For many businesses engaged in a long-term SEO campaign to increase visibility on Google, YouTube may be the next phase of their SEO strategy.

YouTube is the second most widely used search engine, behind Google. It’s responsible for an estimated 37% of all mobile internet usage.

Due to YouTube’s popularity, it’s a natural “next step” for businesses that want to build brand awareness, generate demand, and reach new customers. SEO is similar to other digital content efforts in that it is very important for a successful YouTube strategy.

However, YouTube SEO is different from traditional search engine optimization in a few key ways.

What Is YouTube SEO?

YouTube SEO is the process of optimizing video content, from pre to post production, to increase its visibility both on and off of YouTube.

Already we can see there is a similar goal between Google and YouTube SEO: increasing the organic visibility of your brand’s content.

For both search engines, the main goal is to help your audience easily find your website and content. Traditional SEO and YouTube SEO are important for long-term digital success, but the tactics to achieve that success are different.

What Makes YouTube Different From Google?

To understand how YouTube SEO is different from Google SEO, we have to begin by discussing YouTube’s algorithm. Let’s take a look.

Understanding YouTube’s Algorithm

YouTube’s algorithm uses different ranking signals than Google. While we don’t know for sure how it works, we can make a few educated guesses based on information from patent filings, white papers, and from YouTube’s Creator Academy.

YouTube has stated its algorithm “follows the audience.” What this means is YouTube’s algorithm is designed to show users videos they are most likely to watch and engage with.

The algorithm’s goal is to recommend content that aligns with searchers’ interests. Therefore, it’s important to pay attention to metrics that measure video performance, such as retention and watch time.

Related: Is YouTube Right for Your Business?

Important YouTube Metrics

YouTube wants to recommend videos that will keep viewers on the platform. It’s not about showing the best videos; it’s about showing the right videos. Personalization is key.

While YouTube includes other metrics and signals in its algorithm, watch time and retention are two of the most important. Let’s look at each more closely.

Watch Time

Simply put, watch time is the amount of time users spend watching a video. This can also be applied channel-wide, meaning how much time users have spent watching all of the content uploaded to that channel.

Watch Time report in YouTube Analytics
Watch time can be viewed per video or (as shown above) channel-wide.

YouTube’s algorithm tends to favor videos (and channels) with higher watch time since those are the ones keeping the user on YouTube. But that’s only one part of the algorithm puzzle. Let’s talk about retention.


If watch time is the total amount of minutes users have spent watching your video, retention (also known as “average percentage viewed”) is how much of the video they’ve watched. Here’s an example:

Imagine you have a 20 minute long video. This video currently has 100 views and 500 minutes (or 8.3 hours) watch time. At 100 views, this means the average watch time is 5 minutes and the average percentage viewed is 25%. Content that retains viewers is naturally going to outperform content that doesn’t.

There are other important metrics and factors that help determine the success of a video and how well it’ll surface on YouTube. However, these two metrics provide enough of a guide for us to understand how we need to optimize YouTube videos.

Optimizing for YouTube vs. Google

We know YouTube prefers to rank videos that demonstrate healthy watch time and retention. Alongside this, relevancy is another important consideration.

Videos with high watch time and retention are more likely to outperform similar videos; however, just because a video has strong metrics doesn’t mean it’s going to show up on a user’s home or recommended video feeds. The video must be relevant to either the user’s search or their perceived interests.

When performing SEO for YouTube, optimization will ideally begin with the content itself.

Creating Compelling Content

When optimizing a blog post for a website, it’s important to consider the user experience. You have to think about the readability of the text, the language, word choice, and even the format and design. Similarly, it’s incredibly important (maybe even more so) to consider the experience you want your video content to give the viewer.

In this way, optimizing your videos for YouTube should include the script, the video structure, and how it’s edited to create a compelling, cohesive experience.

Once you’ve published several videos to YouTube, you can monitor their performance (like watch time and retention) to determine what content is resonating with your audience. This can guide your video strategy as it expands.

There are additional optimizations to make once you upload video content.

Establishing Context

YouTube has stated its selection of home feed videos takes into account “how well the video has engaged and satisfied similar viewers, among other factors.” Again, we see how important retention and watch time are, but it’s clear establishing a connection to similar content is an important consideration for optimization. This means you want to create clear signals for YouTube to understand your video’s topic.

Focusing on one to two, clear and relevant keywords in your video title, description, tags, and transcript helps establish a clear content theme for YouTube. This will help your videos appear alongside other similar videos.

Unlike traditional Google SEO, where rarity is increasingly important in creating and optimizing content, focusing on a specific but general keyword within your video and its meta data is important.

For example, if you are creating a video that educates viewers on how to properly apply compost to a lawn, a more general term like “lawn care” may be a great keyword to target.

You would want to include this keyword, if possible, within your title, description, video tags, and ideally within the video’s script.

For example, a possible video title could include “Practical Lawn Care Tips | Composting Your Lawn.”

This will help YouTube understand the general topic of your video, in turn making it more likely your video will surface alongside other lawn care videos. While your video is primarily about lawn compost, it may be of interest to users who regularly watch lawn care videos.

Other elements, like playlists and feature sections on your channel, can help build context for your videos, too.

Start Optimizing Your Video Content For YouTube

Remember that YouTube wants to show relevant videos to each user, and to keep the user watching videos. This is key in establishing your channel’s voice and creating content that will keep people coming back.

If you’re planning to produce videos or are already uploading content to YouTube, WTM can help your videos reach a larger audience and provide a better return on investment.

We work with our clients to build fully developed content strategies with the goal of helping you create the right videos for the right audience. We also offer YouTube SEO services to give your videos a competitive edge. Contact us to discuss your YouTube SEO needs and learn how we can help.