The Ultimate 2021 YouTube SEO Guide – Part 1

Posted By on February 11th, 2021 in Search Engine Optimisation

So you want to become a YouTuber, or perhaps you’re trying to get a little more visibility for your hobby or business if so then this is a must-read for you.

YouTube is the world’s second-largest search engine and processes over 3 billion searches per month. More than 100 hours worth of content is uploaded to YouTube every minute and is bigger than Bing, Yahoo!, ASK, and AOL combined.

Which begs the question, if you pay attention to your website SEO, why not YouTube as well? This guide aims to give you some insight into the various SEO elements that can be leveraged on YouTube and help by increasing your reach.

Video Keyword Research

While the basic concepts of keyword research remain the same and you should essentially be optimising for SERPs (Search Engine Results Page) as well as YouTube itself, there are some key differences to take into consideration.

While Google does drive some organic traffic to YouTube via its video snippet feature, you’ll notice that most of your views come from YouTube itself via its search bar, suggested videos and browse features.

Additionally, people use YouTube and Google with completely different search intents. 

Here’s an experiment, try looking up the search volume of something serious like ‘mortgage insurance’ on Google vs YouTube, and then look up ‘cute dogs’ on Google vs YouTube. What kind of results do you expect to see?

Now that we understand the search intent on YouTube, let us look at the different ways we can conduct our keyword research.


YouTube Suggest

Like the Google Search Engine, this search bar displays a list of queries associated with the question you’ve entered.

The critical difference is that the keywords suggested on YouTube are user-based queries making it a lot more valuable.


This free Chrome and Firefox extension is a must-have for all YouTube professionals. Using the Tube Buddy extension is an excellent way of performing some competitor research via their tags feature.

The steps to get started are relatively simple:

  • Step 1: Install the extension on your browser
  • Step 2: Sign in via your YouTube channel
  • Step 3: Start snooping on your competition

One of the really cool things about Tube Buddy is that it allows you to have an overall understanding of how your direct competition or even YouTube giants like Rhett and Link’s Good Mythical Morning show optimise their videos.

The extension allows you to get an overview of the following:

  • The video’s performance in terms of engagement
  • A video SEO score measured by tube buddy
  • A social panel showing the engagement across social platforms
  • Overall channel metrics 
  • A best practices panel to make sure you’re leveraging all aspects of video engagement
  • Tags that act as keywords to help users find the video as needed

The Good Mythical Morning channel used in the example here is a giant, so the tags used are more brand-oriented as they have the relevant search volumes to support the channel. For a channel that’s just starting, you would want to use long-tail generic tags to help rank your video.


VidIQ is another powerful tool that focuses on keyword research and is an excellent way of uncovering topic ideas for your videos; however, this does come at a cost.

While there are some free features available via the extension like the keyword and competitor research, its main feature is the ‘SEO’ section which allows you to extract a whole bunch of keyword ideas to help uncover low-competition, high-volume queries.

However, the free extension is still a must-have as this allows you to look at content ideas from your competitors in a like-to-dislike ratio.

This will help you create more relatable and engaging content, which will allow you to rank better.

YouTube Studio

We always save the best for last. 

If you’re an established channel with some traction, there is no third-party plugin, tool, website, or guru better than your YouTube Studio being the best source for keywords.

For one, and only one reason. YouTube Studio shows you keywords that you already rank for. 

Here are the steps you need to take on YouTube Studio to see what keywords you rank for: 

Step 1: Head over to your YouTube Studio Dashboard

Step 2: Click on ‘Analytics’

Step 3: Click on the ‘Reach Viewers’ Tab

Step 4: Click on ‘Traffic Source: YouTube Search’

Step 5: Boom! All the keywords you rank for!

Now there are essentially two actions you can take with all that information.

Action 1: Optimise an existing video

If you do have a video that ranks for a keyword – albeit not well optimised – you’ll want to try and optimise your video for that query.

With some basic on-page video SEO, you’ll quickly see your video gain some traction.

Here are some essential on-page video SEO elements to consider:

  1. Ensure that the keyword is added to the video as a tag
  2. Make sure to add that keyword in the video description

Action 2: Create a new video

This is pretty self-explanatory.

Sometimes, your old video’s content might not address the query in question, so instead of optimising the old one, create a new video addressing the keyword.

This way, your video hones in on the query in question and is more likely to rank for it than a video that was only partially optimised for it.

Create Your Video Masterpieces

Alright, we have all our keywords in hand. Now it’s time to create your incredible video masterpieces. 

Now creating a fantastic video can be entirely subjective to most people, but for the sake of SEO, let’s define an excellent video as one measured by the following metrics:

  • Session Time
  • Watch Time
  • Audience Retention
  • Engagement
  • CTR

When you create YouTube videos with these metrics in mind, you’ll be pulling a ‘Bernie’ watching your videos sit at the top of search results.

