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Maximizing YouTube as a Powerful SEO Tool: A 2023 Guide

Maximizing YouTube as a Powerful SEO Tool: A 2023 Guide
Maximizing YouTube as a Powerful SEO Tool: A 2023 Guide
In this post, I'm going to run through some key suggestions for maximizing the utility of YouTube as an SEO tool, both through using it as an optimization target in its own right and through associating it with your broader SEO strategy:
Posted in: Growth
Maximizing YouTube as a Powerful SEO Tool: A 2023 Guide
Maximizing YouTube as a Powerful SEO Tool: A 2023 Guide

The SEO world is expansive and complex, providing numerous viable paths to success through a wide variety of channels and platforms, and mastering it is all about understanding people: what they want, how they think, and what captures their attention. And when you're trying to figure this out, what better place is there to visit than YouTube?

Sure, there are social media networks that might be better in specific ways for particular niche audiences: TikTok is getting a huge amount of attention from young people, for instance. But YouTube's overall coverage is unmatched. People of all demographics spend many hours each week checking through their subscriptions, and it's a huge cultural touchstone.

In other words, there's incredible SEO value lurking in the YouTube world: you just need to know how to take advantage of it. The main way is to create and maintain a YouTube channel, of course, but there's more to it than just that (more on this later). Adapt your strategy and you can get more views for your videos and visits to your website.

In this post, I'm going to run through some key suggestions for maximizing the utility of YouTube as an SEO tool, both through using it as an optimization target in its own right and through associating it with your broader SEO strategy: 

Optimizing for YouTube channel performance

Ask anyone what the biggest search engine is and they'll have the same answer. In the event that you run into someone with no internet savvy and no idea what a search engine is, then you'll need to define your terms first, but their eventual guess will be the same as anyone else's. Google has dominated search for so long that the days of Yahoo, AltaVista and Ask Jeeves sometimes feel illusory. Didn't Google invent online search?

Due to this, it's far more interesting to ask what the second biggest search engine is. What will the responses be? Some might still say Yahoo (which does remain in operation, yes). Others more familiar with the online world could suggest DuckDuckGo, a favorite of people concerned about privacy and minimally-filtered results.

How many people would go with YouTube? Probably not that many, yet that's the right answer. More searches are placed every day than on any platform aside from Google — and this brings a lot of value to the notion of pointedly targeting YouTube searches through an SEO strategy. This obviously requires the targeted brand to have a high-priority channel, so if video isn't currently a part of its marketing plan then some major changes will be required.


Of course, all this is old news to your average SEO agency, but if you're yet to leverage the platform for your own means, it's not too late to do so. Here are some tips that anyone managing a YouTube channel can use to improve its visibility, get more views, and start attracting more subscribers:

Build around core keywords

An interesting thing about YouTube (and video in general) is that a searcher is likely to want to get all their information on a particular topic from a specific channel. This isn't generally the case with regular search where pretty much any source can be viable.

Let's say they wanted to find some Photoshop tips through Google: they might search for "photoshop how to create a shape", choose a page to visit, then go back and search for "photoshop how to create an adjustment layer" before choosing a page from a different site.

On YouTube, though, they might search for "photoshop how to create a shape", visit various results to find one with the right approach (a clear voiceover, solid presentation, updated information, etc.), then make their next search within that channel — or just look for a playlist that might have it. And their subsequent YouTube searches for "photoshop how to" would see them look out for that specific channel as an indicator of quality.

Here's the SEO point: once you know the core construction you want to rank for, you need to relentlessly hammer it through variations. Jeremy Vest, the Director of Marketing at vidIQ, put it very well while discussing a hit campaign on the Marketing Speak podcast:

"When I did the YouTube strategy for Gillette about seven years ago, we did How to Shave. [...]

Our 250 or so videos that we did on how to shave, we did how to shave your head, how to shave your back, how to shave your beard, your goatee, on and on and on for 250 videos, they got over 80 million views in over 100,000 subscribers for Gillette. [...] The reason that this happens is every video, out of the 250 videos had the words "How to Shave."

You want to corner the market for your selected video type, and that means hitting your core keyword really hard (spooling it out into long-tail keywords) so everyone knows what you bring to the table. Don't waste time trying to cover all your bases to rank for everything. It's never going to happen.

Master thumbnails and titles

You've surely noticed the classic thumbnail formula for YouTube videos: a face with a theatrical expression superimposed on an object or symbol conveying the subject matter, with the face given a high-contrast highlight to make it catch the eye. It's cheesy and generic, but it doesn't get used because it's easy or because content creators are lazy. It gets used because it works.

The same can be said for the title formula. Capital letters and exclamation marks everywhere. Clickbait constructions that are fairly vague but sound very dramatic. Again, they annoy some people, but they draw far more in, so you must always handle the balancing act of retaining your audience's respect while maximizing your views.

In the end, it's the views (from relevant people, of course) that matter. One approach that works quite well is to set videos live with attention-grabbing titles then update them once they've got as many early views as possible. The Linus Tech Tips channel has settled on this pattern, and it gets the job done, leading to videos that perform well during the novelty stage but are then made practically searchable for long-term use. 

Use cards and end screens well

Cards are inserts that can be placed into YouTube videos, allowing the uploaders to include things like links or polls. End screens are what they sound like: screens that are shown at the end of videos, allowing wrap-up comments and more links. And it's the links that matter for SEO, because — as with the playlists mentioned earlier — you want someone who happens upon a particular video to spend more time on the channel.

It's internal links that you want, with any given video ideally linking out to several related videos on the same channel. You do need to be careful to some extent (if you have one video in particular that gets far more clicks than any other, you oughtn't link to it during the first quarter of a smaller video, because it might just end up taking engagement from that video for no particular purpose).

Put your biggest links at the end of a video, and link to more niche videos throughout any video with broad appeal. In this regard, the approach is similar to that used for regular SEO: taking a popular asset and using it to drive traffic to less popular assets. 

Monitor engagement metrics closely

There's a lot of mystery inherent to every form of SEO, but that's particularly true of organic search through Google. You can see how many visits a page is getting and how well it's ranking for a given term, but metrics beyond those are often hard to determine. It's somewhat easier to deal with videos since you can access clear engagement metrics.

Not only can you see how many views your videos are getting, but you can also see where people are dropping off, and even which parts are attracting rewatches. This in-depth information can prove incredibly useful when optimizing your channel. Really burrow into your engagement metrics and use them to determine how you can make better videos that will better meet the needs of your audience and earn relevant views. 

Using YouTube to assist your broader SEO

Lastly, having looked at working on SEO for performance within the YouTube search engine, let's touch upon how you can use YouTube to assist your broader SEO — because you certainly can do that. Is it about building backlinks to your website? Well, yes, but not because it passes on any ranking value in the way that a backlink from a high-quality domain would. YouTube is a massive domain, but anyone can link to their own assets from it, so the links will surely be disregarded (or regarded incredibly lightly) by the Google algorithms.

The point of building backlinks through YouTube is simply to drive relevant traffic. Using cards, end screens, and even descriptions, you should choose opportune moments to send viewers elsewhere — most usefully when you can point them towards action. A classic valuable action online would be placing an order through a store, so let's say you're trying to sell a product.

By including a link to the product page at a point in a video when the viewer has just been given a compelling reason to buy said product, you can pick up some easy purchases. And the more you build up the brand through the YouTube channel, the more recognizable it will become in the SERPs, making searchers more likely to choose it.


YouTube is a phenomenal marketing resource, and you should make a concerted effort to make the most of it when promoting a brand. These tips will help with internal video promotion and the use of videos to drive external traffic. For more information, check out our article on using video to drive ecommerce sales. 

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Sunday, 14 April 2024
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