YouTube SEO: Techniques to Get Your Channel to the Top

It's no secret that videos have become one of the go-to forms of content consumption, with YouTube being the predominant platform for viewing them. But getting eyeballs on your videos is no longer as simple as shooting a video, throwing in a few tags and publishing it.

Technological advances — combined with a vast number of competition — have made it somewhat difficult to get videos in front of more eyes on YouTube. And since  it’s now common for entire production teams to produce videos, YouTube SEO has also evolved to give users exactly what they want, when they want it.

This post focuses on key YouTube SEO techniques that will help get your videos to the top of search results. Let’s start by dissecting the YouTube algorithm that makes it all happen.

How does YouTube’s algorithm work?

Regardless of the social channel you choose to promote your ecommerce store on, you practically always deal with algorithms. The good news is that YouTube is open about the way its algorithm works, which gives you all the knowledge you need to attract an audience and make it stick around.

YouTube is open about the way its algorithm works.

Just check out this research YouTube has prepared that takes a deep dive into the architecture of their recommendation system. On top of that, the video-sharing site has also provided its creators with a great course on YouTube’s search and discovery system that breaks down the whole process.

In a nutshell, the YouTube algorithm aims to help people find the videos they want to watch, and keep them on the platform for as long as possible.

In order to deliver on these goals, YouTube largely pushes videos that are most relevant to the user’s previous engagement history in five places: search, homepage, suggested videos, trending and subscriptions.

YouTube “follows” users to understand their personal preferences, tracking their engagement metrics after every single video view.

Here’s where it gets interesting: YouTube “follows” users to understand their personal preferences, tracking their engagement metrics after every single video view. To elaborate, YouTube pays attention to what people watch and for how long, what they prefer not to watch, what they like and dislike, and what they’re “Not interested” in.

For each of the five places where YouTube serves up videos, different factors are in play in terms of ranking and recommending videos. Here’s a quick overview of them all:

It’s all about keywords and their relevance. YouTube checks that the titles, descriptions and content are relevant to what the user initially searched for. It also looks to the number of video views a channel has and when the user last watched a topically-related video.

Home & Suggested Videos

YouTube closely examines what users watched and delivers potentially relevant videos. These videos are then ranked according to their level of engagement from similar people, and how often they watch a specific channel or video on the same topic.

To provide a balanced experience, YouTube will show half of new videos and half of popular ones — it's as simple as that.


Watch the latest videos from the channels you’re subscribed to. View velocity — how many people watch a video immediately after it’s released — is crucial in ranking videos here. Additionally, YouTube considers how many active subscribers a channel has.

To sum up, your channel will do fine as long as you create content that satisfies viewers and keeps them coming back — but don’t try to game the system.

YouTube SEO 101: what you need to know

In order to start ranking on YouTube Search, you must optimize your channel and its content for the search terms by which users will find you.

Conduct keyword research

Videos that are based on a target keyword or query have a greater chance of getting a top ranking position on YouTube. We all know that once you start typing in a phrase or keyword into YouTube’s search box, the platform will suggest different ways of completing that query:

What makes this great is that YouTube highlights the phrases people use most to discover videos. Moreover, each suggestion consists of at least four words — long-tail keywords — that are easier to rank for because they’re not as competitive as shorter queries. From an SEO perspective, these are the search queries that should determine the topics of your videos.

There are a number of other keyword research tools like Keyword Keg, the Keyword Tool and the Keyword Suggestion Tool you can use, but keep in mind that you must select the keywords that can potentially get ranked on YouTube.

Add relevant meta tags

Next, you must include the target query within the videos meta tags so that YouTube bots can understand the topic and where the video should be ranked — add it to the title and description, and create several tags, but don’t get carried away.

Giving the video file a crawler-friendly name like youtube-seo.mp4 can also go a long way. It will also help if you use the target keyword here as well.

Upload a transcript

Filling out meta tags with the target query is the least you can do to boost your videos’ SEO efforts. However, if you’re serious about getting top rankings, create and upload video transcripts, closed captions and subtitles — don’t just rely on auto-generated texts, however.

Naturally, saying the target query within the video can significantly boost rankings. Transcripts, closed captions and subtitles are a great way of showing bots that you did. Such data gives crawlers a lot more context, allowing them to understand exactly when a video is relevant to a search query.

Create an attractive thumbnail

Getting people to click and watch your video over a competitor’s is tricky. They must be naturally drawn toward it. Let’s imagine that the meta tags of the top 5 videos are all roughly the same and people have nothing else to base their decision on other than the video’s thumbnail.

