Phil Nottingham is a marketing strategist specializing in video SEO and branding strategy and search engine optimization.
Keyword research for YouTube SEO is a very different process than keyword research for Google and Bing. However, all too often marketers use the research they did for Google and apply the insights directly to YouTube. This never quite works because the things people search for on YouTube are very different from what they look for on other search engines. Because of this, you need to approach YouTube keyword research differently. In this post we discuss how!
YouTube is a search engine, but people use it differently from Google. For starters, every search on YouTube has a video intent. There are also more implicit questions, more general topic inquiries, and regularly repeated inquiries (where the results are expected to change frequently).
Therefore, in addition to keyword research for your content pages, you should also do YouTube keyword research. By capturing and analyzing the date before the creative brainstorming, you can ensure that your YouTube strategy is likely to get a large number of views over a longer period of time.
In this post, we offer a five-step approach to YouTube keyword research. Including a mix of free and paid tools that give you an actionable framework that you can start using right away.
Step 1: Gather your list of topics
First of all, you need to make a list of all the topics that you can create video content on. Your existing keyword list can be the starting point for this. But think outside the box and in the context of YouTube. In practice, this means removing most of the navigation and transactional requests from your keyword list and focusing on the information requests instead.
When we search on YouTube, we are looking for a video that relates to a specific entity, covers a specific topic, or solves a specific problem. We’re probably not looking for a website, product, or directions. For example, actual product categories are rarely searched for on YouTube, but searches for “[specific product]+ Rating “tends to be quite high.
There is a lot of overlap between high volume YouTube queries and queries that include videos in Google search. So one way to quickly and effectively refine your keyword list is to include video SERP features (this information is provided by Stat, SEMrush, Ahrefs, and other popular keyword tools).
Use the expertise in your team
In addition, you can get inspiration from Google Trends, YouTube Autosuggest and the analysis of competing YouTube channels on the available subject areas. However, I think the most promising way to find terms that will act as your starting list is often to interview your team. By finding out what they know and what they could contribute videos about.
In-house expertise is often the best place to start when creating a YouTube content plan because you can match your in-house knowledge with latent external demand. Remember that YouTube is as much a social network as it is a search engine. The best content ideas aren’t always those inspired by keyword data!
Step 2: generate keyword ideas
Once you have a list of topics and ideas, the next step is to expand and refine that into a list of keywords that you can optimize for. There are a number of useful tools for doing this:
Tube Buddy Keyword Explorer is one of the best free tools for this step. Here you can enter one of your topic ideas and you will receive the estimated search volume, weighted and unweighted competition results. Depending on how relevant your channel is to the term in question. But you also get a list of related searches that you can then explore and add to your keyword list.
TubeBuddy Keyword Explorer
My preferred paid YouTube keyword research tool is Ahrefs. It is very useful for this process of expansion and refinement. With Ahrefs, you can search for both terms and phrase matches (use phrase match for topics with two or more words), group and export ideas, and view a relative metric for “response rate” that indicates whether it is a term or not that the same user regularly searches for.
Ahrefs Keyword Explorer
Another paid tool that also provides search volume and opportunity score metrics is vidIQ. It also gives you a snapshot of the videos that are currently trending in terms of the keywords provided.
vidIQ keyword tool
vidIQ trend videos
The data provided here is of similar quality and level of detail as the data you will receive from TubeBuddy. The advantage, however, is that you can export everything to a database or spreadsheet.
A useful freemium tool for this stage of the process is Keyword.io. This allows you to quickly find a list of relevant YouTube keywords and then export them for later processing.
Keyword.io keyword tool
Only the paid version of the tool gives you search volume estimates. However, the free version is still very helpful for generating and exporting more ideas.
YouTube Traffic Sources Report
The YouTube Search report under Traffic Sources in YouTube Analytics is the only place you can get direct data from Google about search behavior on YouTube. Unfortunately no search volumes are available. However, you can see the keywords that are currently driving the views of your existing videos. And how many impressions and views each keyword brings.
This can be a great way to find new opportunities. For example, let’s say a keyword is driving a lot of hits, but you haven’t created a specific video for it. This is a great indicator that you may get even better results by creating content that is geared towards it.
YouTube Analytics Traffic Sources Report
Step 3: Get data on search volume
The next step in your YouTube keyword research is to get search volume data for each of your keyword ideas. You can then refine the list to include only those whose search volume is sufficient to present a valuable opportunity. The only tool that I think is currently set up to do this on a large scale is ahrefs, as it allows you to enter a long list of queries, add additional recommended options, and then export the keyword volume for everything.
So, put your list in ahrefs, go through the full list, add new ideas that seem relevant, and remove anyone that doesn’t. Then export the data and bring it all into Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel.
Refined keyword list in ahrefs
ahrefs data in Google Sheets
Sort the data by global or local volume (depending on the target group). Then you can remove any keywords that don’t have a lot of searches. As a general rule of thumb, anything less than 100 global monthly searches is too little to worry.
You should now have a list of relevant, validated keywords for YouTube, sorted by search volume. Depending on the task at hand, this may be enough to make some strategic decisions about your content strategy! However, if you have the time and really want to review the creative options available, you can go a step further. By applying a video quality lens to the keyword data to find out which ideas to prioritize.
Step 4: Evaluate the ranking’s average video quality
This step takes a lot of time and energy. So it’s best to save it until you’ve refined your potential keyword list as much as possible with other factors. The aim is to find out how competitive each request is on a qualitative level.
Go to YouTube.com and enter your destination query. Then watch each of the top 5-10 ranking videos. After watching them, qualitatively rate how good the videos were on average and give it an overall score of 10. If there was a good video and the rest of the content was poor quality and out of date, give it a 4 or a 5. If everything was very appealing and well produced, give an 8 or a 9. But if the searcher’s need is really not met with the available content, choose a 2 or 3.
The data here doesn’t have to be too accurate as its job is to provide a relative guide to creative competition. Which can then be used to compute a composite metric that measures opportunities. If there are already a lot of great videos out there that meet the seeker’s need, chances are you can’t get traction by making a video similar to what is on offer. However, if there is a demand that is not being met by good content, this is an opportunity that you should seize.
Step 5: Generate an Opportunity Score
Finally, we can do a YouTube Opportunity Score to assess the potential value of each keyword for our channel. Divide the search volume by the average video quality and use that as a guide for the videos to be created.
YouTube keyword research output with quality score
Once you have this in place, you should have a list of prioritized, valuable creative opportunities that can influence your YouTube strategy. That means you can start shooting!
Since people use YouTube a little differently than Google, invest some time into keyword research for YouTube. While your existing keyword research list can serve as inspiration, you need to be aware of which ones work on YouTube. And which ones don’t. In this post, we mentioned a few tools you can use to do your keyword research for video SEO.
If you want to dig deeper into the stats, check out our post on Using Analytics for Your Video Strategy. Or read more about how to timestamp your videos to get key moments from your videos in search results:
Read more: How to Time Stamp YouTube Videos and Create Key Moments »