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The modern world is filled with video content. YouTube alone has over 2 billion users who upload 300 hours of content every minute.
If you’re creating videos and not optimizing them for search — known as video SEO — you’re missing out on an incredible amount of potential traffic and views.
What is video SEO?
Video SEO, also known as video search engine optimization, refers to the process of making videos more visible in search engines like Google, Bing, Yahoo, and even YouTube — the internet’s second-largest search engine next to Google.
This marketing strategy is about more than just keyphrases. It’s about using a variety of techniques, like generating video sitemaps and using schema, that, when combined, make your videos simpler for users to find and easier for search engines to understand.
Video SEO makes your content appear higher on search engine results pages (SERPs). And the higher your search engine ranking, the more traffic you’re likely to generate to your video.
13 Video SEO tips and strategies for more search traffic
Video SEO combines a little of traditional SEO with some techniques unique to video. With these 13 strategies, you’ll have all the foundational knowledge you’ll need to start growing your YouTube viewership through search.
1. Align your hosting provider with your goals
Where you want to host your video—YouTube, Vimeo, or on your own site—is going to be dictated by your goals.
For example, if your goals are brand awareness and you’re just trying to get your videos out into the world, taking advantage of YouTube is a great option. This is especially true if you are investing in a YouTube channel and need those views to push toward a goal (monetization or brand awareness, for example).
However, if your goal is to get traffic on your own website through video marketing, then you might want to host it on your own website so that the traffic goes directly to you. Consider this if you’re trying to use it to augment other forms of content marketing (like making a blog post and including a transcript).
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You might want to use a third-party provider like Wistia or Vimeo, but on most content management systems —like WordPress—embedding your video directly on the page is no problem. There are also plenty of plugins that will help with video embedding.
Keep in mind that the videos themselves are more likely to rank on Google if they’re hosted on YouTube. Again, think of your goals. If you want traffic to go to the video itself, then you likely need to be hosting on YouTube. This also allows you to use YouTube SEO techniques to optimize specifically for YouTube search.
If your goal is to get traffic to your website, then hosting on your website is a better bet. This helps you to generate backlinks and get people directly to you—and not on to the next YouTube video.
2. Uncover opportunities with keyword research
If you’re going to make a video, it needs to be on a topic that people are searching for. That’s what keyword research is all about—figuring out what people are searching for, and what their intent is when they enter a keyword phrase into a search engine.
Searchers aren’t typing things into search engines for no reason—they’re looking for a specific answer. Keywords help you discover what exactly they’re looking for. That’s what makes video SEO so crucial—it helps you connect content with the people who need it most.
Keyword research is all about user experience. The right keywords help the right users find the content they need easily, providing for a better user experience.
3. Create an engaging video
Your video needs to be both useful and valuable. High-quality videos have content that speaks to whatever it is the user is looking for.
There are 4 aspects to quality videos that stand out:
To be original, you study the competition. It’s critical to figure out what everyone else is doing and why it’s working. How are people making their way up the search rankings? What do their subscribers love about their videos? What’s the best content showing up on the SERPs?
Do your research, then figure out how you can do something from a unique angle that stands out from the competition.
Part of any good SEO strategy is making sure your content is relevant. This ties back to keywords. What is your target audience looking for? How relevant is your content to that keyword they’re typing into the search bar? Don’t just think about satisfying the algorithms. Think first about satisfying your viewers.
Comprehensiveness and brevity go hand in hand. Is your video long enough to cover the subject yet short enough to cut out extraneous content that wastes a viewer’s time? For the most part, people don’t want to watch long, meandering videos—they want you to cover the main points quickly and intelligently.
4. Pick a compelling thumbnail
People judge books by their covers. If you don’t have a thumbnail that stands out, you’re not going to get clicks.
Thumbnails depend on your video platform of choice. On YouTube itself, there’s room for some text, but on Google search results, you’re going to find tiny thumbnails, so you might want to forego the text (or make it significantly larger) for your YouTube thumbnail.
On your own website, you can get away with a lot more text on your thumbnails because they’re probably going to be much larger. Let your platform be your guide.
This video thumbnail is compelling because it’s simple and speaks to the user. The query was, “How big are elephants?” Here, you see some simple text that’s readable despite its size, and you see what you’re looking for—elephants.
The text is critical here because it shows us that this is quality content—a list of top facts, and not just some random picture of elephants. It’s relevant to the search term.
5. Generate a video transcript
Search engines are good at a lot of things, but they struggle to understand videos and images unless we help them along.
