Many of us here at ReelSEO are still settling back into our routines following the awesome SMX West convention in San Jose earlier this month. We shared some of our opinions and knowledge, made some new friends, and picked up a lot of great insight. One session in particular stood out as something we needed to share with our readers--the Deadeye Video SEO & Winning Universal SERPs presentation from aimClear's Manny Rivas.

Manny and his aimClear team conducted a pretty awesome study into what factors impact whether or not a particular video shows up in universal search results. There were a lot of great nuggets in this session, and while I probably can't do it proper justice, I'm going to try.

Why Universal Search Matters For Video

Universal search matters for every kind of content you might be trying to promote, and that includes video. In layman's terms, universal search is the rolling of results from other search verticals into the main results--news, social media, books, shopping, and of course... video.

Videos in universal search results have a 41% higher click through rate than their plain text counterparts. Yikes. Most of us knew those were coveted spots, but I'm not sure we knew exactly how much attention they command from the average search user.

Videos are typically included in Google's universal SERPs in what are called "two-pack," "three-pack," and "four-pack" formations (though there are other, more rare, alignments). Here's a screenshot of a two-pack formation, from a search for the word "football":

How To Get Your Videos Ranking In Universal Search Results: A Video SEO Study twopack 600x549

And here's one of a four-pack--this search was for the word "tsunami":

How To Get Your Videos Ranking In Universal Search Results: A Video SEO Study fourpack 600x469

Bing displays videos in universal SERPs almost exclusively in four-packs that look like this one (returned for a search on "snowboarding trick"):

How To Get Your Videos Ranking In Universal Search Results: A Video SEO Study bingfourpack 600x498

Now think about the billions of videos that exist online (and that's just using YouTube's count), and the sheer enormity of video content being uploaded to the web every minute... and when it comes to universal search, they're all competing for the same two or four spots. But only the chosen few can claim those spots--and aimClear wants to understand more about how that works.

The aimClear Study - Universal Search & Video Results

aimClear's study covered over a thousand search terms from 24 different categories. They got their keywords from platforms--using things like YouTube's keyword research tools to find the most-searched words and phrases), and then ran them all through both Bing and Google to see what kinds of videos showed up in universal search results for each term.

They marked every instance of a video--whether it was in a two-pack formation or a four-pack formation, etc.--58% of the videos returned were in two-pack formations. Finally, they compared back against how those videos were ranking on their own native portal sites.

What they found is that there appear to be 3 main factors impacting a video's chances of showing up in universal search:

1. What Platform Is Used

Does the platform you choose to upload your video to impact it's ability to rank in universal SERPs? Heck yeah. Bigtime. YouTube dominates the universal SERPs at Google--though there are some other platforms with some traction. Check it out:

How To Get Your Videos Ranking In Universal Search Results: A Video SEO Study aimclear1 600x453

Over at Bing, it's a little more even--though YouTube still has the edge:

How To Get Your Videos Ranking In Universal Search Results: A Video SEO Study aimclear2 600x455

So as much as the other platforms might not want to hear it--if universal search is important to you, you'd better be thinking YouTube. It's also interesting to point out how much favoritism each search engine shows its own sister video platform, though not the least bit surprising.

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2. Ranking Factors Within The Platform

Does the ranking of a video on its original platform (for instance, within YouTube's own search results) impact its ability to be included in universal results? Absolutely it does. This is a short but crucial finding from the study: aimClear says that nearly 100% of the videos returned in universal SERPs also ranked on the first page on their native platform.

To me, that reads like this: if you don't rank well on your video's own platform, you can kiss universal search position goodbye. That's not to say a high ranking on YouTube results guarantees a universal search placement... it doesn't. But it appears to be a prerequisite.

3. Keyword Intent

Keyword intent appears to play a huge role in whether or not a video ends up included in universal SERPs. aimClear found that videos optimized for transactional keywords (those including words like "buy," "cheap," "free," or "sale") perform very poorly where universal search is concerned. That's important to make note of, because a lot of businesses trying to rank well with video are still convinced these types of phrases appeal to buyers. And they may... but they won't help with universal search.

Informational keywords, on the other hand, are what you want to focus on. These would be phrases that are comparative (this versus that), instructional ("how to" or "learn"), and educational ("what is" or "history of").

Navigational keywords and phrases showed mixed results. These are phrases that typically include website addresses, brand names, and brand descriptions. aimClear notes that it appears to depend on the brand. That tells me that most of us should stay away from navigational words, because we're most likely not doing video marketing work for the world's top brands--though I'm sure some of us are.

Here's a screenshot of how frequently the various keyword types return video in universal SERPs:

How To Get Your Videos Ranking In Universal Search Results: A Video SEO Study aimclear3 600x456

When titling your videos, or adding tags and annotations, stick to the more informational keywords and phrases, and try to be intentional about steering clear of transactional phrases.


There are no guarantees, of course, but if you're hoping to see a video included in universal SERPs, you'd be wise to follow this checklist:

  • Upload the video to a prominent platform (I continue to be a fan of cross-posting on multiple platforms to maximize potential audience size and overall reach).
  • Do everything in your power to rank that video well on the platform's own search results.
  • Avoid transactional keywords and phrases traditionally designed to trigger a sale, and instead focus on informational words for your title, tags, and even your script (captions).
  • Make great videos--this is not from aimClear's study, but still seems like good advice to me. With universal SERP real estate being so valuable, I doubt Google or Bing are going to let it become infected with poor quality video anytime soon.

Many thanks to Manny and aimClear for doing the dirty work on this study, and then turning around and sharing the findings with us all (and also for allowing us to use screenshots from their presentation). While the inner workings of universal search will probably always be a bit of a mystery, these findings definitely shed significant light on the process and help guide us toward more effective strategies.

  • Technopsis

    Dear ReelSeo,Thank you so much for this post - it is very insightful. I do however have a problem which confuses me a lot. In a random search query on 'tennis swing instrucion' i get 4 videos in the Google generic SERPs. I was expecting the video with the most views and thumbs up and backlinks and what not to rank the highest but I found something disturbing. Here are my findings on the videos ranked one to four:Video 1 - Video 2 - Video 3 - Video 4Views 91437 -  195279 - 213569 -  614189Ratings 114//98 positive 96//91 positive 830//812 positive 353//323 positiveComments 17 - 34 - 129 - 100Favourites 109 324 731 872Date uploaded 2009 2008 2010 2008Inbound links 19 approx. 40 approx. 130 approx. 128 approx.Im sorry for the crappy markup, but i guess you get the gist of it. I took a look at the backlinks they were receiving but I couldnt find anything worth mentioning on pagerank from the links etc. I am still baffled by these results and dont know why the rankings are not the other way around. Any idea how this is possible? I'm doing a small VSEO research for my graduation and really hope you can help on this one.Thanks

  • homebasedbiz67

    absolutely it will work for you.  The key is the SEO approaches you use to make that video hit your targets.  Just making a video alone and loading it to Youtube does not promise a great position on the web.  But key wording, tagging, and SEOing the video will result in unbelievable success. 

  • reelseo

     @rezflow Yeah, and it aint going to happen here  Nice try

  • reelseo

     @rezflow Yeah, and it aint going to happen here  Nice try

  • Roofing Windham Maine

    I need to know if I should be spending time on marketing videos for a roofing company? Do the conversions meet the effort, and what are some time saving techniques to market the videos so they rank well in local niche.

    • homebasedbiz67

      absolutely it will work for you.  The key is the SEO approaches you use to make that video hit your targets.  Just making a video alone and loading it to Youtube does not promise a great position on the web.  But key wording, tagging, and SEOing the video will result in unbelievable success. 

  • Ray Lane

    @Estefano d'Elano a video on your site with a site map is a bit like blasting the video out to all the video sites, it's an extra video that may get ranked. As a best practice, upload the video to all the top sites (find someone on fiverr that uses traffic geyser) and put it on your site with a site map.

  • Kris DjKrayzk Mullins

    Great content, very useful!

  • Bill Knight

    Video quality will always outscore poor videos. Video marketing shouldn't be about blatant advertising, instead it should be about providing information. Think website... think video!

  • Anonymous

    Users always prefers to watch rather than reading long content. I accept that Youtube videos rank on SERP. However, when I hosted videos of my website on Youtube they disappeared from SERP. So, I decided to get them back on my website and still struggling to get them on SERP. Is there something which I am missing?

  • Estefano d’Elano

    Great Article - I have a VERY important question...does that mean that if I do Video SEO by hosting videos on a service like and I generate a video sitemap...that I am off worse? Should I host all videos of my homepage then better on youtube directly than on something like vistia?


  • Terrence Smythe


  • Charles Grinbaum

    good article. I d alot of video for established and not so established companies. Interesting how many think their videos are going to go viral...when all they are doing is advertising their product. I have and will continue to push my clients into making videos that just don't advertise... but add value to the viewer.

  • ERL Media Corporation

    Did you know that videos in universal search results have a 41% higher click through rate than their plain text?

    Source: How To Get Your Videos to Rank in Universal Search: A Video SEO Study
    ©2008-2011 Online Video Guide.

  • Shag

    Hey guys. Trying to seo a roofing company. One of my competitors has been ranking everyone of his YouTube videos under all kinds of keywords. He has a few backlinks to his main site. I don't think the back linking is a factor to the videos. The reason I say that is because he has about 20 domains he point link back to the main site but he doesn't have any links toss the main domain. Has anyone have any researched or updated info on the serp video question?

  • Ross Mason

    Great article! Demonstrates how important techniques like Video SEO and video sharing can be to the success of your video's visibility... but also, in the end one of the most important distinctions will be how well you present yourself!

  • Anthony Rawls

    Very informative for people who like me are into YouTube videos and SEO.

  • Simon Spykerman

    Great Article. Where does it leave sites that charge for quality hosting, like Brightcove? Could it be that the sheer volume of videos on YouTube verses other site skews the meaning of the results. Comscore showed 39.5% of videos shared in Jan 2010 were from Google sites (99% from YouTube) and the next largest was Hulu with just 2.8%. Could that be main reason 84% SERPs are YouTube?

