YouTube: Thinking inside the (search) box. Optimizing for the world’s second largest search engine.

With the news spreading fast that YouTube is now the second most used search engine on the Internet many folks are re-thinking a few things from the search perspective.

The obvious message: people love video.

Let’s start with the most obvious message this news brings us – people are looking for video content. The power of video has long been known and with fast connections and robust search capabilities we are seeing that people are turning to video more often than not to find information. Internet users love video because it is the next step in what we’ve known for a long time – Internet users are not readers.

The following chart shows online video engagement for adult Internet users. Notice the dramatic increase in video demonstrations.*

If a picture is a worth a thousand words, think of what a video is worth.

The faster and more visually descriptive an alternative is to reading, the more users you will attract. This is particularly true if your product or service is complex; for example a new, innovative power tool—demonstration of that tool is key to conversion. Now think of a totally new technology making an introduction to the marketplace. The demonstration of that technology is key. One could do that with lots of descriptive text but most users would prefer a video. Even products as commoditized as shoes and handbags, however, show enormous benefit from video content. When added short videos that show their shoes being held, turned and walked in, conversions skyrocketed as much as 30%.

If your products or services are not featured on YouTube you are missing a very ripe and inexpensive opportunity. Even if you can’t immediately think of a video asset, you probably have at least one product demonstration, client testimonial, clip from an event you hosted or an interview you conducted with an industry expert to get you started. Contemplate how additional video content can be shot and used in your ongoing marketing plan. The payback obtained in SEO alone may well make it work your while; more on that in a moment.

Having a presence on YouTube can also help prevent your audience from finding inaccurate or unfavorable information about your company or brand. By making sure your video is among the first they see when searching for your brand or product, you reduce the probability they’ll find someone else’s video that may contain undesirable content.

Turning on the Tube.

There are two main ways you can post video content to YouTube. The first is to create an account (linked to a Google login), upload a video, give it a title and launch it. This is the typical behavior of general interest videos shot or being shared by the general public. The second method is to set up a branded YouTube channel. This is a channel dedicated to the video content posted by your brand. You can control certain look and feel components to create some brand consistency and maintain total control of what is uploaded and disseminated from that channel. It also allows your brand to show up in searches for not just videos but for channels.

You can take it a step further by creating custom widgets to display on your YouTube channel. Most of these will involve a paid arrangement with Google/YouTube. An elaborate example of that is a page concepted and created by Johnson Direct Director of Interactive Design, Clay Konnor. In this example a custom widget was created that uses the Google Maps API to locate insurance agents in your area. Once located on the visual map the user can not only see contact information but play localized video content from the agent they found right in the map component.

Branded YouTube Channel with custom widget

Optimizing your videos for search.

So now we have some video content and perhaps even a branded YouTube channel; how do we make sure those videos are easily found by searchers? YouTube works similarly to a typical search engine in terms of how it presents and ranks its results. Organic results are listed in the main area, with sponsored links from Google at the top and the right-hand side. There are some significant differences from Google, however, both in searching and in the algorithms that produce search results.

First notice, similar to Google, you can filter your search results. One of those filters that is particularly important is the channel filter. YouTube recently made this filter a little harder to find under the “options” tab , and they are likely to change it again soon as we know is their habit; so while searching for channels is less likely now .

Channel Surfing.

The object is to have your videos as well as your channel rank high in the search engine for your brand name, products and other keyword information. With regard to your channel, the search engine is entirely dependent on your brand channel’s name and its channel tags. When you create a YouTube channel you will get a series of tools that appear at the top of your channel’s home.

YouTube Channel Settings

Under the settings tab you will see the components related to search for your channel and they are minimal—a channel name and channel tags.

When choosing a channel name resist the urge to choose something catchy and cute and instead opt for your brand name and the main keywords your customers will search for. If your company manufactures the finest paint scrapers in the world for example it’s tempting to name the channel “Scraping It Off” but that will do nothing for you by way of search. Instead name it something like “ABC Paint Scrapers— Makers of the finest Painting Tools.” Notice the search phrases right in the title – “paint scrapers” and “painting tools”.

Proceed with your channel tags. These are the search phrases that you want to turn up under “paint scrapers,” “painting tools,” “painting preparation,” etc. Start with the most general and work toward the more specific like actual name of product. If you have a great scraper called the “M124” put that in there but at the end of your keywords – “M124 three inch paint scraper” so that someone who searches for the actual model number will find it. Not only is it a less likely search phrase, it is also unique enough that it will show up associated with your brand.

Video Surfing

Here’s the search engine result page from the search I ran earlier.

Just by looking at this page, you can probably pick out the common elements of the top three videos (e.g., keyword is contained in video title, the video has a relatively high number of views, it has been posted for one year or more, etc.). The key to ranking high on your desired keywords is understanding what factors the YouTube engine takes into account then making sure you apply best practices as it relates to them.

The YouTube search engine can’t actually read the content inside of a video, so the engine uses a variety of different factors to learn about, categorize, and rank your video. The algorithm seems to employ what could be considered a version of typical on-page and off-page SEO factors.

For on-page, optimize your videos using the video title, video description and video tags. Utilize the same strategies identified above for a YouTube channel: get the brand name and search phrase in the title, write a meaningful description that contains all of the search phrases you’ve targeted with close proximity to your brand name and create a set of tags that contain all of your key search phrases. Once again, subordinate unique model names to general classes so that you will rank high against your competitors with the same key phrases.

So you’ve done all that and now you’re wondering “why are my videos still not launching to the top of the SERP?” There are two major factors in the YouTube search algorithm that are less controllable by the video poster: number of hits and length of time on YouTube. Number of hits, similar to general Google searching, seems to weigh very heavily on search rank.

Create a circular search path— inbound and outbound links.

Considering the off-page SEO factors, we see that many are similar to those in traditional SEO. Chief among these are inbound links. As with any content, you want to make sure your YouTube video has external links with keyword-rich anchor text pointing to it for it to receive authority in YouTube’s eyes. For this reason embed your video content on your official site and social media properties with links to the YouTube version. Further, include your official site’s URL in each video’s description to take advantage of Google’s strong weighing on your domain name. Creating both outbound links to your official site and inbound links to your YouTube content creates a circular linking path that will boost your search rankings in both places.

In addition to links and the video post’s age, YouTube also weights your video’s authority based on the number of views, ratings, comments, favorite adds and shares. For this reason encourage users to comment on your videos and frequently comment on them yourself— especially when you are engaging a user comment.

YouTube Comment Box

The more engagement you foster with your video, the more likely people are to link to it as well, further enhancing your SEO efforts.

Make your video content compelling.

Herein lies the biggest factor of optimizing your search results in YouTube and beyond. Before you have a chance at achieving excellent SEO success in YouTube, you must create relevant and engaging video content so that users will rate, comment and share your videos to their social media properties comment on it.

*PEW Internet research