YouTube SEO 101 to Increasing Channel Subscribers

Full-Service Digital Marketing Agency Specialized in Lead Generation through PPC, SEO, Social Media, and Email Marketing

A lot of people don’t realize that YouTube is the second largest global search engine on the internet today, right behind its parent company Google. This little known fact translates to a lot of digital marketers treating it carelessly just like they do with other social media sites like LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. This is unfortunate because your success with YouTube SEO isn’t about posting content, it’s about optimizing that content with the same discipline and care you would take with your website.

It’s easy to discover video content with millions of views as well as videos with barely any views or vanity metrics that are essentially similar in content. On YouTube, the difference between success and failure often comes down to a few elements that you ultimately control.

With YouTube SEO, the majority of the optimization work can be brought together into a process that you should apply to all your old video content and then to each and every video when you publish it.

I’m about to give you exactly m what you need to know and understand if you would like for your video content to rank number one on YouTube search for the keywords that are relevant to your niche.


YouTube SEO 101

YouTube SEO 101 focuses on the essential basic background information you will need to fully understand prior to divomg into YouTube SEO optimization tactics and tips.

YouTube SEO begins with keyword research

Given that YouTube is a video search engine, you should approach video content creation in a similar strategic way, just like you would when writing content articles for your websites blog posts . This means you have to take the time upfront to conduct niche related keyword research in order to pinpoint  your ideal target audiences interests and how they communicate with one another online.

Begin your YouTube SEO keyword research with a brainstorming session. Now make your way over to YouTube and start by typing your researches keyword  into the search box. Just like you would on every Google search you’ll notice that as you type, you will get popular searches suggested to you by YouTube Suggest, which is the autocomplete feature built into the search widget on YouTube. You could  take this to the next level by using a free Ubersuggest tool, which iterates through the alphabet for the 1st letter of the next word of your search phrase. Its important to remember to select “YouTube” instead of the default “Web.”

Keyword brainstorming is one thing, but you probably need to be able to compare keywords to each other to see which ones are searched on more frequently. There’s a tool for that, and it’s completely free, provided to us by Google: Google Trends. It’s surprising how many SEO practitioners don’t realize Google Trends has a “YouTube search” option underneath the “Web search” option, which will give you YouTube-specific search volume data. This tool doesn’t give you actual numbers, unfortunately (everything is in percentages), but nonetheless, it is quite handy for comparing keywords to each other.

Track Your Search Rankings to Improve Your YouTube SEO

You probably track your positions in the Google search results for a your top performing keywords, but are you doing this with YouTube? If you’re not,  now is the time you should start. There are various tools that can help us with this, both free and paid, so it’s a matter of finding one that you are comfortable using so that you can monitor your progress as you continue optimizing your videos.

Video Content is King, but Consistency is Queen

In order for you to be able to have a fighting chance and to compete with all the other video content creators in the dog eat dog world of YouTube, you need superior video content that sticks out from the crowd. While achieving a viral home run hit is a great dream, remember that YouTube isn’t just about views: You’re looking to build a subscriber base and form long-term relationships with viewers.

How can you accomplish this? By producing quality content and publishing it on a regular schedule. Posting irregularly will only hurt you and result in lost subscribers. If you commit to posting every day, make sure you post every day. If you post once a week at 5:00 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon, don’t become lazy and n skip a week or post a late video (even if it is only a few hours or the next day).

Shorter Video Content is Not Better Content

Be skeptical of digital marketing agency that tell you people only watch short, one- to two-minute videos on YouTube. Keep in mind Youtube’s businesses model and ultimate goal is to take over cable television so they can then charge TV-like advertising rates. What YouTube prefers is high-quality, long-form content that will allow them to run more ads and keep users on the site for longer. Videos that are at least five minutes in length tend to perform better and have a higher chance of ranking in Google search results pages (SERPs).

A key metric you should pay attention to is the watch time, and not only for  not just for each video, but for your entire channel. Ideally, you should be experiencing monthly increases in the video watch time as your channel grows.


