If a picture is worth a thousand words, how much is a video worth? Well, to search engines, the answer is “a lot.” 

Search engine optimization, or SEO, is the process of increasing your content’s visibility in the eyes of search engines like Google, Bing, and others. 

In the competitive sphere of video SEO, providing the right set of data to engines is critical in helping people find and connect with the videos you work so hard to create. 

Let’s go behind the oft-opaque curtains of the SEO world, so more eyes can happily stumble upon your next video. 

What is video SEO?

Video SEO is the optimization process to make sure that Google indexes your video so that search engines can find your video content. There are a collection of video SEO strategies that you can engage in to help your video rank higher on Google and other search engine results pages (such as YouTube and Bing).

What is SEO video marketing?

While video SEO and SEO video marketing may seem similar, there are some slight differences.  

While video SEO consists of all the ways to rank a video, SEO video marketing focuses more on the research element of SEO like discovering keywords and potential areas of interest.

Research is important to help discover the types of traffic sources you can get for your videos. SEO video marketing allows creators to be more intentional and strategic when planning their video strategy. For example, if you have a keyword gap in a certain area, you can use SEO video marketing to create targeted video content to penetrate that gap.

Another key area of SEO video marketing is that it’s an additional traffic stream for marketers. Through video, your brand may pull in traffic to your production pages, blog articles, and gated content. Video becomes another touch point to help your audience find what you have to say.

How do videos rank on Google?

It’s important to remember that with Google or any search engine, marketers don’t have direct insight into how they’re building their algorithm. That said, we can assume Google ranks videos similarly to how it ranks web listings.

The algorithm is similar enough that oftentimes if you have a blog post or landing page on page one that includes a video, that video will also be in the the video rankings. Typically, if you optimize your web listing and video, Google will treat them similarly.

Video SEO tips and best practices

1. Be intentional about your title

The title is usually the top line of text that will display in search results. While it’s great to have a unique and catchy name for your video, it’s also important to keep your title descriptive using keywords. The more broadly descriptive your title is, the more likely it is that your video will appear when people search for those keywords. 

Titles in search results usually get truncated around 65 characters, so make sure you front-load your title with the most important words.

2. Leverage what other people are searching for

If you want new people to discover your video, it makes sense to describe it in the terms that people are searching for. 

Take this video created by Brad Kremer, for example. In his title, he includes both the film’s name (“Hayako”) as well a brief description of the content (“A Time Lapse Journey Through Japan”). Adding the descriptive, keyword-rich part of the title helped Brad’s video appear in Google when searching for keywords like “Japan timelapse.”

Though the video was published over a decade ago, “Hayako” has kept a coveted, competitive spot on the first page of Google’s search results, proving the power of a search-optimized video title. 

Example of the SERP with video SEO

That being said, it’s important not to stuff unnecessary keywords into your video title for the sake of appearing in lots of searches. (Pro-tip: this hardly ever works). If your video title and description do not accurately reflect the content of your video, search engines may penalize you.

What are the average video description lengths?

  • YouTube: the description field can contain up to 1,000 characters.
  • Vimeo: can contain up to 5,000 characters
  • Google: truncates the description of any video (or article) at around 155-160 characters

3. Don’t underestimate the value of a good description for video SEO

This is the text “blurb” that will usually appear in search results below your title. Start your description with a hook that catches the audience’s attention immediately, and keep in mind that only the first 110 characters or so will appear before your description is truncated in search results.

Offline Dating” does a great job reeling in potential viewers with the first line of its description: “Last weekend my single friend Tom challenged himself to find his next date — OFFLINE.” The short and sweet sentence tells you exactly what the film is about while also leaving you wanting more.

Beyond the first 100 or so characters, use the rest of the description to tell the audience about your video in more detail. Credit your cast and crew, note the equipment you used to shoot and edit your film, and include any other key components of creating your video. 

The description is also a great place to include links to your social media pages or website. While these may not boost your search engine rankings, your collaborators, viewers, and fans can use this information to follow your work on other channels. 

Not a copywriter? That’s okay. The worst kind of description is a blank one. Try your best to express the most important ideas about your video first, filling in any key phrases that you think people are searching for. 

For example, if you’ve made a product tutorial on how to apply a particular skincare or makeup product, lead with the purpose of the video. An example of a video that does this well is Vimeo user Rufai Ajala in the video “How to Define Your Brows” for Vogue Beauty School UK.  

4. Add chapters to your video

Chaptering is an essential part of your video SEO strategy. Similar to how chapters make doorstop books easier to digest, chapters break up video content allowing viewers to skim content, jump between sections, and rewatch key moments.

Think of each chapter on a video as a header. It allows viewers to click ahead to the place they’re searching for right on the search engine results page.

You can even rank for chapter titles, too, so be sure to do some keyword research. Google will automatically clip that chapter section title and allow you to rank for that term. For example, within our video “how to record a Zoom meeting ” there is a chapter on “how to save a Zoom meeting” which is a phrase with significant search volume.

Example of video chaptering for SEO visible on the search engine results page.

When you host a video on Vimeo, you can easily add chapters to your video, edit, or remote chapters to make it easier for viewers to jump through content.

5. Embed video on your website for extra benefit

When you host your video on Vimeo, we provide highly engaging previews and tons of additional information like descriptions, durations, and publish dates — info search engines gobble up. But even if your video lives on Vimeo, you can still embed on your own website

It’s best practice not to overload a landing page with too many videos, as Google won’t know which one is the most important of the bunch to surface. So when you’re embedding a beautiful video onto your website, be sure to stick with one per page. 

