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The beginner’s guide to ranking on YouTube

YouTube now claims over 1.5 billion monthly users, making it the second most popular social media platform after Facebook. This statistic alone makes a convincing argument for brands to invest in video content.

However, every minute of every day, 500 hours of new video content are uploaded to YouTube. Standing out among this amount of competition is no easy task. To gain viewers for your videos, there are a few ways to optimize your videos beyond the quality of your content, including choosing a focus keyword and encouraging engagement with CTAs, playlists and longer videos.

Utilize a Focus Keyword

One of the easiest ways to optimize your video for YouTube is to choose a focus keyword before your company invests in creating a video. There are multiple tools that simplify YouTube keyword research, including Keyword Tool for YouTube, VidIQ and AdWords. Once you choose a keyword to center your video around, what do you do with it?

Use your focus keyword in your script.

The script you follow for your video should include the keyword you want to rank for. There’s no need to stuff the keyword in unnatural places. Use phrases that include the keyword and slight variations. This should be easy because this is what your video is all about.

When your video is transcribed and subtitles are added, your keyword and the variations you used throughout your script will be naturally included throughout the text.

Place the keyword within your video title.

The title of your video should be about 60 characters, so it isn’t cut off in search results in either Google or YouTube. Within these characters, describe your video’s topic and include your focus keyword (or a close variation). Just like in your script, there’s no need to go overboard with keywords here.

Maximize your video description.

YouTube gives you 5,000 characters to describe your video, add links and repeat the CTAs you used in your video. Most videos don’t take advantage of this space, so a few well-written, descriptive paragraphs (around 2,000 characters is more than enough) will help your video appeal to viewers and search engines.

Your first 90 to 100 characters are what displays in search results, so summarize your content to appeal to searchers and include your keyword or a close variant.

Using your keyword and variants will help you explain the content of your video to search engines, although this is likely not a strong ranking signal. More importantly, accurately explaining your video in the description lets viewers know what you’ll cover in the video.

Add related tags to your video.

Tags don’t have a large effect on your video ranking, but they’re easy to add to your video. Use your keyword and other related terms as tags, as well as a few larger umbrella topics. These labels will help YouTube categorize your video further.

5 Engagement Types that Correlate with Your YouTube Video’s Rank

Engagement on your videos is most likely one of the most influential factors affecting how your video ranks in search results. YouTube tracks (and probably takes into account) multiple types of engagement.


The number of views your video receives is not as important as it once was to YouTube. However, it’s still a factor. This is because more views lead to more of the other types of engagement that YouTube takes into account when ranking your videos.


The number of people who like your video correlates with how well your video performs in related searches. This makes sense, because if the viewers who have already watched your video “liked” it, new viewers will too.


Commenting on a video takes more of a viewer’s time than hitting the “like” button. When users take the time to share their thoughts, YouTube sees this as an indicator of quality, engaging content.


YouTube can track shares across social media platforms, emails, websites and more. The number of shares a video receives across multiple platforms correlates with higher rankings.

New Subscribers

If your latest video caused a spike in the number of people who subscribe directly to your channel, it’s probably a great video. Viewers enjoyed the video so much they want to be notified the next time you publish another one. YouTube sees this as a positive sign.

Using CTAs and Playlists to Increase Engagement

How do you increase the number of viewers who are engaging with your brand’s videos to boost your YouTube rankings? CTAs and playlists are a great place to start.

Using CTAs

A call to action (CTA) directly asks your audience to complete an action. In advertising, you’re likely asking viewers to sign up for a free trial or buy your product. On YouTube, common CTAs ask viewers to like, share or comment on the video, as well as subscribe to your channel.

These actions generate engagement in the form of likes, comments, shares and subscribes on your videos. Engagement factors strongly correlate with a video’s rank in YouTube’s search engine results pages.

Make it a habit to directly ask your audience to engage within your videos. Do this out loud and with visual callouts. You can also include these CTAs in your video description.

Creating Playlists

Compiling related videos from your channel into playlists helps organize your content in a way that is helpful for both viewers and YouTube. After one video ends, the next will automatically begin.

Using playlists keeps viewers on your channel longer, creating a connection between the viewer and your brand. If each of your videos includes a CTA, you’re increasing the number of times viewers are exposed to your call to action. Both of these benefits can lead to increased engagement on your individual videos.

YouTube Loves Longer Videos

It’s important to make discovery as easy as possible for potential viewers, which can be done using keywords and encouraging engagement. An additional factor that affects your videos’ rank within YouTube search results is the length of your video.

Longer videos correlate with higher rankings. When Backlino, a high-profile SEO company, completed an analysis of over a million YouTube videos in early 2017, they found that “the average length of a video ranking on the first page of YouTube is 14 minutes, 50 seconds.”

YouTube itself has confirmed this focus, stating on their blog that the videos they suggest are ones that they believe will “increase the amount of time that the viewer will spend watching videos on YouTube.”

Why does YouTube like longer videos?

Longer videos keep viewers on YouTube for longer periods of time.

YouTube competes with a lot of different platforms for viewers, including traditional TV, Netflix, Amazon (both Prime Video and Twitch), and social media like Facebook and Instagram. When YouTube loses viewers–whether to these competitors, other online platforms or offline activities–it also loses the ability to generate revenue from advertisers.

A video focusing only on top-level information or a small sliver of a topic can prompt viewers to go back to the search bar to find more information. Conversely, videos designed to answer users’ queries completely are likely rather long. Just like Google does its best to deliver search results that best answer a searcher’s question, YouTube may believe that longer videos are inherently more helpful to users and result in “less clicking, more watching.”