YouTube SEO: a guide

By iGBA Editorial Team

  • Article summary

YouTube can be the perfect playground for affiliate marketers but only if your videos can be easily found via search engines and the platform itself. Sharon McFarlane provides a checklist of optimisation essentials and tweaks to boost views, engagement and clicks.

Affiliate marketers need to be aware of all the options when exploring where they can draw in an audience and drive conversions and revenue. One of the best avenues out there for creating interesting content will always be YouTube.


Very few people want to sit through a blog that could be thousands of words long as our brains tend to switch off when confronted by large walls of text. Videos, on the other hand, are more dynamic in nature. They allow a viewer to either actively watch or have it on in the background – in much the same way we consume podcasts. The range of content available on YouTube is also incredible.

You can find everything from shorts lasting under a minute, commentary on recent events that could hit around the 15-minute mark, and even in-depth and complex video essays that can be anywhere between half an hour to an hour long.

This makes YouTube the perfect playground for the affiliate marketer, but you need to treat this content the same A way that you would with any other project. You need to ensure that the videos you produce are both easily digestible and easy to find.

Why YouTube SEO is a must

Just as you would ensure that a blog post has the necessary SEO in place to enable it to be easily found via search engines, so must you do so with your YouTube uploads. More often than not, we can treat YouTube like a search engine itself, using it to find everything from music videos to skincare recommendations to any how-to you might care to think of.

Optimising for SEO on YouTube should be a must for affiliate marketers. Not doing so means the videos you are working so hard to create could slip under the radar. Unless they are able to attract an audience, you will not receive traffic on any affiliate links you might have, which means no conversions and no payout.

Taking steps to improve your video SEO should lead to increased views, engagement and clicks. This should be the case not just for ranking on YouTube, but also on other SERPs such as those on Google or Bing. After all, there are plenty of places where someone could come across your video beyond what the YouTube algorithm might be able to offer.

How do we optimise SEO on YouTube?

• Start with keywords Keywords are a great foundation for SEO. Even for a YouTube video, you need to think carefully about the keywords you wish to include. There will be plenty of keywords you make use of as part of your wider affiliate marketing strategy, so now is the time to consider how these might be applied to your videos too.

Ideally, you want to choose keywords that get several hundred hits a month. Often some of the best to go for include the ‘how-to’ tag, but make sure you focus on several that will allow you to develop a wide variety of relevant content in the future. Trending topics might also arise, hence you need to do your keyword research so you know what to post. • Optimise titles Just as you would optimise the title of a blog post pushed out on another platform, so must you make sure that the title of any video you post is fully optimised for SEO. The first step will always be to include the focus keyword you have chosen in the title. However, you also need to structure the title of the video in the right way. It needs to answer the question or problem posed by the searcher so they are inclined to click on your video and see what you have to offer.

Make sure that the title is clear and states exactly what can be found in your video too. Try to avoid clickbait and other obvious tactics. Though you want to drive interest in your video, you should aim to do so by providing a genuine answer. • Customise thumbnails Along with optimised titles, you need to ensure that you have custom thumbnails for your videos. These will display alongside your titles on both YouTube and the SERPs, and they can be critical in driving attention to and engagement with your video.

YouTube will automatically select a thumbnail for you based on the contents of your video, but this cannot drive interest in the way that you need it to. After all, an affiliate marketing video will have an offer or a product to sell, and you cannot hope to attract a lot of interest if the first glimpse of your video is not that interesting.

A custom thumbnail should show you what the video will be about and how it will benefit the viewer to watch it. Make sure it is bright and eye-catching so potential viewers will stop to consider it, hopefully leading to a click and a view. • Optimise descriptions You have a strong title and eye-catching thumbnail, but you also need to make sure that you have a relevant description. As an affiliate marketer, the description is vital as it might be one of the locations where you include your affiliate links!


Along with this, you need to make sure that the description again adds value to the video as a whole. It is another place to promote that featured keyword and should tell the viewer yet more information about what to expect in the video.

It is important that this description is informative but natural; try to avoid keyword-stuffing and limit usage to one or two main ones. Importantly, try to keep it under 200 words – the more succinct you can be, the better! Although you can alter the description and other parts of the video after it has been posted, this can impact its performance. It is far better to get it right first time. • Add closed captions Closed captions, or subtitles, should be a must for everyone making YouTube content. They are a big part of creating inclusive content that can be viewed by everyone. However, they also have a brilliant benefit for SEO.

You will be able to add a full transcript of the video, including time codes for the text so that it matches up in the right place. YouTube will do this for you automatically but it is not the most accurate process at the moment, so it can be a wise idea to go back in and change them yourself. Why do this? It is quite simple – your video itself might not be crawlable for search engines but the captions will be! By providing captions, search engines will be able to rank your videos more effectively so there will be a greater chance of them showing on SERPs. • Encourage engagement This is one not for the upload of the video but for the filming itself. Whenever you watch a YouTube video, you will usually see the creator asking their audience to subscribe, turn on notifications and leave a comment down below. Many even make a joke of the little spiel since it is one of the standard parts of a YouTube video.

However, it does carry a very important role as it drives engagement. YouTube will promote and popularise videos that a lot of people interact with. Comments and subscriptions are two of the main metrics that it uses to track this.

Subscribing means your content will be offered directly to your audience when you post and it will appear on their homepage when they open YouTube.

Asking them to turn on notifications through the bell icon means they will get a notification whenever you post. Both of these are very important in terms of driving repeat engagement through which affiliate marketers will be able to offer links to products and offers. Commenting is also a great way to push up interest and engagement. Why not end the video with a question, or ask for recommendations for something that you mentioned? And make sure you go into the comments afterwards and interact with your audience. Like, reply, and pin the best comments. Doing so helps build a connection with your audience – they will know you pay attention to their thoughts rather than just fire off your content with little care about how it might be received. • Share and link Your YouTube channel should be just one part of a wider SEO strategy for your affiliate marketing campaign. Share your videos across your social media and the other platforms you use for affiliate marketing. Use this as an opportunity to create some inbound links and thus some authority for yourself that will benefit you in your wider affiliate practices.


YouTube is one of the most powerful tools we as affiliate marketers have. If you wish to start creating videos and content for this platform, make sure you do everything you can to optimise the SEO on your channel. Doing so can bring you amazing results with just a few small changes.

SHARON MCFARLANE is managing director at Glasgow-based Digital Footprints, a digital marketing agency specialising in content marketing, social media, UX design, website design, branding and conversion rate optimisation.

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