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How to Rank a Video on YouTube & Google

These key optimization tips will help you get the videos you have published to rank both on YouTube and in Google search.

By 2022, online video will make up more than 82% of all consumer internet traffic according to Cisco.

People watch an average of 16 hours of online video per week.

And 85% of businesses use video as a marketing tool.

So it shouldn’t be a surprise to hear that video is rapidly becoming an essential channel.

Most competent marketers today understand that we all need to be publishing videos as part of our marketing effort.

This means we need to get over our fears that it will suck because it probably will at first.

And it will take some time and practice before we get good at it.

This is just a natural part of the process.

But I’m not going to dig deep into that today.

Instead, I’m going to cover how to get the videos you have published to rank, both on YouTube and in the search results.

This is critical because even if you publish the most amazing videos in the world, they won’t do any good if no one sees them.

Since YouTube is the foundation of this, whether we’re talking about ranking in YouTube or Google’s search results, let’s start with YouTube.

How to Rank a Video on YouTube

Produce Quality Content

There are a lot of factors that go into a video ranking well on YouTube, but one of the most important is quality.

Quality isn’t a direct ranking factor because there is no way to objectively measure that.

But it plays a significant role in user engagement – which is a direct ranking factor.

The more people who watch, like, and comment on a video, the better it will generally rank on YouTube.

So make sure to create your videos with the intent of solving a particular problem for your viewers.

  • Share a piece of useful knowledge.
  • Teach them how to do something.
  • Or give them your analysis of something happening in your industry.

The key is to make your video both useful and engaging.

And it always helps to encourage them to subscribe to your channel, as well as comment, like, and share the video.

But before we can produce a video, we first need to know what kind of info people are looking for.

Keyword Research

Unlike with traditional SEO, keyword research for YouTube is pretty simple and rudimentary.

There are no tools like SEMrush to show search volume, difficulty, or competing videos for YouTube.

All that we really have are the interfaces of both YouTube and Google.

Fortunately, these do give us a reasonable amount of data fairly easily.

One effective way to come up with topics is to use YouTube’s Search Suggest feature.

This is a powerful tool because it’s populated based on user activity.

So you don’t have to guess at whether people are searching for these terms.

YouTube search

Another approach to finding video topics is to look through some of the popular channels in your niche and identify their most-watched videos.

To do this, you’ll first go to the VIDEOS tab, and then sort the videos by popularity.

It’s important to remember that a high view count doesn’t necessarily mean that a topic is worth creating a video for.

The view count can be inflated by other advertising channels, such as paid search, social, email, etc.

Or it could simply be the result of it having been online for a long time.

sort YouTube videos by most popular

And it’s worth noting that you can also use any of the tools and tactics here that you would normally use for traditional keyword research.

But you should proceed knowing that there may not be a direct correlation in search volume between organic search and YouTube.

You can also get an idea of what kind of competition you’re up against by using the appropriate search operators in Google to search for videos on a particular topic on YouTube’s domain.

YouTube competition

Video Optimization

When we talk about optimizing your video, we’re actually talking about two things – the video itself and the page on YouTube where that video is.

Length of the Video

Despite what some people may have told you, size does matter.

But get your mind out of the gutter, because I’m talking about the length of your videos.

I want to emphasize that this is more a matter of correlation than direct causation.

I believe this is because longer videos tend to be more comprehensive so they answer viewers’ questions more completely.

That leads to viewers being more satisfied, and more likely to like, comment, and share the video, as well as watch it longer.

Quality of the Video

When I talk about quality, in this case, I’m talking about the quality of the actual video file itself.

This is important because 68.2% of videos on the first page of YouTube are in HD.

Again, this is more a matter of correlation than direct causation.

In this case, the higher quality video leads to more satisfied viewers and higher engagement.

Additionally, the kind of people who invest in higher quality equipment is also the kind of people who will generally put more energy into creating higher quality content.

