How Video Rankings Differ on Google and YouTube [New Study]

How Video Rankings Differ on Google and YouTube [New Study]

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Over the years, a lot of my clients and students have asked, “Why don’t videos rank the same on Google and YouTube?” Well, a new study by Stone Temple Consulting, an award-winning digital marketing agency, not only discloses some critical data about how video rankings differ on Google and YouTube, but also shares its strategic insights about the data to provide the reasons for those differences. And, for video marketers looking for tactical advice, Stone Temple provides a couple of short, crisp checklists for YouTube video optimization and Google video optimization.

Now, many video marketers will want to read all 3,184 words of the post on the Stone Temple Digital Marketing Excellence Blog, which is entitled, “Ranking Videos on Google and YouTube: Study Shows How They Differ.” It was written by Eric Enge, the founder and CEO of Stone Temple. You also have the option of reading my interview with Enge, which appears below. And it’s only 1,154 words long. Or, heck, you can always do both. Here are my questions and his answers:

Video Rankings on YouTube and Google

Greg Jarboe: Were you surprised by the data that shows just how different the YouTube and Google algorithms for ranking videos are, or did you suspect that and collect the data to confirm your suspicions?

Eric Enge: I did suspect that there was a difference. It’s something that I had heard from others, but I saw that no one had ever done a study to document it, and I felt that digging it into it and documenting it in detail would help people better understand not only how different the algorithms are, but more about how they differ. That helps us better understand how to optimize for each of them.

GJ: In your blog post about your findings, you say, “What users expect on YouTube vs. Google Search is different.” What additional data did you find that shows some of the reasons for those differences?

EE: The first part of how their expectations differ is pretty straightforward. On YouTube, users expect videos, and nothing but videos. When they click on it, they plan to watch it right there. On Google, the user has asked a question and wants an answer. They don’t plan to stay on Google, they plan to leave it. Even in this age of instant answers, after they get their answers, they will probably leave and go somewhere else.

In addition, on Google, you can see that the great majority of the search results are traditional webpages. In the 424 search results we examined, only one had five videos on the top 100 of Google’s results, none had more than five results, and only 21 of the results showed more than two videos.

There is another factor of interest too, which is that when Google shows a video in its search results, it’s nearly always in the top 20 of the results. Of the 539 videos we looked at in the Google SERPs across the 424 queries, 417 were in the top 10 of Google’s results (77%), and 513 of them (95%) showed up in the top 20 of Google’s results. This fall off is pretty remarkable.

What it tells us is that Google more or less wedged an algorithm into their search results to fit in some videos in the top 20. Beyond that, their custom algorithm for integrating video into their SERPs is more or less “not in play”, which is why almost no videos show up below position 20.

Greg Jarboe: In your analysis, how do the two algorithms differ?

Eric Enge: Since YouTube is video-centric, the algorithm is more centered on maximizing watch time. This is an outcome of the way that YouTube is monetized. As a result, the YouTube algorithm is oriented around videos where people tend to watch the entire video, and then maybe even watch more videos. You can think of this as “Total Watch Time”, but remember, this is not just about whether they watch your entire video, but does it lead the user to go on and watch more videos as well.

Videos that maximize the Total Watch Time will do very well in YouTube. Of course, videos that generate a raw number of views also tend to do very well, because that does help with Total Watch Time. This is one of the cool things about YouTube: if you generate more views by promoting a video via embedding it in web pages, syndicating it, promoting it via advertising … all these things help you with your organic rankings in YouTube.

So that’s the big, big difference. In YouTube, you can use advertising to help you with your organic rankings, but in Google you can’t. In Google, it’s all about content depth and quality, i.e., the established authority of your site and web page, and positive user engagement with your content.

GJ: Can you share a short, crisp YouTube video optimization checklist?

EE: For YouTube, I’ll break this into two parts. Here is part one, which is designed to establish the relevance of the content:

  1. Pick a descriptive file name for the video.
  2. Pick a compelling title.
  3. Select a strong set of tags related to your video ( will help you find longer tail keywords frequently searched on YouTube).
  4. Write a detailed and complete description of at least 200 words.
  5. Place it in an appropriate category.

Part two is designed to drive the Total Watch Time for your video, and do that, you should:

  1. Feature the video in a blog post and embed it there. Then follow the same process for promoting the blog post that you will see in the next several steps. (Embedded views on sites count as views just as if the person were watching your video on YouTube.)
  2. Organic social promotion.
  3. Paid social promotion, including on YouTube (Bonus: watch time and engagement on your promoted videos count toward your channels metrics, so they help boost your organic rankings too!).
  4. Send it out to email lists.
  5. Get third party sites to embed the video.

GJ: Can you share a short, crisp Google video optimization checklist?

EE: I’ll also break the Google process into two parts.  The first is to create the right type of video content:

  1. Informational videos.
  2. Tutorials.
  3. How-tos.
  4. Reviews.
  5. Entertainment.

These are the types of content that Google is more likely to include in their search results. Then, the optimization process is pretty straightforward:

  1. Provide Google with strong relevance signals. I.e., pay attention to Part 1 of the YouTube optimization checklist above, as that list is important to Google, too.
  2. Get links to your video. Google weights importance very highly in their search engine, so do what you can to get links pointing back to your YouTube page for your video.


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