“A must-read for anyone looking to use video to boost their search marketing efforts”
Count on it: Google is going to optimize for the best combination of user experience/satisfaction (market share) and revenue on each of its platforms. What users expect on YouTube vs. Google Search is different. Stating that a bit more subtly, think of this as optimizing their ongoing revenue over time.
With that in mind, we did what we always do at Perficient Digital: We collected data on which videos rank on YouTube, and which ones rank in Google, and we analyzed it in detail.
What I’ll Share in This Post:
- Data that shows just how different the YouTube and Google algorithms for ranking videos are
- Additional data that will show some of the reasons for those differences
- An analysis of how the two algorithms differ
- A short, crisp YouTube Video Optimization Checklist
- A short, crisp Google Video Optimization Checklist
Brief Methodology Overview
We pulled the YouTube rankings for 424 search queries that we knew also had YouTube videos in the Google results and captured the rankings for the top 10 results. We then pulled the Google rankings for the same 424 search queries but captured 100 results per query. We used this relatively small sample as we’re not doing a full-blown correlation factors study, but instead using the data to prove the point that the rankings vary in material ways on the two platforms.
Next, we did an analysis to see how the rankings differed from each other. For example, in the Google results we saw for the query “12 angry men,” there were YouTube videos found in positions 9, 14 and 15. It might be natural to assume that these would be the first, second and third ranking videos on YouTube, but that’s not the case, as you can see here:
In fact, the rank order looks like an inverse relationship for this result. We saw many other results that behaved like this as well. This led us to several other analyses, including the importance of video views and links to each search engine. Read on to see the details!
Illustrating the Difference Between YouTube and Google’s Video Ranking Algorithms
First, a little more background information. Of our 424 queries, 336 of them returned only one YouTube video in the top 100 Google results, and the remaining 88 returned more than one video. The highest number of videos returned for any one query was five.
Also, Google has a strong bias to put YouTube videos in the top 10 of the results, with 74.9% of all YouTube videos we saw in our data sample ranking in the top 10, and 92.6% of all the videos we saw ranking in the top 20.
But now, let’s get to some of the hardcore data. First, a look at how often the top-ranking YouTube video in the Google results is the No. 1 ranking video on YouTube:
More than half the queries we examined (55.2%) had a different video ranking first in Google than ranked first on YouTube. That’s a very significant difference in the overall rankings for the two search engines!
It’s also interesting to look at the queries that returned more than one YouTube video in Google, to see if the relative order of the videos shown is different. I.e. how often does the scenario I illustrated above for “12 angry men” happen? Let’s take a look:
Once again, more than half the time (56.8%), the order of the videos selected differs.
In fact, this trend to change the relative order gets even stronger as the number of videos Google picks increases:
One last data point for those of you who always want more: We even saw 77 cases where the video returned by Google in its results ranked higher in Google than it did on YouTube. In other words, at the time we collected the data for the query “baby songs,” the video ranking No. 3 on YouTube was the No. 1 result in Google.
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Why do the two algorithms vary so much? After all, isn’t the best video the best video? The first key thing to understand is that the intent of users on one platform versus the other will vary greatly, depending on the type of search queries. The other major variable between the two different search engines is that the monetization strategy is also quite different.
The next two sections cover WHY they are different, and if you don’t care about that, you can jump down to the heading tag “Supplemental Data on How the Algorithms Differ.”
How Does User Intent Vary Between Google and YouTube?
In its early days, Google’s sole purpose was to provide users with links to pages in response to user queries, and then the user would click on the links and leave the site. The advent of the Knowledge Graph and featured snippets has changed the landscape somewhat, in that in some cases users do not need to leave Google to get what they’re looking for.
Regardless, Google’s goal is to deliver a result that causes you to get what you are looking for on a page view basis. Everything is transactional and short-term in nature.
The other major difference is that Google is a general purpose search engine where what people are looking for could be literally anything at all, including videos.
On YouTube, the user’s goal is to watch a video. They’re not looking to leave quickly. They’re looking to spend time on the site consuming the content within the search engine site (YouTube, that is). This single purpose does significantly impact the types of queries that users enter, and it also impacts how the site gets monetized, so let’s look at that next.
How Does Monetization Vary Between Google and YouTube?
On Google, the monetization algorithm looks to optimize the value of page views served over time. You can see this in the entire structure of the basic AdWords algorithm. The original core of this algorithm was that each advertiser would bid a certain amount, and then the ranking order would be determined by multiplying their bid times their ad click-through rate (CTR).
