Can (And Should) You Use Tags to Get Views On YouTube?

Cara Bowles    By under Video SEO.

youtube tags mainWell, can you?

In short, yes, but be careful.

While a growing number of organic search marketers seem to think that Google is a hyper-intelligent entity that can always infer the subject of your content, no matter the medium, Google is actually dumb as a rock on this front (though, admittedly, it's an increasingly intelligent rock). This is especially true of video, which Google can't parse or "understand," even to the level that it "understands" HTML text.

If you think I'm being insulting, official documents from Google confirm that, yes, you should indeed optimize your YouTube metadata.

But, like anything else these days, this kind of optimization isn't nearly enough to carry an otherwise flawed strategy. YouTube also looks at user behavior metrics, including favoring videos that keep people on YouTube for a longer time. If people aren't watching your videos, clicking to see what else you've done, or thumbing them up, don't expect them to do very well if there are other videos that cover similar topics and get a better response.

Still, there's a lot more to the optimization side of things than optimizing for users, and that's what we're going to talk about today.

Here's how to make sure your videos actually get found on YouTube.

How to Tag YouTube Videos to Get More Views

If there was ever a doubt in your mind that YouTube is okay with you using their tags in order to improve visibility in YouTube search results and encourage discovery from their recommended videos, you should take a look at their official guide on the subject, which has this to say:

youtube tags

Yes, Google wants you to use their tagging system in order to help YouTube understand what your videos are about, so that they can make good recommendations to their users, either during a search, or after watching a related video.

Moreover, to summarize their guidelines on how to use them:

  • Use a mix of very specific and more broad keywords
  • Use just enough tags to thoroughly and accurately describe the video
  • Update your tags to match emerging trends, as long as your video is relevant to them
  • Use keywords from the title in your tags
  • If a tag contains multiple words, wrap it in quotation marks
  • If your old videos haven't been properly tagged, update them so that they are

There's really no ambiguity here. YouTube needs you to use tags in order to understand what your video is about.

How Many Tags Should You Put On a YouTube Video?

According to YouTube, as mentioned above, "Only use enough tags to thoroughly and accurately describe your videos." But this is a question worth diving a bit deeper into.

There are some people who seem to think that your videos are going to suffer if you use more than 10 tags, but even YouTube's own hypothetical example uses 12:

youtube tags 2

Clearly, there's no hard and fast rule. Here's what Google's guidelines have to say on the subject of "misleading metadata:"

The reason we have metadata is so that you can add additional contextual information to your videos. Please do not use these features to game or trick our search algorithms. All metadata should be representative of the content contained in your video. Among other things, metadata added in an attempt to game search algorithms will lead to the removal of your video and a strike against your account.

Please select a reasonable number of tags that most closely reflect your explainer video content. Please also only add tags to the tag section of your metadata. Adding additional tags to the description of your video may constitute spam and can result in the removal of your video. [Emphasis mine.]

From an algorithmic perspective, I doubt there is some magic number of tags that will automatically flag your video (unless it's very high). More likely, YouTube analyzes the relationship between your keywords, and if they don't appear to be related, this could harm your chances of getting discovered.

What Tags Should You Use On YouTube to Get More Views in the First Place?

So we know not to spam YouTube videos with irrelevant keyword tags, that we should use both broad and specific keywords, and that tags should thoroughly and accurately describe the video. But what kinds of tags should you be using in the first place?

Ultimately, on your business strategy. SEO is just a tool. A keyword can offer a lot of SEO potential without offering much in the way of business benefits.

On the other hand, if you only start doing your keyword research after the video has been produced, you're more likely to tack an irrelevant keyword onto the video because it has more traffic potential.

In my opinion, ideally, you should be choosing topics because of their combined SEO and overall business potential, and you should be doing this before the video is produced.

With that in mind, I believe that keyword research should be viewed as a part of market research, not as something separate that should be tacked on.

It's also important to keep in mind that Google no longer "thinks" in terms of keywords specifically. You don't want to fill your video with tags that are endless variations on the same keyword, all of them meaning the exact same thing. Try to stick to variations that have distinct meanings (as long as they are relevant to the video), unless the variations aren't so obvious.

A good proxy for this is to do a Google search for the keyword variation to see if the results are similar or identical. If they are quite a bit different, Google most likely doesn't view the queries as meaning the same thing, and that means you might want to include both variations in your tags.

Keeping all of this in mind, the YouTube Keyword Suggestion Tool is one of the best places to find topic ideas. These keywords are based on searches performed on YouTube. Unfortunately, the data isn't very detailed, and many of the suggestions won't tell you how much traffic potential is available.

Google Ads Keyword Planner is often more useful, even though the search data isn't for YouTube specifically. While the numbers themselves don't reflect what's happening on YouTube, their relative popularity can give you an idea of which topics have the most buzz.

Popularity isn't the only thing to keep in mind, however. You will generally want to avoid choosing a topic that has too much competition. Try doing a search for the query to see how many competing videos have been published, and whether it's possible for you to publish one that will be more valuable then what's already available, at least for your target audience.

If not, it' s probably best to move on.

Additional Resources 

YouTube SEO Audit Checklist

Image credit: Gregory Gill