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How to Be In Top Search Results on YouTube

01 Mar, 2024

It’s easy to spend countless hours studying YouTube search. But we are going to help you understand how it all works. Creators are constantly searching for answers to questions like; how do I get into the top search results or why is my video not displayed by its title? Let's decode what YouTube relies on when ranking videos in search and what "ranking" actually means.

Why are my videos not ranking at the top of search?

Often one can come across the opinion of disillusioned creators that metadata is useless. Some people suggest that completely unformatted, random videos make it into recommendations and become popular. Here, there will be two immediate objections.

  • Around 500 hours of content are uploaded on YouTube, per minute. From this insane amount, a random video may make  it into the top recommendations. Waiting for this chance opportunity can take years or may never happen at all. 
  • Videos that go viral by luck will gain traffic from YouTube recommendations, so their success and lack of formatting are not connected in any way.

As for metadata, it is necessary for the platform's algorithms to quickly understand what to do with your video. YouTube uses it to determine whom to show your content to, under which words and queries. By properly formatting your video, you'll be doing yourself a favor and narrowing down the potential audience for YouTube to display your content to. This will prevent your channel from hitting dead ends and accumulating inactive viewers.

Whether to format videos or not is a personal choice. Want to wait for a stroke of luck? Go ahead. Want to reach the top through strategy and concentrated effort? You can do that too. However, the chances are ten times higher with the latter option.

Often, we also find other comments under videos. For example: "I've formatted, optimized, and labeled everything perfectly. The video is great, but it still doesn't show up in search." Yes, the video may indeed be well-formatted, so what could be the problem?

  • One common mistake among YouTube creators is basing the formatting of their videos on their internal feelings rather than on what viewers are actually searching for.

Naming a video "10 best jokes of the year" might not resonate well with current trends as people are now using terms like "cringe," and other slang. It's essential not to invent optimization but rather work with the queries (search terms) people are actually using. You have tools at your disposal, such as Google Trends, the search bar on YouTube and Google, and various extensions. Study the analytics rather than guessing. Save your creativity for your content.

  • One more point: your video may not show up anywhere because no one is making searches on your chosen topic.

If you create a video about catching Pokémon, but the topic of Pokemon Go is no longer of interest to people, there won't be any queries related to it. Similarly, a video on crafting a "UFO catcher" from toilet paper may not have any existing searches at all. It's important to strike a balance between your interests and what people are actively searching for to ensure your content is discoverable and resonates with your target audience. Conducting research on popular and relevant topics can greatly contribute to the success of your videos.

Creators expect search results and traffic to start flowing to their channel instantly. However, as mentioned in previous articles, we emphasize again - everything has its time. Growth and support may take months. There is a massive amount of content on YouTube. Sometimes this process takes a few months, and sometimes even a whole year - this is normal.

Another answer that you may not want to hear is that your video doesn't appear in search results because you haven't optimized it correctly.

A quick visit to the creator’s channel will show us that nothing has been set up properly. No eye catching thumbnail, well-thought-out title, description, or tags. So here's some digital wisdom: before stressing over why your video isn’t ranking, make sure that you have properly formatted your videos. Don't forget that the quality of the video also plays a role. Even if YouTube places you at the top of the search results for the most high-frequency tag, for example, the word "cooking," and your video appears on the first page, you can easily lose your position due to the quality. People will stop clicking on the video, lose interest, and YouTube will interpret this as your video no longer providing value, gradually pushing it lower and lower.

How YouTube search actually works

"If my videos are not appearing in search results, even though I have crafted a great title, description, and added tags, and even when using the exact video title as a search query. What should I do? Help!"

Here is a little secret: YouTube search is not only based on the metadata in your video. In the creator's guide, it is emphasized how important it is to consider relevance, engagement, and quality.

Relevance is understandable—it's the degree to which your videos match user queries. But engagement and quality are something new. To understand these terms, let's explore an interesting statement:

"It is important to take into account engagement, which is measured by signals from viewers. For instance, the watch time of a video found through a specific query helps gauge how well it met user expectations and whether it's worth suggesting in search results." Source:

"Engagement" in plain terms on YouTube means the depth of viewership of your video in relation to the click-through rate (CTR). If a viewer clicks and the video turns out to be great, leading to the viewer watching it extensively, it signifies positive engagement. What else does the platform tell us:

"To assess quality, our systems use signals that help identify channels with reliable and authoritative information on a given topic. For your videos to be easily discoverable, they must meet these criteria. You cannot purchase a place in search results." Source:

The platform considers quality not only in terms of videos being shot in 4K resolution or on an expensive camera, but in the sense that you have original content, no borrowing of others' materials, you use only reliable sources of information, and your channel does not violate platform rules. This is what the adjectives "reliable" and "authoritative" information tell us.