So if someone bid $1 and their ad had a 2% CTR, and a second advertiser bid $0.50, but has a 5% CTR, then the second advertiser would actually be the one shown as the first ad. Think about this for a moment. If each ad gets shown 100,000 times, which one would produce the most revenue? Let’s see:
Now that algorithm is simpler than what Google does today, as there are many other factors. This includes things such as ensuring the relevance of the ad to the ad group, relevance of the ad text to the query, the landing page relevance and quality, and historical account performance. Together with your clickthrough rate, these are wrapped into a metric they call Quality Score.
These factors are about improving the overall user experience with the ads. So why does Google care, and shouldn’t they simply optimize on CTR and bid price to maximize short term revenue?
It’s actually quite important that they don’t. Too much pure monetization would lead to a poor user experience and would lead to an erosion of market share over time. While Google may be the dominant “traditional” search engine, users get answers to their questions by many different means (asking friends, Facebook, Amazon, Bing, texting, messaging platforms…).
Ultimately, the relevance and quality score algorithms are about preserving market share in the face of strong competitive forces. This is accomplished by creating the largest possible amount of “satisfied page views.” These factors also drive the organic ranking factors in Google, which are still driven by relevance, links, and in some form (directly or indirectly) by the user satisfaction with the content.
Monetization on YouTube is quite a bit more complex, and I’ll not walk through every aspect of it, but the core difference is obvious. On YouTube, when a user starts up a video, the initial action tends to be to sit back and watch the video. The user is not looking for an instant answer, or to click on something and leave the page.
The ads come into the experience at different times and in different ways, either as ads that show before your video plays, on the right rail, or as an overlay within the video itself. You can see some of the various ad formats here. Ads can also appear in the YouTube search results, and also in the suggested videos once the current video finishes running.
Given the nature of the ads, what drives the most value for YouTube is view time, and number of videos viewed. Long term market share for YouTube is ensured by Google via other metrics indicating satisfaction, including things such as comments, likes, shares, and embeds. Recently, there has been growing evidence that YouTube is placing increasing weight on freshness as well.
This is because all of YouTube’s advertising falls into the class of “interruption advertising,” much like traditional TV advertising. What that means is that you’re there to do one thing, and the ads are trying to entice you into doing something else.
This is quite different from Google where the ads can actually provide the source of the answer that the user wants, and therefore do not necessarily represent an interruption. For that reason, the business model on YouTube is different. Ads are not paid for on a CPC basis, but instead on a Cost Per View (CPV) basis.
You can read more about how CPV bidding in YouTube works here. That article says this about how you’re charged: “A view is counted when someone watches 30 seconds of your video ad (or the duration if it’s shorter than 30 seconds) or interacts with the ad, whichever comes first.” In case you’re wondering what an ad interaction means here, according to Mark Traphagen, it’s actions such as “clicking an annotation or end-screen link in the video, or clicking a link in the video description, or liking or sharing the video.”
The YouTube Video Optimization Checklist
The overall optimization of your YouTube channel is also important, but this section will focus on the things you need to do to optimize individual videos. The first part of the work starts before you ever film the video. It starts with the raw keyword research to identify topics in high user demand.
From a YouTube perspective, this means keywords that make sense for your business, and where the existing videos on YouTube also have a reasonable number of views. You can start by doing keyword research the way you would for Google (using your favorite keyword research process), but you can also start typing in related terms in the YouTube search box to see what autocomplete suggestions come up.
One last consideration is to check the top videos that come up for your keywords now. If you have a small business and the current ranking videos have huge view numbers and come from top accounts that have a large subscriber base, then this topic might be too competitive for you to chase on YouTube.
You should also review what type of content is currently ranking. That will tell you a lot about how YouTube sees the user intent related to those queries, what length of video so far seems like a fit, and can provide some insight into what you need to do with your video content-wise. If the variety of the results is large, and the collection of videos seems a bit off-topic, then that suggests your opportunity to rank with a video highly focused on the user query/intent may be greater.
Then, when you script and film the video, bear in mind that the No. 1 factor in the YouTube algorithm is user engagement with the video. Here are some of the components of that:
- How long they watch your video
- If they move on from watching your video to watching another video (this is a positive)
- Video view count
- Share count
- Channel subscriber count
- Links and embeds on other sites
For these reasons, you have to learn how to make great video content. That actually can be quite hard to do, though if the video is a straightforward how-to topic, and you deliver the content simply and clearly, that can be good enough. Once you have created the video, the next steps are:
- Pick a descriptive file name for the video
- Pick a compelling title
- Select a strong set of tags related to your video (keyword.io will help you find long tail keywords frequently searched on YouTube)
- Write a detailed and complete description of at least 200 words
- Place it in an appropriate category
These factors play two important roles:
- Establishes the relevance of the video. YouTube (and Google as well) does use this information to understand what queries your video is a fit for.
- Entices the user to start watching your video. Don’t shortchange this part of it, as getting your view count up is critical.
