Video has a couple of different purposes in SEO. Including a video in your page can help your page rank slightly. But the larger use of video is to try to optimize the video so that the video itself ranks in the search results, and ranks in YouTube video search.
The importance of YouTube in the world of video cannot be overstated. YouTube (owned by Google) is actually the world’s second largest search engine. More people search on YouTube than they do on Yahoo or Bing.
Of course they don’t search for the same things — far fewer people will search YouTube for “pizza delivery” than they will for the latest pop song, but there are many people who have built their entire business by acquiring customers via YouTube.
Suffice to say, if you’re going to use video as part of your marketing or traffic acquisition plans, you probably want that video to be on YouTube.
Where Videos Rank
YouTube videos give you two different high-traffic places to rank: on YouTube itself and in Google’s standard universal search results. For some search queries Google like to show a video or two, even if the ranking signals for those videos are much lower than the ranking signals needed by anything else to get on the page.
This can be a shortcut onto the first page of search results. Often a site that doesn’t yet have the authority to rank can get to page one via a YouTube videos. Similarly a site that is ranking on the first page still benefits from video because Google will rank your site and the video result (which will point to the video on YouTube). It’s a fairly easy way to eat up a second slot on page one, which means there’s one less spot on page one for your competitors to rank.
I’m not saying that video is for everyone. For many queries Google just isn’t going to show any video results, and no one is searching for the keywords on YouTube. Ecommerce sites in particular have difficulty ranking videos in the competitive product landscape. But a surprising number of sites can boost their traffic through well-optimized videos.
YouTube Video Optimization
YouTube video optimization is very similar to standard video optimization, but stripped down and with a couple additional metrics thrown into the mix. Your on-page video optimization factors include:
- Video title
- Video description
As with standard on-page optimization, don’t go crazy with this. You absolutely want to include your keywords in all these fields, but don’t go stuffing it with keywords and make it look spammy. In addition to these standard on-page optimizations YouTube has some other factors, including:
- Resolution: Google gives bonus points to high res videos, so make them at least 720p
- Number of views
- Number of views to completion (if a lot of people watch the first 15 seconds and leave, that’s a sign that the video probably isn’t very good)
- Likes and comments
- There are indications that including an in-video transcription via YouTube’s tools (not done in your own video editor) also improves topical relevance
And of course in addition to these we have the standard authority signals, except in the case of YouTube videos, embeds count as an authority signal. Thus if lots of people take your YouTube video and embed it in their blogs, that’s a signal that your video is probably pretty good and should rank higher.
Similarly, the surrounding content of sites that embed videos also help let Google understand what the video is about. If a video is embedded in a bunch of posts about the World Cup, then Google is more confident that the video is about the World Cup, and that people find it to be a good video that people interested in the World Cup will probably like.
Finally, you can create a video XML sitemap for YouTube videos (or any videos) that are embedded on your site. Unlike a regular sitemap, a video sitemap can actually improve the ability of your video to rank, because it can give Google more information about the video that Google cannot get just by crawling the page hosting the video.
You can find instructions on how to create a video XML sitemap here. Once created just post it to your site and submit the link to Google via Google Search Console.
Video Promotion & Competition
Competition on YouTube is much smaller than it is on the internet as a whole, and as such there are some small niches where the competition is so small you can rank your video well purely on topicality signals (and even have it rank in standard Google universal search when the video block appears). I once worked with a metal stamping manufacturer and got their cellphone-quality video to rank for YouTube and on the first page of Google, just because so few other metal stamping companies had any videos at all. The competition was incredibly low.
But for areas where there is competition, you will have to promote your videos. Just like you’re not going to get your site to rank in Google with on-page work alone, in most cases you won’t get your video to rank without promotion.
The best way to promote videos is to already have a blog with many subscribers, or a strong social media following. When I was running my World of Warcraft site, the site was popular enough that I didn’t need to work hard to rank videos: I just posted them, and the most popular ones got shared all over the place. Eventually I had many videos with hundreds of thousands of views.
But if you don’t already have a following in place, many of the approaches to authority building in Authority: Off-Site will apply to spreading the word about your video. Note that because video plays to completion will help your ranking, even social shares of your video will directly improve your video ranking ability within YouTube search. Leveraging the social networks of friends and peers can be a great way to spread word of your video and boost the views and rankings.