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Video Optimization: Youtube and Universal Search

Author: Marcus Tober

The following is a short summary of my contribution to the SMX 2011 in Munich. Whereas a few years ago entering a search query into Google only resulted in a simple listing of search results, today it bustles with a colorful mix of image, video, shopping, and map results – the so-called Universal Search integrations.

The integration of videos is by far the most important of these Universal Search integrations with at least one video included in nearly 50% of search queries. This presents a great opportunity to quickly rise to the top of search results with just a few videos. Nevertheless, until now this potential has remained largely untapped – only a few websites are actually optimizing their existing video content.


Of course, as every keyword does not necessarily have a video integration, you should be careful in choosing which keywords are to be optimized for video. Otherwise you run the risk of disappearing completely out of sight, together with your video. For example, video appropriate keywords are keywords where a user will often click on videos in the search results or where the search query is made up of their [existing search] + video. With this kind of keyword, videos provided with prominent video integrations will feature prominently in SERPs.

Besides the suitability of a keyword for video optimization there are of course a range of technical parameters to keep in mind for the optimization of Universal Search videos:

  • Google can only enter specific video file types into the index. Compatible file types include, among others, MPG, AVI, MOV, MPEG, MP4…
  • Videos must be accessible via HTTP
  • Metadata that require the source to be downloaded using streaming protocols are not supported
  • The search engine cannot search through the videos themselves – here it is dependent upon the metadata
  • The creation of a video sitemap is a key element for optimization
  • One video per website
  • Embedding videos in/near a relevant text
  • Title tags and main keywords for the site will be assessed
  • Store keywords in a video’s meta-information
  • Also put keywords/titles in video file names

Many websites now use YouTube, as well as their own Twitter and Facebook channels to market their products. Videos are often created specifically for their own YouTube channel.

How can you optimize YouTube videos?

YouTube is the most important video platform and search engine in the world and, with a large online community, powerful marketing tool for companies. So how can you ensure that my videos are displayed as prominently as possible within YouTube?

Just as we use traditional SEO measure for websites, YouTube videos can also be optimized. Titles, descriptions and tags play an important role in optimization but external links also play a significant part in a video’s ranking within YouTube. YouTube also measures and evaluates user signals (for example, CTR, bounce rates, feedback etc.) and counts these signals as one of the most important ranking factors.

Titles, descriptions and tags


  • Video titles should contain the most important keywords, arranged with the most important keywords first
  • Ideally the keyword will also be included in the filename – corresponding to the title
  • Titles are are cut off at around 60 characters in YouTube searches.


  • A video’s description should contain the keyword more than once and should use additional, semantically related keywords while avoiding keyword stuffing.
  • Only the first 55 to 70 characters will be displayed, however four to five sentences can be written – as even this, though invisible at first glance to the user, will be evaluated. External  links (for example, affiliate links) can also be integrated into the description.


  • Up to 10 tags should be assigned – using the most important keywords.
  • As I have already mentioned, external links play a big role. The same rules apply here as with traditional link building. The construction of a good link profile with thematically relevant links is crucial. Links from social media are also important. Networking within YouTube is also a deciding factor.

User Signals – this is important

The following signals are key to the success of a video:

  • How many times has the video been viewed (within a set time frame)?
  • User feedback in the form of comments
  • How long was the video watched for?
  • YouTube measures how long a user has watched a video or at which point they left. CTR and bounce rates are therefore a very important factor for YouTube rankings.
  • So it  makes little sense to mislead the user with irrelevant keywords and/or titles.
  • The more often a video is watched, the more prominently it will be displayed on YouTube. In an ideal scenario it will land in the site’s top lists.
  • How often does the video appear in user playlists?
  • How many positive ratings has it received?
  • How many blogs posted the video? (This also increases video impressions)


Research with the YouTube Keyword Tool and YouTube Suggest

In a similar way to the Google AdWords Keyword Tool, the YouTube Keyword Tool provides the opportunity to examine search volumes for individual keywords. With this you quickly get an idea of which keywords are suitable for video optimization. Keywords that have a high search volume here are also often displayed right at the top of the Universal Search integrations in the normal Google SERPs and therefore have a higher CTR. You can also use YouTube Suggest for research. This will also show short term trends.


Thumbnails and additional optimization measures

A good preview image (thumbnail) increases click-through rates enormously. Therefore it is important to choose a preview image that encourages users to click on it. After you have uploaded the video, you can use ‘Edit’ to select between 1 and 3 thumbnails to be made available by YouTube. But as the CTR is so closely related to the preview image, it is crucial that you select a good image. A rule of thumb for calculating thumbnails:

  • X = Length of video in seconds
  • Y = X divided by 4
  • Thumbnail 1 = Y
  • Thumbnail 2 = Y x 2
  • Thumbnail 3 = Y x 3

You can edit your video so that you have the optimal thumbnail in the right position. A good example of this can be found in the video from Michael Gray. The thumbnail looks ‘sexy’ and Michael has an explanation to go with it.  Video:


If you are going to place a video on YouTube and on your own site, you should take care to put the video up on your own website first. You should then only upload it to YouTube after it has been indexed. With a little effort you can optimize already existing content as much as new video content for Universal Search.

Marcus Tober

Marcus Tober

My name is Marcus Tober and I’m the founder of Searchmetrics. Because we really love to analyze all kinds of online data, we can give you more insights than any other company in SEO, SEM and Social Media. It’s not a job, it’s passion.

5 thoughts on “Video Optimization: Youtube and Universal Search

  • Marcus, some great content!
    I am trying to figure out how I can get more views in YouTube, I never knew that YouTube also has a keyword tool.

  • Wow, great article Marcus! I was thinking of doing more with video and this knowledge will really help I think. I will create some videos and will report back with the results here.

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