How To Rank Your YouTube Videos
I’ve been involved with making videos since 2008, when I turned my passion into a profession. But it’s only been in the past few years where I’ve started to look at video marketing and YouTube SEO.
It’s normally at this stage that I should show some juicy data about online videos and social media. This would show the size of the opportunity available to businesses right now.
I can tell you that there are over 1.5 billion logged in users every day for YouTube. There are also over 5 billion videos are watched on YouTube every day. In fact, over 300 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube every single minute.
This is great, but generic information that you can find anywhere. The important fact about YouTube is that it is the second largest search engine in the world. In fact, they are the second most-visited website in the UK, only behind google.com.
Whilst there is no denying the popularity of YouTube, it may not always be the best platform for all video assets. For more on that, I also have a blog on Where Should You Upload Your Marketing Videos.
The Whole Point of YouTube
When discussing how to rank your YouTube videos or YouTube SEO, you need to get yourself into the correct mindset first. We need to establish what the primary reason for YouTube existing is.
Like almost all other social media platforms on the Internet, YouTube is about making money. At the end of the day, it’s a business. It is a good one that makes a lot of money!
Knowing this will help a lot of these methods on how to rank your YouTube videos make sense. YouTube makes money through advertising and in order to attract advertisers, they need to keep people on the website for as long as possible in order to show them more ads.
This understanding enables you to think about how YouTube wants you to behave, treat visitors and please their advertisers. If you do right by YouTube, they will do right by you.
Where Your YouTube Traffic Comes From
Before getting into the finite detail of how to rank your YouTube videos and the metrics and algorithms, it is also important to understand where most of your video views will be coming from.
I think this is a common pitfall for people. They believe most of their views are going to come from organic search. I can tell you now that this is rarely the case.
To help with your understanding, I’ll show you the top five traffic sources on YouTube. We’ll start from lowest to highest. Of course, these percentages will vary a bit from channel to channel, but these are still worth noting.
Whenever you publish new content, YouTube will notify around 10-15% of your subscriber base. Of course, how many people that is will depend upon the number of subscribers you have. But a mere 10% of even 10,000 subscribers means just 1,000 of those people will be notified.
Worse yet, only a percentage of that 10-15% will watch the video.
4. External Referrals
This includes social shares, embeds on your website, email shares and more.
About 5-10% of your traffic will come from this source, but the number may be higher if most of your audience is on Facebook and you share the link.
3. Organic Search
In the case for most channels, this will make up around 20-40% of your YouTube traffic. However, I have seen this percentage as low as 14%.
That isn’t saying that those videos aren’t optimised for ranking. Instead, they are just attracting more traffic from the two bigger sources I will mention next.
2. Related Videos
This is potentially the biggest source of traffic for many channels. Your video will be shown as a recommended option on the screen as the user watches a more popular video.
The Baby Shark video went viral last year. As a result, the recommended videos benefitted and each received millions of views.
1. Browse Features
The big one. You have a really good piece of content and YouTube picks up on this. They decide to extend the reach of that video.
Often, your video will appear on the homepage for a wider audience. This will be under a Trending or Suggested Videos header.
When this happens, you will know about it. You will get a big spike in traffic. If you’re a nerd like me, you will watch the real-time metrics and see hundreds or thousands of views every hour.
Meta Data and Machine Learning
As time goes on, Meta Data is becoming less important. It is primarily used for relevance but only plays a small role in YouTube SEO.
Instead, YouTube is starting to rely more on machine learning. The belief is that user behaviour provides much better data than something that can be easily manipulated, such as views or likes. Those things can be bought.
Remember: YouTube wants viewers to be entertained and to come back. This is because the more traffic comes to YouTube, the more likely they are to attract advertisers. The more advertisers, the more money YouTube gets.
With this, YouTube tries to create a metric around viewer satisfaction and user experience. As a result, they get to know the quality of your video.
What factors go into this metric? Let’s take a look:
1. Watch Time
This is considered the most reliable thing to look at and the biggest indicator of quality. It is also the hardest metric to manipulate.
2. Session Starts
If you bring somebody from somewhere else onto YouTube, you’ve started a session. By doing this, you are bringing more people to the advertisers and helping YouTube make more money.
Likewise, if your video causes somebody to leave YouTube, this will be seen as a bad thing.
3. View Velocity
A strange one. This happens within the first hour and the first 24 hours after a video is published. The more views you can get during these crucial periods of time, the better your view velocity.
This is a big factor for appearing in the Trending section on the homepage.
