Way back in the beginning, when YouTube was just an infant, their search function was awful. It was flat-out terrible. And while it’s improved a lot since Google came into the picture, it’s still not always as helpful and accurate as we probably wish it could be. And a large part of that has to do with how we search for video.
For most standard web searches, the query is fairly specific. We go to Google.com with a pretty clear idea of what type of content or information we are after. But it’s not always that way with YouTube searchers. Many video fans will search topically, rather than by keyword. So instead of “roller-blading accidents” they might search for something like “fun” or “funny,” which is a lot more broad. And now YouTube is trying something new to help people who search topically, and it’s called YouTube Topics On Search, part of YouTube’s Testtube.
Topics On Search is a way for YouTube to add a new layer of groupings for their videos, aligned around the more general ways people use search. The topics are chosen from a variety of sources (frequently-used uploader keywords, common search queries, playlist names, and even external sources like Wikipedia).
When users perform a search on YouTube, the search results will now be augmented with a topics bar across the top, which you can click and use to refine your search in a variety of ways. If you click Explore next to the row of topics, you’ll see something a bit like this:
Pay attention to the end, because you’ll actually have to opt in if you want to use this feature (which is still in testing). Just go to YouTube.com/TestTube to make sure Topics On Search is turned on for your account. Then, start using it to see how it impacts your video search experience.
YouTube has long been looking for ways to improve their search functionality, and no doubt will be doing so for years to come. It’s just not as easy to index and understand video content as it is with text. But Topics on Search is the first thing to come along for a while that seems to be a promising approach. It’s almost like a new layer of description that falls somewhere between standard keywords and the more vague categories.
Another question I have is this: Will the topic names themselves, which appear to be chosen by YouTube, be something video creators start targeting in their descriptions and keywords? By that I mean: might we see some measure of change to how video SEO basics are performed based on these new categories? Because I think we will. If YouTube wants to encourage video seekers to use the Topics as a tool to narrow searches, I can see savvy uploaders trying to take advantage of that by attempting to align their videos with certain ones through traditional video SEO means. It’s probably still a bit soon for all that, since this is an opt-in testing feature, but I imagine that’s where this kind of thing could lead.
I’m opted in to Topics On Search and already liking it. In my limited testing thus far, it does seem to help narrow my searches. Of course, for Topics to be of any long-term use, it will need to be adopted and used by the viewers and searchers, in order for YouTube to gather data and refine the system. If users don’t take to it, it might disappear. But as usual, I’m simply encouraged to see continued effort on the part of YouTube to try new things and to seek improvement rather than just keeping the status quo.