photo above by Guy Sie
Making good content is the best thing you can do for YouTube SEO. Right now, YouTube is all about watch-time. The best way to rank high in YouTube searches is to have a high watch-time; watch-time is the actual minutes and seconds someone spends watching your content. It matters because YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world, next to their parent company, Google. While YouTube and Google are kind of the same company, their search algorithms differ.
When using YouTube as a search engine, SEO is heavily based on video watch time. YouTube wants to not just promote popular content, but genuinely good content. Watch-time is a pretty good sign that content is capturing the attention of viewers. It is a major part of engagement as well.
YouTube announced watch-time as the dominant metric for YouTube success in October 2012, once it became apparent that a model based on views was easily hacked through things like click farms. Videos with high view counts can show up in searches with videos with significantly lower view counts if the watch time on those smaller videos is high.
Since YouTube yields individual videos in search results it is important to do all one can to have videos that could rank in searches rank highly on YouTube. This can be done through a series of creative decisions.
Getting found is the first step to getting watched. Part of getting found is making sure you have good metadata. This is less about the content, and more about discoverability, but in the beginning of a video’s lifespan, these are the elements that matter with regards to turning up in search results.
Part of making good content is setting expectations for what the viewer will watch with:
- Titles: thoughtful or surprising titles. If a video is part of a series, noting this in the title is important. Titles should either be surprising, or descriptive.
- Above the fold descriptions: The first two lines of the description are what show up before a viewer has to click “show more” and it is a good place to set expectations about video content
- Thumbnails: These need to be honest and eye-catching from any size screen.
- Below the fold descriptions: This is where all of the relevant details of a video should go with links to what was mentioned, sources, other content, social media etc.
- Transcripts: If there is a script for the dialogue or lyrics to an original song, the transcript section is a great place for that, which helps in optimizing for closed captions and foreign languages.
This part of optimization, however, only helps in the beginning of the life of the video. Once people start watching, then watch-time takes over.
Content Strategy and Programming
What you make and how you release it heavily impacts SEO because of how much YouTube takes into account watch-time. To make the most of watch-time, videos have to be what viewers expect, which happens in the optimization phase, and then have to be interesting enough for viewers to stay until the end. Part of understanding what is best for a channel is understanding watch-time and how watch-time gets reported.
Many marketers are already familiar with the concept of a bounce-rate for websites or blogs. Watch-time and bounce rate are related, but the kinds of data a channel can get from watch time analytics can be incredibly telling. Absolute retention analytics are a great tool to figuring out where audiences are engaging, re-watching or abandoning a video. If there is an immediate dip in the first 5-15 seconds of a video, this is indicative of expectations not matching the reality of a video. This is most similar to bounce rate. The solution is usually to optimize metadata.
Unlike website or blog bounce rates, a rise in the absolute retention graph shows segments of a video that audiences are rewinding and watching again. Drops show where viewers are fast forwarding or stop watching videos.
The YouTube Creator Playbook speaks towards content optimization noting that, it is important when working on content strategy to think about:
- Production Value: Is the video shot well? How is the lighting and audio quality? Are edits clean? Are there lulls or boring parts of the video, in scripting or style?
- Length: Are viewers unable to pay attention to the whole thing? If content is long, have you set expectations by giving a visual, verbal and interactive table of contents of sorts? Have you made it easy to jump to different segments of the video? Have you made shorter versions of the video, trailers, teasers and scenes?
- Hooks: Is your content interesting enough in the beginning to keep a viewer’s attention? Have you immediately addressed the audience? How well are you leveraging a curiosity gap?
- Serial Viewing: If you have an arsenal of content that either groups together by theme, interest, or story, have you led your viewer to the next video to watch in the series?
It is also important to be thinking about engagement because this too is a factor in figuring out the depth of a fandom. Deep fandoms hold a lot of weight on YouTube, so don’t forget to participate in that conversation, which will help viewers come back and maybe stick around a bit longer. Just because watch-time is the dominant metric for an engaged audience, doesn’t mean it is the only metric. You cannot forget about likes, comments, and shares as contributing factors towards having good engagement with videos.
At the end of the day, content is still king when it comes to YouTube SEO, but the advice, “make great content” doesn’t always feel that actionable. But with the right tools, there are many ways to use data on YouTube to better predict what content will perform best for your audience. A great place to start is in YouTube analytics, paying attention to the absolute retention of your videos. You could pay for a playback, but you need to compel audiences to watch, in order to really find success.
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