One of the ways we can do that is with a video transcript. Search engines can read the text of the video and figure out much more easily what your video is about. YouTube and some social media sites, like Facebook, let you upload transcripts, and there are transcription tools out there to generate them on your own. If you’re hosting your videos on your own website, a transcript helps Google and other search engines to figure out how to rank your video.
Transcripts also make your video more accessible to viewers. In fact, this is the main reason you should be writing them—not just to show up on video search engines or YouTube search.
Transcripts are especially important for the hearing impaired who may not be able to listen to your video. And some people, like those at work or in a quiet setting without headphones, may prefer to read over watching.
As an added bonus, transcripts allow you to input keywords into the text, making your page even more SEO-friendly.
6. Submit a video sitemap
A video sitemap is almost identical to a regular XML sitemap. A sitemap just has metadata that search engines use to understand the relationships between videos on your site.
Creating a video sitemap is not recommended for the non-technically inclined, but WordPress and other content management systems have tools that can help. They’re important because they help Google and other search engine crawlers discover your videos more easily.
7. Make your listings more engaging with schema markup
Rich snippets are more engaging versions of traditional search engine listings. Not only do they take up more space on search engine results, making your listing physically bigger, but they also feature more valuable information than the average text-only listing, like thumbnails and timestamps.
A labeling language, known as schema (schema.org), is what you can use to boost the likelihood of showing up on SERPs with rich snippets. YouTube automatically adds schema to your videos, but any videos you host on your website are going to need to have schema added manually. Fortunately, there are plenty of plugins out there that can help.
8. Optimize video title and description
Original, high-quality content will struggle to rank if you don’t have a video title and description that draws readers in while matching up with search terms.
You want your search terms to be as close to the beginning of the video title as possible, but don’t let it get keyword stuffed. You want instead to have something that balances between keyphrases and something that sparks interest. The same goes for your video descriptions. They need to include keyphrases, but they also need to spark interest and inspire a reader to click.
9. Optimize the rest of your page for search
Video optimization for search is about more than just video. If you’re hosting your video on your website, especially if you’re going to include a transcript, then you need to think of all the classic SEO techniques.
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That means you’re optimizing URLs, page titles, meta descriptions, headings, keywords that satisfy search intent—everything you would normally do for a page on your website. For more on what this looks like, check out the 2021 Beginner’s Guide to SEO.
10. Make sure the video you want to rank is the first on the page
It’s critical, if you’re hosting a video on your website, that the video you want to rank first is the first one on the page.
This might sound simple, but Google may stop crawling for videos after the first video that you post, so it’s critical that you structure your page properly.
One way to get around this problem is to try to only have one video per page. If you feel you need to have a lot of videos on a page (for example, if you have a tutorial that has a lot of small videos), consider making one long video. You put the long video at the top of the page, and then you have short segments throughout the rest of the page as appropriate.
This way, your most important video content (the entire video) is what Google is likely to rank, allowing the segments to simply work as content that viewers can use to understand the tutorial.
11. Don’t post the video on other pages of your website
Sometimes this can be hard to do, but you need to have your videos all on their own pages. If you don’t, you’re going to end up with pages that compete against each other. It’s hard enough to rank as it is. The last thing you want to do is compete against yourself.
12. Embed videos on your web pages for a rankings boost
When you have a page that’s already ranking, you might want to consider embedding a video. This can help that video rank higher while also sending traffic to your website. Video isn’t the only thing you might want to embed though—embedding a podcast on a relevant, high-ranking page is also a good idea.
13. Invest in tools for video SEO
There’s a wide variety of tools out there for video SEO.
You can start with tools like Wistia, which is great for optimizing videos on your website and controlling exactly how your video looks—it also allows you to keep ads off your videos, unlike YouTube.
Moz is another great tool, as is keyword.io and Ahrefs. These are keyword research tools that you can use to discover topics that people are searching for and then create videos related to those topics.
Other tools include the classics, like Google Analytics and Google Search Console. These help you to understand what keyword phrases your pages with videos on them are ranking for. You can also see who is coming to those pages, where they’re coming from, and where they’re going afterward. This helps you understand what value viewers are seeing in your videos and if they’re watching your videos the whole way through.
You can check out more awesome SEO tools for video here.
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Video SEO is critical for all marketers investing in video. There are many different ranking factors to keep track of, which can make it difficult to do your research. It’s about a lot more than just finding relevant keywords for your titles.
If you follow the steps above and put these tips and strategies into action, you’ll find yourself with videos that get more traffic and views from search engines while giving viewers the high-quality content they’re looking for.
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