You need to establish the relevance of the video and entice users in to watch it in order to succeed. Now, we have one last set of steps, and that is to promote your video. Driving views to your video can be quite effective in helping it rank. Here are some possible ways to do that:
- Feature the video in a blog post and embed it there. Then follow the same process for promoting the blog post that you will see in the next several steps. (Embedded views on sites count as views just as if the person were watching your video on YouTube.)
- Organic social promotion
- Paid social promotion, including on YouTube (Bonus: watch time and engagement on your promoted videos count toward your channel’s metrics, so they help boost your organic rankings too!)
- Send it out to email lists
- Get third party sites to embed the video
If you’re an active member of any social communities, such as on LinkedIn, Google+, Quora, or elsewhere, you can potentially post them there as well. And of course, over time, build up your subscriber base too, as that will help get the video out to a number of people quickly as well.
There is a big difference from Google ranking here: driving views and view time by any means possible can impact its organic ranking. With our “Here’s Why” video series, we definitely see more organic viewing traffic when we promote those videos via YouTube ads.
In Google, you can’t buy organic rankings, but in YouTube you effectively can. To be fair, it’s an indirect effect. You’re not directly buying rankings there, but your paid campaigns can positively impact the signals that YouTube does look at, such as view time.
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The Google Video Optimization Checklist
The basics of YouTube video optimization still apply when you’re optimizing for Google. By basics, I mean the file name, title, description, tags and category for the video. What doesn’t apply is the video engagement side of things, and the process for keyword research and topic selection is different as well, so let’s start there.
Because Google is a broad-based platform, its use of video is limited in comparison to YouTube. As we saw in our examination of 424 queries that returned videos, only one of them had as many as five videos in the top 100 results, and only 21 (5%) of the queries had more than two videos in the top 100. That’s pretty sparse.
From a topic selection point of view then, it’s worth spending time figuring out where the real opportunities are in Google. It turns out that there are certain classes of queries where having one or more videos on the first page of Google results is pretty common:
- Informational videos
As you can see, I did not include commercial terms in the above list. Keep that in mind, that your video presence in Google will not be about direct conversion. After all, the video will be viewed on YouTube, not your own website.
However, keep in mind that if Google wants to show a video or two in their organic search results, that’s a spot that your website won’t be competing for in the SERPs, and someone is going to occupy it, so it might as well be you. It’s great branding to be there, and whatever commercial value can be extracted from that spot in the SERP will be yours.
From a keyword research perspective, you still want to find keywords with some volume that have strong semantic relevance to your business. You can tune your campaign based on your goals as well.
Are you looking to build your reputation as the primary goal? Then some informational/how-to videos may be the best target for you. Are you looking to drive email sign-ups? Then putting together an ongoing series of videos may be the best approach.
Whatever you pick, make sure that Google currently is showing a video on the first page of Google for that phrase, and that you have reason to believe that you can take that spot from the incumbent. This is where the next step of the process comes into play, and this further exposes how Google is different from YouTube.
Google places more weight on traditional ranking signals such as relevance and importance (links). So this helps you set your course for what you need to do.
Send strong relevance signals: Remember those basic YouTube optimizations I said you still need to do (file name, title, description, etc.)? That’s where you can work hard in sending out strong relevance signals to Google. You can further reinforce that in how you promote it in your blog post, social media and elsewhere. Try to send out stronger signals than the competing videos, without spamming it.
Get links to your video: So yes, these still matter. Getting your video some links will go a long way to helping drive your video’s chances of ranking in Google. To support the statement that these still matter, I did a Spearman correlation analysis on our data to see what the impact of links was on the chances of videos ranking in Google, and how they would rank.
I obtained a Spearman correlation value of 0.50. That’s a really high value, where any value over 0.3 already indicates a significant correlation. Important note: A very high degree of relevance still matters a great deal, and we saw many instances of videos with weaker link profiles outranking other videos due to higher relevance.
For those of you who want to know how I handled the Spearman calculation, I took the square of the rho value for each individual result, summed all those squares (if the rho value was negative, I subtracted it from the sum, rather than adding it), and then took the square root of the total.
What we’ve shown is just how different the two ranking algorithms between YouTube and Google really are. Keep in mind the principles outlined above when you set out on or continue a video marketing strategy. Maximizing your return on investment will depend on adopting a strategy that works well with both platforms.
Need a better search strategy? Talk to us!
Eric Enge leads the Digital Marketing practice for Perficient Digital. He designs studies and produces industry-related research to help prove, debunk, or evolve assumptions about digital marketing practices and their value. Eric is a writer, blogger, researcher, teacher, and keynote speaker and panelist at major industry conferences. Partnering with several other experts, Eric served as the lead author of The Art of SEO. Learn More About Eric Enge