The Role Of Metadata In Video SEO, Part 2: The YouTube Creator Playbook

The Role Of Metadata In Video SEO, Part 2: The YouTube Creator Playbook

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In Part 1 of our coverage of the YouTube Creator Playbook’s metadata section, we discussed the general overview of how titles, tags, and descriptions help people find your video through YouTube’s search engine.  We also talked about how good metadata isn’t the main way people are going to find a video, that it needs to be a popular one before YouTube’s search algorithm begins to favor it.  It’s still important to write good metadata for that very reason, to take a video to a new level of discovery in those times when the link isn’t handy.  In Part 2 of the metadata section, we will discuss how to properly write and format tags, titles, and descriptions.

Extra!  Extra!  The Title Needs To Be Compelling!

People who want to consider themselves “above” playing to sensationalism are in the wrong business here.  The title should be something that people want to click.  It does need to be relevant to the video at hand, but that doesn’t mean it can’t appeal to a person’s base instincts.  If a title can somehow include sex, violence, or something curious or morbid (or maybe all of those things), it gets clicked just out of inquisitiveness.

The basic format of a video title should follow this order:

  • Generic words that describe what the video is about.
  • A secondary title that is compelling and creative, and still describes the video.
  • Branding comes last: The name of the channel or the general title of the show.

The reason the order is important is that the algorithm is going to favor whatever comes first.  Think of how people type keywords in search engines.  The basic plot of the video is what those people will be searching for.

Now here’s the part where I discuss exceptions to the Playbook’s guidelines.  It’s important to note that just because these exceptions have completely escaped Playbook protocol and have gone on to be huge hits, that these videos were not hits because of search.  In fact, search is only going to account for a small percentage of views, but the small percentage should not be ignored.

Anyone remember this viral hit from 2006?

You know what the title is?  Hahaha.  I’m not laughing at you or to myself in contemplation.  The name of this video is “Hahaha.”  How many people actually searched for that specific title?  The only real metadata that is worthwhile on this video are the tags “child” and “laughing.”  It certainly didn’t get many views from the only other tag, “revelry.”  This video has amassed over 200 million views, currently sits at #21 on the all-time viewed list, is certainly one of the top non-music videos on the site, and contains almost no significant metadata.  You can bet that this video shot to the moon in views from being passed around through e-mails, blogs, and other websites.

But now, all the significant keywords that one would type into a search engine leads directly to that video.  Try “baby laughing.”  Even though “baby” is nowhere in the title, tag, or description, enough people have typed those keywords into the search engine and clicked on the right video that words that aren’t even in the metadata are leading to that video.  Chances are, just the word “laughing” has been enough.  Note that the algorithm not only favors good metadata, it also favors the amount of times a title has been clicked after a significant word like “laughing” was typed in search.

Now here’s where we slip back into reality.  Try titling your video something like “Hahaha” now, 5 years later.  Try putting only three tags in the description.  A video is competing against a universe of uploads now.  Getting an edge through search helps significantly, even though making a great video that people pass through social media is still more important.  The reason this is in the Playbook is so that one making a video has every possible edge in getting seen.  Also, a good, compelling title ensures that one can find it later, when the links aren’t getting passed around anymore.  This is called the “long-tail” of the video.

Reviewing the Playbook: Titles


  • Titles are an important tool to describe the content and compel users to click on your video.  Think of them as taglines or magazine headlines that will peak interest from potential viewers, but they need to be formatted and written with keywords and the algorithm in mind.
  • Include popular, relevant, and compelling keywords to maximize “clickability” and search traffic, but always accurately portray content.
  • Place keywords first in the title and branding (such as your show name) at the end.
  • Actively update and optimize titles of catalogue videos to remain relevant and gain views in the “long tail” of the video.

Tags Are The DNA of a Video, And Can Be Updated For Further Optimization

We’re going to keep the never-ending parade of laughing babies coming at you in this section.  One video from this year has made a huge mark:

Nearly 25 million views.  That’s huge.

This particular uploader, mandkyeo, has maximized the number of tags in this video, many of which obviously came later in the video’s evolution.  Tags should support the title, and the Playbook stresses that tags should mirror the title first, with the same word ordering.  This means we should think of tags as echoes, not only for the title, but the content.  We all know by now, the algorithm favors consistency and relevancy, so “reassuring” the search engine what this video is about makes it easier for YouTube to find it.

