The Ultimate Guide to Ranking #1 on YouTube

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Dmitry Dragilev
Dmitry Dragilev



If you enter the term “ecommerce seo” into YouTube, the following video shows up in the number one spot:

Search result of 'ecommerce seo' in YouTube

It was published Jan 11, 2017 and was in the number one spot six months later. The video received 3750 views in the first month when it was released in 2017 and over 232,000 views total as of 2022.

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This particular video was created by well known SEO expert and founder of Backlinko, Brian Dean. 

I asked Brian about his YouTube video ranking, and here is what he said:

Ranking on YouTube has been one of the biggest drivers of leads and sales for me this year. I send out a ‘welcome’ email to new email subscribers. And a growing percentage (around 15%) say they first found me on YouTube. But more importantly, surveys from customers show that they're also finding me via YouTube. They also cite my YouTube videos as a specific reason that they decided to sign up.

So to boil it down, having the number one spot on YouTube:

  • Directly builds Brian Dean’s email list (people subscribe to his email after watching the video)
  • Allows Brain to cultivate personal relationships with people who watch his videos. These people feel like they know him when they return to his site after watching his video

It is not possible to track Brian’s sales numbers directly from YouTube since Brian does not add links or a lot of CTAs in his YouTube videos. Instead, Brian engages his viewers with content and waits for them to Google his name and find his blog that way.

However, the survey data for new email subscribers shows a significant uptick in people saying they found him through YouTube.

In short: YouTube is great for top of the funnel for Brian Dean, even though it does not directly generate sales.

I worked with Brian on this project, and asked him if I could document the entire process he executed, from being unranked to being the number spot on YouTube. Here are the steps and insights he shared.


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Step 1: Find a Keyword

Just like with “normal” SEO, the first step in YouTube SEO is keyword research. I documented my process of researching rankings for highly competitive keywords in 90 days for articles in an experiment I ran early last year. The process is really similar to how you’d find keywords in Google.

First, you generate a list of potential keyword ideas. Then, you drill down to a handful of the best keywords.

Keyword research tools designed for Google (like SEMRush) don’t work for YouTube. To find video keywords, you need use a tool designed for YouTube. Brian recommends two:

First, we have Click the “YouTube” tab, enter a seed keyword, and it’ll scrape “YouTube Suggest” for hundreds of possible keywords.

Keyword Tool

If that doesn’t do the trick, check out VidIQ. They have a nifty keyword research tool that’s like Google Keyword Planner for videos.

The Ultimate Guide to Ranking  1 on YouTube

In addition to generating a huge list of keyword ideas, VidIQ also gives you helpful metrics (like competition and search volume) to help you find the best keyword.

The Ultimate Guide to Ranking  1 on YouTube

Now, you should have a big fat list of keywords. But how do you choose the best one for your video topic and title?

Just like with Google SEO, choosing the “best” keyword from a list is more art than science. That said, you should choose a keyword that has these factors going for it:

  • Search volume: The more searches the better
  • Competition: Less is better (duh)
  • Market “fit”: Would your target customer search for this keyword?

For example, Brian noticed that “ecommerce SEO” got a decent amount of searches, and wasn’t super competitive, so he used that as his main keyword.

The Ultimate Guide to Ranking #1 on YouTube


Step 2: Script Your Video

Now that you have a keyword, it’s time to get into the brass tacks of creating your video.

According to Brian, that process should start by outlining and scripting your video.

People on YouTube have VERY short attention spans. That’s why many pro YouTubers (even vloggers) script out their videos line-by-line.

A tight script ensures you stay on topic throughout the entire video.

It also helps eliminate phrases that make YouTube viewers click away (like “umms”, pauses, and “where was I…”).

Brian tells me he meticulously writes out each script for his videos. Here’s an example:

The Ultimate Guide to Ranking #1 on YouTube

And here’s the basic outline that Brian uses for most of his videos (including his ecommerce SEO video):

  • Intro: Preview for what is coming later in the video. He also introduces himself and his brand (Backlinko).
  • Steps or List of Tips: The bulk of the content. For case studies, this is a story told step-by-step. But sometimes (like with his ecommerce SEO video), Brian will list out a handful of tips or techniques.
  • Conclusion/CTA: Brian ends the video with multiple calls to action: one to subscribe to the channel, another to sign up for his email newsletter, and a third to comment on the video they just watched.


Step 3: Produce Your Video

Video production is a massive topic that could be its own post (or even an entire course).

Instead of trying to cover everything there is to know about video production here, I’ll link to some of my favorite resources on the topic.

I worked with the folks at Wistia on various content and PR projects a few years ago. We’re good friends and I still follow their blog. Here are some of my favorite tutorials on the topic from their learning center:

  1. The Down and Dirty DIY Lighting Kit
  2. Setting Up a DIY Office Video Studio
  3. Choosing a Background for Your Video

One of the first things you’ll notice about Brian’s video is that it’s professionally done. It's shot with a nice camera, and has nice lighting, and high-quality audio. Of course, this isn’t 100% required (plenty of successful YouTube videos were recorded with cheap cameras and even iPhones).

