How to Optimize YouTube Videos

March 4, 2024

YouTube might be the greatest untapped resource when it comes to marketing your brand. Business owners mistakenly think video content has nothing to do with their business and offers no benefit. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, the platform does require a little more work than simply posting an update on Facebook, but its power knows no boundaries. If you're interested in starting to leverage the pros of YouTube for your business, then you need to understand one very important concept: how to optimize YouTube videos.

How Does YouTube Even Work?

Good question. This is really important.

YouTube is owned by Google. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, it works a lot like Google does — like a search engine.

Let's keep this simple for now. How do you use Google? You type in something you want to know more about and hit enter. Google then delivers results that it thinks you might be interested in.

YouTube largely works the same.

You go onto the platform, type in something you want to watch a video on, and hit enter. YouTube shows you results that match your search query (read: what you typed into the search bar).

Make no mistake about it: There are videos for everything. YouTube isn't just about makeup tutorials and cooking demos. It has something for everyone. And yes, your brand should probably be using it.

Before you start uploading any content, though, you need to grasp the concept of how to optimize YouTube videos.

What Does it Mean to Optimize YouTube Videos?

Again, let's go back to Google.

Maybe you've heard of optimizing your blog content using search engine optimization (SEO). This is when you focus your blog on a relevant keyword and use that keyword in specific places, such as:

  • The title.
  • Headings.
  • Image alt texts.
  • The URL.

We optimize our blog content because it helps it rank higher in Google. This means more people are likelier to see it and click on it. Thus, it brings more traffic to that page.

This is why optimizing your content is so important. And YouTube is no different.

You want to optimize YouTube videos because it will help them show up higher in the search results. People will be likelier to see them, click on them, and watch them. This, in turn, helps them rank even higher, because it shows YouTube that people are interested in your content.

Don't forget, too, that Google search results feature videos near the top. Here's an example.

google video results

Just below the featured snippet and the number one search results is a row of relevant videos that rank for that keyword — "how to post on Instagram." This is no accident! Those videos are there for a reason.

So, understanding how to optimize YouTube videos is of utmost importance if you want to use the platform as a tool to grow your online presence and even your revenue.

How Do You Optimize YouTube Videos?

By now, you should have a good understand of why we care so much about optimizing our video content. Now, let's get to the really good stuff: How exactly can you do this?

Pick a Relevant Keyword

Optimization all starts with a keyword. In fact, you might want to do keyword research before you even record a video. This is how you can determine what people are actually searching for and interested in. (We do this before writing blog content, too!)

The simplest way to get started with keyword research is to begin typing a potential keyword into YouTube and see what auto-populates. YouTube is showing you things people are already searching for. Pretty cool, right? Here's an example. When I type in "how to post," this is what I see:


So, I know that these are topics people are already searching for.

There's additional research you can do to find more specific information though — like the average monthly searches a keyword is getting. Google's Keyword Planner Tool along with Google Trends can help with this.

The goal is to ideally find something that's high-traffic but low-competition. To begin, though, just focus on finding a popular keyword that you know people are searching for. Baby steps.

Use Your Keyword in All The Right Places

YouTube and Google are paying attention to not only your keyword but where you use it. At a minimum, include it in the following places:

  • Title.
  • Description.
  • Tags.

You should also incorporate your keyword into the file name of your video, separating each word with a dash. For instance, if you're optimizing a video for the keyword "how to post on instagram stories," you can name your video file, "how-to-post-on-instagram-stories."

There's one final place you can include your keyword. To be clear, though, we don't really know yet if this plays a factor in your rankings, and if so, how much.

Regardless, it's good for user experience.

You can include your keyword in your video thumbnail. The easiest way to do this is to put the title of your video onto the thumbnail as text, since this already contains your keywords.

Use big, bold text that will be easy for people to see and read.

Just Say No to Keyword Stuffing

An important note: As is the case with website and blog copy, it's in your best interest to completely avoid keyword stuffing when it comes to optimizing YouTube videos.

In case you're not yet familiar, keyword stuffing is... exactly what it sounds like. It's excessively using your keyword all over the webpage in an attempt to rank higher for said term. This used to work, way back in the day. It doesn't anymore, period.

