YouTube Video Optimization: Blowing Up Your Rankings and Revenue (Without Making More Content)
What if you could increase leads by ~1,000%, without creating content - just optimizing what you already have?
We did it for a client, and if you've got a YouTube channel, chances are pretty good you can get stellar results as well...
We're always looking for creative ways to boost our clients' results to the next level.
Not just in search, but the traffic channels where they're ALREADY flourishing.
Why not maximize what's already doing well, right?
After some begging and pleading from friends that wanted the secret sauce behind some of our success optimizing YouTube channels, we decided to release a client case study on YouTube video optimization with some really juicy bits of data to back up our method.
We decided to release it for everyone, not just our inner circle :).
P.S. We're giving away the full tracking document as well so you can do this yourself (although we do offer this service to clients as well).
But First, The Results...
Remember, all of these results stem from videos that already existed and in some cases were years old.
That means that these increases tend to be permanent and may even increase over time. The methodology can be applied to future videos at upload so instead of reoptimizing, you're just doing it right the first time.
Step 1: Choose Videos To Optimize
If you have a small channel, this is a simple step: just optimize all of them.
In the case of this particular client, there were at least 300 videos spanning 5+ years, so it didn't make a lot of sense to target them all until we proved the method with a smaller batch.
To choose the videos, we followed this line of thinking:
How to Choose Which Videos To Optimize
- Is it relevant to the business? As a business matures, some videos cease to be relevant. We wanted only videos that had the potential to make an impact on the client's business (improve their bottom line).
- Is it starting from a solid base? Does the video have signs of traction (views, shares, favorites) or is it a dud? Avoid the duds.
- Is it easily optimizable? Sometimes videos are thrown onto a channel with little thought, or have such obscure subject matter that there's really nothing they can be optimized for. Avoid these and go for the bigger fish.
With these guidelines in mind, we chose 50 videos to optimize and got right to the next (and arguably most tedious) step: setting up the tracking document.
Step 2: Track @$#%ing EVERYTHING
There are a lot of metrics to keep track of in a YouTube optimization campaign. Without some way to organize it all, you're dead before you even begin.
You won't know where you came from and what actions resulted in positive changes for the channel.
Below is a list of the metrics we tracked. Write these all down in your Excel document (or use the one we'll give you at the bottom of this case study.
It's important to have a baseline. Set your YouTube analytics to the last 30 days and track the following*:
- Date Campaign Started
- Last 30 Days Total Views
- Last 30 Days Total Shares & Favorites
- Last 30 Days Total Subscribers
- Last 30 Days Total Minutes Watched
* Be sure you're only tracking the videos you want to optimize, not the entire channel!
If you want to get solid insights on what's working and what isn't, it's important to track at the video level over time. Yes it's tedious, yes it's annoying to compile. But it's worth it.
Track the following:
- Video Category - What product or service for the client's business does the video belong to?
- Video Link - You'll want this for easy reference
- Video Title Pre Optimization - Note these so you can update all titles at once
- Target Keyword - Very helpful for batch optimizing
- Video Title Post Optimization - Easy to batch update these in your tracking document
- Video Title Length - Make sure you're not over the recommended title length when creating optimized titles
- Rankings, Views, Shares, & Subscribers @ Campaign Start
- Rankings, Views, Shares, & Subscribers @ 1 Week
- Rankings, Views, Shares, & Subscribers @ 2 Weeks
- Rankings, Views, Shares, & Subscribers @ 3 weeks
- Rankings, Views, Shares, & Subscribers @ 4 weeks
Now that you've got your entire baseline set up, you can get to researching the new keywords you'll be targeting!
Step 3: Keyword Research
We found that it was much more useful to use Google's Keyword Planner rather than YouTube's built in keyword research tool. Simply put, that tool sucks.
Because one of your goals when optimizing YT videos is to get them showing up in the organic SERPs ANYWAYS, you may as well use the most accurate keyword data you'll ever get and stick with the Keyword Planner.
We won't go too in depth here as most of you already know quite a bit about keyword research. The basic rule of thumb we used was this:
Is the video already doing well?
If you've got a video that's already ranking for keywords, just not where you WANT to be ranking, then stick to that keyword or a variation thereof and move on to the optimization phase.
Is the video struggling or unfocused?
If you've got a video that's not ranking for anything significant, choose a longer-tail keyword that it can rank for with relative ease and move on to the optimization phase.
Step 4: Optimize, Optimize, Optimize
The optimization step is the meat of this post and of the methodology itself, simply because there are so many things to optimize for each YouTube video. Here's the list, then we'll go through each one and show you exactly how to optimize each element:
Video Elements To Optimize
- Video Title
- Video Description
- Subscribe Annotation
- Product Annotation
- Related Video Annotation
- Hidden Annotations
- Playlists and 3rd Party Videos
That's a lot of different elements to optimize! Don't worry - here's exactly what to do with each of them*.
