YouTube SEO Guide

youtube seo

As I’ve already mentioned, YouTube is the #2 search engine in the world, following it’s big brother Google. It might seem like if you rank well in one, you’d rank well in the other, but that’s not the case. I still don’t know why some of our videos rank so well in Google and others are nowhere to be found.

When it comes to optimizing your content for search engines, we’re all playing a guessing game. Google offers the occasional hints about what works, but the algorithm is top secret. All we can do is experiment, share the knowledge and guess some more. There are some great resources on Google SEO and I’ll list them at the end of this chapter. But our focus is on ranking well in YouTube.

The YouTube search engine shares some characteristics with Google, but the current YouTube algorithm seems to be a lot more simple and much easier to crack.

YouTube SEO Part One: What the Hell is a Keyword?

Before we can move forward, it’s important that we nail down the concept of **keywords**. I’ve found that this concept confuses quite a few people at first. I don’t think “keyword” is a very accurate description, but it’s industry terminology at this point so we’re stuck with it.

A keyword is a word (or combination of words) that people type into a search engine when they’re looking for information. Certain words (or word combos) get typed in a lot of times so those become highly coveted keywords. High traffic keywords can bring in a TON of traffic if you rank well for them.

When we were first planning Hilah Cooking, I had just spent several months educating myself about SEO. My ultimate goal was to build an “authority site about cooking.” The plan was to have hundreds of recipe videos and rank well for as many as possible so that we would have an ever-increasing stream of traffic from search engines. Before we even shot an episode, we made a list of hundreds of potential recipes. Then we did some keyword research to see what people were searching for. Our initial list of episodes became a list of keywords.

My advice is to think about Keywords in pre-production. Don’t let it affect the content you’re going to produce, but use it as another tool to build an audience for your project.

When people use a search engine, they have a “problem” and they are looking for a “solution.” Example: Someone doesn’t know how to poach an egg and they need to figure out how to do it. They type in “How To Poach an Egg” and the search engine tries to provide them with the best solution to their problem. If your video is the first result, you’re going to get a lot of views to your video.

The topic of keywords may seem to apply only to How-To or instructional types of videos, but it can be a powerful tool for scripted projects as well. We’ll explore that soon!

YouTube SEO Part 2: How To Do Keyword Research

Once you start thinking about SEO it’s easy to get distracted by all kinds of tools and on-line classes promising awesome results in return for varying amounts of money. My advice is to keep it simple and not get distracted. This step should only add a few minutes to yourproduction time for each video. Keep in mind that you’re a content creator first and the SEO skills you are developing are there to help get your work to a bigger audience.

With that in mind, here’s a quick and simple technique for Keyword Research. As an example, we’re going to use a video about How to Poach Eggs.

1. Launch the Google Keywords Tool. It’s free!

2. Put yourself in the brain of someone who wants/needs to learn how to poach an egg. Type a few words and phrases into the main box. Keep it quick and don’t over-think it or over-do it. I typed in “How to Poach an Egg” “poached eggs” and “how to poach eggs.”

3. Make sure you unclick the box for “Broad” and click the box for “Exact.” I also click the box for “Only show ideas closely related to my search terms.”

YouTube SEO keyword research

4. Enter the dumb Captcha and click search.

5. A bunch of keywords will pop-up along with data about how many monthly searches there are and how competitive the keyword is. I’m mainly interested in Global Monthly Searches so I prioritize by that. Here’s what the results look like:

YouTube SEO keyword ideas

6. Decide what keyword to target. In this case it looks like there are quite a few searches for “How To Poach an Egg” so that’s what I’m going to target. But take a look at some of the other keywords that Google is suggesting. If you’ve are just starting out, I would suggest targeting keywords that have Low competition and at least 3,000-5,000 global monthly searches.

What To Do With Your Keyword

Now we’ve got a video and we’ve got a keyword. Now we’re going to bring the two together. This is a multi-step process that may sound totally crazy at first, but take it a step at a time and it will start to make sense.

1. Title your video file. Incorporate your keyword into the title of the video file. Don’t leave it as some non-descript title generated by your camera or editing software. In our example we are going to title the file “”

2. Upload your video file directly to your YouTube account. Don’t use a third-party system for batch uploading. Do it manually.

3. Give the YouTube Video a Title. Make it descriptive and accurate. For our example, I’m going to go with “How To Poach an Egg.”

4. Fill out the Description Field. Use the description field to accurately describe your video. The first couple of lines are the most important. Try to include your keyword in the first sentence, i.e. “Learn how to fly a kite with this simple kite-flying tutorial.” Write a couple of paragraphs about what viewers can expect to find in the video. Think of the description field as a mini-blog post.

5. Tags. Fill out the tag section. Make sure to use your keyword and other keyword variations. Put your Keyword based tags first. If your subject is frequently misspelled, add some tags with common misspellings. Aim for at least 20 tags.