4. Social Signals
This means any kind of engagement, whether it be likes, dislikes, comments, shares and more. The more people engage positively, the better.
YouTube Ranking Factors
Let’s now look at how to rank your YouTube videos. I’ve already said that meta data has very little impact on how your video will rank. However, I still believe that best practice is to tick all the boxes and do as much as you can to help your content rank higher.
It can be the little differences that can help you rank higher than your competitors, especially if your niche or target keywords are competitive.
It is widely known that keyword-rich titles have little effect on your ranking. Therefore, you should aim to write this with user experience in mind and encourage clicks.
If you can include your primary keyword within your title, that’s great, but don’t force it. Instead, you should go for a good hook that draws in clicks, but not with a clickbait title.
Like the title, this has a weak link to your ranking. Your first paragraph has the strongest effect on your ranking, so try to include your target keyword early on.
These are like your keyword ideas or targets. About 10 years ago, if you could find some good keywords for your tags, you could get quite far in the YouTube search results.
The influence of tags on ranking is bigger than the title or video description, but it’s still small. Tags are mainly used for relevance.
I’ve already written about the importance of videos with subtitles, but we’re actually quite lucky. Whenever you upload content to YouTube, they can create the captions for you. This is their way of knowing what your content is all about.
In most cases, the captions are about 90-95% accurate. But the software can struggle if you have an accent that isn’t from California, New York or London.
To get around this, you can either make your own captions manually or just edit the YouTube transcript.
As mentioned before, view velocity is a big metric YouTube uses when ranking your content. Therefore, it is important to publish your video at a time when you can get the best view velocity.
That first hour is crucial, so you need to post at a time when people will be most likely to watch and engage with your content.
If you have a regular upload time, keeping that consistency is key to having a good view velocity. People will come to your channel in anticipation of seeing new content.
This is arguably the biggest factor for the success of a video. When I say this, the response I often get is: “How can a thumbnail influence ranking?” or “That makes no sense.”
This is down to a thing called Collaborative Filtering. It is a way in which YouTube will group people based on a few things. Factors include age, gender, location, watch history and much more.
That data is used to try and predict user behaviour. To explain, you could have two men of similar age who like film trailers and are based in the UK (but completely different parts of the country) land on YouTube.
When they reach the front page, they see three recommended film trailers. They both decide to choose the same video to watch first. The thumbnail would have helped to win their click.
At this stage, let’s say they both liked the video and watch it all the way through. All the metrics were positive. YouTube will take note and see that the content is good. As a result, the reach of that video is extended to more people.
Let’s say a third person clicks on that video. The profile is still a male living in the UK, but perhaps a little older. This is YouTube testing out that video on a slightly different audience. If the third person enjoys the video as well, then YouTube will serve that video to even more people that match his profile.
If people within that demographic enjoy the video as well, YouTube will test it out with another profile type. If they enjoy it, it will be shown to more people within that profile, and so on. It starts to take off at this stage.
As for the other two videos at the start of this. Well, YouTube will note that they weren’t clicked. If this happens enough times, YouTube will demote those videos. Once that happens, the only way they can be found is if you actively search for them.
How This Relates To The Thumbnail
I brought this up because it all starts with the thumbnail. In fact, the thumbnail even has an impact on YouTube’s search results as well as the homepage. No matter how well optimised your videos are, you will drop down in the rankings if people aren’t clicking on them.
What Should I Do?
To wrap this up, I can break down what you need to do into four things:
Make Good Quality Content
This should go without saying, but YouTube is built around the principle of entertaining users. The better the video you make, the higher it will rank.
If you want to know more about what makes for good content, I’ve written a blog on the secret behind a viral corporate video.
Consider User Metrics
When creating your video, please do make sure you consider user metrics such as watch time and social signals.
Make your content grab the user’s attention as fast as possible. This will keep them watching. Also, be sure to include a call-to-action in order to get some engagement. This can be shares, likes or whatever you want.
Don’t send them to your website, as that will count as a session end for YouTube. That is a negative signal for them.
Spend Time On Your Thumbnails
This is the best piece of advice you can take from this blog. It will have the biggest impact on how to rank your videos on YouTube. Not only that, but it will also get you more video traffic and watch time.
Stick To Best Practices
It all goes back to what I mentioned before, where it could be the smallest differences that make your video rank higher than your competitor. This is very necessary if your niche or target keywords are competitive.
There is no point in trying to hack or beat YouTube as I hear lots of shady ‘professionals’ say. If you do right by the platform, they will do right by you. That’s all there is to it.