Here’s what Brian said about the process he used to create his ecommerce SEO video:

Personally, I use a studio to shoot my videos. But that’s 100% NOT required to do well. In fact, my first batch of videos were done in my apartment and they look almost as good. The main reasons I use a studio are a) so I don’t need to worry about production stuff like lighting etc. and b) the sound quality is usually better. So if you’re just getting started, I’d do whatever’s easiest for you.


Step 4: Upload and Optimize Your Video

OK, so you’ve created an awesome video. Now it’s time to upload and optimize it for YouTube.

Here’s how Brian optimized his video around the keyword “ecommerce SEO”.

First, Brian made sure to verbally say the term “ecommerce seo” in his video. YouTube now automatically transcribes all of its videos (and it’s pretty darn accurate, too). Brian is convinced that YouTube “listens” to your video content in the same way that a Google spider indexes the body of a webpage. I haven’t personally seen YouTube confirm this, but it makes sense.

Next, he included the keyword in his video title. Just like with a web page, YouTube wants to see the keyword in your title.

The Ultimate Guide to Ranking #1 on YouTube

YouTube isn’t as sophisticated as Google (it lacks anything close to Hummingbird or RankBrain), so you want to use your exact keyword here (no synonyms or variations if you can help it).

Next, it’s time to write the video description. Your video description is a summary of what your video is about. Brian prefers to write long, in-depth descriptions so YouTube has a lot of content to work with. For example, the description for his ecommerce SEO video is 252 words. This is significantly longer than most other video descriptions on YouTube.

The Ultimate Guide to Ranking #1 on YouTube

Finally, Brian created tags for his video. As Brian found in his recent YouTube ranking factors video, tags aren’t as important as they once were. But it’s still worthwhile to tag your videos. Brian recommends a tag mix that looks like this:

  • Your exact keyword + variations (“ecommerce SEO”, “ecommerce traffic”)
  • A few broad keywords that describe the “big topic” your video falls under (“search engine optimization”)
  • A few keywords that describe topics you touch on in the video (“link building” and “on-page SEO”).

From an SEO perspective, that’s really all you can do to keyword-optimize your video. The rest is decided by YouTube algorithms based on your video’s overall quality.


Step 5: Promote Your Video

When I first talked with Brian about this step, I naturally gravitated towards an approach where you would essentially do your own PR to get the video included on different blogs and publications. However, this strategy is more of a long term approach that might take weeks or even months before you get the embed or reference to the video on a blog post.

We needed something more short term. One of the first lessons Brian learned about YouTube is that it’s extremely competitive:

When I first started on YouTube, I underestimated the competition. I thought that the sheer amount of users meant that competition wasn’t a big deal. But I was wrong. YouTube has a ton of viewers, but there’s also a ton of video content to compete with.

Just like a blog post or infographic, YouTube videos need a little “push” to get going. And one of the great things about YouTube is that it’s a discovery platform. YouTube actively promotes videos it thinks you'll like on their homepage, the "Suggested Video" sidebar, and yes, in YouTube's search results.

But YouTube needs to collect a critical mass of data on your video (by measuring likes, views, audience retention, and comments) in order to determine if people actually enjoy watching your video.

So Brian found that an initial promotional "push" gives YouTube the user feedback it needs to actively show your video to its user base.

I asked Brian how he promoted his YouTube ecommerce SEO video. Here is the process he used:

First, he emailed his email subscribers about the video. His email was brief with two links directly to his Youtube video.

The Ultimate Guide to Ranking #1 on YouTube

Some people embed the video on their blog and send people there. Brian says that can also work, but he prefers to direct people to YouTube because then they have the opportunity to like, comment, and subscribe.

Brian also shared his video on social media (specifically, Twitter and Facebook).

The Ultimate Guide to Ranking #1 on YouTube

Sharing on these two social networks helped Brian boost the video’s organic ranking.

Brian also posted a preview of the video on Facebook to entice people to watch the full video, as you can see below:

The Ultimate Guide to Ranking #1 on YouTube

As a general rule of thumb: if the video is up to snuff, and optimized well, it just needs a promotional push to get the ball rolling. YouTube takes care of the rest.

You can use Facebook, Twitter, and Email for that “little push.” Some of you might say “I don’t have such a huge audience!” Brian’s answer to that is:

You don’t need a huge audience. What you’re trying to do is get some eyeballs on your video to help Google get some data about it. You don’t need hundreds of thousands or even tens of thousands to see it, just a few thousand or so to take a look at it.

There you have it. The process Brian used to create, optimize, and promote a highly successful YouTube video that now ranks number one for a high volume keyword.

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