Optimizing videos can help drive views and site visits that expand search visibility and produce rich snippets in search results. Search engine crawlers cannot view or understand video content; nonetheless, proper markup and signaling can effectively support organic visibility.

Videos hosted on YouTube

Many sites host their videos on YouTube, and Google often prioritizes YouTube videos in search results.

Rich snippets

YouTube videos are the most likely channel for getting rich snippets on results pages. Rich snippets in search results are illustrated below.

Rich snippets are a highly effective way to stand out in search results with media content. A video thumbnail, title, and description appear in search results. These features improve user experience in search results and drive engagement.

YouTube channels should be optimized for organic visibility to capture user interest through rich snippets. Although YouTube does not usually generate high volumes of referral traffic, a Youtube channel will support awareness and visibility in search.

YouTube optimizations

A YouTube channel presents multiple opportunities to target keywords, signal subject matter relevance, and generate referral traffic:

  • Title. Use keywords and terms that signal relevance to improve the affect click-through rate (CTR). Examples of the latter include: "tutorial," "how to," and interrogatives.

  • Description. Leading off with a link to the most relevant on-site page is essential to generate referral traffic from YouTube. After the link, write an extended description of the video. Unlike meta description tags, search engines crawl video descriptions to understand and rank content. In this case, the description should be in the 150-250+ word range. Ideally, these descriptions should be unique to each video and, as much as possible, unique to YouTube.

  • Tags. YouTube allows video tagging, and each video should be tagged—at a minimum—with its primary topic. Include additional tags for related topics, but limit your tags to no more than 5 additional topics.

  • Transcription. Although YouTube can auto-generate closed captions, upload a transcription of the video to avoid potential errors in speech recognition. Additionally, this transcription provides useful, non-duplicative content for the video page on your site that hosts the embedded YouTube video.

Limitations of YouTube hosting

A YouTube video optimization strategy is not expected to increase organic traffic directly to the video pages on your site. Since Google tends to prefer the YouTube domain for rich snippets, traffic cannibalization is unavoidable when embedding on your site.

The best practice in this instance is to also ensure that user traffic can move to the main site with ease wherever the video lives, and also to embed these videos on pages that present the best opportunity for keyword targeting and great user experience.

Embedded (i.e. on-site) videos

On-site videos an embedded on one of two page-types:

  • Dedicated page. The video is the central feature of this page type, and the entire page can be optimized around it.

  • Topical page. The video is one supporting element among several that work together to create a topical hub. Optimizations for these pages more closely resemble the best practices for most pages, with the addition of video markup.

Dedicated Page Optimizations

A dedicated video page will generally compete most directly against other video results in organic search. It's the best opportunity for a rich-video result from the domain on search engine results pages. The following elements should be optimized on a dedicated video page:

  • Page title. The optimized video title should be used as the meta title tag as well.

  • Meta description. This element should adhere to best practices for meta descriptions on the domain. This element is not a ranking factor, so some amount of duplication here will not affect organic ranking.

  • H1. Headers will be an important element on this page, and in this instance may match the video title.

  • Transcript. Page copy should provide a near-transcript of the video content, with considerations for the user experience. Search engines will crawl the copy as the primary source of context on the page, and additional styling and structuring through header tags will make the text more readable for users and search engines.

  • Schema markup. Google has provided a set of guidelines for marking up videos on websites so that search engines can more readily understand them and generate a rich-video result.

Topical Page Optimizations

Optimize these pages as you would any other page for organic search. The use of video schema markup for each video embedded on the page will help search engines understand the wealth of content on the page.

Schema markup

Here is Google’s set of guidelines for marking up videos on websites. An example of video structured data follows:

"@context": "http://schema.org",
"@type": "VideoObject",
"name": "Title",
"description": "Video description",
"thumbnailUrl": "thumbnail.jpg",
"uploadDate": "2015-02-05T08:00:00+08:00",
"duration": "PT1M33S",
"contentUrl": "http://www.example.com/video12...",
"embedUrl": "http://www.example.com/videopl...",
"interactionCount": "2347"

Video Sitemap

The final consideration for embedded videos is a video sitemap. This sitemap is identical in form to the existing, general sitemap, but will list only the videos. Strictly speaking, Google does not require a sitemap for YouTube videos. However, it is nonetheless a best practice and further enables a consistent approach to YouTube and non-YouTube content .

Google requires the following elements in a video sitemap:

  • Title;

  • Description;

  • Play page URL;

  • Thumbnail URL;

  • Raw video file URL and/or the video player URL.