A quick guide to YouTube optimization

There’s more to getting your video seen than just uploading it and tweeting the link. Try these techniques to help it get early traction and keep gaining momentum.

Though many companies succeed in reaching their audiences via social networks like Facebook and Twitter, only a fraction have explored the option of marketing via YouTube.

YouTube is not only the second-largest search engine, but also the third-most-visited website in the world, behind only Google and Facebook. It receives more than 1 billion unique monthly visitors, and it has about 6 billion hours’ worth of videos watched each month.

Let those numbers sink in for a minute.

Initially, the greatest challenge is getting people to see your videos. Here are seven steps for driving traffic to your YouTube videos.

1. Research keywords

The first step is to head over to the YouTube Keyword Tool which enables you to check how many searches specific queries receive per month.

Type in the keyword that best describes your video’s theme. For example, a video produced by “The Walking Dead” might want to optimize for “zombies.” On the top right of the query results, select match type “exact” to see how many people are searching for your exact phrase. Don’t worry about the other match types for now.

2. Scout the competition

To check for your competition, take your selected keywords and do a quick YouTube search. The number of results is your competition. Obviously, the fewer videos that show up the better, but anything under 500,000 should be relatively easy to optimize for.

You can compete for highly competitive keywords, but doing so will take longer. If you’re not up for optimizing competitive keywords, go back to the keyword tool. It will suggest similar keywords you can target.

3. Name your video file, and upload a thumbnail

Text content is king, at least to search engines. Text is what helps search engines determine what words to rank your video for. So, having your keyword in the video’s filename is a good way to include text that search engines can crawl.

For example, name your video file “zombiesmusicvideo.avi” and not, say, “video93821.avi.”

An enticing thumbnail will increase your video’s click-through rate, which will lead to more views and an ultimately higher ranking. Although you can pick a still shot from the video, upload a relevant picture with text and colors edited in to make it stand out among the competition.

Don’t trick users with a misleading thumbnail. It may get people to click on your video, but viewers will quickly stop watching, and the “dislike” ratings that result will hurt your ranking.

4. Include title, description, and meta tags

The keyword must be in the video title. The maximum character count is 100, but make the title as concise as possible. The more words you use in addition to the keyword, the harder it will be to rank for that keyword.

For the description, my rule of thumb is to include the keyword in the first and last 120 characters. The first 120 characters is the cutoff for what shows up in the video descriptions on the search results pages. (This easy tweak has bumped my rankings up several spots and, in some cases, several pages.)

YouTube also enables you to tag your videos with appropriate phrases and words. Add your keyword and a few variations (e.g., zombies, zombie skit, zombie chase). Adding related keywords will help you show up in the “related videos” section for other videos. You don’t gain many views from the related-videos suggestions, so don’t go overboard, but it can help.

5. Enable closed captions

YouTube has a video transcript function to facilitate adding closed captions. Just paste the script in the box, and YouTube will automatically match the script to when the words are being said in the video.

This is a great way to give the search engine text to crawl. Surprisingly, not many YouTubers take advantage of it.

It’s simple to do, and it will put you way ahead of the competition. For me, closed captions have worked especially well with product reviews and music video covers.

6. Encourage engagement with calls to action

Some factors are seemingly out of your control—views, audience retention, likes-to-dislikes ratio, favorites, and comments—but they are not completely out of your control.

Many believe that the number of views is the main contributor to how well a video ranks. Although that’s somewhat true, the number of views can actually be detrimental if audience retention is low. People tend to have short attention spans, so make sure the video is engaging—and preferably under five minutes.

People often overlook the likes-to-dislikes ratio. Most YouTubers care only about getting “likes,” but the more important metric is the number of “likes” relative to “dislikes.”

Imagine a video with 500 “likes” but 1,000 “dislikes.” That video certainly wouldn’t rank better than a video with 200 “likes” and one “dislike.” Although you can’t control for “dislikes,” you can use calls to action to generate “likes” and “favorites.” (E.g., “Hit the ‘like’ button if you’re prepared for the zombie apocalypse!”) You’d be surprised how effective this is.

To stir up conversation in the comments section, you must give people something to talk about. Asking a question (whether in the video, description, or annotation) will naturally elicit answers, which could lead to debate. Needless to say, the more activity in the comments section, the more important YouTube deems your video.

7. Embed your video

For YouTube, backlinks don’t not have the same effect as they do with regular search engine optimization. Instead, try creating inbound links by embedding the video. Of course you’d want to embed your video on your own blog or website, but you should also contact influencers in your niche about embedding your video on their websites. If you’ve produced a useful, informative video, they will probably be happy to share it.

Unlike traditional SEO backlinks, an embedded video doesn’t have anchor text. So, you’ll want to focus on the on-page optimization factors covered in the previous six steps-that is, you should optimize the Web page where the video is embedded, including optimizing the text on that page.

Still, obtaining inbound links is important. The number of embeds gives your video greater authority; it also adds video views. Of course, both greater authority and more video views correlate with higher rankings.

Follow these steps, and the millions of people who visit YouTube daily will soon see your video. If your video has a slow start, keep sharing it. Over time it will rise through the rankings.

A version of this article originally appeared on MarketingProfs.

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