Let’s look at each of these ranking factors and see how we can optimise to rank for them.

Total Watch Time

What is Total Watch Time?

Total Watch Time (TWT) is the amount of time your video accrues over time in minutes.

You’ll be able to see this metric on YouTube Studio for each of your videos.

Let’s look at how to optimise for TWT.

Now let’s say we have ‘Video A’ and ‘Video B’. Video A is about 5 minutes long, and Video B is more than double sitting at 12 minutes, and let’s be conservative and say that users watch 40% of both videos. You’ll notice that Video B will have a significantly higher watch time.

What does this all mean? Longer videos generally rank higher!

If you look at a highly competitive query, you’ll notice that the top results are generally pretty long.

Audience Retention

Audience Retention is another major factor to consider when creating videos. Audience retention is defined as the percentage of content watched by your audience. As the name suggests, the more of your video that users watch, the better.

So let’s look at maximising your video retention.

The Hook

The first fifteen seconds, known in the biz as a hook, are essential. The ads you’re served before watching a video have about 6 seconds to convince you not to skip it. This is pretty much the same thing. 

YouTube has flagged this as a critical recommendation because their data suggests that that’s when viewers typically drop off.

Rise and Fall

Spend some time looking at your audience retention graphs and look for peaks and valleys. Peaks mean high interest and valleys indicate low interest.

This can help identify the type of content your viewer base is interested or not interested in and can help with future productions by addressing those elements.

Pattern Interrupts

Pattern interrupts aren’t an SEO thing but in actuality behavioural psychology and neuro-linguistic programming to interrupt and change thought patterns and behaviours.

Stay with me; I promise it’s easier than it sounds. I’m sure we’ve all at some point in our lives attended a lecture that has most likely put us to sleep.

Sorry for putting you on blast Professor Brown.

So what are Pattern Interrupts? Pattern interrupts are moments in your video where you need to switch things up. Remember the ‘valleys’ that we just spoke about, that’s where you want to implement these.

Adding 1-2 pattern interrupts in your video can make a huge difference. Some people do something silly, change the angles they’re talking from, and add a personal anecdote.

These moments essentially reset viewers’ attention, and instead of clicking away, they continue watching.

Session Watch Time

As the name suggests, Session Watch Time (SWT) is basically how long viewers spend watching YouTube content after watching your video.

“As with previous optimisations to our discovery features, this should benefit your channel if your videos drive more viewing time across YouTube.” – YouTube.

Like other Google properties, YouTube’s end goal is to have viewers stay on the platform as long as possible and reward those who do so accordingly.

The bad news is that there’s no way to measure SWT directly. If a viewer clicks on a video that doesn’t belong to you, you won’t be able to see the analytics for that particular video, however, that will add to your video’s Session Watch Time.

Now I’m sure you’re wondering how do you optimise for something you can’t measure?

Here’s the secret.

Create Playlists

Considered one of the most effective win-win strategies you can employ. By creating playlists, your Session Watch Time increases whenever anyone views your videos.

End Screen

Include links to your recently featured video, the next video in the playlist, a link to your channel, or better yet, all of the above. 

Here’s how to do it according to YouTube:

  1. Sign in to YouTube Studio.
  2. From the left menu, select Content.
  3. Click the video you’d like to edit.
  4. From the left menu, select Editor.
  5. Click Add element. Add a playlist to choose your end screen. You can add up to 4 end screen elements.
  6. Click SAVE.


Another key ranking signal on YouTube is Engagement. 

YouTube isn’t about that YouTube and chill life. Instead, YouTube wants to see your viewers actively engage with your content. 

YouTube measures engagement with the following:

  • Like
  • Comment
  • Subscribe
  • Share
  • Saving to playlists

The more boxes you tick, the more YouTube understands your content’s value and relevance. 

Here are some tips on how to do just that!

Tip 1: Ask your viewers to comment!

People are always ready to give feedback but don’t actively like thinking about what they want to share their feedback. 

Alternatively, you could ask viewers to give their opinion or feedback on something specific in the content.

Tip 2: Call to action

Don’t be shy; just ask your viewers to subscribe to your channel. Chances are they actually will if you do so.

Having a clear call to action at the end of the video, or even using a call to action as a pattern interrupt in the middle of your content (as long as you do it in a non-sales like tone) is highly recommended.

Tip 3: Engage

Replying to your viewer’s comments encourages the conversation to keep going and have other people comment. 

More Comments > More Engagement > Higher Rankings

Try pinning a comment that you find especially engaging to maximise your engagement potential.

Stay tuned for Part 2, where we talk about video optimisation, channel authority and ranking your videos Google itself.

Bruce Clay AdministratorPerson