These days, Google, and therefore YouTube, is incredibly savvy when it comes to identifying black hat techniques like keyword stuffing. Not only does it not work, but it'll hurt you. The search engine indeed penalizes content that uses techniques like this.

You should always use keywords in a natural and organic way. If you have to force them into your content, leaving it sounding awkward to the viewer/reader, then it's wrong. Be sure to read your content out loud before you publish iy. You'll very likely be able to pick up on any places where it just sounds too forced.

Bear in mind that this is a marathon, not a sprint. Slow and steady wins the race. You want to aim to consistently post high-quality content over time. It's not about spamming your own videos with keywords. Think about the overall health and quality of your entire page — not just one video.

4 Additional Tips for Increasing YouTube Engagement

1. Promote the Heck Out of Your Video

While this isn't directly related to your keyword or optimization, it is important in boosting the traffic and rankings of your video.

While your YouTube videos can live forever and will continue getting views as long as they're up, the first 24 hours that your video is up are crucial. The platform is paying close attention to how much people care that you just posted this content.

This means you should be posting one video at a time, and focus on driving traffic to it within that first day, especially. Send an email blast to your subscriber list letting them know you have a new video up. Be sure to give them the link, so that they can go right to it.

You should also post on all of your social media platforms, notifying your followers of your new video content. Once again, give them the link. They won't go looking for it.

Don't forget about Facebook Stories and Instagram Stories. These are powerful tools! Look at IG Stories, for instance. They put you at the very top of your followers' news feeds, where they're far more likely to see you. This is an excellent way to reach people — in addition to a regular post on your feed, of course.

2. Add Subtitles to Your Video

According to research, captioned videos saw a 13.48% increase in views in the first two weeks they were published. Over the lifetime of the content, captioned videos received 7.32% more views than YouTube videos without captions.

When you think about it, it might not be all that surprising that captions help with engagement. Consider all the people who are watching someplace where they can't play the sound. It also means that hearing impaired people won't be excluded. Essentially, subtitles allow more people to watch your videos.

3. Use the Video Description to Drive Traffic to Other Places

Yes, the description is mainly about telling people what your video is about (along with using that keyword!). However, YouTube gives you plenty of space to keep typing. You should take advantage of this.

For instance, why not share links to other related videos, your website, or your social media pages? Why not link to a "freebie" people can opt into, so you can collect their email addresses?

Get creative with your description box. You can use it for so much more than just the description.

4. Use Cards and End Screens to Direct Viewers to Other Videos

You don't want viewer engagement to end with that video. In a perfect world, you keep people engaging with your content even longer. Fortunately, YouTube makes this relatively simple, in the form of cards and end screens. You probably see these all the time when you're watching videos on YT. This is the creators further marketing to you.

Here's one example of cards, from YouTube creator Katie Steckly. Do you see the little "i" in the top right corner?


It expands to reveal this:

And when you click on it, this is what happens:

Basically, you see additional videos from Katie that you might be interested in.

Here's an example of end screens, from one of Sunny Lenarduzzi's videos. With end screens, you can choose a few videos to direct viewers' attention to. YouTube will add clickable boxes for them toward the end of your video.


Final Thoughts

It's all about making it as easy as possible for the viewer to stay on your videos, as opposed to going elsewhere. Little details like cards and end screens ultimately make a big difference.

It sounds like a lot, but we promise — once you get a few videos under your belt, it gets a lot easier (and faster!). Videos tend to intimidate people. Don't let them. You don't need to make this an expensive production to see results. Your smartphone and some natural light should be more than enough. Try creating a few quick videos and post them using the tips we've gone over. Make a habit of doing, say, a video a week, and you'll start to see YouTube sending you traffic.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does it mean to optimize a YouTube video?

Optimizing a YouTube video is the process of making improvements in order to maximize your videos engagement. It also entails making changes to ensure the messaging of your video is clear & can be understood by the target audience.

How do I optimize YouTube quality?

You can modify the Video quality preference settings. By doing this, you can effectively choose the optimal video quality setting that you think will work best for your content and audience.

What should be the visibility in YouTube?

Set your videos to public. This will allow anyone to view your YouTube videos. If you don't use this setting, the reach of your content will be significantly limited.

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