How To Get Your Videos Ranking In Universal Search Results: A Video SEO Study

How To Get Your Videos Ranking In Universal Search Results: A Video SEO Study

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Many of us here at ReelSEO are still settling back into our routines following the awesome SMX West convention in San Jose earlier this month. We shared some of our opinions and knowledge, made some new friends, and picked up a lot of great insight. One session in particular stood out as something we needed to share with our readers–the Deadeye Video SEO & Winning Universal SERPs presentation from aimClear‘s Manny Rivas.

Manny and his aimClear team conducted a pretty awesome study into what factors impact whether or not a particular video shows up in universal search results. There were a lot of great nuggets in this session, and while I probably can’t do it proper justice, I’m going to try.

Why Universal Search Matters For Video

Universal search matters for every kind of content you might be trying to promote, and that includes video. In layman’s terms, universal search is the rolling of results from other search verticals into the main results–news, social media, books, shopping, and of course… video.

Videos in universal search results have a 41% higher click through rate than their plain text counterparts. Yikes. Most of us knew those were coveted spots, but I’m not sure we knew exactly how much attention they command from the average search user.

Videos are typically included in Google’s universal SERPs in what are called “two-pack,” “three-pack,” and “four-pack” formations (though there are other, more rare, alignments). Here’s a screenshot of a two-pack formation, from a search for the word “football”:

And here’s one of a four-pack–this search was for the word “tsunami”:

Bing displays videos in universal SERPs almost exclusively in four-packs that look like this one (returned for a search on “snowboarding trick”):

Now think about the billions of videos that exist online (and that’s just using YouTube’s count), and the sheer enormity of video content being uploaded to the web every minute… and when it comes to universal search, they’re all competing for the same two or four spots. But only the chosen few can claim those spots–and aimClear wants to understand more about how that works.

The aimClear Study – Universal Search & Video Results

aimClear’s study covered over a thousand search terms from 24 different categories. They got their keywords from platforms–using things like YouTube’s keyword research tools to find the most-searched words and phrases), and then ran them all through both Bing and Google to see what kinds of videos showed up in universal search results for each term.

They marked every instance of a video–whether it was in a two-pack formation or a four-pack formation, etc.–58% of the videos returned were in two-pack formations. Finally, they compared back against how those videos were ranking on their own native portal sites.

What they found is that there appear to be 3 main factors impacting a video’s chances of showing up in universal search:

1. What Platform Is Used

Does the platform you choose to upload your video to impact it’s ability to rank in universal SERPs? Heck yeah. Bigtime. YouTube dominates the universal SERPs at Google–though there are some other platforms with some traction. Check it out:

Over at Bing, it’s a little more even–though YouTube still has the edge:

So as much as the other platforms might not want to hear it–if universal search is important to you, you’d better be thinking YouTube. It’s also interesting to point out how much favoritism each search engine shows its own sister video platform, though not the least bit surprising.

2. Ranking Factors Within The Platform

Does the ranking of a video on its original platform (for instance, within YouTube’s own search results) impact its ability to be included in universal results? Absolutely it does. This is a short but crucial finding from the study: aimClear says that nearly 100% of the videos returned in universal SERPs also ranked on the first page on their native platform.

To me, that reads like this: if you don’t rank well on your video’s own platform, you can kiss universal search position goodbye. That’s not to say a high ranking on YouTube results guarantees a universal search placement… it doesn’t. But it appears to be a prerequisite.

3. Keyword Intent

Keyword intent appears to play a huge role in whether or not a video ends up included in universal SERPs. aimClear found that videos optimized for transactional keywords (those including words like “buy,” “cheap,” “free,” or “sale”) perform very poorly where universal search is concerned. That’s important to make note of, because a lot of businesses trying to rank well with video are still convinced these types of phrases appeal to buyers. And they may… but they won’t help with universal search.

Informational keywords, on the other hand, are what you want to focus on. These would be phrases that are comparative (this versus that), instructional (“how to” or “learn”), and educational (“what is” or “history of”).

Navigational keywords and phrases showed mixed results. These are phrases that typically include website addresses, brand names, and brand descriptions. aimClear notes that it appears to depend on the brand. That tells me that most of us should stay away from navigational words, because we’re most likely not doing video marketing work for the world’s top brands–though I’m sure some of us are.

Here’s a screenshot of how frequently the various keyword types return video in universal SERPs:

When titling your videos, or adding tags and annotations, stick to the more informational keywords and phrases, and try to be intentional about steering clear of transactional phrases.


There are no guarantees, of course, but if you’re hoping to see a video included in universal SERPs, you’d be wise to follow this checklist:

  • Upload the video to a prominent platform (I continue to be a fan of cross-posting on multiple platforms to maximize potential audience size and overall reach).
  • Do everything in your power to rank that video well on the platform’s own search results.
  • Avoid transactional keywords and phrases traditionally designed to trigger a sale, and instead focus on informational words for your title, tags, and even your script (captions).
  • Make great videos–this is not from aimClear’s study, but still seems like good advice to me. With universal SERP real estate being so valuable, I doubt Google or Bing are going to let it become infected with poor quality video anytime soon.

Many thanks to Manny and aimClear for doing the dirty work on this study, and then turning around and sharing the findings with us all (and also for allowing us to use screenshots from their presentation). While the inner workings of universal search will probably always be a bit of a mystery, these findings definitely shed significant light on the process and help guide us toward more effective strategies.


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