Based on YouTube's own statements, it can be concluded that it ranks videos (positions in search results) based on watch time, comments, user reactions, and everything that indicates to the platform that the video is genuinely good.

The term "authoritative" also implies that signals may rely on more than just your video but if your channel as a whole is relevant to the given topic and niche. For example, if a video titled "How to Gain Subscribers" is released on both our educational channel and a culinary channel, the ranking will favor our educational channel in that niche.

This is why it's crucial to develop your content around a specific topic. It's not just about the audience or confusing algorithms with mixed topics, but about how authoritative your channel is in covering that particular subject.

How algorithms have changed on YouTube

For a long time, creators tried to game YouTube by using misleading tags in the tag field, description, and title to get into the top search results. Perhaps you've even witnessed times when everyone filled the tag field with names of popular channels or topics unrelated to the video content. Surprisingly, this tactic brought in views. There was also a period when an entire array of unrelated keywords in the video description proved effective. Everyone went through this process because, well, the scheme was effective.

Creators were trying to manipulate the algorithms, providing viewers with irrelevant content. YouTube didn't appreciate this approach, so the team decided to expand the platform's rules. Restrictions were introduced, but catching violators posed a challenge. Several years ago, YouTube changed its algorithms, aiming to help viewers discover relevant videos. These algorithms continue to operate today.

One of the most significant changes in the algorithms was the reduction in the impact of tags on video ranking. Although the influence of tags is now only 1-3%, it's crucial not to forget about them. Tags still matter. Following this change, YouTube introduced parameters that we still use today—engagement and quality.

How to influence your search ranking

The number of subscribers on a channel and the number of views on a video do not play any role in search ranking. However, two crucial metrics influence search position: CTR (Click-Through Rate) and Watch Time - the depth of viewership. This can be considered the effectiveness of your video.

Yes, YouTube evaluates the effectiveness of a video to determine its position in search results. Consequently, a video with fewer views may outrank a video with millions of views if the latter has higher CTR and watch time metrics.

While there are no absolute CTR and watch time metrics, it can be assumed that videos with a CTR higher than 5% and a watch time retention above 45% have a better chance of surpassing other videos in search results.

It's important not to confuse these metrics with what is required to appear in recommended videos—there are different criteria for that. For beginner channels and, in general, for everyone, it is recommended to focus on how high your video appears in search results since that's where your target audience is likely to be.

YouTube ranks every video on the platform. There is no scenario where you upload a video, and it's nowhere to be found—it still ends up in some search results. The question is where YouTube places it in those results—on the first page or the hundredth.

To avoid ending up on the last page of search results, you need to "clarify" to YouTube through your metadata what your video is about and who should see it. The position of your video in search depends on how closely your metadata aligns with specific user queries.

In the past, tags held significant responsibility for video ranking, but as we've discussed, tags have lost their importance. Now, it all relies on the title, description, and subtitles—specifically, what you say in the video that YouTube transcribes into text.

While CTR and watch time are among the most important metrics, what stands at the forefront of all algorithms? Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

SEO stands for "search engine optimization," meaning working with search algorithms. When we talk about working on SEO, we are working to make the video appealing to algorithms so that it ranks high in search results.

You, as the creator, decide which search query will bring up your video. Remember that the more competitive a query is, the more you have to outperform competitors in the same niche to rank higher in search results.

Let's look at an example. You have a video on how to cook scrambled eggs. Now, how do you title the video?

  • “Scrambled eggs”- is a more frequent query, but the competition is high here.
  • "How to cook scrambled eggs in the microwave"- has fewer queries, people search for it less often, but the competition is acceptable.

The choice is yours: you can try the second option—then your video gains targeted views, earns effectiveness points, and YouTube promotes it higher in the search results. You also want to remain sensible about your search targeting. For example a search query like; “How to cook scrambled eggs on a restaurant skillet during a full moon at Burning Man” probably doesn't exist, and in the end, you'll likely gain no new views.

You need to find a good balance between a search term and the interest in your topic. There are tools on the market that can help you research like TubeBuddy, vidIQ, or H-supertools. They will help you assess query volumes and competition.

A small bonus digital hack: to improve YouTube's ranking of your videos, understand which user queries they relate to. You need at least 200 characters in the video description for the algorithms to work correctly. So, don't be lazy and write video descriptions.

Everything you include in your title and description will be presented under queries related to what you placed in the metadata.

Now you understand how to secure top position in search. You also know why algorithms work the way they do, and what will help you successfully rank in search. 

We hope to see your content in YouTube’s top search positions!


Sasha Lerman

Copywriter, writer, editor. Development and promotion on YouTube, as well as many other exciting topics.

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