Use the power of playlists to Boost YouTube SEO

Playlists are an underrated promotional tool on YouTube. Currently, a lot of digital marketers and businesses create playlists around dates, content genres, products and other broad categories, to really take advantage of this feature, you need to go deeper.

Use your keyword research to understand what people are searching for within your niche, and then create playlists focused on those topics. If you don’t have a lot of video content yet, you can should create playlists using other people’s video content to drive viewers directly to your YouTube channel page.


First 48 hours are critical

YouTube’s algorithms are notoriously unforgiving. When you upload a new video, make sure you have all your optimizations ready to go. Come out of the gate strong, or not at all. Don’t publish a video with the intention of optimizing it sometime later. If YouTube can’t get a clear picture of what your video is about, or if you aren’t getting any traction from viewers (in terms of watch time and other engagement metrics), you’ll suffer in the rankings — and it will be hard to recover that lost ground.

While it is possible to go back and fix poorly optimized videos by revising the titles, description, tags, thumbnail, transcript, etc, the fact of the matter is that the collateral damage will have already been done after the first 48 hours have passed. It’s incredibly hard, if not impossible to bounce back from being buried once the algorithm has judged your content as unworthy.


How to Apply YouTube SEO Optimization to Your Videos Content

Now that we’ve covered YouTube SEO basics, it’s finally time to get into the juicy stuff thats going to boost your business. Here’s how you can optimize your videos for success on YouTube.


The title

The video title should be punchy and should grab the user. It shouldn’t be too wordy, rather, it should concisely explain why the user should even bother viewing your video. Hit them with the good stuff!

Before you decide on your title, you must do your keyword research, and then take a look at your competitors for those keywords. These are the videos you’ll be competing against, so you’ll want your title to be as solid as theirs, if not better.

Titles play a large part in the ranking of your video, so make sure they are at least five words long and include the keyword that you want to rank for.


The thumbnail

A video’s thumbnail image is actually more important than the title in terms of attracting the click from the YouTube searcher. You could do every other thing right for your SEO, but if you have an unappealing thumbnail, no one is going to click on your video.

Think about it: The thumbnail is the only image that gives people a sense of what they’re about to invest their time in watching. If it looks unprofessional or boring, people aren’t going to consider it a good use of time.

For the best results, go with a “custom thumbnail” (you will need to be verified by YouTube in order to do this) and have that thumbnail image include graphical text.


  • Customize your thumbnail image with titles/fun graphics.
  • Have professional shots taken with the thumbnail in mind. (Note: You don’t have to use a frame from the video as the basis for the thumbnail.)
  • Make it intriguing.
  • Ensure it is well-lit.

This buttercream frosting video thumbnail draws the eye with its well-balanced, bright colors that aren’t overwhelming, the very visual title and the nicely set up photo.


  • Have an intrusive logo.
  • Use clashing colors.
  • Have a random, unprofessional-looking still.
  • Make your thumbnail all text.

This cupcake decorating video thumbnail isn’t effective because it’s confusing. The woman is looking at some off-screen person, the moment looks unpolished, and we aren’t sure what’s going on.



Many people make the mistake of only writing a few sentences for the description. This is your chance to expand on the information in the video with links, calls to action and performer bios. If you want people to click on a link to your website, include it “above the fold,” before the “Show more” prompt. Also, include some sort of enticing hook in that first sentence that will get people to click “Show More” to see the rest of your video’s description.

Take a look at this description of an HGTV video above and below the fold when one hits “Show More” or “Show Less.” You’ll want a long description so users can get more insight into the video; don’t be afraid to include lots of information. This also gives you another shot at including relevant keywords.


The video transcript (i.e., captions) serves as additional copy that is considered in YouTube’s rankings algorithm. Don’t rely on YouTube’s automated transcription process — there are going to be errors in that transcript, guaranteed. Either proofread and edit that automated transcript or use a transcription service or a Virtual Assistant to create a transcript of the video. If you do the latter, remember that it needs to be time-stamped to match the audio track.