6. Annotate Video. Incorporate your keyword somewhere into your annotations. Use annotations to interlink this video with your other videos. Incorporate other call to actions like “Subscribe” “Thumbs Up” etc.

7. Upload Transcription. Transcribe your video or pay somebody to transcribe it. I usually use Fiverr. In your video manager, go to the CAPTIONS tab and add the text. It will take a few minutes, but YouTube will automatically sync things up. This is a lot more accurate than the weird YouTube generated captions.

Now YouTube and Google have a lot of information about what your video is all about and where it should be placed in the rankings. If you’re going after a Keyword that has a lot of competition it could take awhile, but once you add more subscribers and your channel becomes more authoritative it will be easier to move up in the rankings.

YouTube SEO Case Study

I’ve actually been going through all the steps in this series over the past month for our How To Poach an Egg video. So it’s something that really DOES exist.

When we first launched the video it was kind of DOA and seemed to be maxed out at about 2,000 views. But after optimizing it, it’s now ranked #2 on YouTube. We’ve beat everybody but Alton Brown and I’m not sure we will ever rank #1, but the video is generating consistent traffic now. This is all just to let you know that this stuff really does work. The top two videos are paid placements, which is actually a good sign. You’ve definitely picked a good keyword if people are running ads against it.

YouTube SEO search results

Producing videos on an ongoing basis is hard work, but it’s way more exciting than all this keyword stuff. Even though this stage falls into the “non sexy” part of things, spend a little time here and you will reap ongoing rewards.

Thanks for reading! Please leave a comment and let me know if this was helpful, what was unclear and what questions YOU have about YouTube SEO. -Chris


  1. Chris, this is very interesting. When I first experienced KWIC (“keyword in context”) in the 1970’s, it was to locate legal caselaw and statutes in LEXIS. I am sure the judges and legislators who drafted the text had no concept of building traffic. However, when keyword searches are applied in a commercial context, there is definite value in choosing the title and writing the descriptive text very carefully, to optimize hits.

    I’ve made a few YouTube videos just for fun. All except two get — at most — views only in the hundreds. However, I made two videos with 81,943 and 183.802 views respectively. The title in one and the description of the other use the same catchphrase from a popular TV show. My minimally-viewed videos have no such hook. It HAS to be the use of the proper keywords.

    • Hey Bruce! Very interesting. I just left the Legal Industry so I’m pretty familiar with LEXIS! Interesting note about your videos. You’re completely right that you have to find SOME kind of hook for the video that you can convey in the title and description. It’s got to be SOMETHING somebody might type in to a search engine. I think that’s the best way to start building momentum for a channel. Thanks for sharing your experience with those videos!

  2. Great stuff. Finding good key words is one thing, knowing which ones to target is another. Glad you wrote about that part of it. Helps.

  3. Thanks for the info on the keyword tool. I was unaware of the its existence, I am fairly new to this. As far as the “keywords” go I am a little unclear. Do you want a simple to the point title that matches some of the keywords or should it just contain the keywords? Or are these keywords better placed in the “Tags” area? Thanks in advance!

    • In my opinion, it should contain the keywords. Make it seem natural. One thing I’ve been experimenting with lately is getting the keyword – or a variation – in the title twice. For example: How To Poach an Egg – Perfect Poached Eggs Recipe! For Hilah Cooking we use a lot of How To title tags.

      The title area is VERY important and you can use it for different things. For example I am trying to increase the ranking of the “Yoga With Adriene” brand. The Google and YouTube search engines were defaulting to “yoga with Adrienne.” Two n’s. I added YOGA WITH ADRIENE to all of our YouTube video titles and now the problem is fixed in both YouTube and Google. Not sure if this makes sense or not but now “Adriene” with one n is the default result which has made a huge difference for us.

  4. Chris,

    Thanks for doing all of this! What a great & informative site for people who want to independently produce a video web series! Could you tell us a bit about your overall workflow and how it may differ from a normal television production. Also, I would be very interested in hearing about your post-production process and how quick the turn around time is from production to posting the video on YouTube. Now that this has become your “career”, what is your business model? I noticed Hilah Cooking is an LLC… was this the case at the outset or did it evolve into that after your success on YouTube? Thanks again for all the info and for your great productions!


    • Hey Murph – I’ve got a really detailed post coming up soon about our workflow. Everybody I talk to that creates internet video content has a different workflow and almost none of it is close to normal television production! Turn-around time is pretty quick. Recently, we’ve gotten behind schedule and have been shooting episodes starting at about 10 am and uploading them by 7 pm. That’s quicker than I’d like, but this year has been pretty crazy! We started it as a partnership and then did the LLC once things started picking up steam.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  5. Great posts thanks! Just starting out in creating videos and uploading to YT. Your check list was very helpful too.

    I recently came across that i use to transcribe the videos. Found them quick and cheap.

  6. Love this, Chris! Thanks so much for the insights. Warmly, Liz

Speak Your Mind