You have a 120-character limit.  Use it.  The Playbook says try to have at least 12 keywords in the tags.  These tags should be separated by a space, not a comma, and quotation marks should be used for phrases.  Remember what terms people will be putting into a search field and put all the relevant terms.  If you have a channel that consistently play the same type of genre (like, funny music videos), then certain keywords for each individual video should be the same as the other videos, and in the same order.

I don’t know what tags the above video started with, but it’s obvious more were added later.  Four major ones, “baby nose scary funny” appear at the top.  Almost every synonym for those terms also show up.  But as we read further, we start seeing names of popular talk shows.  That’s sneaky.  And smart.  It adds specifics to the video that capitalize on trends.  If someone tells you they saw a funny video of a baby getting scared and laughing at mommy’s sneeze on Good Morning America, then that video stands to be found through a number of searches.  Timing is everything on such a tag, however.  That tag was likely only added after the video appeared on Good Morning America.

Tags should describe every aspect of the video first, then updated to capitalize on tent-pole events and trends when applicable.

Reviewing the Playbook: Tags


  • Create a set of “standard tags” for your channel that can be applied to any video that you publish.  These tags should be general tags that would apply to most of the content you produce (i.e. filmmaking, animation, comedy, “Funny Videos,” “Pet Videos,” etc.)
  • Write video tags for each video that are a mix of specific and general keywords that are relevant to a video’s content.
  • Maximize tags (12 or more keywords, use all of the 120 character limit).
  • Actively update and maximize tags or archive videos when new relevant search trends emerge.


  • Properly format tags to ensure proper indexing of video.
  • Combination of both general and specific keywords.
  • Use quotes for phrases: “harry potter.”
  • Mirror the title of the video, using same word order in tags.

YouTube Is Detail Oriented, So Provide Details in the Descriptions

Descriptions are where you can be free, and provide as much detail as possible about the video.  For instance, people who do cooking shows often provide an entire recipe in the descriptions.  People who do music videos and parody videos include all of the lyrics.  The more comprehensive the description, the more YouTube favors it.  Again, relevance is key.  Act like you are writing the opening paragraph of a big news story where your video is the hot topic and then go from there.

Once again, this is just reinforcement for all the other metadata in the video.  Think of it like telling a story.  You tease people with something that makes them want to listen (Titles).  You provide them with details that don’t give away all of the story, but give them a broad overview of what to expect (Tags).  Your description is like the inside of a book jacket on a hardcover novel.  It breaks down the video into specifics, it tells you who made it, how to contact them, and what went into the making of it.

Descriptions are also the place where people advertise themselves.  They provide subscription links, channel page, and social media.  Any relevant link related to the video, the person’s channel, and to the person him or herself using the “http://” designation is welcome here.

The more information you can provide, the more the algorithm favors the video.  More is better.  Just remember to keep the information relevant and compelling.  Don’t go on tangents.

Reviewing the Playbook: Descriptions

Descriptions inform both the viewer and the YouTube algorithm of a video’s content, and can be a good place to add additional information not available in the video.  The algorithm favors comprehensive descriptions that accurately describe a video’s content.

  • Begin your description with the most relevant information and compelling language.  Only the first few sentences of your description show up “above the fold” on a video watch page and next to the thumbnail is search results.
  • Write your description to include the keywords used in the title and tags as well as additional relevant keywords.
  • Always include:

Link to your channel page
Subscription link
Links to related content, or to sites/videos/channels/users referenced in the video.
Links for social media
Links should always include the “http://” to make them hyperlinks.

  • Include a recurring “Keyword Tagline” in episode descriptions.  The Keyword tagline is a few sentences that describe your show, but is written to include several search-driven keywords.  Repeating this tagline in episode descriptions will inform first-time viewers about your show, assist with including the right keywords, and increase relevancy amongst your videos.
  • State what the release schedule of your channel is in episode descriptions.
  • Follow a structure or template for all your video descriptions to create a uniformity for your audience, as well as increase the relevancy of your videos to one another for related video rankings.
  • Repeat or list additional tags in bottom of description.

Relevant And Compelling: The Words That Should Be Hammered Into Your Brain By Now

Just don’t describe your video with words that don’t make any sense to the video.  There is a lot of advice out there saying you should put all sorts of attractive terms in your keywords and descriptions to get people to click on the video, but dishonesty generally isn’t going to get you anywhere.  It’s going to confuse people more than anything, and they might leave your video in first 15 seconds if the stuff you promised isn’t in the video after that amount of time.

Remember always that metadata isn’t the end-all of your video’s success.  It just ensures that people can find it whenever a link isn’t handy, which will help in the long run more than it will during the video’s initial popularity, if you’re lucky enough to release one that is popular.


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