* For privacy, the images below are NOT the client we're basing this case study on, but the optimization principles remain the same.
Like standard web content, your title is arguably the most important piece of content for your video. It's the way you'll get anyone to click on your video in the search results, and it's one of the primary ways YouTube's ranking algorithm is going to decide what your video is about.
The formula we use is as follows:
[KEYWORD] + [ENTICING HEADLINE] + (IF PERSONAL BRAND) ["BY" YOUR NAME / BRAND]
It's not an exact science, and there are millions of articles out there on writing good headlines. You want to keep your keyword close to the beginning of the title and modify it if you have to to make it work - don't write the title for a robot.
We've found it helpful to add "by BRAND" if you're a personal brand to add some personality
It's a sad truth that some of the most valuable real estate on your channel is likely under-utilized. The video description is a spot that's ripe for promotion of your brand, social media, and most importantly, CONTENT.
There are two views your audience will see: standard and expanded. You need to optimize your video description with both of these in mind.
Here is an example of an well-optimized standard description:
The formula here is the following:
[ATTENTION GRABBING ELEMENT] + [CALL TO ACTION] + [LINK TO CONTENT] + [JUICY DESCRIPTION]
We like to use the play button as an attention grabber, but you can mess around with whatever you want. Use alt codes to create these eye catching elements. The idea behind this formula is to attract attention and drive clicks to the most relevant and important piece of content for this particular video.
That can be a blog post, a sales page, landing page, you name it - it's up to you to determine what piece of content pairs best with the video.
Important: be sure not to double space after the call to action. You'll be wasting a full line of your short video description on whitespace, which is effectively worthless!
Here is that description expanded:
The extended description formula is the following:
[REST OF DESCRIPTION] + [WEBSITE LINKS] + [SOCIAL MEDIA]
Because few people expand the video description, you want to make sure that the most important actions are promoted at the very top. Social media links and other less important links can be buried in the extended description.
If someone's engaged enough to expand, chances are good they're looking for that type of content over the direct link to an accompanying blog post or product that you've put at the top of your video description.
People like to obsess over the tags, thinking that they're some of the most important elements to optimize.
While they are important, it's really not that hard to optimize for them. Generally, you want to optimize for your target keyword and brand, then a bunch of variations of the target keyword in different sentence structures and phrasings - think LSI.
For the example video we're using, the target keyword was "starting seeds in hydroponics." Here are the tags used:
Think of YouTube subscribers as the video equivalent of people that sign up to your email list. They're the lifeblood of your channel, the ones that push your brand further via shares, likes, and comments.
Knowing the importance of subscribers, every single video on your channel should have a subscribe annotation that prompts new viewers to click that subscribe button.
We found it very effective to lead with a 5-10 second annotation in the bottom left corner that points downward using an arrow symbol.
To cover your bases, just add this annotation. If you want to get crazier with it, or have longer videos, you can copy this annotation and space it throughout the video to get even more subscribers.
If you want to get REALLY crazy, you can look at your video analytics to see the points of highest engagement and add the subscriber annotations at those points as well for a few seconds.
If the video you're optimizing has a direct connection to a product or service you offer, you MUST have an annotation for this product at a relevant point in the video.
It usually makes the most sense to send them to a landing page for lead gen and not try to directly sell the product. Think of the product annotation as another avenue for traffic to hit the top of the funnel.
Related Video Annotation
Just like interlinking your blog posts and pages in traditional content marketing, you should be linking to related videos on your channel via annotations.
Our rule of thumb with this client was to link to at least one other related video with a pop up annotation that lasted for 3-5 seconds at the point in the video that it was MOST relevant.
This is a bit of a murky area as far as its effectiveness in boosting rankings, but the general theory here is similar to the related videos section.
For this client, we chose 2 random videos on the channel to link to with completely transparent annotations that lasted for a couple seconds. We wanted to create a large web of interlinked videos on the channel, with the assumption that YouTube is aware of these connections in the same way that Google spiders are aware of things like siloing and interlinking on the pages they crawl.
Plus, while you're already knee deep in creating annotations, it doesn't hurt to add a couple of these :).
Playlists and 3rd Party Videos
Ideally, every video you're optimizing should be added to a playlist. This is a good idea just for organization's sake, but it also offers a great opportunity to target some higher-level keywords and starting ranking the playlist itself for some big traffic:
Ranking second here means that this channel is effectively ranking all 8 videos 2nd for this keyword, and the fact that it's a series-based playlist does wonders for viewership, subscribes, and just about every other metric you want to boost for your YouTube channel.
If you don't have enough videos to make a complete playlist for a topic, its OK to add 3rd party videos that perform well for the keyword you're targeting. Try to pick ones that add value in the context of your video, and seek to replace them with your own content in the future.
Your playlists should start looking something like this:
That's it for optimization! If you've done this correctly, you've done it for every single video and worked your way through a checklist as you go through the process.
