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YouTube Best Practices

Introduction

This basic document will walk you through the process of optimizing a video once it’s been uploaded to YouTube. It will take you through the varied screens in order, and explain each section that requires attention for SEO purposes. We’ll be looking at both videos and playlists in this document as well, along with some channel settings - but let’s start with videos.

A quick disclaimer: all of the images used in this post have been pulled from my own personal YouTube channel, since that’s the channel that I have the most experience and familiarity. I also use a lot of Chrome plugins, which is why some of the button placements look a bit funky.

Video Optimization Best Practices

Info & Settings

Here’s what the basic Info & Setting screen looks like with its most important elements filled out:

This screen has much of the traditional, basic SEO elements you’re used to from optimizing standard web pages, but there are some differences. We’ll touch on each item one by one, starting with items on the Basic Info screen.

    • Title - This should be similar to an SEO title for a traditional web page: Most important phrases at the beginning, have a mix of long and short-tail keywords and keep it succinct, maximum should be eighty characters. You can avoid branding in here though, since your channel name is pretty much always visible, so it’d be a waste of valuable space.
    • Description - This is basically the textual copy of what you want to say about your video. It should be at LEAST 150-300 words minimum (though YouTube truncates around 150, more is always better), and should include links to all of your various websites (especially your primary domain) as well as social media portals. Unfortunately, this field doesn’t take HTML, so all links will need to be plain text.
    • Keywords - Unlike traditional web pages, keywords on YouTube are insanely important. Unfortunately, keyword data for YouTube isn’t the easiest to find, which is why we recommend a Chrome plugin like TubeBuddy. This will allow you to do keyword research easily. Always start with the name of your product or main subject and expand from there. You can have up to 500 characters for keywords, so try and have a solid mix of semi-broad and targeted phrases. These keywords directly correspond to YouTube searches, so finding keywords that bring in traffic is super important.
    • Thumbnail - If possible, always use a custom thumbnail for your videos so they’re easily identifiable in YouTube search results and on social media. The aforementioned TubeBuddy, for example, has built-in tools to make simple thumbnails if you’re low budget, but if you have a graphic designer, a more professional thumbnail would lead to higher click through rates.
    • Playlists - We’ll get into more detail on these later in the document, but you always want to include your videos in at least one curated playlist, if not several. Playlists are fabulous for usability, and therefore user stickiness, which matters a lot to YouTube.
    • Translations - You usually don’t have to meddle with this unless your site/brand/channel covers multiple languages, in which case this is an extremely important thing to meddle with. YouTube allows you to upload textual translations of your videos, and should certainly take advantage of this if you operate multilingually.
    • Monetization - This is self-explanatory, but a good rule of thumb is that the larger the brand, the fewer ads you want. Users don’t like ads, so keep them at a minimum if possible.
    • Advanced Settings - You usually won’t need to play with this screen, but it’s useful if you want to disable comments or embedding in other sites.

Enhancements

This is a typical use case of the Enhancements screen:

YouTube provides basic editing tools so you can apply filters and simple effects to your videos if you need them. For a professional brand, this should all be done before the video is even uploaded, but for simple touchups, this works. Thankfully, edited videos are saved as new videos so you can also experiment with this as well if you’d like. Again though, you likely won’t spend much time here.

Audio

The Audio screen, shown below, can add copyright-free tracks to any uploaded video:

YouTube is very, VERY militant about copyrighted music. Your channel can get flagged and even penalized if you’re found to be using copyrighted music. This is why YouTube gives access to thousands of free audio tracks to use in your videos. In most cases, you shouldn’t have to use this as you should be adding music during video production, but if you DO need to add some backing tracksto to your video, this is where you do it.

Using this editor, you can determine where in the video the music shows up, as well as how loud it’ll be, but again, it’s very basic, so editing music is likely something you’d want to do pre-upload so you get the audio levels right. YouTube isn’t the best at favoring the video’s original audio over the music, so overall, this is something to use sparingly.

End Screen & Annotations

Here are the typical end screens I add to my videos:

End screens are insanely important, as they give users interactive elements to remain engaged with the channel. These show up by default in the last twenty seconds of a video, but for shorter videos it can be shortened as well. If a video is only a minute or two long, then maybe the last five or ten seconds might be appropriate.

With end screens, you can add the following to your videos:

    • Video or Playlist - This is an excellent way to have users move to a relevant video if they’re at the end of a playlist or wish to keep watching similar content. You can either choose from a list of recent videos and playlists, or insert a URL directly.
    • Subscribe - This is a must-have. It allows users to quickly and easily subscribe to your channel, which is something you want to make quick and easy.
    • Channel - This allows you to link to another YouTube channel, which is good for cross promotion with other brands or if you have more than one YouTube channel yourself.
    • Link - This allows you to link to an approved website, such as your own associated website, or approved merchandise and non-profit sites.

You can have a maximum of four end screens, one in each corner. Two is a good rule of thumb, so as not to overwhelm the user.

Cards

Here’s a card before it’s clicked:

And here’s the card after it’s clicked, for comparison:

Cards are similar to End Screens, but can be placed anywhere within the video. This allows you to add interactive elements that can be timed with mentions in the video. As with End screens, you don’t want to overdo it. I usually put a card at the beginning to point to the associated website, but you can sprinkle them in around the video as well. Cards are a bit different in that you can add text to them to make them less obtrusive and more targeted, so it’s suggested that each card has a unique tag line to go with it.

