The Ultimate Guide to Keyword Research for YouTube

Keyword research is a foundational element in the world of YouTube content creation. It’s not just about finding random words; it’s about understanding what your potential audience is searching for. When done correctly, effective keyword research can significantly boost your video’s visibility, leading to more views, an increase in subscribers, and enhanced engagement. This isn’t just about numbers; it’s about connecting with an audience that is genuinely interested in the content you create. By targeting the right keywords, you can ensure that your videos are not just seen, but seen by the right people, thereby growing your YouTube channel and enhancing your potential to earn more revenue. In this article, I am going to share how to research and utilize keywords to grow your YouTube channel and make more money.


Why Keyword Research is Crucial for YouTube

  • Helps you create optimized video titles and descriptions. Using keywords in titles/descriptions makes your videos more easily discovered in searches.
  • Allows you to identify low-competition keywords. Targeting more specific long-tail keywords with less competition can help your videos rank higher.
  • Provides insights into viewer search intent. Understanding what people are searching for helps you create content that satisfies demand.
  • Reveals popular and high-traffic keyword opportunities. Focusing on widely searched keywords can get your videos in front of more viewers.
  • Enables you to stand out with precise targeting. Generic keywords have lots of competition, precise keywords help you differentiate.
  • Allows you to optimize tags, playlists and other metadata. Proper keyword optimization throughout your channel improves discoverability.
  • Helps you identify gaps in competition content. Researching keywords reveals opportunities to create videos that competitors have missed.

In short, keyword research is the keystone of YouTube optimization and channel growth. Dedicating time to researching keywords for your niche and utilizing them effectively is essential.

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Step-by-Step Guide to Keyword Research for YouTube

Follow this comprehensive process to fully leverage keyword research for your YouTube channel:

Choose Your Main Focus Keyword

  • Start by selecting 1-3 primary keywords that describe your channel’s core topics and content focus.
  • These should be more generic and high-traffic keywords that have substantial search volume.
  • Example focus keywords: fitness, investing for beginners, cooking recipes.
  • Optimizing for these foundational keywords will be crucial to drive an initial audience to your channel.


Leverage YouTube Search and Suggestions

  • Go to YouTube and type your focus keywords into the search bar.
  • Review the top results – these videos are optimized for and ranking for your target keywords.
  • Scroll down and click on the search filters. Filter by view count and sort by last 30 days.
  • This will reveal more recent, popular videos ranking for your keywords. Study these – their titles, thumbnails, topics etc.
  • Click into the videos and related videos section to find more keyword opportunities. Pay attention to the video titles and descriptions for keyword ideas.
  • Let the YouTube algorithm suggest keywords! As you watch videos and engage with content related to your niche, YouTube will start suggesting very specific, relevant keywords to you.

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Use Keyword Planner for Volume Data

  • Google’s free Keyword Planner tool lets you see monthly search volumes for keywords.
  • Input a focus keyword and Keyword Planner will suggest related keywords and provide search volume data.
  • Look for keywords with sufficient volume – usually at least 1,000 searches per month is a good baseline.
  • Be sure to look at keyword variations – “investing tips” vs “investing tips for beginners” for example. Variations can have lower competition.
  • Combine keywords into long tail key phrases. “Real estate investing” is very competitive, but “real estate investing with no money down” is more specific with less competition.

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Search YouTube Autocomplete

  • YouTube search autocomplete can surface great keyword opportunities.
  • Start typing a keyword into YouTube search, but don’t hit enter. Let the autocomplete results populate.
  • Scroll through and analyze these suggested searches. The keywords/phrases that pop up have search volume behind them.
  • Repeat this process starting with different keyword variations and prefixes.
  • Example: “How to cook _” or “Beginner’s guide to _” etc.


Mine Keywords from Competitors

  • Search and find channels in your space that are successfully optimizing for your target keywords
  • Open their Videos tab and scroll through to analyze the keywords in their titles, descriptions and tags
  • See which keywords they are targeting and having success with that are relevant to your channel
  • Study their approaches for keyword placement and density within titles, descriptions and tags
  • Don’t blatantly copy, but this can reveal smart keyword optimization strategies in your niche


Use Tools Like VidIQ, TubeBuddy

  • Browser extensions like VidIQ and TubeBuddy have keyword research tools built in.
  • You can input a keyword and they will provide additional keyword suggestions along with other data.
  • Useful features include: search volume, competition level, optimization suggestions and CTR for that keyword.
  • The keyword ideas these tools surface can really enhance your research process.

