YouTube SEO – Ranking Factors – Beyond Views, Titles, and Tags

YouTube SEO – Ranking Factors – Beyond Views, Titles, and Tags

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I attended Search Engine Strategies New York a few weeks ago and covered the conference via Twitter and blogging. I had a blast at the conference and attended some outstanding sessions during my three days at SES.  One session that I always enjoy attending is Video SEO (since I do a lot of VSEO work).  It’s great to hear from the panelists and compare what they are presenting to what I’m seeing with my own projects.

I was excited to see that Greg Markel from Infuse Creative was one of the panelists this year. If you don’t know Greg, you should.  He knows his stuff and always brings a real world perspective to his presentations.  This year he covered YouTube ranking factors.  The session ventured beyond the traditional “optimize your title, description, and tags” and introduced various community factors that also impact rankings.  By the way, YouTube’s own Matthew Liu was also on the panel and it was interesting to watch Matthew’s reaction as Greg presented the various factors.  I watched carefully, to say the least.  :)  If I remember correctly, Greg’s advice to the audience was, “we should all ask Matthew a lot of questions during this session…” I think everyone got their money’s worth based on the information shared about YouTube optimization.

Can Engagement and Community Factors Increase Your Rankings on YouTube?

The short answer is “yes, it seems they do”, and we’ll dig deeper in a minute.  During his presentation, Greg listed several factors that he believes contribute to rankings on YouTube.  His list included the following items:

  • title
  • description
  • tags
  • views
  • ratings
  • playlist additions
  • flagging
  • embeds
  • shares
  • comments
  • age of video
  • channel views
  • subscribers
  • inbound links (links from outside of YouTube pointing to your videos).

Going Beyond Traditional Factors…


So, have you thought about all of the factors listed earlier? If you break it down, it actually makes complete sense that YouTube would take all of these factors into account when ranking videos.  For example, what good is a video that has 400,000 views, but has been flagged several times and has no comments?  Or, should YouTube rank a video highly that only has 10,000 views, but has been favorited 2000 times?  How about a new video that hits YouTube?  Should it rank over a video that’s been around for a year and has built up 125 inbound links?  So on and so forth. I think these are great questions and deserve a good amount of analysis to determine how important each factor is when determining rankings.

Needless to say, this list of factors goes well beyond what most people think about when optimizing videos for YouTube.  The list includes community factors that aren’t easy to build up and can take a lot of time.  Engagement is key in social media, but that takes time, effort, and a solid understanding of each community.  I think we all have seen “drive by” social media, right?  People who jump into a community, post their latest work, and leave before you even know what happened.  They get 1 vote (their own), have no friends in the community, and basically wasted their time.  Based on what I just explained, I like the idea that all of the other factors impact rankings.  You should be rewarded for earning trust in a community, building a following, and providing valuable content that people cast votes for (via ratings, comments, and inbound links).  It makes sense.

Conducting a Competitive Analysis on YouTube

While discussing how to achieve higher rankings on YouTube, Greg recommended that you should analyze your competition and try to match or exceed their statistics (based on the list above).  I think that’s great advice and it requires you to think holistically about your YouTube strategy versus just focusing on views or tags or title…  It pushes you to think more about providing valuable content, connecting with others, and not just promoting your own videos. By the way, you can take that philosophy to every other social media community too.  More on that later.

A Quick ExampleSince golf season is finally here in the Northeast, I decided to search YouTube for some instructional videos.  Yes, I need to shake the rust off my swing!  I wanted to see which videos ranked and then begin to understand why.  I wanted to see if the statistics for each video matched up with the factors that were covered during the session at SES. Note, this is just one example and I highly recommend you dig into YouTube to conduct your own testing.  It takes time, but is well worth the effort.

Here is what I found when searching for Golf Swing Instruction:Note, rankings are always changing so you might see different results today than I did during my testing. I highlighted the factors I found compelling for each video.  I will explain more about my analysis after I present the numbers.

