Creating great content is essential to finding success on YouTube, but it's only half the battle. YouTube is a big place with lots of content for viewers to choose from. A successful optimization strategy will help you take full benefit of the platform's functionalities and avoid execution mistakes.
YouTube is the world's second-largest search engine, and it uses metadata– your video's title, tags and description – to index your video correctly. To maximize your presence in search, promotion, suggested videos and ad-serving, make sure your metadata is well-optimized. This includes title, description and tags.
Only the first few sentences of your description will appear in search results or above the fold on a watch page - so make them count! Follow a template for all of your video descriptions to create consistency.
A video description should:
- Accurately describe your video in one or two concise sentences.
- Describe your channel and link to your channel page.
- Drive viewers to subscribe (and include a subscribe link).
- Link to other episodes or related videos and playlists.
A video description may:
- Include your channel's release schedule.
- Include links to time-codes in the video for long-form content.
- Include a recurring keyword tagline. The keyword tagline is a group of sentences that describe your channel. They should include several search-driven keywords. Repeating this tagline in episode descriptions will inform first-time viewers about your channel.
Reminder: Remember that it is a violation of YouTube Terms of Service to use misleading metadata on your videos.
Make it compelling — this is your video's headline. If it showed up in a search, would you click on it?
- Always represent your content accurately.
- Offer keywords first, branding at the end.
- For serial content, add the episode number to the end of the title.
- Update video titles so they continue to grab views.
Tags are descriptive keywords that will help people find your videos. Create a set of standard tags for your channel that can be applied to any video you publish (e.g. filmmaking, animation, comedy, "Funny Videos," "Pet Videos," etc).
- Include a mix of both general and specific tags.
- Use enough tags to thoroughly and accurately describe the video.
- Update catalogue videos' tags when new search trends emerge.
- Properly format tags to ensure proper indexing of your video.
- Include keywords from your title in your video's tags.
- List them in order of relevance to the video and try to use the whole 270-character limit.
Metadata resources and inspiration
While you may want to link offsite in your videos, keep in mind that this could affect your video's watch time. Videos with lower watch times appear lower in search results. YouTube's new "metadata defaults" feature allows you to create templates for your metadata and ensure important text or links are always included when you upload a video.
Avoid titles that trick viewers into clicking on the video. This will cause drop-offs in the first few seconds of your video and will negatively impact your video's watch time.
Thumbnails show up in different sizes and formats all across the platform and outside of it. Make sure you've got a strong, vibrant image that pops no matter what size it is.
- When shooting a video, take shots that will make great thumbnails.
- Always upload custom thumbnails with the video file.
- Make sure the thumbnail is not racy.
- Consider the legibility of your thumbnail at multiple sizes. Thumbnails change size depending on the YouTube placement and device.
- Use visual cues (colors, images, shapes, personalities) that are consistent with your brand.
- Clear, in-focus, high-resolution (640px x 360px min., 16:9 aspect ratio)
- Bright, high-contrast
- Close-ups of faces
- Visually compelling imagery
- Well-framed, good composition
- Foreground stands out from background
- Looks great at both small and large sizes
- Accurately represents the content
Tip: Upload high-resolution thumbnails so they appear crisp and clear wherever viewers happen to see them.
Cards are a way to complement your video's content and enhance the viewer experience with contextually relevant information.
Cards are a great way to encourage your viewers to engage with your video and take meaningful actions as a result. The key is to use cards to deliver additional value to your viewer.
Card use cases
- Drive viewers to your other videos, playlists and channel.
- Drive viewers to your website to check out product information.
Card best practices
- When appropriate, set cards to open a new window when clicked. Be careful! Don't take viewers away from a video too soon.
- Cards at the end of a video should open in the same window.
Tip: Measure the effects of your cards in YouTube Analytics with the "Cards" report.
Playlists allow you to collect, organize and publish multiple videos together. This increases watch time and creates another asset that will appear in search results and in Suggested Videos. You can create playlists using your own videos, other videos, or a combination of both.
Playlist use cases
- Group a set of videos that you want viewers to enjoy in a single session or in a particular order.
- Organize videos around a theme or a tent-pole event.
- Separate multiple shows into playlists and feature on your channel.
- Combine your most-viewed videos with new uploads.
- Curate good brand-advocating videos (reviews, testimonials, help, etc) created by your community.
Playlist best practices
- Choose a strong thumbnail for your playlist. Make it pop!
- If a playlist needs context, upload a short, snappy intro video or interstitial videos with a host. Create a hosted playlist.
- Make your metadata work for you. A strong title, tags and description will help people find your playlist. (See Metadata.)