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Target Long Tail Keywords

  • Generic one or two-word keywords are very competitive. Targeting ultra-specific long-tail keywords can help your videos get noticed.
  • Long tail keywords are longer 3-7 word phrases that more precisely describe a topic.
  • “Yoga” is too broad, “beginner morning yoga flow for flexibility” is a long tail keyword with lower competition.
  • Include important modifiers like your audience (beginners), benefits (weight loss), etc.


  • Keyword research shouldn’t be limited to only your seed focus keywords.
  • Look for additional keyword opportunities by researching words/phrases that are related or semantically similar.
  • Related keywords: If your channel is about mountain biking, “mtb gear” and “mountain bike trails” would be good related keywords.
  • Semantic keywords: “top tips” is semantically similar to “strategies” or “advice“.
  • Cast a wide net by looking for other relevant keywords around your core topic.


Use Keyword Tracking

  • It’s crucial to understand how your videos are actually ranking and performing for keywords over time.
  • Use tracking software like Tuberanker or to monitor your keyword rankings within YouTube searches.
  • See which keywords your top videos rank for and which ones aren’t gaining traction.
  • Double down on optimizing for keywords where you are seeing success.
  • Keyword tracking provides insights for ongoing optimization.


Treat Keyword Research as an Ongoing Process

  • View keyword research as a consistent habit, not just a one time activity.
  • Continuously monitor searches and suggestions to find new opportunities.
  • Existing high-traffic keywords go in and out of popularity over time.
  • Refine and expand your keyword list over the life of your channel as things change.


Optimizing YouTube Videos for Keywords

Conducting keyword research is just the first step. You need to properly optimize your videos themselves around those keywords:

Optimize Titles

  • Place your most important keyword(s) at the beginning of the video title.
  • Include keywords naturally – no awkward cramming or over-optimization.
  • Include keywords in your title that entice clicks and build curiosity.


Include Keywords in Descriptions

  • Mention keywords and keyword phrases near the start of your description.
  • Use them in natural sounding sentences that incorporate LSI (latent semantic indexing) keywords.
  • LSI keywords are synonym variations like “tips” vs “strategies” vs “pointers”.


Use Relevant Tags

  • Fill all 500 characters of the tags field with particular, relevant keywords.
  • Include all variations and semantics for your target keywords – “cooking” vs “recipes” vs “culinary”, etc.
  • Tags are still an important YouTube optimization factor.


Optimize Custom Thumbnails

  • Use keywords in your custom thumbnail text overlays when relevant.
  • Show imagery in the thumbnail that reflects the topic described by your keyword.
  • Entice viewers by selecting engaging thumbnail visuals.
  • Bright contrasting colors and simple uncluttered designs work best.


Check Keyword Placement in URL

  • If you customized your video URL, make sure it includes the target keyword.
  • The last portion of the auto-generated YouTube URL also often includes keywords.
  • Having the keyword in the URL helps reinforce relevance.


Include Chapters Timestamped by Keyword

  • Use chapters to timestamp sections of your video covering specific keywords.
  • Breaking up and organizing long-form videos by keyword improves viewer experience.
  • Chapters also show search engines which parts of your video focus on which keywords.


Check Transcript for Keywords

  • Review your auto-generated or custom transcript to ensure it reflects video content and includes keywords accurately.
  • Transcripts that precisely match your narration help search engines fully grasp your content.


Optimize Playlists Around Keywords

  • Create playlists based around specific keywords and topics in your niche.
  • Name your playlists directly using the relevant keyword(s).
  • When a viewer clicks on your playlist, they should immediately understand the keyword topic theme.


YouTube Common Mistakes to Avoid

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Keyword stuffing and other optimization mistakes can actually hurt your channel. Here are key errors to steer clear of.


Over-Optimizing Titles

  • Don’t just cram as many keywords as possible into your title. This looks spammy.
  • Use keywords naturally in concise, compelling titles.


Stuffing Descriptions

  • Avoid awkwardly repeating keywords too many times in the description.
  • Make sure keyword usage flows naturally.


