YouTube SEO: How to rank videos and get more views

Use YouTube SEO to improve your YouTube video ranking and get more people watching your content, with 25 simple tips for creators of all levels.

Sandy Beeson
Imagery related to ranking videos on YouTube with text saying 'Introducing YouTube SEO' over the top.

Want to rack up more views for your videos for free? It might sound too good to be true, but that’s exactly what YouTube SEO can do. It’s your ticket to improving your YouTube video ranking, reaching a wider audience, and bagging more views.

For any YouTube search, there are thousands of videos trying to get to the top spot. It’s not always clear what’ll help you rise through the rankings or sink like a stone. Take the guesswork out of YouTube SEO and set your videos up for success with 24 tips that are proven to work.

Whether you’re brand new to SEO or just looking for that extra edge to improve your channel, get yourself more familiar with keywords, involve your audience, and score tons more views for your awesome content.

What is YouTube SEO?

Illustration of search engine with the question 'What is YouTube SEO?'

In a nutshell, YouTube Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the process of improving your content so that it has the best chance of appearing high up in YouTube’s search results. YouTube is the world’s second most popular search engine so getting to grips with SEO can make a huge difference to your video views.

What does SEO mean?

SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, is all about making your website or online content more visible on search engines. By optimizing your site, you can climb higher in search results and attract more organic (non-paid) traffic. 

The main aim of SEO is to ensure your content appears at the top for relevant keywords and phrases, helping you reach a wider audience without spending money on ads.

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. It refers to the process of improving a website or online content to increase its visibility and ranking in search engine results pages (SERPs).

The primary goal of SEO is to attract more organic (non-paid) traffic to a website by ensuring that the site appears higher in search engine rankings for relevant keywords and phrases.

But how does YouTube decide where your videos rank? Let us introduce you to the YouTube algorithm. It’s a clever system YouTube uses to choose which videos to suggest to people on its platform. Getting on the good side of YouTube’s algorithm and having your videos rank higher in its search results is the main goal of YouTube SEO.

Get a better understanding of how YouTube works, and how you can use that knowledge to get your videos seen by more people, by checking out our guide on the YouTube algorithm.

The aim of YouTube’s algorithm is to help viewers easily find content they like, and keep them watching more videos. What’s actually in YouTube’s algorithm is genuinely a mystery (and don’t believe anyone that says otherwise) but there are some things that we know YouTube likes, and there’s an easy way you can split them:

  1. Things creators can affect, like titles, descriptions, tags and thumbnails.
  2. How people engage with your videos, such as comments, likes, and how long viewers are watching for.

They’re the two sides of the YouTube coin that deliver success to creators. While you have less control over how people watch your videos, you can use our YouTube SEO tips to optimize your videos and give your channel a better chance of blowing up.

Does YouTube SEO work?

If you take the time to apply SEO to your YouTube channel, there’s a good chance you’ll see a boost to your videos. Your videos might not go viral overnight, but you’ll be laying the foundations for getting your videos to feature higher up in YouTube’s rankings. And once that happens you’ll start to notice three things.

1. Your videos will get more views: Properly optimized videos will appear higher in YouTube’s search results and recommended sections. The higher up your video features, the more likely people are to click on it. And you already know that clicks translate into more views for your content!

2. You’ll see more engagement: You’re not just attracting more views to your videos with SEO, you’re also finding an audience that has found your content because they’re especially interested in it. Both of these factors mean that you’re more likely to see an increase in likes, comments, and people hitting the subscribe button.
3. Your whole channel will get a free boost: YouTube’s algorithm loves rewarding videos that drive loads of views and engagement. So if your content is doing exactly that, the algorithm is going to share your videos even further. All without costing you a single cent!

25 ways to use SEO to improve your YouTube video ranking

Illustration of SEO helping a YouTube video rank higher in search results.

1. Embrace the power of keywords

Think about any time you use a search engine, they’re scarily good at finding content that’s relevant to what you want to see! That’s because YouTube uses titles, tags, descriptions and a whole host of other information to identify keywords that match what people are searching.