- Use Playlist Notes to write conversational asides about individual videos.
- Use in-video messaging, cards, end-cards and links to send viewers to a playlist.
- Feature your playlist on your channel page by creating a new "section."
Tip: To link to a video in Autoplay playlist mode, click the share button and then copy and paste that URL. The video link will launch the whole playlist.
Your channel is the face of your brand on YouTube. It allows you to collect and organize all your videos in one place. Several customizable channel features will help ensure that you're delivering the best experience for your viewers while making your brand more discoverable across YouTube.
Optimize your channel and brand across YouTube
A number of channel features will follow your videos across the YouTube site and on devices. Make sure that they effectively represent your brand personality.
Pick a short, memorable channel name in line with your brand identity. This will appear widely across YouTube, so make sure it's the best representation of your brand.
Upload a square, high-resolution image to be your channel's icon across YouTube. The image will appear alongside all your videos on the watch page. (In most cases, you can use your brand's logo.)
The first few words of your channel description appear most frequently across the site, so highlight your most important branding upfront.
Include your upload schedule, especially if you host multiple content types or series.
Channel art is your channel's primary branding across all devices. Create customized, visually-compelling channel art. Busy images don't scale well, so keep the image simple.
Add website and social media links to the About tab. Include these links in your channel art to help tie your YouTube presence to the rest of your online brand.
Check how your channel looks in search, related channels and the channel browse page. Do your channel icon, channel name and channel art do a good job representing your brand to potential fans?
Optimizing for subscribed fans
What to watch next
Subscribed viewers see personalized recommendations of "What to Watch Next" based on their viewing history.
Promote a video with Featured Content to make it appear first in the "What to Watch Next" recommendations.
Your most recent feed posts will appear on your channel page in the recent activity feed and on the activity tab.
Keep your feed active with uploads, likes and channel posts. This will give your fans another reason to come back regularly.
Optimizing for unsubscribed viewers
In the Browse view of the channel page, subscribed and unsubscribed viewers see different versions of your channel. The unsubscribed view is your first opportunity to convince potential fans to subscribe.
Enable the channel trailer for unsubscribed viewers. This video will auto-play, so tell new visitors what your channel's all about and why they should subscribe.
Keep your trailer short, but make sure you ask the fans to subscribe!
Show, don't tell. Give potential fans a taste of your best content.
Sections organize videos, playlists and channels on your channel's Browse page. Subscribed and unsubscribed viewers will see them.
Sections can divide your content by genre, theme, show or any other criteria. Effective organization will help your audience find the content most relevant to them.
Gain subscribers by promoting your channel
Once you've optimized your channel for new viewers, it's time to use YouTube tools to bring new users to your channel.
Featured Content Channel Promotion
Enable Channel Promotion in Featured Content to place your channel icon across your entire video library.
Cards and calls to action
Use end-cards or other clickable cards to push viewers to your channel page.
Vocal calls to action along with cards or video description links can help increase click-through rates.
Linking with Google+
Link your YouTube channel to your Google+ page to amplify the social reach of your videos, increase discoverability of your content and offer a more streamlined Google experience. It is also meant to enable new features for easier management of your YouTube channel. See Amplify With Social.
Related Channels are promoted channels populated by YouTube that appear on your channel page. Recommendations are based on channels that are similar to yours.
Be sure to enable Related Channels. Disabling the feature will pull your channel from being promoted on other channels.
Featured Channels are channels you choose to promote on your channel page. For instance, highlight other channels in your brand's portfolio.
If you are promoting a large number of channels, rotate through the list using the "shuffle" feature. This ensures all your channels get visibility.
Learn how to gain subscribers using paid promotion in "Turn Viewers Into Subscribers" in Promote Your Content.
Associate your official website with your YouTube channel.
Your top section will show up most frequently across devices. Make sure it will draw in new viewers.
Make sure your icon doesn't distract from the videos or overlap with existing cards.
Channel Experience: Examples
For examples of great channel experiences, visit the Vice, TRX, and Glamour YouTube channels.
- Get your metadata in shape! Make your titles, tags and video descriptions work for you.
- Create visually-compelling thumbnail images to make clicking on your videos irresistible.
- Include a few well-placed cards in your videos. Ask for subscribers and drive viewers to other videos, but don't overwhelm them.
- Use playlists to group similar videos on your channel, and offer your viewers a curated, lean-back watching experience.
- Make sure your channel, description and icon are optimized for discoverability across YouTube.
- Consider featuring channels your brand supports on your brand's channel page. This is a great opportunity for cross-promotion with YouTube creators.