The video that ranked first at the time of my testing had the following statistics:

  • 62 ratings (4 out of 5 rating out of 62 total ratings)
  • Favorited 566 times
  • Been around since October of 2006
  • Well optimized title (used the target keywords in the title)
  • Average description (I think it could have been more elaborate.)
  • Descriptive tags
  • 7100 channel views
  • 236 subscribers
  • 8 videos in channel (several had over 100,000 views)
  • 17 inbound links to the video page
  • Last logged in 11 months ago… (interesting)

The video that ranked second had the following statistics:

  • 11 ratings (4.5 out of 5 rating, but only out of 11 total ratings)
  • Favorited 35 times
  • Been around since October of 2008
  • Well optimized title
  • Thorough description (although it ends up sounding somewhat spammy near the end.)
  • Descriptive tags
  • 11,000 channel views
  • 223 subscribers
  • 20 videos in channel (all with decent views)
  • 11 inbound links to the video itself
  • Last logged in 2 days ago (ah, much more active)

The video that ranked third had the following statistics:

  • 6 ratings (3.5 rating, but only out of 6 total ratings)
  • Favorited 31 times
  • Been around since June of 2008
  • Decent title, but not optimized for instruction…
  • Average description (it could have been more descriptive and focus more on instruction)
  • Only a few tags…and “swing” or “club” weren’t part of the tags.
  • 172,241 channel views
  • 2099 subscribers
  • 310 videos in channel (with varying levels of views and ratings)
  • 8 inbound links
  • Last logged in 10 hours ago (ah, even more active)

YouTube Ranking Analysis:

Reviewing the various statistics, you can see how all of the other factors contribute to rankings in YouTube (and not just views).  After reviewing the numbers and checking several other searches, I think Greg is on to something. :)  For example, the number one video has a lot of views, but also has been favorited 566 times.  Also, the channel has over 236 subscribers.  The video has 62 ratings and 49 comments.  There’s definitely a lot of community activity for the video.  Also, the video has 17 inbound links, or votes from outside of YouTube.  That might not seem like a lot, but you need to compare it with the competition.  The other two videos I checked only had 11 and 8 respectively.   The last bullet was interesting to me.  The user last logged in 11 months ago… That doesn’t show much engagement recently, right?  But, the other statistics were powerful, so my guess is that they trumped recent activity.

The second video has 24,233 views, but there are over 11,000 channel views (more than the first video) and 220 subscribers (almost matching the first video).  There are also 20 videos listed on their channel, all with decent views.  Although the video has significantly less views than the first, the other factors listed earlier seem to be helping the video rank highly in YouTube.  By the way, this user had several videos ranking on the first page of the search results.  It’s worth noting, especially when considering longer tail searches.  In addition, the user last logged in 2 days ago.  I’m not sure how much this impacts rankings, but it’s also worth noting.  If I were YouTube, I would probably want to reward active users that provide valuable content.

The third video has 16,000 views, but has been favorited 31 times.  They also have over 172,000 channel views and nearly 2100 subscribers (blowing away the previous two).  There are 310 videos listed on their channel (with varying levels of views and ratings).  Again, although this video has significantly lower views than the top ranking video, other factors seem to be contributing to the video’s high ranking.   And, they last logged in 10 hours ago…

What does this tell us?

First, each of the factors is obviously weighted and the total score determines your rankings on YouTube.  Although views, title, description and tags are part of the equation, it’s clear that several other factors contribute to your rankings.  It seems that you can build up trust via your channel in the form of channel views, subscribers, and the performance of your other videos.  I can’t say for sure how important each element is yet, but it’s clear that these other factors are important.  It might explain how a video with only 12,000 views can compete with a video that has 224,000 views.

So how you do gain high channel views, subscribers, comments, ratings, etc?  Like anything else in social media, you need to create valuable content, engage the community, connect with other members, and build a following.  As you build a following, more people will comment, rate, share, subscribe to, recommend, and link to your videos.   And all of those factors seem to help your rankings on YouTube.  Is it easy to do?  No, but it’s worth the effort.

Being a heavy user of social media, I’m actually glad to see these other factors playing a big part in YouTube rankings.  Moving forward, I definitely plan to dig deeper with the factors listed above in order to determine how important each one is to YouTube rankings.  But, that’s for another post.  :)

So how are your YouTube videos ranking?  Have you analyzed your competition and tried to match or exceed their statistics?  How has it worked out for you?

PS Don’t forget about YouTube Insight when analyzing your videos.  It’s an outstanding (and free) analytics tool available on YouTube.  It provides a wealth of important information about your video content.  I highly recommend checking it out if you haven’t already.


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