PMG Digital Made for Humans

YouTube Video Optimization Best Practices

7 MINUTE READ | July 27, 2017

YouTube Video Optimization Best Practices

Author's headshot

Kara Eccleston

Kara Eccleston has written this article. More details coming soon.

YouTube users make up one-third of the internet and they watch one billion hours of video content per day. That’s a lot of video content, which means it’s harder for brands’ YouTube content to be found organically. Not only do they need to produce great content, but that video content needs to be optimized just like any other digital asset. Unfortunately, many brands have the attitude, “If we upload it, they will come” only to see their channels turn into a desolate wasteland of unwatched videos. Organic discovery begins with optimizing these essential video elements:

YouTube is the second-largest search engine in the world and relies on metadata to index and understand videos. Just like web pages have titles and descriptions, so do YouTube videos. To maximize your presence in search and suggested videos, optimizing metadata is a must.

Youtube video metadata


Titles should be descriptive enough for YouTube’s search engine to find them and compelling enough for users to click on your video. Think about how people would search for your video and include language that is natural and conversational versus stuffing the title with keywords.

Best Practices for Video Titles:

  • Keep titles around 70 characters to avoid truncation. Videos are more likely to be truncated in gridview than listview, so keep that in mind.

  • The most descriptive and relevant words or phrases (think keywords) should be placed at the beginning of the title.

  • Descriptors like episode number, series name, and branding should be towards the end of the title.

  • Videos should be named accurately to deter drop offs in viewership. Click-baity titles may get users to your video, but they won’t get them to stay very long. Clicks aren’t an important ranking ranking factor but video watch time is so avoid misleading titles.

  • Keep track of search trends and update titles periodically so they continue to grab views.


A strong description explains what the audience should expect from the video and helps YouTube’s algorithms make sense of your content. Descriptions are also important for users by providing additional context for your video.

how to write a video description

Best Practices for Video Descriptions:

  • The first 1-2 sentences of your description are the most important because they appear in the search results. Ensure that the intro to your description is both compelling and captivating.

  • After describing your video, include a CTA (such as subscribing or checking out the rest of your channel) as well as helpful links (product links, where to find additional information, related playlists, etc.).

  • Include additional information related to your video such as products mentioned, credits, etc.

  • Depending on the video format and length, include time-codes so that users can easily navigate to important parts of your video (this works especially well for how-tos and tutorials).

  • Include a boilerplate at the end of your video descriptions that includes a brief description of your channel, as well as a link to your website and social links.

  • However, be aware that outbound links can have a negative impact on watch time.


Tags are descriptive keywords and phrases that will help people find your videos. You can apply a set of tags to videos, playlists,  as well as your overall YouTube channel.

Best Practices for Video Tags:

  • Include a mix of both general and specific tags.

  • Include keywords from your title in your video’s tags.

  • Use as many tags as possible to accurately describe your content without being spammy.

  • Use tags to build playlists. You can have videos automatically added to a playlist based on a tag the video contains.

View a videos tags by viewing the source code on the watch page and look for the meta property “og:video:tag”

Thumbnails are the second most important factor (the first being titles) for driving click through rate. They show up in different sizes and formats all across the platform and outside of it. Make sure thumbnails are visually compelling and complement the title. Do not use misleading thumbnails as this could hurt average watch time.

video thumbnail example

Together, the Title and Thumbnail should tell a story and look good at any size or resolution.

Best Practices for video Thumbnails

  • Always upload custom thumbnails with the video file instead of using the default options.

  • The thumbnail should be legible at all sizes and resolutions

  • The foreground should be distinguishable from the background.

  • Accurately represent the content

  • Use visual cues (colors, images, shapes, personalities) that are consistent with your brand

  • When shooting a video, take shots that will make great thumbnails.

  • The thumbnail should give the user some kind of indication what the video is about

Captions make your videos accessible to those who are hard of hearing and also serves as additional metadata. This extra metadata helps YouTube’s discovery systems surface your video to global audiences across 76 different countries by ​allowing people to translate your videos into other languages.

closed captions

Best Practices for Video Captions

  • Turn captions on by default

  • Edit automatically generated captions for improved accuracy (don’t rely too heavily on auto-generated captions as these can be pretty erroneous).

  • Use YouTube’s transcribe and sync tool.

  • Ensure that the captions are correctly timed and synced with your video.

In-video messaging features like cards and end screens allow you to make your videos more interactive as well as add a strong call to action.  Use in-video messaging to drive views and encourage watch time.


Cards are a way to complement your video’s content and enhance the viewer experience with contextually relevant information. An icon at the top right of the video will appear (sometimes accompanied by a teaser). Clicking the icon will expand the card. They can also be used to encourage your viewers to engage with your video and take meaningful actions as a result. Unlike annotations, cards work on mobile devices. Videos can have up to 5 cards.

video cards

Best Practices for Video Cards:

  • Drive viewers to your other videos, playlists and channel.

  • When appropriate, set cards to open a new window when clicked so viewers aren’t taken away from a video too soon.

  • Make sure cards are delivering additional value to your viewer

  • Offer viewers suggestions on what to watch next (but do this towards the end of the video)

  • Use compelling teaser text to encourage clicks and time them correctly

End Screens

End screens can appear during last 5-20 seconds of a video. It used to be that video creators how to create custom end slates and incorporate them when editing videos and markup them up with clickable annotations before uploading. This meant that there was no was to go back and add end slates if the video was not originally uploaded with one. Now, YouTube has that feature built into the platform. End screens allow you to promote up to four elements. These elements may include promoting other videos, playlists, or channels,  or a call for subscriptions.

video end screen

End Screen Best Practices

  • Drive viewers to your other videos, playlists and channel

  • Offer viewers suggestions on what to watch next

  • Showcase related videos or playlists

  • In production, allow enough time at the end of your video to accommodate the end screen.

Playlists allow you to organize thematically similar videos and serial content. Utilizing playlists is important for two reasons: 1.) they help improve watch time and 2.) are an additional asset that can show up in search and suggest videos.

video playlists

Best Practices for Playlists

  • Make sure serial content is arranged sequentially

  • Group thematically related videos together and have your top performing videos start at the beginning of the playlist

  • Consider building playlists based off big moments and tent-pole events

  • Don’t limit playlists to just your own content. You can curate videos from other channels as well

  • Optimize the playlist metadata (title, tags, description) and thumbnail to help people find your playlist and to add additional context.

  • Feature playlists in your channel sections

  • Maximize playlist exposure by promoting them with in-video messaging and channel descriptions.

Video Optimization is Just the First Step

Stay in touch

Bringing news to you

Subscribe to our newsletter

By clicking and subscribing, you agree to our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy

At the end of the day, you can’t optimize bad content. These organic optimizations will give your videos a shot at organic discovery but that is just the start of building a successful YouTube channel. You’ll also need to consider your content strategy and channel programming to start building an audience.