It’s hard to believe now, but when we first started posting travel videos on YouTube ten years ago optimisation wasn’t on our radar.
We were making a travel television series and simply wanted to host the episodes online so anyone could watch them. Each one was 20 to 30 minutes in length, which seemed really long for a YouTube video at the time. That said, having covered destinations as diverse as India and Peru, the content was interesting and informative. However, no effort was made to optimise it for search on the platform.
Four or five years later, the penny finally dropped. These long-form videos were continuing to perform well year after year and building viewer numbers. Most were now in the thousands, some in the tens of thousands, and a couple in the hundreds of thousands. Around that same time, we qualified for YouTube monetisation and received our first payment. Wait, so you can make money from this? That was a revelation!
We began to create new videos specifically for YouTube, and just as importantly, to pay attention to optimisation in order to maximise their performance. Since then, our channel has clocked up well over one million views and the income we earn from the platform continues to increase.
If you’re just starting out, or you have an established channel that you want to grow, here are ten tips for optimising videos on YouTube. Begin by reading this explanation from YouTube about how they rank the videos that appear in their search results. Your aim is to be at the top of the list, or very close to it!
1. Make great content
First and foremost, if you want to be successful on YouTube you have to make great videos. Based on what it perceives through its algorithms, YouTube favours videos that fulfill a searcher’s need and enhance their time on the platform. We try and create video content that’s packed with information for the viewer, and will continue to be useful over time. Our aim is to make engaging videos that help the viewer plan their own trip to the destination we’re covering. And we’ve stuck with the longer format (anywhere from ten to twenty minutes). It works best for us.
Anyone can master making good quality videos, and you don’t need hugely expensive gear to do it. Some of our most popular videos were filmed entirely on an iPhone 11 Pro Max (using a stabiliser or tripod to kill the shakes). Good quality sound for pieces-to-camera, interviews, and voice-overs is a must (as nothing will make a viewer move on faster than dodgy audio). If you’ve never edited a video before, an online video editor will get you up and running quickly and relatively cheaply.
Once you’ve uploaded your new video, jump into YouTube Studio and get ready to optimise!
2. Choose a keyword phrase
Start the optimisation process by choosing a keyword phrase that sums up what your video is about, i.e.: ‘best Sydney campsites for families’. You need to choose a phrase that is closely aligned with what your target viewers are searching for, but isn’t so popular that every video is using it. One of the easiest ways to test your chosen phrase is to start typing it in the YouTube search bar and look at the predictive options that come up. These are likely to be the most popular search terms. Make sure you do this research in a private/incognito browser tab, so that YouTube isn’t showing you what it thinks you want to see.
Go to the list of search results for keyword phrases close to yours, and look at the top performing videos and their total number of views (which will tell you if the topic is actually popular). You’ll soon get a feel for the right keyword phrase for you.
3. Craft the right title
This is possibly the most important step when optimising a video on YouTube. By all accounts, their algorithm puts more emphasis on a video’s title than any other ‘signpost’ when working out what your video is about and who might want to watch it. Choose a title that incorporates your keyword phrase — ideally right at the beginning. You have one hundred characters to play with, so you might even want to add a second qualifying phrase. Therefore, your title might be: ‘Best Sydney Camping Trips for Families | Sydney Camping Holidays Kids will Love’.
Capitalise all the main words (a tip to us from a Google Ads representative), but not full words. It looks like you’re SHOUTING, and YouTube/viewers will mark you down for it.
Additional tip: If you know what your keyword phrase is going to be before you start filming, incorporate it in your opening piece-to-camera (or voice-over). When YouTube auto-cations your video, the keyword phrase will appear and match your title, further reinforcing what your video is about.
4. Add a description
I’m always amazed by the number of YouTube videos that have no description, or just one sentence in the description box. You’ve gone to all the trouble of making a video; why sell yourself short by not telling viewers all about it? Write a description of at least 200 to 300 words covering what the video is about and incorporating your keyword phrase at least twice (just make sure the text flows naturally).
You can also add links to your website or blog in the description. We publish an online story to go with every video we make, which serves to provide viewers with more information about the content if they want it.
5. Categorise your video…
Once the description is in place, it’s time to delve into the ‘Show More’ tab underneath the description box. Here you’ll find a whole suite of optimisation tools that further define what YouTube knows about your video. One of the most important is the ‘Category’ field, which instantly tells YouTube what genre of video you’ve made. Set it to ‘Travel and Events’.
