On this week's Creator's Tip, we are going to tackle the top 10 myths for optimizing your YouTube video to make it rank higher. Some of our assertions are going to be pretty controversial but there's a lot of false info out there....OK, so what better way to make your content perform than by optimizing it and having it show up as high as possible in the YouTube (and Google) search results? But getting those high rankings isn't as easy as many "video marketers" like to claim and there are also different strategies that work for different brands and creators, depending on their vertical, the amount of competition, target audience etc. There's a lot of advice flying around; Do this! Do that! No, try this! A lot of this advice is out of date or conflicting, so we are here to put the record straight.

YouTube SEO Myth #1: You Must Add Keywords to the File Name

The first persistent myth that ReelSEO see a lot of is to always add your target keywords to your video file name before uploading it to YouTube. A lot of people think that this is the first indication that YouTube picks up on regarding the content of your video but YouTube DOESN'T CARE what your file name is!! This myth started around the time that YouTube were making some other changes to one of their algorithims and someone popped up and said, hey, adding keywords to your file name works y'all!

YouTube SEO Myth #2: Captions Make Your Video Rank Higher

Captions are valuble because they help YouTube and Google to know a little more about what to rank your video FOR, it doesn't determine how high up in the rankings it may eventually appear. The biggest factor for that is watch time. The more time people spend watching your video, the more signals that sends to YouTube to inform them that content has worth and value. A captions file may help in returning your video for a number of other results but, again, there's no guarantee where they will rank.

YouTube SEO Myth #3: Adding the Transcript & the Tags Will Help Your Video Rank Higher

Many creators think that adding the transcript of your video description helps their videos rank better. They also think that copy and pasting the meta tags they have used for their video into the description box also helps with rankings. Not true. Regarding the transcript, if you have nothing else you could possible write then adding it is better than nothing BUT it is far more valuable to write even a couple of paragraphs so your viewers know what they are about to watch and why. As for adding the tags to the description, that's actually a violation of YouTube's TOS so avoid that, it is far from best practice and could have very negative repercussions.  Plus, it’s spammy and lazy, and you are better than that.

YouTube SEO Myth #4: Likes/Dislikes Influence Rankings

This is absolutely not true and the biggest reason is that it is far too easy to game. Go on Fiver.com right now and you can buy thousands of 'thumbs up' for $5. What's more, you can buy thousands of 'thumbs down' for a rival's video. YouTube knows this and while it doesn't always stop it, it makes sure that it isn't a contributory ranking factor. However, a like in context (given alongside a share, a view, a comment etc) may have a positive impact but there are so many other factors that need to be involved. A single like or dislike on its own will make no difference.

YouTube SEO Myth #5: 'Favorites' Influence Video Rankings

So, the more people that 'favorite' my video on YouTube, the better it will perform, yes? NOPE. Why, the same reason as Myth #4, it is too easy to game. However, just like #4, there could be a positive ripple effect if a user makes a video a favorite and other users in their network pick up on that and share it, or like it or favorite it too. Nothing really works in isolation on YouTube, the site has made sure of that. So, the mere act of adding a video as a favorite doesn't have an effect, but the activity may drive discovery in the “all activity” feed on YouTube and thus lead to more watch time.

ALSO ►  Evernote: YouTube Channel Review - Through the 'Reel' Wringer

YouTube SEO Myth #6: No of Embeds Influences Search Rankings

Although it's a lovely thing to have lots of different websites embed your YouTube video on their posts and pages, it makes absolutely no difference to search rankings. This assertion does come with a caveat though. It doesn't matter if your video is embedded on 1,000 different websites, the sheer volume of embeds makes no difference, if those sites have low authority and  drive no views of your video. However, if your video gets embedded on high authority sites with lots of traffic (like ReelSEO!) and readers of those sites click play, and like, and share, then it could reflect positively on your video.

YouTube SEO Myth #7: No of Shares Influences Search Rankings

If viewers are organically sharing your video and that activity is complimented with likes, and views etc then, of course that's a very positive signal to YouTube. It can even drive watch time. However, if 1,000 Twitter Bots are sharing your video and nobody is responding then it means zilch. Sharing is also something that can be gamed very easily, and as such, taken in isolation, it really has very little value in YouTube's eyes. Save your pennies and plough them into authentic video marketing practices.

YouTube SEO Myth #8: No of Playlists Influences Search Rankings

Without trying to sound like a broken record, adding a video to a playlist won't really make a difference unless that playlist has some influence and viewers are responding to it. Adding a video to 10,000 different YouTube playlists that are never seen or interacted with is going to be a waste of time, particularly if they are all on your own channel. Adding a video to a another channel's playlist that gets views and plays is a good thing though, and to be encouraged.

YouTube SEO Myth #9: No of Subscribers Influences Search Rankings

This is a tricky myth to bust. Obviously if you have a lot of subscribers to your YouTube channel then you are more likely to drive a lot of watch time (good thing) especially in the first week after publishing. However, if you have two different videos on two different channels with the same amount of watch time, will the channel with more subscribers see their video rank higher? We can't say for certain that it's a myth, but we think it is. Why? Because it doesn't really fit in with the Google/YouTube overall search philosophy, strategy and values.

YouTube SEO Myth #10: The Age of a Video Matters

The age of a video really doesn't have any great relevance in terms of YouTube search rankings. In fact, in some cases, the older a video is, the less useful it can be to viewers. People looking for reviews of the latest Samsung smartphone aren't going to be particularly interested in a video from 4 years ago. As with the other myths, there are always exceptions to any rule and sometimes there's a positive ripple effect for videos that have been around a long time, but that's because they have accumulated a number of views, shares etc. Generally though, the age of a video is no indication of how well it's going to rank.

Bonus YouTube SEO Myth #11: More Views = Higher Rankings

In terms of authentic video metrics, view count is one of the ones you need to take with a pinch of salt. If a high number of views really mattered, then we could just order 100,000 right now for very little budget. Heck, we could order 1,000,000 views if we wanted. But, YouTube looks out for the watch time of the video, and if a high number of views were generated organically, then that watch time would matter. You could effectively out perform a higher ranking video, if your video had twice the watch time.


Video SEO is hugely important but optimize for people, not for search engines. Google and YouTube are continually moving towards what works for people, and the more that you can craft your content towards that goal, the better your videos will naturally perform.

Let us know what you think of our myth-busting in the comments below, we'd love to hear from you!

  • csharpe77

    Fantastic article. It's all about watch time these days.

    (and backlinks)

  • viveklath

    You have just thrown all the Youtube SEO steps out of the window. What does Youtube SEO really entail then? Please don't say - "Make Good Content". That is a ,most obvious, done to death statement . What are beyond the obvious SEO principles for Youtube?

  • Dave Fin

    Fantastic website and advice Mark. When you really sit back and think what YouTube is all about, which is uploading videos to entertain people, why would anything else other than viewer retention matter? Everything else is just for the search engines. Got you bookmarked and now following on Twitter, keep up the good work Mark buddy..

  • Ray Lane

    One other thing to mention. I agree that watch time is a huge factor. However, it is not by itself a determining factor. I have seen many of my videos instantly go past other videos after uploading, when the other videos had far more watch time, and mine had pretty much none (yet). These videos I am speaking of are for very niche keywords (usually product related keywords), but they will outrank other videos that already have good watch time.

  • Ray Lane

    I love the discussion, but I have to make a few criticisms about the article. In many of the myths, you don't really differentiate the difference between ranking on YouTube and ranking in Google. Despite the common parenthood, they are different in a few aspects.

    For instance, in #4 you mention that likes/dislikes don't influence rankings. In Google, I agree. However, in testing that we have done, we have found that when other factors are similar, videos with higher likes/dislikes almost always were on top. I don't think it's a major factor, but it does influence the search.

    On #1, you say that the name of the file does not make a difference. However, I have to disagree for two reasons. First, we have found that YouTube tends to index the videos extremely quickly (and Google sometimes does as well). When you upload a video, YouTube will use the name of the file as the title, until you change it. If you upload 'movie8845.mp4', you will rank for that, unless you change the title before they index the information. Granted, uploading as 'private' or 'unlisted' and only making it public once you have the titles/tags/descriptions in place will stop that from happening. However, we have also noticed on occasion that after uploading, the suggested videos will match the filename that was uploaded; meaning that they do take note of that filename.

    On #7 you mention that shares do not matter. While I agree that buying a bunch of twitter shares that nobody sees may not make a difference (even Matt Cutts recently said they don't even have a way to really follow that), shares of the video absolutely can be crucial. For instance, we have done tests with videos that aren't ranking very well, run them through social bookmarking channels, and the videos pop to page one of Google VERY fast. Sharing the video in useful places also increases the likelihood of more people seeing it. After all, YouTube themselves have social sharing buttons right on the page for a reason.

  • http://www.sethgoldstein.net/ Seth Goldstein

    What would have been nice is come alternative suggestions. For example: "This doesn't work, but doing this can help."

    • http://www.reelseo.com/ Mark Robertson

      Seth, Thanks for the feedback. We'll do our best to provide more guidance in future posts but if you read our site often, most often that's what we do is offer advice that can help.

  • Russ_Somers

    Good info, Mark. One thing that jumps out at me is how YouTube SEO principles are becoming much closer to Google SEO principles. Not a big surprise, of course. But the big takeaway becomes "make content that users value", rather than gaming views/playlists/etc (in YouTube's case) or backlinks (in Google's case). Overall it's a great direction for the industry as it means creators will be rewarded for creating useful and engaging content, rather than for gaming algorithms.

  • Voodoo Buddha

    So when you say that these are all "myths," are you refuting them based on any of the following:

    1) MOST TRUSTED: What Google has officially declared?
    2) TRUSTED: Vetted case studies?
    3) TRUST BUT VERIFY: From your own hypothesis with shared empirical research?
    4) QUESTIONABLE: Because it's just your opinion and personal preference?

    I think you could be more clear on which of these your individually stated myths fall under, so we can all be in a better position to influence our stakeholders about what they should be focusing on for SEO and overall performance goals.

    Plus keep in mind, if the goal is audience retention, then some of the things you claim to be myths really may not be, if they can be shown to improve user experience to the point of causality between increased engagement and SEO.

    • http://www.reelseo.com/ Mark Robertson

      1, 2, and 3 but not 4. Is there a particular "myth" that you have doubts about?

      • bill

        Look up term "indiana dui lawyer" in Google serp. I see a youtube video with no working phone and obvious artificially inflated page views. Please explain ranking success. Thank you.

        • http://www.reelseo.com/ Mark Robertson

          We're talking about YouTube ranking factors primarily, not Google. For Google, that's a longer story but look at their backlink profile.

  • https://www.youtube.com/user/Pokeflirt Michael Vera

    Really helpful article Mark I bookmarked this one. So what I need to do is make m videos easier for viewers to consume, instead of search bots? I'm going to read a few Reelseo articles on good description writing. Thanks :)