Include your keyword throughout the video
  • Include keywords associated with the keyword so algorithms can discern intent
  • Mention location in the video to help with your local SEO


There’s also another ranking factor that many don’t take into account: session time. Session time is the total amount of time someone spends on YouTube after they start watching your video.

If a person watches your video all the way through, or even just part of your video, and then leaves YouTube, that’s a loss for YouTube.

Now, if someone watches your video (win for you) and then stays on YouTube to watch another video, it’s a win for YouTube.

If they remain on YouTube and watch another one of your videos, that’s a double win for you as YouTube will up your rankings and have you show up in the suggested video section.

What do you do to guarantee that someone stays on your YouTube channel for an extended session time? Optimize your playlist.

There’s more detail about optimizing your playlist later in this article (FYI- the previous sentence is a great example of the type of things you should say at the beginning of your video. Now you want to keep reading to find out about optimizing your playlist). For now, just note that if someone watches one of your videos in a playlist, it will automatically play the next one in the playlist.

Equaling… You got it: a longer session time.

Keep in mind that you don’t need all the jazz and expense of equipment to make your videos. In fact, you can easily create a video on your own with your phone if you’d like.  This isn’t to say that presentation doesn’t matter. Make it look as good as you can without hiring a whole crew. 

As long as you’re giving the pertinent information your viewers want, your audience will be more than pleased. They stay for the info, not your lighting quality.

Other important ranking factors:

  • Comments on your video mean engagement and YouTube likes to see engagements
  • When a viewer subscribes to your channel after watching your video it tells YouTube that you rock
  • When a viewer shares your video it tells YouTube that you rock
  • If you have a high CTR (click-through-rate), YouTube will take notice


Pro tip 1: YouTube tells us that you have 15 seconds to capture the attention of the viewer, so make those 15 seconds at the top of your video really count!


Pro tip 2: If your brand allows, add in some fun. Break up monotony by doing something out of the ordinary or creative once or twice within your video. This could make an early-leaver a whole-video-watcher.


Promote Your YouTube Videos

Optimize your Channel

Optimize your channel for more views and subscribers. How? Focus on the header, playlists, and about section. You can find the exact dimensions here. 


Header Image

Make sure your header image is sized appropriately and that it’s visually appealing. Also, add links to your other social sites and website.


Channel Icon

Just as necessary as the header image, make sure your icon looks professional.


Trailer Video

Create a trailer intro video that welcomes people and briefly tells them what your channel is all about and why they should subscribe. Be sure to include your keyword(s) in this video. 

Address who your channel is designed for at the beginning of the video.

End the trailer with a CTA (call to action) to subscribe.


About Section

If you haven’t optimized your About section for the top keywords you want to rank for, you’re missing out.

Fill the About section out.

A well-optimized About page can also rank in YouTube for popular keywords.

Use the keywords you want to rank for, but don’t keyword-stuff.



We briefly mentioned the importance of playlists earlier (see I knew you would stick around and read on from that section). Set up playlists and add them to your General page.

Use benefit-rich playlist titles. Give your playlist a compelling name that will encourage someone to click through.

I also recommend having at least four videos in each playlist. YouTube plays the first video a person landed on, then it will play the next in the playlist. If the viewer continues watching the following videos in the playlist, it will increase their session time.

Now that we’ve covered the best SEO practices for producing your video, let’s discuss how to optimize your video when you load it.


SEO YouTube

YouTube SEO Basics

YouTube lets users manually input the video title, description, tags, etc.

These items all make it easier for your ideal audience to find you.

All of these items, and those listed below, should be optimized from the get-go. 


Change the Name of Your Video Before Loading

Before you upload your video, change the name of it to include your keyword. 


Write a Descriptive Keyword-Rich Title

You already did your keyword research, so this should be easy.

Make sure you get the keyword you want to rank for as early in the description as possible and make the title interesting to entice people to click through. 


Create a Long Description Including Keywords, Timestamps, and Links

Most people write a very short few sentence description. Big mistake for them, easy win for you.

Your video description helps YouTube and Google understand the context of your video. And the better they understand your video, the higher you’ll rank (and the more often you’ll show up in the Suggested Video sidebar).

Include your keyword in the first 25 words.

Make the description at least 250 words.

Use your keyword 2-4 times.

Include links to reference materials on your website.

Add timestamps that correlate your text to the time in the video. This lets viewers jump to the section they’re looking for, aiding in better engagement.

Add a CTA (call to action) – Suggest that they subscribe to your channel or spoiler alert: keep reading, we’ve got the ultimate CTA a little further down in this post when we get into how to increase audience interaction.    

Whatever you do, don’t write a cookie-cutter description, not even if your copying from your own website. The more unique, the better. You want your description to get the user’s attention, so think like your users when you write it. 


Add Tags

The tags are not as important as the title and description but still add value. Use your first tag as the exact keyword, then a few variations, then keywords that describe the overall topic.