It’s to make sure they’re not serving content that’s wide of the mark. After all, if you were searching for the best cameras for filming vlogs, it would be pretty strange if a search engine came back with loads of results about Tibetan monks or South American beaches.

So get familiar with the keywords that are going to be the most relevant to your content. Finding the right terms that people are searching for is your key to opening up new audiences!

2. Find the right keywords for your video

The most important part of YouTube SEO is finding the right keywords. Clearly you want to identify terms that are super relevant to your video. But the key is making sure that they’re also  terms that people are actually searching for!

Think about what you would type into a search to find content on a particular topic. If you look at the title and description for the most popular results, they’re going to be full of relevant terms. That’s because the search engine thinks these keywords are what people are searching for most!

If you’re struggling to think of relevant keywords for your particular niche, try using the search bar in either YouTube or Google to help. They’ll suggest related terms and phrases when they autocomplete your search. The best bit is that these are based on what people are actually searching for.

Try typing a query into a Google search and see what comes up in the People Also Ask section of the search results. It’ll give you lots of relevant suggestions for questions and search terms that you can use as keywords.

A great way to get a comprehensive list of both keywords and related questions is through free sites like Answer The Public. They gather keyword research for any given topic and create a clear visual of exactly what people are searching. All you need to do is type in the most relevant word for your video and you’ll get a heap of keyword suggestions you can use.

Now you’ve got a list of keywords that are relevant to your video, find the ones people are looking for most. After all, the more people are searching for your keywords, the more potential viewers you’ll have!

Popular keywords that feature in people’s searches the most are likely to be more competitive as well. Consider prioritizing keywords that are less popular as you’re more likely to rank higher.

Free tools like WordStream and WordTracker let you see how many times each of your terms has been searched, so you can choose the most popular keywords that relate to your videos.

To get an idea of how popular your niche is, use Google Trends to see how much search interest your keywords have over a set period of time. It’s the only tool that can show you how popular your searches are on YouTube through accurate data directly taken from the platform.

Making sure to use keywords correctly will help your videos rank higher, but how high they go does depend on a few other factors too.

4. Hunt for lower competition keywords

The keyword difficulty of a term shows how hard it will be for you to climb the rankings for that particular term, even if you’re spot on with your SEO. If you’re after quick wins, you’ll want to hunt down terms that have a lower keyword difficulty, which you can do with tools like the free Keyword Difficulty Checker from Ahrefs.

5. Look for keywords others haven’t found

The more videos are trying to rank for one of your keywords, the harder it’s going to be for you to feature high up YouTube’s search results. Checking to see how many videos already rank for your keyword will give you an accurate picture of how much competition is out there.

A neat way of seeing exactly how many videos there are already is by entering your keyword followed by ‘’ into Google. You shouldn’t write off your chances if there’s already tons of competition, but just be aware that it’ll be more difficult to rank higher.

6. Beware of bigger YouTubers!

The size of a channel often plays a big role in how well a video ranks. It’s not a hard and fast rule, but generally bigger channels will rank higher. For instance, a drone review from Sam Kolder is more likely to perform better than Jane Doe’s tech reviews.

But don’t be disheartened, because you’ve got every chance of beating bigger YouTubers to those prized higher search rankings! You just need to use all of our SEO tips to give yourself the best chance.

7. Use your keywords in the right places

Once you have a list of keywords to power your videos up the search rankings, you need to know where to use them. Remember, you’re trying to show YouTube’s algorithm that your videos should be at the top of people’s search results.

How do you do that? By adding keywords to your videos and telling YouTube what your content’s all about. To do that, make sure you follow the steps  below every time you upload a new video.

Find out how to add closed captions, create timestamps, and divide your videos into chapters by checking out our guide to uploading videos to YouTube.

8. Optimize your title and description

The two most obvious places you can add keywords are in your video’s title and description. Don’t be mysterious when labeling your videos, get straight to the point so that YouTube knows exactly what it’s about.

