As one of the biggest search engines on the internet, YouTube is the first place many people go to if they need to learn how to do something. Want to learn how to make portrait photography pop in Photoshop? Looking for a tutorial on how to speed-solve a Rubik’s cube? Need to learn how to replace a broken electrical outlet without killing yourself? YouTube has you covered on all these fronts and many, many more.
How-to videos rely on YouTube’s search engine more than most other content on the site. People are looking for an answer to a specific question, and the top-ranking videos help provide the solution. However, if you’re a YouTuber who makes this kind of educational content, how are you supposed to compete with all these other videos already ranking in YouTube’s search results?
Focus on optimizing videos for human viewers rather than the Algorithm gods.
As the YouTube algorithm continually shifts and evolves, SEO becomes tougher to game. For instance, channel Creator Insider recently revealed that tags on YouTube don’t mean much of anything these days regarding how your videos rank in search. With these changes, it’s becoming increasingly more important to focus on optimizing videos for human viewers rather than the Algorithm Gods.
Some best practices will always ring true. Clear, high-quality thumbnails will get more people interested in clicking on your videos. Keeping content fresh and relevant to your audience can help maximize views. Also, performing keyword research with tools like Google Trends, vidIQ or TubeBuddy will help you get a grasp on what kinds of terms and phrases people are searching for regarding your specific topic.
However, let’s take a slightly different approach. How can you reach real people by optimizing your channel to help real people?
Make Titles Dynamic to Pitch Your Value
For instructional videos, it can be tempting to go with straightforward titles. For example, if you have a channel teaching men’s fashion, a video titled “How To Keep Your Shirt Tucked In” might perform okay. However, adding more colorful language can help your video stand out.
The channel Real Men Real Style titled their video about this subject “4 Secrets To Keeping Your Shirt Tucked In ALL DAY,” and it’s amassed over 11 million views! Adding “Secrets” makes it feel like the viewer is missing info that only this video can unlock, and the phrase “ALL DAY” helps tell a story and emphasizes (in all caps, even) the effectiveness of the tutorial.
Dynamic titles like this can help your video stand out while pitching the value more effectively than competing videos.
People want answers, and they want them fast.
Answer Their Question to Improve Your Watch time
The past few years have hammered in the importance of accumulating watch time on your channel by creating longer videos that engage viewers, but this can be risky for how-to content. If you bore people with long, rambly intros and don’t begin to answer their question quickly, they’ll probably click away and find another video. People want answers, and they want them fast.
If you can engage viewers throughout the whole length of a long video, great! However, if it’s tedious, repetitive or just plain boring, that could lead to a high rate of people abandoning the video, which signals to YouTube that people aren’t finding it useful, so it likely won’t rank as high in search. Sometimes, having a shorter, straight-to-the-point tutorial may be more beneficial. It may counter-intuitively accumulate more watch time than a longer video simply because viewers find it clearer and more helpful than another channel’s excessively long tutorial.
With everything, it depends on the type of instructional video you’re making. Sometimes a deep dive is warranted. Other times, people want a quick fix. A good practice is to make each video as long as it needs to be, and not a second longer. Know your target audience, scope out the competition and use your best judgment. But never, ever needlessly pad a video for more watch time.
Provide Captions to Increase Your Reach
If you want a leg-up on your competition, add captions to your instructional video. Captions have tons of benefits! They make your video more accessible to those with partial or total hearing loss and non-native speakers of the language of your video. They also help people who comprehend instructions better by reading, which is super beneficial for how-to content. You can also look through your analytics to see what countries are watching your videos and order subtitles in the languages spoken in those parts of the world, making your videos even more accessible to a broader audience.
You can type out captions yourself directly on YouTube, order them from a service like Rev.com or ask your fans to contribute community captions and subtitles if they speak other languages.
Ranking in search for an instructional video means answering a specific question someone was searching for. It’s an inherently human-centric slice of YouTube. Don’t get lost in trying to game the algorithm. Make engaging, clear, helpful videos for real humans who are already out there typing in a question that you can answer better than anyone else.