  • Terry Van Horne

    Good stuff here. I'd add that for tracking Universal SERPs try Authority Labs. You can actually get SERP history once it's turned on. One thing to remember is all Universal SERPs change their makeup. May have videos today and not tomorrow and their ranks can flutuate. Avoiding the types of queries mentioned is a good idea but it is still a good idea to check the SERP

  • adina111

    Thanks for an interesting and informative post! I would like to hear more about vseo and localized videos. We (in the western world, that is) are using English and YT is an obvious choice for uploading our videos. But what about Chinese or Spanish videos? Where do local users in China/South America go to when looking for videos?

  • Arnold Santos

    Thanks for the sharing, I am 3 years search engine optimization specialist and let me said i am too late for the video optimization

  • Josh Grillo

    Interesting info on the transactional keywords. Never really thought about that.

    I personally think the real key is consistency on your keyword use especially if your targeting competitive keywords with 1 million plus listings on Google. Your Youtube channel needs to have your keyword. The gmail address that you set your youtube account with needs to have your keyword. Your video needs to be saved as your keyword. Upload your video to youtube and then put the keyword in the title, description and tags. Then run backlinks to your youtube url.

    I have found this strategy to work extremely well.

  • Robert Bucci

    Google and Bing know that it's good INFORMATION that wins sales. After all, their customers are searching for information. Thanks to aimClear, this closely guarded video ranking secret is now public knowledge. The remaining differentiator is QUALITY VIDEO. Thanks, Jeremy, for another great article.

  • Ronnie Bincer

    Nice Article! Informational titles & tags sounds good. I wonder if the informational-type phrases are searched for less often in Google which is why you have a better chance on getting the 2-pack. I know that using Geo-locators in titles are a great way to get thumbnails, but the amount of searches with those Geo-locators is far less. Of course numbers don't always tell the whole story as searches with Ge-locators seem to have a better chance of converting.

    Re. 2-pack video choices vs. the video platform's search results. Some of the discrepancy may come from the date of the video as well. Older ones may rank higher in YouTube with higher view counts, but the more recent ones may show in the Universal SERP. No real data to back this up, just a hunch.

  • Cary Duke

    1. I concur with the video ranking first for the selected keyword in YT
    2. I also concur with distributing the video to multiple platforms

    I am a local search guy and continuously rank my videos on page one of Google serps for my geo rich keywords, so I am not sure about the "informational" aspect of the keywords being correct.

    I notice that often times metacafe and others are picked up by Google serps faster than YT, but once YT does get pick-up, it is often the leading video.

    Great report and confirms my own results...mostly.

  • gerryoginski

    Jeremy, I'd be interested to know how the video search engines consider the # of views a video has in order to rank the video. Clearly the criteria you mention above are crucial. However, there are always people trying to game the system by getting bots (or paying for human clicks) to increase the total # of views a video gets.

    Assuming all informational tags/titles are good, do you think the popularity of each video will play an impact on how it shows up on specific platforms?

  • Frank Adams

    I really had a hard time doing search engine optimization in my blog. But it worked just fine and i involved a little marketing in my blog for added effect. I actually, used advancedwebads' unlimited banner impressions and click flat rate monthly service to back me up. Anyways, thanks for sharing this post. This is really informative.

  • easyvseo

    Ok - I will ad my 2 cents worth.

    I have noticed that videos that do show for universal results do not always rank number one in the pure video results. Sometimes its the video in positon 4 or 5 thats blended. Its not a simple case of whatever is number one in video will be the one blended.

    I would suggest that the only reason YouTube shows more readily is because most peoples content is on YouTube and either not on any other platform - or if it is, its not being submitted correctly for indexing. When content is submitted correctly I have seen plenty of standalone sites compete and outrank YouTube. Youtube is obviously great for pure volume but you are restricted in terms of control - and of course you are not going to benefit from the traffic directly even if you do get a thumb in universal results.

  • TomBreezeTV

    This is a fantastic blog post - concise, informative and you've given useful guidelines. Thank you so much!

    • JeremyScott

      Thanks. Glad you enjoyed it.

  • Jeff Martin

    Manny did a good job presenting this at SMX. Two things I'd like to mention:

    1. I've observed that when videos are featured (like a 2-pack) in Universal Results the two video displayed aren't necessarily ranked #1 or #2 on their respective platforms for the given query (but it sure can't hurt!). There is a good chance that backlinks/social signals are at play here.

    2. I too recommend uploading to wherever you can to gain views, however you should focus your linking/social efforts around one platform (maybe two) in order to achieve the most impact. While video has seemed to float somewhat under the radar in regards to seeing one video occupy more than 1 spot in a pack, I wouldn't recommend that as a long-term strategy.

  • MainSpring Video

    Wow, thanks for the article. Good information to know-- post on multiple platforms, but Youtube is best. The most useful take-away advice I got? Focus on informational words for your title & tags, and MAKE GREAT VIDEOS. It seems like obvious, back to basics advice, but it's so easy to get caught up in the details and to forget to keep it simple. Great reminder!