Optimizing YouTube Videos: SEO Cheat Sheet

By February 13, 2013SEO

There are a number of different things you can do to in optimizing YouTube videos for search.  This cheat sheet should help you get started reaching a much larger percentage of your target audience.  In this cheat sheet we will go over how you can both optimize your
YouTube videos and your YouTube channel.  

In this cheat sheet:

  • Overview of Optimizing Videos Online
  • Branding Your YouTube Channel
  • Brief Meta Data Overview
  • Video Titles
  • Video Descriptions
  • Tags
  • Playlists
  • On-Screen Annotations
  • Social Sharing

Overview of Optimizing Videos Online

Optimizing videos online (whether hosted on YouTube or your own site) is an important part to optimizing all of your content online to increase search engine optimization (SEO).  Optimizing your content for search engines is absolutely necessary in order to get found online (the more optimized content you have online, the more opportunities you are giving search engines to find you).  

Branding your YouTube Channel  

Branding your YouTube channel is important to creating more brand awareness around your products.  You can increase brand awareness on YouTube channel pages by focusing on these areas: Channel name, channel banner image, icon image, and background picture.   

Example of Branded YouTube channel page banner:


By branding your YouTube channel you’re not only providing your visitors with a clear and consistent experience, but it also makes it easier for your viewers and subscribers to find information about your elsewhere online, because you are providing them with more opportunities for finding you. 

Brief Meta Data Overview 

Meta data is the information you add to any video to help define what the video is about, for YouTube videos this includes: the video title, description, URL, tags, annotations, and playlists.  Search engines can only tell that your video is a video, they can’t decipher what your video actually contains without this meta data, that is why it is important that meta data for these videos be complete and optimized so that they are located for relevant search queries. 

YouTube Meta Data Specifications: 

  • Video Title = 100 character limit (only 70 characters are displayed in SERPs)
  • Video Description = 5000 character limit (only 157 characters displayed in SERPs)
  • Tags = 127 character limit
  • Playlist Description = 5,000 words

Video Titles 

Titles should be concise and descriptive.  All titles should have at least one primary and one branded keyword in them.  

Example: Waste Grinder Destroys Household Items – Demo Video 

Try to make each word in your video’s title count, and get rid of any stop words (the, a, and, etc.) to save space for the targeted keywords.  Make sure that none of your video titles are the same (as they will end up competing with each other for results). 

Video Descriptions 

Always include a link to your site in your video descriptions, the earlier in the description the better.  The goal of these YouTube videos is that they will help prospective buyers determine whether or not they want to purchase a product or hire a service.  If they see your video and decide they do want to make a purchase, they should be able to access your site directly from your YouTube video.  If you don’t provide a direct link and instead require them to Google you they may either forget, or find a competitor of yours in search. 

The video descriptions in YouTube can be up to 5,000 characters long, however, it’s only the first 157 characters of the video description that is displayed in search engine results pages (SERPs). 

For YouTube videos Meta description = the video description.  This means that the first 157 characters of your video description are automatically pulled and displayed beneath the URL and upload date in the video meta description in SERPs.  

For example this description of a PacSun video:

Optimizing-YouTube-Video-Descriptions (360x150)

Will appear like this in SERPs


The video description you craft should include as many primary and branded keyword terms as appropriate.  Meaning you don’t want to just keyword stuff the description with target keywords, but incorporate them into a description that makes grammatical sense.  Video descriptions can be a lot longer than any other areas for SEO in YouTube videos, meaning that there are far many more opportunities for incorporating keywords here than anywhere else. 


Tags are either one word, or a short term that describes what your video is about.  Adding tags to your videos not only organizes those videos within YouTube, but these tags allow you to add even more targeted keywords and long-tail keyword phrases to your content.  Tag phrases are better than single words, as they usually are more specific to/descriptive of the content.  Different sources recommend different numbers of Tags, but you don’t want to keyword stuff your description with tags, so I would recommend 5-7 tags for each video. 


Creating playlists for your YouTube videos is important because playlists can be displayed in SERPs and YouTube results pages as well as individual YouTube videos.  Meaning, if you’ve optimized the video as well as the playlist that same video can appear in two different results – one as an individual video, the other as part of a playlist.  Playlists are also great because they automatically start playing another video once a video once the current video ends, so you can introduce your viewers to more of your content without them having to click anywhere for it. 

Playlists should be created around a common theme or topic and should include the following optimized data: 

Playlist Name: the name if the playlist is going to be the first thing viewers and search engines look at to determine the relevancy of that playlist to a search.  Make sure to include at least one primary and/or branded keyword in all playlist names. 

Playlist Description: the description you draft for each playlist is much like the description you will craft for the individual videos, however in the playlist description you will be using primary and branded keywords to describe all of the videos except just one. 

On-Screen Annotations 

On-screen annotations are ways in which you can place text on your video.  Text on your video is important search engines are able to use that as well to determine relevancy.  There are a few different text options you have for adding on-screen annotations (we recommend doing all of them): 

Subtitles: Search engines use subtitles to determine relevancy to search queries.  I would highly recommend creating subtitles for your videos in the languages of regions you do the most business with. 

Notes: serve as mini-advertisements.  You can use these notes as calls to action, meaning you can have them say “Learn more here” with a link to your site, or “Make an appointment with us today!” link to your contact page. 

To add a speech bubble: go to edit video of an already uploaded video, click Add annotation then select Speech bubble. 

Related videos at end: displaying related videos at the end of each video and providing links to those videos will encourage viewers to stay on your content, and see more of it. 

Optimizing YouTube Videos with Social Sharing 

Social media is becoming more and more popular as a marketing tool because word-of-mouth marketing is often the best marketing.  And so, making these videos easily shareable is incredibly important, because it will allow viewers to market for you (when they share your content or link to it, they are advertising for you). 

YouTube is already designed to help viewers share content – all videos come with a share option:


Beyond making it easy for people to share their content on their own channels and in their own networks (which YouTube does for you), you also want to make it easy for people to interact with you via these social channels as well.  Including links to your own social media channels helps to encourage viewers to engage with you via social media. 

Videos, pictures, and other types of visual media tend to have higher levels of online engagement than content that is text only.  People are also starting to look for information and data presented in more visually appealing ways (an example would be thousands of “how to” videos posted and viewed on YouTube), so it’s important that you make your visually appealing content easy to find online, so that your customers are finding you, and not someone else.

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Zoe Huden

Author Zoe Huden

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