Did you know that you can provide foreign language translations of your video in the same time-stamped format of your transcript? It’s a great way to globalize your content without having to reshoot your videos. It allows foreign language viewers to watch your video with subtitles (closed captioning), and it allows your video to rank for keywords in that foreign language. For example, you could translate your video into Spanish and upload the translated transcription.

YouTube gives you the ability to include various metadata in multiple languages, such as the title, tags and descriptions, in addition to the closed captioning.


Tagging isn’t rocket science. Make sure you use phrases as well as single keywords; for example, if your video is about surfing at Malibu Beach, tag it with “surfing,” “Malibu Beach” and “surfing at Malibu Beach.” Tags aren’t visible on YouTube by default, but you can view the tags on YouTube videos using the free vidIQ Chrome extension. Have fun mining your competitor’s content for the best tags!


Make sure you are linking in the description to everywhere that you want your potential fan base to go: all of your social channels, your site, other videos of yours (to boost the overall viewership and get more subscribers) and wherever else you might want to send viewers, like to a squeeze page. Choose your most important link to display above the fold in the description. You can also promote some of these destinations with YouTube cards, which is a perfect segue to my next point.

Call to action

The end of your video should practically subscribe for the user. Give them a one-click option to subscribe, and then tell them why they should. Life coach and motivational speaker Marie Forleo is fantastic at this. At the end of her videos, she gives a neat little outro like “If you like this video and found its tips helpful, subscribe!” She even has a little arrow pointing to the subscribe button just in case viewers don’t get the hint. You need to be that obvious.

Hovering over or clicking on the picture of Forleo’s face gives users an easy way to subscribe to her YouTube channel.

Subscriptions send a big signal to Google: If people subscribe because of this video, there must be something worthwhile about it. Forleo also has videos playing in boxes at the very end of the video — in what is called the “end screen” — that send you to other videos of hers. This is a great way to get views to accumulate for your other videos, and it gives you that extra chance of landing a subscriber.



Once you’ve optimized and uploaded your videos, you’ll want to be able to monitor and analyze their performance.

YouTube Analytics

YouTube Analytics is available at YouTube Analytics is great for learning more about who is watching your videos. Some examples of the data you can find are traffic sources, demographics and what percentage of your watchers are subscribers. This lets you know where to focus your energies and resources. Are a large number of your viewers subscribers that follow you closely? Perhaps create some content that caters specifically to them.

You’ll also want to combine YouTube Analytics with your Google Analytics, which gives you access to more features. To see activity on your channel page in Google Analytics, simply add your Google Analytics embed code.

Subscriber conversion is key

There are plenty of metrics to keep an eye on in YouTube, but one key metric to watch is your subscriber conversion. If your goal is to build your audience, then you’ll want to know which videos are so compelling that they convince a viewer to hit “subscribe.” Thankfully, YouTube Analytics will now show you exactly which video a subscriber came from. Use this insight to give your audience more of what they want.

Third-party analytics tools

You may find yourself in need of more data than YouTube Analytics and Google Analytics can provide. There are a variety of tools out there, both free and paid, which can provide deeper insights into YouTube performance metrics, such as rankings, view count, comments, likes, dislikes, video replies and favorites. This kind of data can help you better optimize your video content, as well as inform content creation and distribution strategies. (For instance, perhaps you find that the highest view rates are happening on the weekends, so you decide to post the next video on the weekends to get more viewers.)


First, spruce up all the existing YouTube videos on your channel. Even if they’ve been up for years, put in the time to clean up their appearance, make use of a few of YouTube’s tools, as well as a few third-party ones, and provide for a better viewer experience. You can still see improvements in your channel’s performance.

Then, develop a new workflow for new videos that you’re going to publish, including all these tools and tips.

If you’re serious about getting more YouTube views, subscribers and rankings, it’s essential to invest time in video optimization. The best part, undoubtedly, is the low barrier to entry to being a YouTube SEO practitioner. Just start ticking all of YouTube’s boxes, and you’re well on your way!

Article Name
YouTube SEO 101 to Increasing Channel Subscribers
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Marketing Media Wizard

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