A Guide to Targeting Keywords on YouTube

Written by Devin Sizemore

February 15, 2019

YouTube, the second largest search engine after Google, processes more than 3 billion searches per month. In order to help users find the content they are searching for, YouTube prioritizes 4 key categories when ranking a video:

  1. Video Popularity – Number of views
  2. Video Title – Insert keywords here
  3. Video Description – Insert more keywords here
  4. Video Rating – Likes vs. dislikes

When you create a video, you may be hyper focused on the topic and content, but not necessarily how to present your video so that searchers will find it.

With 400 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute, a great video won’t do much for you if it gets lost in all that clutter.

That’s why choosing the right keywords on YouTube is really, really important.

In this post, we’ll discuss some ways you can determine the best keywords to target for your videos, how keyword research can help inform your content strategy, and how you can optimize your videos so that they stand out and people find them.

Why Target Keywords on YouTube?

Searches on YouTube differ from Google searches because the user’s intent is different, so your strategy for identifying the right keywords and optimizing your content appropriately should be different.

YouTube searches focus on in-the-moment queries that are often conducted from a mobile phone. Over 90% of smartphone users turn on their devices to get ideas while performing a task. Searches related to “how to” are growing by over 70% year over year.

Since many people use YouTube while they’re in the middle of a task, creators are challenged with making sure their video is at the top of the search results during the critical moment when the user is searching.

Home Depot uses How-To videos to reach consumers of all skill levels and at all phases of the purchase process.

how to getr rid of mold

Image Source: YouTube

In-the-moment videos aren’t restricted to B2C advertisers. A recent LinkedIn study revealed that B2B marketers view video as the most important creative content format.

Google’s G Suite, a platform of cloud-based productivity tools aimed at businesses, uses YouTube to answer a range of customer questions.

gsuite pro

Image Source: YouTube

Google has an entire YouTube channel dedicated to its G Suite filled with how-to videos, customer stories, and advanced developer tips.

How to Identify the Best Keywords on YouTube

Once you’ve decided to jump on board the YouTube keyword bandwagon, you’ll want to identify the right keywords to reach your target customer. Unfortunately, this isn’t a very straightforward process.

Google shut down its YouTube keyword forecast tool back in 2014, so as of now there is no official source to help creators estimate keyword search volume. But that doesn’t mean it’s not possible. Here are a few approaches we recommend.

  • Use Google’s keyword planner. Since many video and how-to searches begin at Google.com (as opposed to YouTube), you can get an idea of search volume from Google’s keyword planner. The keyword planner is only available to advertisers, but don’t let that stop you. You can create a Google Ads account without launching ads in order to gain access to the tool.

find new keywords

Image Source: Google Ads

The keyword planner provides search volume trends, which can be narrowed down by location. You can also get search volume and performance forecasts for your keywords, which Google gleans from historical metrics.

  • Use a third-party tool. If you don’t already have a Google Ads account and don’t want to go through the trouble of creating one, there are a lot of third party tools you can use to get keyword ideas and estimates.

One of our favorites is Long Tail Pro, especially when you’re looking for long tail keywords. Long Tail Pro also allows you to research your competitors’ keywords. (This is another great way to come up with topic ideas for your content.)

  • Use YouTube autocomplete to spark ideas. Whenever you search for something on YouTube, a variety of queries are suggested to autocomplete the search. YouTube gets the suggestions from the most popular searches.

This is a screenshot of the autocorrect suggestions that YouTube provided for the query “how to calculate ROI.”

calculate roi

Keyword Intelligence Informs Content Strategy

As we discussed, keyword research can (and should) be used to help you identify the optimal terms to target in your video’s title and description. But it’s also incredibly helpful when trying to identify topics to focus on for new videos.


Long Tail Pro produces a list of keywords, search volume, bid amounts, and more when you supply the tool with your targeted query.  
Fourth on the list is the term, “affiliate marketing for dummies.” Though this is a basic topic, it’s one that will potentially put a digital marketing agency in front of people searching for providers of this service. It can also help establish their expertise.

Optimize Your Videos

As noted above, the 4 key factors to YouTube’s ranking algorithm are video popularity (determined by the number of views), keywords in the video title and description, and likes/dislikes.

The foundation of your video optimization strategy should, therefore, include writing keyword-rich titles and descriptions. You should also consider the popularity of a given topic.

It may not always be feasible to identify a trending topic to associate with your product or service (particularly in the B2B space), but it’s always good to understand search volume and user intent.

If you have a media budget, you can also promote your videos using Google Ads. Depending on the video ad format, advertisers can show video ads based on words or phrases related to a YouTube video, YouTube channel, or type of website that their audience is interested in.

Promoted videos show up in search results as recommended videos in certain categories or within longer videos. This is a great way to increasing your view count, which, again, is a ranking factor on YouTube.


YouTube is as much a search engine as Google, Bing, and Yahoo!. It operates by using algorithms to serve up content that people are actively searching for.

Targeting keywords thoughtfully and with user intent in mind can make the difference between your video showing up at the top of YouTube or Google’s search results or getting lost in the shuffle.

About the Author

Ryan GuoldRyan Gould is theVice President of Strategy and Marketing Services of Elevation Marketing.

From legacy Fortune 100 institutions to inventive start-ups, Ryan brings extensive experience with a wide range of B2B clients. He skillfully architects and manages the delivery of integrated marketing programs and believes strongly in strategy, not just tactics, that effectively aligns sales and marketing teams within organizations.

Ryan is known for taking complex marketing and business challenges and developing solutions that simplify processes while driving customer outcomes and business value. He also thrives on guiding Elevation teams toward execution of strategies that help companies succeed in new verticals, while staying true to core values and brand integrity.

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  1. Alexandre Fuchs

    Thanks for you article.
    But you didn’t speak about the watch time. What is his importance on our Video ? What is the balance between Keywords and watch time and how to mesure it ?
    Thanks again !

  2. trafficinbound digital marketing

    Thanks for posting this helpful post. We have found that our youtube channel is doing better in getting new clients rather then our blog posts. As a long tail pro user, this suggestion would definitely help us to acquire more clients. We are wondering, if on the detail section we see more videos on the first 10 results, does that mean we can get videos of us ranked for that keyword easier as well? Waiting for your response


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