9. Include a keyword in your video’s file name

Changing the file name of your video will give YouTube an extra clue to what your content is about and could make the difference when trying to rank higher. It’s a small change that’s often overlooked, so get ahead of other YouTubers and rename your video files!

Illustration of a YouTube channel getting strong engagement to boost SEO.

10. Add relevant keyword tags

Tags are one of the tools YouTube uses to sort out which videos are relevant when someone makes a search. So when you upload a video, don’t miss out on adding a few relevant tags to your video in the Details section.

YouTube does point out that your title, description and thumbnail are more important factors for helping people discover your content. But that doesn’t mean you should overlook tags, they still help your video’s discoverability.

11. Remember to select a category for your video

Picking a category for your video might seem like a small step, but it’s one of the ways for YouTube to find the right audience for your niche. What’s more, it’s also a step that you’ll see lots of creators miss out on.

Admittedly the categories are broad, covering the likes of Comedy, Gaming, or Music. But if you haven’t selected a category when you upload your video, you won’t be in the running as far as YouTube’s concerned. So head to the Details tab when you’re posting new content and don't miss out on this simple yet effective way to boost your video's visibility.

12. Add closed captions to your videos

Really, you should be adding captions to your videos anyway to improve accessibility for your viewers. But the added benefit of captions is that YouTube can trawl through the transcript to get more context for your content.

13. Give videos timestamps and chapters

Adding timestamps and chapters to your videos helps your viewers skip to the bits they really want to watch. But, it also gives search engines like Google easy-to-find sections that they can use in their search results.

Chapters give you extra opportunities to rank for different keywords in a single video, which can be especially useful for informative content. Say you posted a tutorial on how to make origami, you could rank for several different popular models as well as keywords around origami itself.

Chapters are great for SEO as they're like mini-videos within your content and can be selected by Google as featured videos in searches. Say you created a skateboarding tutorial with chapters on different stances, what gear to wear, and how to kickflip, all these chapters could feature on Google and drive more traffic to your original video.

14. Create evergreen content

Be careful not to date your content because as soon as it’s old news, people aren’t going to want to click on it. Some of the most successful YouTubers create timeless content that’ll always attract clicks, like Adriene’s yoga videos or Dude Perfect’s entertaining stunts!

By not putting an expiry date on your videos, you’ll be able to rack up more views over time. So try to avoid things like mentioning the year, or references to current events. Otherwise your video might go out of style faster than fidget spinners!

15. Update your videos where you can

So YouTube doesn’t give you lots of options for updating your video content, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have the opportunity to freshen things up. Checking to see if you can make small changes to your title or description can help show YouTube that your content is still relevant. It also proves to YouTube that you’re actively maintaining your channel, which could help nudge you up the search rankings.

16. Build an active and engaged community

We mentioned that YouTube prefers videos that drive more engagement and keep people watching for longer. That’s because these are signs that viewers are having a more rewarding experience when they watch your content.

Why is that important? Well, it indicates to YouTube that real people are finding your videos helpful. And if that helps YouTube rank your videos higher, you’ll want to get your viewers interacting with your content even more!

Google and YouTube both use something called E-E-A-T to influence their rankings. It stands for Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness, and basically means that if your content is accurate, reliable and well-informed, you’re likely to rank higher.

17. Interact with your audience

YouTube loves a video with a lively comments section and lots of likes. It’s a surefire sign that the content is popular and worth bumping up its search rankings.

Don’t be shy about starting some debate in your videos and getting people to respond in the comments. Consider pinning a comment to get the conversation started, as this can also be an opportunity to include a link to your channel or other videos.

18. Encourage people to share your content

It doesn’t hurt to ask people to share your video if they’ve found it useful. It gives you the twin benefits of spreading word of your content even further, while also showing YouTube that you’ve created something shareworthy!