Currently you can add the following:

  • Video or Playlist - This works the same way as End screens.
  • Channel - Again, same thing from End screens.
  • Donation - This allows you to solicit donations to approved non-profit organizations right from within the video, which is great if you’re trying to raise money for non-profits and charities.
  • Poll - This allows you to generate a user-facing poll right from within the video, which is great for engagement. Results are shown right in the card so a user’s experience is uninterrupted.
  • Link - Same as End Screens.

Cards should definitely be used in your videos to increase engagement.

Subtitles/CC

Here’s an example of automatic captioning:

If you’re able to spend the time and/or money to transcribe your videos into text, adding subtitles/closed-captioning is a fantastic way to not only increase engagement but to give all the text of your video to YouTube so they can easier parse it. As Google and YouTube can’t watch your video, giving them the text of the video will immensely help them determine your video’s value and worth for its subject matter, so again, if you can afford the time and effort to do this, it’s worth it.

Now YouTube will automatically try to transcribe a video on its own, which is passable, but if you have the means, you should totally transcribe the video yourself. There are multiple ways to do this, including:

  • Doing it manually - Typing it out as you watch the video. This takes a lot of time and effort, but if you have both to spare, it’s worth it.
  • Uploading a file - This is great if your video is based on a script you already have, as you can just take the text from this file and upload this yourself.
  • Paying a service - This will also involve uploading a file, but in this case, you’ll pay someone else to type it up. This is an expensive proposition, as each video can cost hundreds of dollars for a professional service to transcribe the video, but you’re usually getting the quality you pay for.

Again, while this is an optional thing, if you have the time or means to make this happen, you totally should, as it gives YouTube/Google text to read regarding your video, which will help them better parse what your video is about and help them determine how valuable/weighted your video should be in their search results.

Playlist Optimization

Here’s what a typical playlist can look like:

Playlists are an insanely important part of the overall YouTube experience, one that gets overlooked by so many channels, so having well-organized playlists can certainly get you ahead of the curve. As stated previously, each video should be on at LEAST one playlist, if not several, but there’s a bit more to it than that.

First off, if you have a specific series of videos that go together, you need to set up one playlist as the official series for those videos (Playlist -> Playlist Settings -> Set as official series for this playlist checked on). This will ensure that YouTube will direct a user to the next video in this particular playlist.

You should also set up playlists for common themes on your channel, not only for organizational purposes but also for usability purposes. Say you have various recipes, and one recipe is a macaroni and cheese with broccoli recipe. You could have this on several playlists, including:

  • Macaroni and Cheese Recipes
  • Cheese Recipes
  • Macaroni Recipes
  • Broccoli Recipes
  • Dinner Recipes

This way users can easily find related recipes for the specific type of dish they’re looking for.

Here’s an example of my playlists so you can see what I mean by having multiple playlists:

In conclusion, don’t overlook the power of playlists. They help keep things organized, make your channel look way more professional, help with usability and user stickiness, and are overall just insanely useful. Don’t forget to take advantage of them.

Channel Optimization

Finally, we’ll talk about some things to do with your channel itself to make it more appealing and engaging.

First, you want to have a channel trailer if possible. This is a 30-60 second video highlighting the main points of your channel, some funny/engaging clips from videos, and so on. These need to be short and focused.

Secondly, you want to organize your channel from your most engaging and/or popular content topwise down. Your channel allows you (when logged in of course) to arrange content in rows, such as most recent uploads, specific playlists, upcoming livestreams and so on. You want to organize these rows consistently so that people can easily find your best content from the moment they arrive on your channel. Here’s an example of how I have my channel organized:

Thirdly, you want to make sure your About page is sufficiently filled out. This includes your channel description (which only allows 1,000 characters), your contact details, and links to all of your sites and social media profiles. The first five links, by the way, will show up on your site’s banner infobar next to its associated website, so choose these carefully. Here’s an example of how I’ve got set mine up:

Fourthly, you want to make sure you have an associated website properly set up. You do this by going to Creator Studio -> Channel -> Advanced -> Associated website. You then link to your primary brand website, which should be in Search Console. If it’s not in Search Console, that needs to be done first. Once the site is in Search Console, it can be added as a channel’s associated website, which lets it be used in cards, end screens and the like.

Finally, you want to make sure you always respond to comments quickly, as these are insanely important, just like on any other social media channel. You should check on these regularly, as Google is terrible about emailing comment notifications.

Conclusion

There are a lot more screens and tools to play with in one’s YouTube channel, from ads to analytics to live streaming and more. We’ll be covering each of these in future guides, so be sure to check back.

To quickly recap, here are the steps necessary to fully optimize your YouTube channel for visibility and engagement:

  • Optimize Videos - Including titles, descriptions, keywords, cards, end screens and thumbnails.
  • Optimize Playlists - Including individual and official playlists.
  • Optimize Your Channel - Including links, about us copy, contact us information and associated websites.

Doing all these will help ensure a well-optimized, usable and engaging channel. If you have more questions, feel free to ask us. Thank you for reading this YouTube Best Practices guide, and happy video making!

PS: Here are the Chrome Extensions I use regularly:

written by: Brian Rubin

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