Using Keywords in the Video

You might be thinking that there’s no way Google can tell what is in the video itself.

I personally don’t share that opinion.

Google has been rapidly implementing machine learning in a lot of different ways, which I covered in depth in an article here a few years ago.

We already know they’re extracting the audio from the videos we upload and automatically creating a text transcript.

Based on their other uses of AI, I don’t think it’s too far of a stretch to believe that they use that in their ranking algorithm.

And maybe even that they can analyze the context from a contextual perspective.

But even if this doesn’t have a direct positive ranking impact, it can still be beneficial because YouTube’s transcripts can be used as text on the page where a video is embedded.

We’ll discuss this more later.

YouTube keywords


While tags don’t directly impact how well a video ranks on YouTube, they do help your videos show up as a suggested video.

This can have a powerful impact on your engagement rate by putting your videos in front of more people.

You can use the same keywords in your tags, but also be sure to analyze the tags of other popular videos to see if you might be missing some.

While they aren’t displayed publicly, there is a cool browser extension for Chrome called VidIQ Chrome extension, which shows you a video’s tags right on the page.

How to Rank a Video on Google

The optimization that we’ve already covered for search within YouTube forms the foundation that we’ll need to rank our videos in Google search.

But generally, it’s not enough on its own.

Think of that part like the onsite SEO you’d do for a website.

We also need to implement offsite factors as well.

Inbound Links

In order to rank for even mildly competitive terms, we will typically still need inbound links from multiple authoritative websites.

I’ve covered link building in multiple previous articles, so there’s no need to rehash that here.

What I do want to point out, however, is that it’s important that your anchor text matches or is very similar to the video title.

And you generally don’t need to worry about over-optimization here, because you’re linking directly to a Google property.

For context – I’ve personally thrown millions of exact match anchor text links to YouTube videos and I’ve never seen a single negative outcome.

And in these cases, we stomped on the gas from the start and kept it floored, often building upwards of 30,000 links per day, for months at a time.

I’m not necessarily saying this particular tactic is the best approach, but it was one of many that we’ve tested and found to be effective.

Often, a few relevant links from high-quality, authoritative websites are enough to move the needle here.

User Activity

We all know for a fact that user activity plays a role in how well a video ranks within YouTube, but most people aren’t aware that it also plays a role in how well it ranks in Google search too.

But it’s a little more nuanced here.

The engagement a video receives from within the search results impacts how well it ranks within the search results.

This is because Google wants to give users what they’re looking for and higher engagement rates indicate that users are finding that in your video.

To a degree, you may naturally receive some engagement without any added work.

But since your competitors will be doing everything they can to outperform you, it would be foolish to stop here.

There are a lot of ways to manipulate your engagement rate, ranging from pristine with an angelic glow all the way down to blacker than Lucifer’s hooves.

This is a judgment-free zone, so you do what you feel you need to do based on your risk tolerance and what your competitors are doing.

But you need to be aware of the risks.

While it’s unlikely that you’ll receive a penalty of any sort, some of the grey to black hat tactics commonly used to manipulate engagement create a poor impression of your brand.

One of these tactics involves using micro workers or virtual assistants, typically from overseas to “watch” your videos and post a bunch of comments.

The problem here is twofold.

  • Micro workers and virtual assistants generally won’t have the same command of the English language that a native speaker will, so their comments will be spammy.
  • You’ll be training the algorithm to show your videos to more people in those areas rather than showing them to the people in your target market.

A better approach is to use paid social, PPC, and email marketing to drive the right real people to your videos, who will engage authentically.

More Resources:

Image Credits

Featured image and screenshots by the author, November 2020

Category SEO YouTube
VIP CONTRIBUTOR Jeremy Knauff CEO at Spartan Media

Jeremy Knauff is the founder of Spartan Media, and brings nearly two decades of experience to the table. His Tampa-based ...

How to Rank a Video on YouTube & Google

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