People linking to your content, also known as backlinking, is one of Google’s biggest signs that a piece of content is worthy of a higher spot in search results. Simply asking your audience to share your video could help send all the right signals to get you flying up the rankings.

Image of a YouTube video thumbnail standing out in search results.

19. Attract more viewers and keep them watching

YouTube’s algorithm loves videos that convince people to click on them, and keep them watching for as long as possible. We’ll go into more detail about how you achieve this on your YouTube channel, but this should be your aim with every single upload.

20. Intrigue viewers with your title

How do you convince someone to click on your video? You hook them in with the perfect title. Something that not only neatly summarizes what they can expect from your video, but also begs to be clicked.

Don’t forget to include your most relevant keyword, but it’s important to remember that your title should entice people to watch your video. After all, clicks mean views!

21. Hook people in with a thumbnail

Along with a video’s title, a thumbnail is your chance to convince someone to watch your video. At the very least it needs to be visually appealing, but you want to aim for something that grabs people’s attention and compels them to click on your video!

Make sure your title and thumbnail are on point before you post your video by uploading them into Thumbs Up TV for free. It's one of the best free tools for YouTubers featured in our must-read guide.

22. Check out YouTube Analytics to increase watch time

YouTube is a gold mine of information that can help you improve your videos. You can find out which of your videos is keeping people hooked for longer and use those insights to make even better content by checking out our guide to YouTube Analytics.

23. Keep people watching with playlists

If you’ve got several videos on a similar topic, create a playlist and direct viewers to the other videos too. Remember, a direct call-out in the video itself is more effective at convincing people to watch the next video than if you only use an end screen.

Not only will an effective playlist mean you get extra views for your content, you’re also showing YouTube that your videos are super relevant for people’s searches. The more signs you can give that your content answers people’s questions, the better you’re going to rank!

24. Suggest more of your videos with cards and end screens

One of the most effective ways to keep people on your channel is by recommending the next video they watch. By adding cards and end screens to your content, you can suggest the most relevant video for viewers to watch next.

Not only will this help to drive up your views, it also shows YouTube that you're keeping people on the platform. And that’s something YouTube’s algorithm loves to see! If you can keep people watching longer, you’ll be rewarded with higher search rankings.

25. Make the most of online YouTube SEO tools

Now you know what it takes for your videos to rank higher, but you’ll need some YouTube SEO tools to get there. Thankfully there are plenty of online tools to help you find the right keywords, check out what your competitors are doing, and track your channel’s performance.

You’ll find all the SEO tools mentioned throughout this guide rounded-up in one easy list below. So see which ones will suit your needs and equip yourself for YouTube SEO success.

Ahrefs: Discover where your YouTube traffic is coming from and uncover winning keywords to boost your views.

Answer the Public: Shape your YouTube content by tapping into the real questions people are asking online.

Google Trends: Stay ahead of the curve by checking out the latest search trends across Google.

Semrush: Get a peek at your YouTube competition and see where you can shine brighter. Make your videos instantly stand out with attention-grabbing thumbnails.

TubeBuddy: A YouTube Swiss knife, helping you with everything from keywords to deep analytics.

VidIQ: Dive deep into how your videos perform, from viewer insights to what your competitors are up to.

Wordstream: Elevate your YouTube ad game by picking just the right words to capture attention.

Wordtracker: Boost your video's reach by pinpointing the keywords that resonate most with your audience.

Boost your YouTube SEO ranking to get more views!

Illustration of a YouTube channel shining thanks to strong SEO.

As you can see, YouTube SEO is a straightforward and free way to get your videos in front of more people. It’s definitely not rocket science, but it can help launch your channel into the stratosphere!

It’s a simple equation. Find the perfect set of relevant keywords and sprinkle them across your content. Add in strong engagement and strategies for getting more views. Do all of that and you’ll soon see YouTube moving your videos higher up in people’s search results.

Using these YouTube SEO tips in combination with our guide to getting the most out of YouTube Analytics is the smart way to get your content seen by more people, rack up more views, and ultimately grow your channel.

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