October 25th, 2019

Video SEO: How to Improve Your Rank and Optimize Your SERP

Non-paid traffic (i.e. all organic and referral traffic, including social, backlinks etc.) usually accounts for the best performing digital sources. In fact, SEO has ~20x more traffic opportunity than PPC on both mobile and desktop when comparing click-through rates (Moz).

In other words, search engine traffic is not just important but critical when it comes to performance. However, while organic traffic is certainly effective, it’s a long-term game where you won’t create hockey stick results overnight.

The more recent major Google algorithm updates (incl. Panda and Penguin) were developed to reward unique, compelling content and in turn tackle black hat SEO link building, low-quality content and spam.

According to backlinko, Google uses more than 200 different ranking factors in their algorithm. As such, there are many components to consider and, although still relevant, the number of backlinks, keyword density and match aren’t the only factors to consider.

However, one fact remains clear: while just adding videos to your website in itself might not improve your rankings directly (Gay Illyes, Google Webmaster Trends Analyst), it does have a very positive effect on the click-through rates due to higher prominance in the SERP. Additionally, videos can, and most often do, effect several key ranking factors and when you understand the dynamics and indirect effects you can in fact improve your overall ranking significantly:

Dwell Time and Bounce Rate: How Video Helps

Dwell time is the amount of time spent on a page accessed from the search results before returning back to the search engine result page. Most SEO professionals consider dwell time an important ranking factor.

Videos are perhaps the most engaging format to grab and capture attention. In fact, backlinko found that pages with video had a significantly lower (11%) bounce rate compared to pages without a video.

Therefore, adding relevant and captivating videos to your website, blog, product pages, etc. can have a significant impact on your overall ranking.

Social Media and Inbound Links + Video

A majority of search experts agree that rankings aren’t directly affected by social signals. While research shows that there is a correlation between links from social platforms and SERP rankings, there isn’t necessarily a causation.

Learn more about SEO and social signals from ex-Googler, Matt Cutts

However, blog posts featuring video content attract 3x as many inbound links as blog posts without video (Wordstream). The number of quality inbound links are among the top 10 essential ranking factors.

Transcripts: Video Captions Equals Additional Text

Videos are watched everywhere: in public, in transit and at the office. A Verizon 2019 report revealed that 69% of people report viewing videos without sound in public places, and that number is 25% in private places.

While transcripts are important for non-audio scenarios, it’s just as critical for SEO. Transcribing videos and adding captions enables the search bots to ‘scrape’ and index the text. In this way, the video actually provides additional text and associated relevant keywords to your page.

Video Title and Description

Video titles, tags and descriptions not only convey helpful information to viewers, but also act as metadata to search engines about what the video itself is actually about, thereby functioning basically just like the search page itself.

While you shouldn't do ‘keyword stuffing’, it’s recommended to place the primary keyword(s) in the beginning of the video title and include it in the first 50+ characters to appear in the video SERP.

The videos, when hosted on a video platform, is also a source of additional meta data apart from what is on the page itself - leading to more content indexed and thus featured on the SERP.

Prioritize Your Own Videos First

If you have several videos on your page, it’s important that you consider and prioritize the order. When crawling, search bots typically prioritize the first video they find and disregard the other embedded videos. On blogs and content pages, it’s important that you prioritize your own videos, hosted on a real video platform first and (at best) input your YouTube or Vimeo embeds later. 

"To get the full SEO potential of your videos, consider hosting videos on your own website (instead of Youtube or Vimeo). The reason for this is to get people to link back to your domain, which will help your overall SEO efforts as well. The possible downside would be reduced exposure or shares."

- Niel Patel, Neil Patel Digital

Videos hosted by a video platform will direct the traffic from SERPs directly to your website, whereas you risk promoting other brands’ videos by sending people to social video platforms if the bots prioritize YouTube embeds as the first video.

Image: Ensure your videos are what is shown and linked to on Google

Own the SERP and Improve Your CTR

The video thumbnails are, as illustrated above, the main visual element in the SERP. While the ranking of your videos, and consequently your pages, are important, it will not matter if you don’t motivate people to actually click-through to the video. A great custom video thumbnail can make all the difference.

Thumbnails are a peek into the video - like the cover of a book. Ensure that you convey the video’s main story in the thumbnail. Does the image show emotion, excitement or movement?

Video thumbnail: what works better for you: human, context, close-up?

Does it entice me to click and watch the video? What actually works for your brand might differ from other brands - it’s not an exact science, but one thing is for sure: you should test, optimize, and repeat. The right thumbnails can increase your engagement by up to 154% (Neil Patel).

Video Landing Pages

To ensure that all your videos are indexed and are ranking, make sure that your video platform has the capability to generate a unique landing page per video. This enables you to create a tailored title, description and tags to help search engines find your videos.

In June 2018, Google introduced video carousels, causing the number of SERPs to increase +60% (moz.com). For marketers, this update emphasized the importance of having a video marketing platform to host your video embeds. If you rely on social platforms such as YouTube for your embeds, you risk losing out on website traffic, and instead send all your hard earned SEO traffic to YouTube, where visitors could be distracted by ads and competitor videos.

Video: Google SERP with carousel: ensure the videos are linking to your website and video landing pages.

Search Is Intent - And So Much More

Organic search traffic is powerful because it often shows user intent, where people are actively looking for a product like yours. However, when creating video content and optimizing for SEO, marketers often forget to also cater for the more the information-seeking searches. Search can become an even more powerful tactic if marketers leverage this and also cater for the searches taking place earlier in the user journey.

Image: The 4 Different Stages of Search (Search Engine Watch).

In this phase, hard-hitting purchase offers, with “BUY NOW” calls-to-action might not be the right fit. However, using video collectors (i.e. form overlays on videos), we’ve seen conversion rates ranging from 4% to 10% on ‘softer’ offers, such as newsletter sign-ups and content downloads.

Online video content is heavily underutilized in the world of SEO. Therefore, this presents a real opportunity for marketers to not only drive more quality traffic to their website, but to also increase conversion rates and consequently revenue.

Want to learn more about video and SEO? Hear from Rand Fishkin, Founder and former CEO of Moz, elaborate on the 6 Steps to Mastering Video SEO: