The Role Of Metadata In Video SEO, Part 1: The YouTube Creator Playbook

The Role Of Metadata In Video SEO, Part 1: The YouTube Creator Playbook

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One of the great mysteries among those who don’t work inside Google headquarters is how a search engine decides who the cool kids are on the Internet.  The top few links you get from a search engine are also going to be the ones that are most likely to be clicked, so getting to the top of those results is very important if you do business on the web.  How does the search engine decide the top results you get when you type keywords into a blank search field?  For YouTube users, the proper application of metadata in video SEO efforts–descriptive words attached to a video that aid in search–is an absolute must to get noticed.

The words The YouTube Creator Playbook tosses around liberally in the metadata section are “relevant” and “compelling.”  Finding the right mixture of consistency and imagination, two things that don’t always go together, is one of the keys to getting a video found on YouTube.  While the first section of the Playbook focuses on how you can share your video and make it a social exercise in getting it seen, there is another essential element.  So many times a person is told by a friend about a video, and there isn’t a handy link to it.  How can that person find it?  If the friend mentions specific aspects of the video, typing those aspects into YouTube’s search engine should get the desired results.  The way the search engine knows how to put the aspects together and find the most relevant results is through titles, tags, and descriptions.

Here is the Playbook’s overview:

Strategy: Write optimized Titles, Tags, and Descriptions for your content.

Why It Works: Metadata is critical to building views from search and related videos as it greatly affects the algorithm.

How To Do It: Use optimized keywords and format to improve the algorithm’s indexing of the video.

Metadata Is A Map For Search Engine Optimization

Here’s a Ke$ha parody video that has nearly 90 million views:

Here are the tags that Barely Political, the channel that uploaded this video, used:

  • Tik Tok
  • Kesha
  • Ke$ha
  • Music Video
  • Tick Tock
  • kesha
  • kiesha
  • parody
  • spoof
  • Funny Videos
  • Grammy Awards
  • Key o fAwesome
  • Mark Douglas
  • Barely Political
  • Barely Digital
  • Andrea Feczko

There is a mixture here of proper terms for people who know how Ke$ha and “Tik Tok” is spelled, along with variations on both her name and the song’s name.  There are general terms like “spoof” and “parody” but also specific terms for those who know exactly what they are looking for.  Any of these keywords used in tandem can help find this video.

Now take a look at the title: “TIK TOK KESHA PARODY: Glitter Puke – Key of Awe$some 13.”  Right up front, Barely Political is telling the viewer what this video is, they give it a “compelling” subtitle, at least something that catches the eye, “Glitter Puke,” which conjures a sordid picture that probably a lot of people imagine when concerning Ke$ha.  Then they use the branding at the end, with “Key of Awe$ome 13” and that cute little dollar sign they put in their own name.  Whether one likes or dislikes Ke$ha, that title is asking to be clicked.

Then, in the description, Barely Digital goes all out.  They give you all the parody lyrics, contact information, a subscription link, keywords, and categories.  The more (accurate) information that you can fit into the description, the more the YouTube algorithm favors the video.  In fact, YouTube suggests you use the entire 120 character limit in tags, and use at least 12 keywords.  But remember, accurate and compelling.

The Catch-22 Of Metadata

Sure, good or bad, Ke$ha is a popular singer and people will be looking for Ke$ha anyway.  This video just benefits from Ke$ha’s name, right?  Well, yes and no.  Type in “Kesha Parody” into YouTube and you get over 5,500 results.  Look at the bottom of the list and there are videos that are not only bad, but are too general in their tags, titles, and descriptions.  Just using the words “Tik Tok Parody” isn’t going to push that video to the top of the list because everyone is going to use those terms.  Still, being good trumps everything.  There is no doubt that the algorithm is going to favor the video that people are, in general, flocking to.

Also, don’t underestimate timeliness.  While the song was released in August of 2009, “Tik Tok” began its ridiculous rise at the beginning of 2010, and Barely Political released their parody video in February, at the height of the song’s popularity.  By using the correct metadata, the parody video capitalized on people looking for the real video.