It can get a little tedious, but as you've seen from the results above...it's very worth it.
Breakdown Of Our Client's Results
Now we'll get into the meat of the results that you saw at the beginning of this post. This campaign was a BIG WIN for our client, resulting in hundreds more leads in their funnel and a lot of revenue in their pockets.
Let's take a look at what drove those numbers.
Rankings: The Fuel That Drives The Growth Engine
While we couldn’t get every single video ranking for the desired keywords, we achieved a large increase in overall ranking optimization. Here's the big picture:
1. 26 videos are ranking for keywords where previously they were ranking for nothing at all
2. We lost rankings on only one video out of 50, and it only dropped 2 spots
3. The TOTAL increase in ranking positioning across all keywords was +72
The biggest win here was ranking videos for any keyword where they were previously ranking for no keyword.
Likes, Shares, Favorites: Social Markers
- Likes increased from 388 to 444 month over month, a 14.43% increase.
- Shares stayed consistent at 25.
- Favorites of these 50 videos increased from 192 to 252 month over month, a 31.25% increase.
We attribute most of this growth to the increased amount of views, giving viewers more opportunities to engage socially with our client's content.
Subscribers: The Lifeblood Of A Channel
They gained 610 subscribers in October off of the 50 videos, and 749 off of the same videos in November, a 22.79% increase.
This is probably due to the subscribe annotation that shows up for the first 5-10 seconds of each video. Previously there was no subscribe annotation. However, the increase in views also accounts for some of this growth.
Minutes Watched: A High Quality Signal
Minutes watched increased from 284,553 to 338,587 month over month, an 18.99% increase.
One extremely under-rated post that came out from Upworthy's blog was about attention minutes, and while this had more to do with time on site metrics and engagement, it can be applied directly to YouTube in a simple way with the minutes watched metric.
Most of the increase in minutes watched is attributed to increased ranking of certain videos with high view counts, boosting them to new levels of popularity.
Annotations: The Money Makers
Annotation clicks increased from 78 to 1083, a 1288.46% increase.
These are clicks to other videos, increasing YouTube metrics (and thus, rankings), as well as clicks to the client's web properties where the value of a visit is highly quantifiable in dollars.
Both of these are good things.
Changes were made to all annotations two times: once on Nov 1 (mostly adding more annotations), and once on Nov 16 (tweaking copy, increasing length, and adding more in longer videos).
The first half of November saw 483 clicks at a 0.92% CTR, and the second half of November saw 628 clicks at a 0.73% CTR. CTR went down due to an increased amount of overall annotations, but the Nov. 16 changes showed immediate improvement on the previous annotation strategy.
The most-clicked videos were the longer videos and ones about [TOPIC].
The number of annotation clicks that went to their web properties for November was 924.
The remaining 178 annotation clicks went to other YouTube videos, or to their subscribe page.
The addition of a dedicated CTA to the first line of each video description also sent traffic from YouTube to their web properties. Many of their videos didn’t have any CTA in the video description – or if they did, it was to a generic page and not a product specific lander.
This increase in YouTube traffic should continue as the months go on, though due to time and videos getting less views over time it will decrease unless you keep producing more videos and keep them well-optimized.
Bonus Ideas To Take Your Channel To The Next Level
We hope this piece illuminated in a very clear way some how you can take your YouTube channel to the next level with some nitty-gritty, classic optimization techniques. It worked wonders for our client, other client's we've worked with, and our own YouTube properties.
However, there are endless things you can do to improve your YouTube metrics and the optimizations listed above only deal with existing videos. Here are a few higher-level recommendations for YouTube channels in general:
Long Form Videos
In most cases, longer videos drastically outperformed shorter videos in almost all metrics. They drive the majority of views, clicks, and subscribes, which are by far the 3 most important metrics to consider. If you have the ability to produce more of this longer-form content on our channel, that’s what we would recommend.
Trust The Data
Look at the categories you placed your videos in when you began your optimization project and segment the metrics by category. If you start seeing a clear trend in one category, MAKE MORE OF THOSE VIDEOS! They will begin to dominate your views, shares, clicks, and subscribes.
Because of the compounding effect of one-time optimizations, we recommend keeping every single video that you upload well optimized. You’ll also want to be interlinking these videos with your older videos to increase the chances that someone gets “sucked in” to your content on YouTube and becomes a subscriber, email optin, or student.
Another ongoing process that should be done is a rotation of the featured InVideo suggestion that shows up at the end of each video. The best policy here is to switch it to a video that you most want exposure to (say a new product launch).
Tracking Document and Tutorial Video
What? You need more? We've got you covered. We stripped down the tracking document we use for projects like this and made it available for download.
Go Forth And Optimize
That's it! We hope this article has helped you out with your YouTube struggles. If that's the case, we'd really appreciate it if you shared it with a colleague or friend who's struggling with their YouTube channel as well.
Kevin of Supreme Strategies