So, invest some time to craft a beautiful, but eye-stopping image that concisely describes the video and includes the keyword.

An attractive thumbnail is vital to a video’s click-through rate. And no clicks means no views or engagement. But since YouTube’s thumbnail creator isn’t flexible and doesn’t offer that many options, apps as Snappa (shown below), FotoJet and Canva can help you create the perfect thumbnail for your videos.

Side note: the info from the video’s meta tags and thumbnail can then be used as rich snippets on Google’s SERPs. For this reason, make sure it’s optimized so that people are intrigued by what they see even before clicking through to watch your video.

Prepare a video sitemap

To take it to the next level, prepare and upload a video sitemap to YouTube to give the platform even more data to work with to understand your video content.

YouTube will pull various data from the sitemap such as the video’s category, duration, play page URL, platform, restrictions, title and description and more.

Although all of this seems like boring technical stuff, this is exactly what crawlers look at to understand what videos are about, so don’t underestimate their importance.

User engagement and behavior matters. A lot.

It may appear that once you’ve optimized the technical aspects of your videos for YouTube, they’re ready to start raking up views. However, since YouTube values providing a quality viewing experience, it pays a lot of attention to how people interact with videos — and so should you.

Improve the click-through rate

You must always remember that your videos are in constant competition with other content on YouTube. And in order to supply viewers with the most relevant content, YouTube will often look at a video’s click-through rate. Mind that this metric is not exact, since people can watch YouTube videos by clicking outside links, skipping the SERP.

Your videos are in constant competition with other content on YouTube.

Although measuring the CTR can get a little complicated, the main idea is that you avoid creating clickbait thumbnails. If you do, YouTube will see people going back to the SERP after clicking on your video as a sign of its irrelevance or poor quality.

Maximize the total watch time

In addition to showing YouTube that people want to click on your videos, you want to send signals that they are watching them as well.

From the standpoint of YouTube SEO, this is a huge deal. The more time people spend watching your videos and exploring your channel, the higher its relevance and, therefore, rankings will be.

If you aren’t satisfied with how your videos are being positioned in the search results, try creating longer videos to boost your channel’s overall watch time. But, of course, focus on quality.

Connect with your viewers

Whether you want it or not, people are most likely to start discussions in YouTube’s Comments section. But if you join in, you’ll show your community that you are devoted to them and that you actually care about their opinions and feedback.

Ask your viewership a question right at the end of a video to spark a debate. Moreover, you can ask them things that will help you develop your channel and produce the content they want.  

Ask your viewership a question right at the end of a video to spark a debate.

Be active in the comments section for some time after you upload your video, informing your audience that you’re there to answer all their questions. This will ultimately boost your video’s view velocity and skyrocket engagement.

Get more subscribers

Another metric that matters a lot to YouTube is how many active users follow your channel — the number of subscribers. At this point it’s pretty obvious that more subscribers leads to higher rankings.

In line with YouTube’s recent spam clean up, it’s crucial that your channel doesn’t get any fake subscribers or tries to manipulate this metric in any way.

So, be true to your original vlogging style, create an inviting design for your channel’s homepage, run contests and giveaways, and, finally, ask people to like your videos and subscribe to your channel (after all they made it to the end of your video).

Track performance to measure success

As you’d do with other types of content, keeping a finger on the pulse your videos is a necessity if you want to find out how they are performing.

Keeping a finger on the pulse your videos is a necessity if you want to find out how they are performing.

The good thing is that you can always turn to YouTube Analytics to discover who watches your videos, what they like to watch, analyze real-time reports, get view count, study ratio of likes and dislikes, as well as viewer demographics. Additionally, it can help you figure out which videos contribute the most to your channel’s revenue.

If YouTube SEO is a top priority for you, you must check how your videos are ranking on a daily basis. You can get a second opinion, so to speak, via position tracking tools, such as TubeBuddy, YTRank and SE Ranking (shown below).

Regular checkups via such tools give you a detailed insight into your competitors, and an opportunity to improve your campaign on the go.

If your ecommerce store doesn’t have a YouTube channel yet, you should look into making this investment, since videos can do so much for you both in terms of engagement and SEO. Just remember to focus on quality in-demand content, but don’t neglect all the technical SEO aspects. Last but not least: don’t be afraid to experiment!

What do you focus on when creating and ranking YouTube content? Share your thoughts with us below!