Using Irrelevant Tags

  • Only use tags relevant to each specific video. Don’t stuff unrelated keywords.
  • You will dilute your optimization if you over-tag.


Misleading Thumbnails

  • Don’t use thumbnails that entice clicks with shocking imagery unrelated to the actual content.
  • The thumbnail preview should accurately reflect the video topic.


Ignoring Search Intent

  • Don’t target keywords if the intent doesn’t align with your content.
  • If you make cooking videos, don’t optimize for the keyword “restaurants”. It’s irrelevant to your format.


Chasing High Competition Keywords

  • Avoid overly competitive keywords with channels bigger than yours dominating.
  • You likely won’t outrank them anytime soon. Find less competitive opportunities.


YouTube Tracking and Analyzing Keyword Performance

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To determine if your keyword optimization is succeeding, you need to actively track metrics.

Monitor Search Appearance

  • Are you ranking anywhere at all for target keywords in YouTube search?
  • If not, further optimization is required to get visibility.


Check Click-Through-Rate

  • YouTube Studio provides CTR data on how often your titles/thumbnails get clicked when ranking.
  • Aim for at least a 5-10% CTR – if lower your titles and thumbnails need improvement to entice clicks.


Analyze Traffic Sources

  • Traffic source reports in YouTube Studio show which keywords are actually driving views and how much.
  • See if your target keywords are bringing in significant traffic to optimize further.


Track Ranking Positions Over Time

  • Use TubeBuddy/VidIQ rank tracking to see if you’re ranking higher over time for target keywords.
  • Progressively moving up indicates successful optimization.


Audit Top Performing Videos

  • Check which existing videos get the most traffic from keyword searches.
  • Study what they did right in terms of keyword optimization. Apply those lessons to future videos.


  • Some keywords trend or have seasonality tied to current events or holidays.
  • Continuously research to find rising trending keywords to capitalize on while they are hot.


Optimizing Channel Keywords

In addition to optimizing individual videos, you need to optimize your overall channel.


Focus Channel Keywords

  • Set 1-5 primary channel keywords you want to dominate for in searches.
  • These should be your core niche focus area.
  • Getting searches for these keywords to surface your channel is crucial for driving overall visibility.


Include in Channel Title

  • Incorporate your target channel keywords near the start of your channel title.


Optimize Channel Description

  • Naturally work keywords into the first few sentences of your channel description.
  • Use them in natural phrasing, not repetitive or awkwardly.


Use Branding Watermarks

  • If you include watermarks in your videos or thumbnails, work your channel keywords into them.
  • Ex: “Cooking with Kathy – Recipes and More”.


Create Playlists Around Keywords

  • Use playlists to organize videos around channel keywords. This improves discoverability.
  • Name playlists directly after your target keyword themes.


  • Ensure top-performing videos and channel trailers are well-tagged with keywords.
  • These high-visibility videos can drive keyword discovery of your channel.


Optimizing Beyond YouTube Itself

You can further amplify keyword optimization off the YouTube platform.

  • On your own site/blog, link back to YouTube videos with anchor text including your target keywords.


Optimize YouTube Video Schema Markup

  • Proper schema markup helps search engines understand your YouTube embed.
  • Make sure to include keywords in the markup title, description and tags.


  • When sharing your videos on social media, make sure to include target keywords in the accompanying text.


Produce Companion Blog Content Around Keywords

  • Writing long-form blog content optimized for your niche keywords can help boost those same keywords for your YouTube channel.
  • Include links back to related videos within blog posts.


Consistent, precise keyword research and optimization is required to grow a successful YouTube channel and make more money. Use this guide to dominate both high-traffic keyword opportunities as well as ultra specific long tail keywords. Analyze performance data to refine your keyword targeting over time. With smart optimization you can drive more viewers to your channel and videos.



Keyword research forms the foundation for YouTube video optimization and channel growth. By researching both high-traffic and ultra specific long tail keywords, you can identify opportunities to rank highly and get your videos seen. Avoid stuffing by optimizing titles, descriptions and other elements for keywords in natural ways.

Monitor performance metrics closely to determine which keywords drive engagement and traffic, and continuously refine your research and optimization over time. Precise, data-driven keyword tactics will propel your YouTube channel visibility and help you grow a loyal audience.

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