Your tags are for YouTube only, your users don’t see them, so feel free to use as many that make sense, without getting crazy. Use a tool like TubeBuddy to help you choose tags that get you noticed.

Feeling feisty? Check out the tags your competitors are using and when their users find their videos, your videos will populate, too. vidIQ will help in this endeavor. 


Write a Script

We’re not saying to simply read from a piece of paper while you’re recording your video.  But having a script will help you be more concise, do away with those uncomfortable ‘ums’, and help you stay on point.

Practice your script beforehand and work on being natural with it.  You know this stuff.  You wrote it.  It’s your business.  So, make it engaging and organic.  Get to the point but make it personal. 


Add Transcripts

Adding transcripts provides YouTube with more information about the content of your video.

You need to upload your transcript manually.

I always suggest that those who are focusing on local SEO include their location variable words in the content of the videos. Don’t make YouTube guess.

Yes, YouTube can detect topics and keywords from your video, but you need to upload a transcript manually to optimize your video.

Get the details on creating a transcript file.  


Design an Awesome Custom Thumbnail

If you don’t create your own thumbnail (what the users see before they click on your video), YouTube will choose a random section of your video and that’s what’s going out into the world.

Sooooo, you should definitely be creating your own thumbnail. Be as unique as possible in order to stand out. Use text that inspires a click.

Make it fun, if that applies. Make it personal, if that applies. Make it YOU.

YOU are the one aspect of your company that no other company has guaranteed. So, get to know your users, by letting them get to know you. 


Optimize the Time Your Video gets Posted

Timing matters. The ideal time to post to YouTube is between 12:00 PM-4:00 PM during the week and 9:00 AM-11:00 AM on the weekends (Eastern time). The best days to publish are Thursdays and Saturdays. 


Increase Audience Interaction

Audience interacting signals are a huge ranking factor for YouTube.

This means the more likes, comments, and subscribers, the more YouTube will show your video to more people.

How do you get more audience interactive signals?

Here are some tricks to getting more audience interactive signals:

Instead of asking your viewers to share their thoughts, give them easy-to-answer multiple-choice questions. This makes it super simple for them to comment. And people love to give their input.

When someone comments on your video, it’s paramount that you personally reply to them. This increases the likeliness of them to comment again, and helps build a relationship positioning you as the “go-to guy/gal”

Also, the more positive interaction someone has with your video, the more likely they are to share and recommend your videos!

Great, you’ve got your video loaded and optimized, now what?

Promote it. Promote it. Promote it. Did I mention… Promote it! 


The First 24-Hours Matter

Unlike traditional SEO for websites, where you continue to gain momentum from the extended time your content sits there, YouTube is different.

If your video performs well in the first 24 hours it’s a winner.

If not, you should put forth your best efforts to improve the rankings, but chances are you’re not going to see a massive jump.

So, what can you do to gain traffic and momentum in that first crucial timespan? Share your videos and respond to those comments! 


Promote Your YouTube Videos

Promote Your Video More

You may be under the very common misconception that the more videos you have out there, the better. Simply not true. It’s not about the number of videos in the YouTube game, it’s about the quality and relevance of your videos. YouTube isn’t looking for the most videos, it’s looking for the best videos.

Once you have an excellent video under your belt, promote it. And keep promoting it. If it stays relevant, people will watch it for years. Literally.

Make sure you’re sending out your YouTube video via all of the social media channels and email it to your database. Again, promote your video as much as possible during those first 24hours. But don’t stop there.

You can also mention your video on Quora, Reddit, and other online communities. If you decide to do this, don’t be spammy, and just include a link to your video. Search for topics/questions related to your video and type out a helpful response that positions you as the industry authority leader that you are. At the end of your response, embed your video.

Other ways to promote your video:

Write a blog post on the same topic and embed the video in it. You can use a variation of your transcript. If you don’t want to type it all out, look for someone on Fiverr to transcribe it for you.

Use a link in all emails sent out from your staff in the email signature. Add a line like “Check out our latest YouTube video” with the link.

Boost social media posts that include the video.

Run an AdWords campaign.

Advertise through YouTube. They have a variety of advertising options.

Generally, just create a winning video, put in the proper optimizing, promote it, and it’ll take care of the rest.


YouTube Will Help Even the Boring Industries

Okay, you work as a financial consultant or a soil tester (if that’s a thing?) and you’re thinking, YouTube just ain’t gonna work for me.

Well, you’re wrong.

First of all, you have an audience, and they need to find you, so you need to be out there. 

Second of all, if everyone in your industry is thinking like you, you’ll be one of the only companies in your field on YouTube, which means you’re running the show and sticking it to your competition.

Yet one more way to keep you and YouTube happy. 


You got this!

I hope after reading this, you’re ready to tackle your YouTube videos with fresh insight. I can’t wait to hear how it goes!