Page placement of your video is also an important factor in how search engines crawl your video. Ideally, video would live close to the top of the page. 

Videos stuck “below the fold,” just like search results on the second page of Google, are often forgotten about — which is not something you want when you’re trying to get increased visibility.

6. Include a video transcript

Video transcription is an important part of video SEO. It gives Google more information about your video content, thus increasing your chances of showing up in the search results. 

Google can fetch the bytes of your video file to understand the content in your video, including the spoken words. However, if you have manually transcribed the speech in your video, providing a transcript can help search engines understand the speech more accurately. When in doubt, always provide more context instead of less.

Plus, video transcripts make your content more accessible — which should always be a top-of-mind consideration for creators and artists of all trades.

7. Nail your thumbnail

You know how they say, “Don’t judge a book by its cover?” Well, everyone tends to do it anyway, so make sure your video thumbnail stops people in their tracks and draws them in. After all, your thumbnail will be the face of your video. 

On Vimeo, you can choose a frame from your video to use as your thumbnail, or upload any image you want. While an arresting thumbnail won’t boost your search result rankings, a striking image with great composition (these tips on film composition and framing also apply for stills, FYI!) will entice potential viewers to click through to your video. 

A stunning thumbnail is especially important for mobile (whether that’s on a web browser or in-app) and over-the-top (OTT) viewing, where your video’s title and thumbnail are your primary means of communicating to potential viewers.

You can include text in your thumbnail or simply let the picture speak for itself. We’ve seen both techniques do well. 

With its beautiful colors and a classy, simple title overlay, “Calbuco” offers a mesmerizing thumbnail that entices you to click through:

Sometimes your thumbnail needs a little explanation to draw people in, and that’s OK. Add a subtitle to your thumbnail and show off your film laurels to boost interest:

One trend we’ve noticed on Vimeo is that color thumbnails tend to get better click-through rates than black and white ones. That being said, sometimes you’ll want to go with the aesthetic choice over the analytical choice. 

Black and white can be just as eye-catching as color, especially if your thumbnail captures the right moment mid-action.

Avoid these thumbnail mistakes:

  • Blurry action shots
  • Text that competes with the image, or is hard-to-read
  • A stretched or pinched image
  • Including no thumbnail at all

8. Invest in other SEO video tools

Last but not least, if you plan to make video SEO a key component of your marketing strategy, plan to explore and invest in other SEO video tools. 

For example, tools like Ahrefs & TubeBuddy provide insights into Google. 

Ahrefs allows SEO professionals to conduct keyword research, analyze competitors, track keyword rankings, and perform site audits. For SEO video marketing, marketers can find keyword ideas with accurate search volume, keyword difficulty, and other metrics from Youtube as well as Google, Amazon, Bing, Yahoo, Yandex, and more. Youtube search volume can be used as a proxy to help marketers understand the video search demand for important keywords and topic areas.

TubeBuddy is a research and planning tool for content creators who publish on Youtube. This browser plugin allows marketers and video producers to make their videos more discoverable by exploring keywords, related terms, and video tags.

Your video SEO glossary

Here are a few terms of the SEO trade you might not know:  

Algorithm 

Not the Instagram or Facebook algorithms you hear so much about, but an ever-changing Google search algorithms which signals which factors of a website make it eligible for ranking. Think of elements like relevance to the search query, its usability, the quality of the content, etc. 

In fact, Google search algorithms are a complex web designed to make sure the most relevant results shoot up to the top of page one. 

Crawl  

The act of Google “crawling” your website is simply how the search engine gathers data. The “crawler” perpetually navigates the web for new pages, logging these new pages and the information they contain (including video!) as something that can be used in search results. 

Rich snippets

A rich snippet for video is the thumbnail preview that shows up in mobile and desktop Google search results. For every video that’s hosted on vimeo.com, we provide the right set of metadata to help your video preview show up in Google and other search engines.

Why do rich snippets matter? The organic results page is the lifeblood of many websites and businesses, and these snippets provide a big leg up on standard listings. 

They present an engaging link to your video with a still thumbnail or moving preview that increases your organic click-through rate (CTR) and drives more views.

SERP”

An acronym for “search engine result page.” When you search for something, Google responds with a SERP to answer your query. 

Structured data

Structured data (or microdata) is a standardized way to tell search engines how to index content on a webpage. By providing the right set of structured data, Vimeo allows your hosted videos to appear in search results as rich snippets.

There are a few other important forms of structured data Vimeo automatically provides that are essential for both SEO and social media marketing:

  • Schema.org is a shared set of definitions for structured data, supported by Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and Yandex
  • Open Graph, Facebook’s markup, is used to determine what info and images are automatically displayed whenever a page is shared in a post
  • Twitter Cards are markups that pull in images, videos, and text, and displays them in a ‘card’ when a page is tweeted out to the world

To check out all of the video microdata automatically generated by Vimeo, just enter a video page URL in Google’s structured data testing tool.

You’ve officially dipped your toe into the vast ocean of SEO. And while video SEO is just one aspect of your overarching marketing strategy for your videos, it doesn’t take long to implement meaningful changes to your content. 

Make no mistake: marketers need to utilize video at every stage of a viewer’s journey, whether that’s gaining exposure through sites like Vimeo and Facebook to establish a deeper connection with your brand, or embedding videos on your site to educate consumers and drive sales.

Still, simple steps — like optimizing your title or writing a thoughtful description — can go a long way in getting the eyes of search engines on your content. 

Upload your optimized SEO video

Published by Vimeo Staff on April 16, 2021 and updated on May 20, 2022 by Sam Frenzel.