6. …and tag your video
You’ll also see a box for ‘Tags’. Adding tags is a great way of letting YouTube know what types of search queries your video is best suited to answering. Add your keyword phrase as the first tag, and two or three others that may be relevant, i.e.: ‘Best Sydney camping trips for families’, ‘Great places to go camping around Sydney’, and ‘Top Sydney campsites’.
7. Stand out from the crowd with a custom thumbnail
Next, take the time to design and add an eye-catching custom thumbnail image. The thumbnail will be displayed whenever your video appears in a list of search results, and it can have a huge impact on how well the video performs. The more viewers who notice and click on your video, the higher YouTube will rank it in search results. We use the free version of Canva to create thumbnails. There are hundreds of professionally designed, pre-sized templates, which you can customise for your content.
Incorporate a good quality image and your keyword phrase in bold text. It’s a good idea to keep your thumbnails consistent in terms of the design. That way, you’ll start to create an identity on YouTube and viewers will be able to spot your videos with ease.
Like most social media platforms, YouTube allows users to search for grouped content using hashtags. You can place hashtags in your video title or in the description box. If you decide on the latter, YouTube will actually display them quite prominently above your video title. It’s worth noting that in both instances the tags could quickly transport viewers away from your video (and who wants that to happen when you’ve worked so hard to get them to watch your video in the first place?).
There’s a way around this. If you place the hashtags at the bottom of your video description (where they still work, but are not so prominent) and fill in the ‘Video Location’ field under ‘Show More’, YouTube will display a corresponding clickable place symbol above your video title rather than the hashtags. Adding the Video Location is also another broad-brush way of telling YouTube what a travel video is about. It’s still a little dicey, as viewers can click on the place symbol. But it looks slightly less tempting, and you’ll still get the benefit of having the hashtags on your video.
9. Ask people to subscribe
Having a gazillion subscribers on YouTube is great, but they won’t earn you a cent unless they’re actively engaged with your content. When it comes to monetisation it’s views that count, not how many subscribers you have. However, regularly attracting new subscribers does show YouTube that viewers are impressed by your content, and over time that will push your videos higher up the search results. And if your channel really takes off and attracts a lot of subscribers organically, you can make a motza from their views.
It’s taken a long time for our channel to build a modest number of subscribers, and strangely, the subscribers we do have are not the ones watching our videos! The vast majority of our views each month (more than 90%) come from non-subscribers. That said, we are now actively trying to recruit more subscribers and build our level of engagement with them.
There are three or four different ways you can ask a viewer to subscribe to your channel without getting annoying. You can embed a native request in the video itself, which we generally place near the beginning. You can also put a written request in the video description and add a subscribe watermark to your video through YouTube’s customisation tools. OK, that last option can get annoying if you have ‘Subscribe!’ showing in the corner all the way through your video. We use a logo instead.
Finally, you can add a YouTube Card or End Screen to your video with a prompt to subscribe. Use one or the other; both is overkill.
10. Build your views
OK, you’ve done all the customisation and your video is now live on the platform for all to see. But that’s not the end of the story. We try and get each new video up to one thousand views as quickly as possible to build momentum and get the ranking ball rolling. There are several ways you can promote your video and build views, even if you don’t have a tribe of subscribers behind you.
Embed your video in that blog post we mentioned earlier, and any other relevant pages on your website.
Email the video link to all your personal contacts and invite them to watch it (and share the link if they can).
Post the video link on your Facebook page and promote it to reach more viewers. Even a small outlay can build views fast.
If you have more than 500 subscribers on YouTube, publish a community post and invite them to watch your new video.
If you have an email database, send out the video link and incorporate a giveaway as an incentive to watch it.
YouTube can take it from there. Happy optimising!
Do you have any suggestions to add to our list of tips for optimising videos on YouTube? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Adam Ford is editor of Top Oz Tours, and a travel TV presenter, writer, blogger, and photographer. He has travelled extensively through Europe, Asia, North America, Africa, and the Middle East. Adam worked as a travel consultant for a number of years with Flight Centre before taking up the opportunity to travel the world himself as host of the TV series Tour the World on Network Ten. He loves to experience everything a new destination has to offer and is equally at home in a five-star Palazzo in Pisa or a home-stay in Hanoi.