YouTube Video SEO Guide 2015 (and a bit of history...)

With 100 hours of video content uploaded every minute and 6 billion views per month globally, you just can't ignore the force of YouTube. Google has managed to establish Youtube as the second largest search engine and video optimization increasingly becomes an essential tactic in online marketing. But before analyzing how YouTube SEO works, let's have a brief look at the history and business model of YouTube. 

A bit of YouTube History 

Since April 23, 2005 when Jewed Karim, one of the three YouTube founders, uploaded the first video on YouTube many things have changed. Despite its slow growth initially, YouTube found its way in becoming popular by hosting unlicensed copyrighted content such as music videos, episodes from tv series and films. Everything was good until the first lawsuit from Viacom in 2007 for copyright infrigement, which was finally settled 7 years laterGoogle then came into play. Having bought YouTube in October 2006 for $1,65 billion, Google began dealing with copyright holders using its core strength, Technology. 

Through its content management system, copyright holders are alerted each time any part of their content goes up on youtube and can choose: 

a) to remove the content 
b) to sell ads against it and share the money (remember the $8M revenues of the Gagnam Style case) and 
c) to use it for promotional purposes. 

YouTube's CMS, called Content ID, is so precise that it scans the enormous amount of video content to find even small snippets of infringed audio that may play as background music in any video production. 

But YouTube's alliance with content creators extends further. According to their official blog, YouTube has been investing on the most popular independent creators by funding their content production in order to bolster its niche channels and, subsequently, take a larger share from TV ad money sometime in the future. 

In contrast to the Search ad model, which is based on consumer intent, YouTube's ad model is similar to Facebook's, both based on audience targeting. Being mainly a hybrid of social media platform and on-demand TV, YouTube is significantly different in terms of usage from other social networks.

YouTube SEO 

Same as with paid search, Google devised a strategy to monetize YouTube through paid video ads and by extending its established ad display network, namely Google Search & Display network withing YouTube. The main issue though, with video content is that it can't be read and interpreted as texts, only by using the same algorithms that Google uses for search. A real-life example is the, all too often irrelevant, video suggestions by the YouTube algorithm.

Considering also the fact that most of video content is poorly labelled, Google had to rely on other factors in order to rank videos fairly. These factors are summarized in two pillars: Relevance and Engagement

"Relevance" includes factors controlled by the channel administrator and include elements such as titles, descriptions, tags, transcripts, etc. that make videos easier for the youtube search engine to classify videos.

"Engagement" includes factors that are not controlled by the administrator and relate to elements such content freshness, audience interactions, number of views, channel authority and velocity of viewership that defines which content goes viral and which does not.

An overview of a structured approach to Youtube SEO is presented below, broken down into three main poles that stand out among the numerous and ever-growing ranking factors:     

  • Pole 1: The Youtube Channel level (relevant to the Domain Level in SEO), which encompasses the authority of a channel such as the number of subscribers, the frequency and freshness of content, the age of the channel and the number of views. 
    YouTube SEO and number of channel subscribers

    • Pole 2: The OnVideo level (relevant to the On-Page factors in SEO), which includes the proper labeling of video titles, descriptions, tags, filenames etc. that need to be implemented after conducting the classic keyword research. It should be noted, though, videos appearing as rich snippets in google search results can either be YouTube-hosted videos or website-hosted videos, for which the webmasters used the markup or automated plugins such as Yoast Video SEO for wordpress.
      YouTube SEO. YouTube hosted & website hosted videos
      YouTube and website hosted rich snippets 

      • Pole 3: The Social Signals level (relevant to the Off-Page factors in SEO), which includes all the usage factors such as the number of video views, audience retention (a metric reflecting how long the viewers are watching a video) user interactions with videos (likes, dislikes, comments, shares) and velocity of viewership, a metric that defines which content goes viral and which does not.
      YouTube SEO. Usage and social signals affect rankings

      A snapshot from Google trends shows the growth in global scale for the term "YouTube SEO".

      A detailed infographic below provides a visual framework of the youtube ranking factors, grouped under the three main poles mentioned above. 

      YouTube SEO | Foodforbots

      In contrast to "traditional" SEO, research regarding YouTube optimization is limited. However, given youtube's massive growth, there is need for further research, through case studies and surveys, to provide insights on the importance of the youtube ranking factors. 

      Written by Vangelis Kovaios