Barely Political also benefited from being consistent with their channel.  Their brand, “The Key of Awesome,” focuses on music parodies and they scored some early hits by using some popular artists and brands like “LOLcats” and “Twilight.”  By using similar keywords in each of their other videos, there is no doubt that YouTube’s algorithm began to “favor” the channel when it came to music parodies in general.  Type the words “music parody” into YouTube’s search engine and that’s the first channel that comes up.  Is it the best musical parody channel on YouTube?  That’s a subjective question, but there’s no doubt it’s the most successful.

So here’s the bad news: there’s a bit of a Catch-22 in all of this.  As important as metadata is, timeliness and capitalizing on a cultural phenomenon is going to be first.  A YouTube creator almost has to have a popular video before the metadata becomes significant.  Where metadata comes in is getting people to a video that is already being talked about, or shares metadata with something that is already popular.  In the case of the Ke$ha parody, Barely Political benefited from having metadata that matched the real Ke$ha video, and by being funny (or at least funny enough), it became a huge hit, even bigger than the actual video on Ke$ha’s VEVO channel.

One area where metadata really helps is in the area of small businesses.  If someone is looking for something specific, like real estate information, then it would be wise for an agency using YouTube to put the proper metadata in their videos.  So if you’re an agency in Kansas and want locals to find your video, putting the words “real,” “estate,” “Kansas,” and different combinations of those three words would be your first task, then you would put the specific real estate terms you specialize in after that, using as much of the tag space YouTube allows.

Reviewing the Playbook: Titles, Tags, and Descriptions

YouTube is the world’s 2nd largest search engine; optimize your video to take advantage of this fact.  Metadata is the information that surrounds your video: Title, Tags, Description, Thumbnail.  This set of data inform the YouTube algorithm of a video’s content, indexing it for search, features, related videos, and ad-serving.


  • Keywords first
  • Branding at end
  • Compelling


  • Mix of common & specific
  • Ordering
  • Variations and plentiful
  • Use quotes for phrases: “harry potter”


  • Most compelling info first
  • Include keywords, links
  • Show description, helpful information

Keywords and proper formatting are essential to writing metadata that will help your video appear high in search results.  It is also important to provide useful and accurate information for the viewer so they know what they are watching and bounce rates are minimized.

Metadata As Packaging

Metadata can also be used as packaging or rebranding a video.  Adding in relevant keywords to the title of an archive video can help you repurpose the content for new search trends, or tent-pole events.

! Remember it is a violation of YouTube Terms of Service to use misleading metadata on your videos.

Resources For Keywords

YouTube provides several different resources to help you find the best keywords for a video.  One such tool is YouTube Insights for Audience.  One can enter data into the database based on demographics and general interests and see what words they are using in search, plus what videos they like or dislike.  Obviously the aim is to find the words that match the video that is closest to the one the creator is making and appeal to the same demographics.  Here’s a video that describes the tool:

You can also pay for a service called YouTube Promoted Videos in which your video is “featured” on popular pages, using the proper keywords.  This is basically where someone pays YouTube to put his or her video among other relevant videos, whenever someone actually watches it.  This seems to be directed towards businesses that are not necessarily looking for views to build income, or people who are looking for an audience and hope to build from the traffic that the featured video creates.

There is another service YouTube uses called YouTube Trending Topics where one can find trends and popular videos in every category.  This shows video creators what kinds of videos are popular and how one might be able to benefit from the wave of popularity created by other videos.

If all else fails, YouTube will also give suggestions and take keywords from similar videos to try to suit a YouTuber’s needs.

Reviewing YouTube Keyword Resources

Keyword Resources

YouTube Insight for Audience Tool.  Search for the most searched-for words in your category:

YouTube Keyword Generator/Video Targeting Tool:

YouTube Trending Topics: Identify trending topics in your category:

Other Successful Videos: Keywords other successful and similarly-themed videos utilize.

YouTube Search Suggestions: Start to type keywords and see what suggested searches come up.

More Metadata To Come

Metadata is one of the larger sections of the Playbook, so we will cover the second part of it in the next edition.  The second part breaks down the how-to steps and proper formatting of writing proper tags, titles, and descriptions, and how to keep metadata relevant for the “long tail,” of your video, or interest in the video as it gets older.  Stay tuned.


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