YouTube video covers and titles might be what grab your attention but descriptions are where the search engine shines. YouTube SEO is quite similar in concept to how you would write for a blog post or website page: titles are important but so are the details. The more you understand video SEO, the more likely your video will show up in the search results. That being said, writing great YouTube descriptions does not negate poor video content. Descriptions will get your viewer to your video but your video still needs to hold up its end of the quality bargain.
The two different YouTube descriptions
Two types of YouTube descriptions exist: one for the channel and one for the video itself. Most of the tips listed here apply to the video description but some, like using the right keywords, are applicable to the channel description, too.
Channel descriptions summarize what you should expect from the channel. Much like how a company boilerplate is written, a channel name is repeated a few times, along with a few keywords that should be associated with the channel.
Video descriptions tell you far more details on what to expect from the video, can include related links and will also use repeating keywords. You have a lot more room to be descriptive for videos and those first few lines are important to viewers.
Why are YouTube descriptions important?
When you use a search engine or YouTube’s native search, many factors play into how your video shows up in the results. YouTube descriptions are one of those factors. If your video description contains popular search terms or their associated keywords, it is more likely to show up in results and in the sidebar for related videos. If you’re familiar with how website SEO works, think of this as the meta description.
However, it doesn’t mean you should keyword stuff your description. People still read YouTube descriptions and click through important links. Here are a few tips on how to write some great YouTube descriptions.
Make your video description match your video title
The video title has about 75 characters where you can instantly grab a viewer’s attention. Whatever you use for keywords should be present in your title and used a few more times throughout the description itself.
In the example above, Star Trek aims at keywords “Star Trek” and “video effects” in both the title and the description. The description does go on further than the screenshot but you can tell in just the first few paragraphs how it would be very difficult for a search engine to miss that this video is about Star Trek video effects.
1. Make those first 200 characters count
Yes, the full description is important but what’s even more important are those first 200 characters. You get 5000 characters to be wordy but those first 200 are the ones that show up in search results and “above the fold.” In YouTube’s case, it’s approximately the first line or what displays above the “show more” expansion.
The first line should include the most important keywords that you want to be associated with the video and written in a way that grabs a viewer’s attention. Much like how one would write a Tweet, headline and copywriting tips apply here, too.
2. Repeat video keywords
As hinted at before, keywords are important in both SEO and in YouTube video descriptions. Whether you’re writing for an existing video or researching which ones are best for your channel, Google’s Keyword planner tool comes in handy for keyword research.
A few keywords are all you need and once those are identified for your video, make sure they’re sprinkled throughout your description.
3. Add complementary keywords
Think you’re done with keywords? Think again. You still need to consider the complementary ones, which are additional keywords that are similar to the first targeted set. For example, you might search for “eco-friendly products” but additional keywords could include “green,” “earth” and “zero waste.” These are synonymous and adding these will help YouTube understand how your video could be associated with “green products,” too.
4. Add call-to-action words & links
It’s wise — and best practice — to link your social media handles in your YouTube descriptions. And separate from sharing those links are the ones associated with the video. These links can be calls-to-action to read a blog post, purchase a product or general additional information. If you mention several products in your video and your viewers often ask about them, it’s a good idea to put those links in the descriptions.
In the above example, Red Bull links not just their On Demand apps but also the two people who are involved in the video itself. To go further, their own link and additional social media ones further down, are shortened and branded for easy analytic tracking.
5. Add default video upload settings
Are you tired of copying and pasting the same 10 lines that you include with every video? Add a default setting to your description that can show up without your manual addition. Most often, these include your company’s description, calls to subscribe and social media follow links.
6. Write like a human not a robot
Who wants to read a description stuffed to the brim with repeating keywords? That’s frustrating to both read and write. Use the first 200 characters to hook the viewer in and the rest of the space to be more informative. Web copywriting tips like keeping sentences short, sweet and understandable are useful here.
In the above description, Living Big In A Tiny House writes the main paragraphs as a narrative of tiny living and provides basic details about the tiny home shown in the video. They could’ve easily not included these words but having them adds to the video appeal.
7. Add a few hashtags
Like keywords, hashtags are there to help other viewers find your video. These hashtags appear above the video title and can be added anywhere within the video description. It’s recommended to keep hashtags to just a few important ones so someone reading the description doesn’t get turned off by a mass of them.
In the example above, Sephora wrote the major three hashtags to include their brand name, the product’s brand name and the product category. Additional hashtags are also searchable terms associated with the hashtag. You’ll note that the words used in the hashtags also show up in the video’s title and elsewhere in the description. Keep in mind when using hashtags with multiple words or phrases to write them in title case so screen readers can recognize each word.
8. Match your social voice
Remember when we talked about writing like a human? Your brand’s social media voice should also be taken into account. Bland descriptions don’t do anything for your brand. You want to add your brand’s personality, vocabulary and writing style to the description.
For similar video types, it might make more sense for you to write some YouTube description templates. For example, how-to video descriptions would be written in a similar fashion: two sentences for a summary, some call-to-action links, links to products and then your social media links. Creating description templates make it easier on you and keep you on-brand.
9. Make video descriptions easy to read
This isn’t so much about the actual written content but how you format it. No one likes reading giant blocks of text but neither do people enjoy reading 10 one-liners in a row. Break up your description into sections with header titles that stand out, either with emojis, symbols, capitals or line breaks. When checking on the format, skim read your description and see what catches your eye and what you completely skip.
10. Preview your video description
Current YouTube stats say that 70% of the total watch time with viewers is on mobile. You might write your descriptions on desktop but make sure they also make sense on a phone and tablet. In addition to a mobile preview, check how the description shows up in search results and watch pages.
11. Check your analytics
As with any social media network, YouTube analytics are helpful in seeing which videos are performing well.
With analytics, you’ll be able to see if certain keywords are working over others, which videos might increase in popularity with a keyword change and the general type of video that’s resonating with your viewers.
YouTube descriptions should not be put on the back burner of your YouTube marketing strategy. Video descriptions are important in not just the usual ranking in SEO keyword search results but also serve as a place where you can get your viewer to stay on the video for longer. With the right initial copy that pushes the viewer to read more, use the 5000 character limit to incorporate your brand voice and important links. And now that you have the descriptions down pat, it’s time to think about how to promote your YouTube channel.