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20 things you need to know about video SEO

20 things you need to know about video SEO

For maximum video search engine optimization, it pays to know the key tenets of modern video SEO. Search pros and digital marketing experts share top tips to boost your video search efforts.

Video is now the most popular type of online content, according to a June 2016 HubSpot survey. HubSpot's report suggests global internet users consume video "thoroughly," instead of simply skimming it, as they often do with other forms of content. "If you want to make a big impact and keep people's attention," HubSpot said, video is the best form of online content to accomplish that goal.

Of course, if no one can find your video, it's not going to make a big impact or keep anyone's attention. And unlike text on web pages or in blog posts, Google's search engine bots can't "crawl," or index, video to determine its subject matter.

Consequently, search engine optimization (SEO) is particularly important for video. To find out how to maximize video visibility in search results, we queried search professionals and digital marketing experts for their best video SEO tips.

1. Quality content boosts video SEO

High-quality video has a better chance of ranking highly in Google search results, according to Toby Balsiger, CEO of website design and SEO consultant firm Website Tigers. "This means the video needs to be relevant to the keywords you're going after, as well as helpful to your audience," he says. "A crappy video will not rank in Google because it will have poor user signals, such as low time on site and high bounce rate."

2. Grab viewers as quickly as possible

Good video grabs viewers' attention within the first second or two, says Zohar Babin, vice president of Platform, Ecosystem and Community at Kaltura, an over-the-top (OTT) video platform as a service provider. If it doesn't, they're much more likely to leave. "If viewers are repeatedly leaving your video, the effort is wasted, as they're not seeing the content you've created for them," Babin says. "Even worse, search engines begin to rank content lower when they see that a substantial number of viewers are clicking through but quickly leaving. This will hurt your video's SEO."

3. Tutorials, how-tos and product reviews are good for video SEO

In SEO terms, "high-quality video" offers clear value to viewers, it fully engages them, and causes them to share the video on social media, according to Lara White, director of demand generation for enterprise data management provider BDNA. It's not necessarily about production value. 

"The content of the video is critical to ensuring you get traffic," White says. "Search engines want to rank high-quality videos that engage viewers. Product pitches don't do well. Tutorials, how-tos and reviews are a much better approach when it comes to videos." 

4. Post video on YouTube and your site for maximum SEO

YouTube is the second most popular website in the United States and the world, according to Alexa.com. (Google.com is the No. 1 site.) Because of its massive traffic numbers, some SEO experts recommend posting video to YouTube and also embedding it on your own website or blog.

If you post a video to YouTube, you should also post it on its own page on your website, according to Luke Marchie, founder of Franklin Digital, an SEO and website development firm. You should then add a link to your page with the video in the description on its YouTube page (or other video sharing site). This can help drive viewers from YouTube to your website, "where they'll be much closer to your conversion points," Marchie says.

Video hosted on YouTube has a much larger potential audience, which in turn can translate into more views, says Anthony De Guzman, SEO manager at advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi. A large number of views is often a positive indicator of the video quality, and that can help increase its position on search engine results pages, according to De Guzman.

YouTube's domain authority, a search engine ranking factor, is very high and is no doubt "stronger than your own site's authority," which can help your video's profile in Google search results, says Stephen Galgocy, senior SEO Strategist at Sparkroom, a company that provides technology and services to higher-education marketers.

5. Know exactly what you want your video to achieve

You should set realistic expectations for what YouTube can do and can't do. "Even though your video will get more views on YouTube," Galgocy says, "it might not drive conversions as well as a video on your website."

That's why it's important to have clear goals for your video, according to Blake Davis, founder of Long Drive Agency, a digital marketing firm. "If the most important metric is views, then YouTube is a great place for that," he says. However, if your goal is to encourage a conversion event — a sign-up, subscription or a share — consider services such as Wistia, a freemium video hosting platform that also offers marketing tools and video analytics.

6. Post 'teasers' on other sites, save full video for yours 

You may also want to upload the full-length video to your own website and post "teaser" videos on YouTube and other social sites. "Create short promotional videos to your videos that end with an invitation to watch the full video on your website," says Babin. "Then upload your teaser videos to sites like YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook and others, and make sure the description of these videos include a link to your website's main video page."

7. Post some videos to your site, others to YouTube

Brandon Seymour, an SEO and digital marketing consultant, offers yet another option. "Using a combination of self-hosted videos that reside on your own domain and third-party platforms like YouTube is ideal," he says. "With YouTube, you get to piggyback off its gargantuan domain authority, which helps if you're targeting a highly competitive niche, like DIY auto repair videos."

However, posting video to your own site helps it gain backlinks and social shares, which can boost your overall authority and rankings, according to Seymour.

8. Post to your site first, YouTube later 

It's better to host video on your site first, using a service such as Wistia or Vimeo, and then add it to YouTube a few months later, to get extra visibility, says Britney Muller, SEO and content architect for Moz, which offers cloud-based search marketing tools and resources. "Essentially, you want your site to rank above a YouTube version initially, to get the visibility and domain or page authority."

9. Optimize video titles, descriptions and tags with keywords

When it comes to SEO, video needs a bit of extra effort. "With blog posts or website pages, all the content is visible to search engines, whereas with video, you have to leverage the headline and description," because Google's "crawlers" can't interpret and index the content of video, according to BDNA's White. For this reason, it's very important to optimize your video's title, description and metatags using relevant keywords, White says.

10. Video titles should be at least five words

The titles of your video should be a minimum of five words long, so you can include your important keywords without looking like you're "keyword stuffing," says Long Drive Agency's Davis.

It's also a good idea to include keywords in the video-file names, because they can help with optimization. For example, if you want to rank for the keyword phrase "Facebook Ad Tips," name your video file "Facebook_advertising_tips_video.mp4," Davis says.

11. Video descriptions should be at least 250 words 

The descriptions you use on YouTube and other video sharing sites should be at least 250 words and include your most important keyword three or four times, according to Davis. (Again, adding a keyword a few times to a longer description can diminish the appearance of keyword stuffing.) It's also wise to include your keyword within the first 25 words of the description, to give it more emphasis.

12. Check out similar video for ideas

You should take a close look at video that already ranks highly for your target keywords, according to Muller. "If you wanted to rank for 'healthy mac and cheese' on YouTube, you should first evaluate the top ranking videos on YouTube for that phrase," she says. "How long are the videos? What do their titles have in common? What do their descriptions look like?"

Similarly, take a look at the video that ranks highly on Google.com for your keywords, or the video that ranks well for a particular Instagram hashtag, Muller says. Then ask yourself, "Are they using other relevant keyword hashtags that you could include in your video description? How much engagement do they have? Why do you think some have higher engagement than others?"

13. Consider the competition when you tag YouTube video

You might want to include the name of a competitor's YouTube channel in your tags for added visibility, says Sparkroom's Galgocy, because "that's how you get your video to appear [in a sidebar] while a competitor's video is playing."

14. Longer YouTube video is better for SEO 

Some SEO experts believe longer videos on YouTube can get higher search engine rankings, in the same way longer text content often ranks higher on Google than shorter pieces. "I consistently see longer videos outperforming shorter videos in YouTube and Google search," wrote Brian Dean, author of YouTube SEO: The Ultimate Guide, on the Backlinko blog. For example, the top organic search result on YouTube for the keyword "WordPress" is more than two hours long.

15. Add subtitles to social media video

Adding subtitles to video you post on Facebook and Instagram can also help video SEO, according to Davis. These videos auto-play without sound in people's feeds, and potential viewers may scroll past them if their interest isn't piqued. Subtitles can help pull viewers in and might cause them to watch when they wouldn't otherwise, when they're in public and don't have headphones, for example.

16. Create custom video thumbnails to attract viewers

After you upload video to YouTube or another site, you have a choice between the default thumbnail image or a custom thumbnail. Using your own thumbnail, along with a text overlay, can help attract viewers, according to White.

17. Transcribe your video's audio

Search engines can't crawl video, so you should create a transcript of your video's audio, which will likely be full of relevant keywords. 

YouTube has an auto-caption feature, but it's not exactly known for accuracy. You could download the automatic caption file from YouTube, manually clean up errors, and then upload the corrected file, according to Emily Griffin, a blogger for 3PlayMedia, a captioning service provider.

You could also use your transcript as the basis for a blog post or other content, to help develop a "coordinated and cohesive keyword strategy for SEO purposes," says Robert Weiss, president of digital marketing firm MultiVision Digital. If you go that route, make sure someone on camera says your most important keywords during the video, so those keywords are part of the video transcript, Kaltura's Babin says.

18. Add metadata to your video sitemap

You should create a video sitemap so you can provide metadata when you post new video, to "improve Google's ability to include your video in search results," according to Google itself. Sitemaps should include HTML code that designates video titles, descriptions and other tags.

19. Maximize metadata opportunities

No "major difference" exists between video hosting sites such as YouTube and Vimeo in terms of SEO, according to Babin. "What ultimately matters the most for SEO is to expose as much relevant and accurate metadata in a structured and visible way about your video," he says. "So whatever service you're posting your video to, make sure you maximize the metadata you can add to the video post."

Of course, if you post video to your own site, "you're in greater control and can perform more actions," such as creating an effective media RSS (MRSS) feed, which is used to syndicate multimedia files, Babin says. "On your own website, you can also create a better experience connecting related videos together into a continuous playlist or interactive story."

20. Add calls to action at the end of video  

Most people who post online video don't follow the basic best practices, which include "creating compelling visual content combined with a well-crafted headline that includes your keywords and a call to action," White says. In general, calls to action should prompt viewers to do something, such as visit a website, where they may be exposed to a product, service or content that's designed to turn them into customers, she says.  

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