What matters the most to us, is what matters the most to the audience - the thumbnail and the title. So do video tags on YouTube matter anymore? We get asked this all the time, but why stop there? What metadata does count on YouTube?
What is a video tag? Well you have a title, you have a description. How else could you help categorize your content for maybe a piece of software, that wants to place it in a certain area, to help people search and find your content. That's where video tags come in. YouTube gives you 500 characters worth of space for each video to create these video tags. These could be single words, or small phrases, because there's more than one way to explain to a person, what soccer is, or what an iPhone is, or who Donald Trump is. And when you've spent time doing keyword research on a particular topic and then using all of those phrases in your tags and seeing the video rank for them getting thousands of views, you feel like you've accomplished something. And then YouTube tells you that tags mean absolutely nothing.
Are Keyword Tags Important for Rankings?
Descriptions, like titles, are a valuable piece of information. They help viewers decide if they want to watch a video, but they also let YouTube's algorithms know what your video's all about. YouTube has stated in the past that Instead of adding tags in the description, add them to the tags field when you upload a video. And while there are lots and lots of theories around tags and how to use them, they're actually quite simple. Just use the words that make the most sense for your video and YouTube's algorithms will use these, alongside your description and title and other information, to determine when to show your video to viewers.
YouTube is telling us that tags help YouTube's algorithm, to understand what our content is about? But they also say that “we do look at tags a little bit, but not as much as creators think we do.”
Testing the YouTube Algorithm with Keyword Tags
This is not the only source of information from YouTube either on this new stance on tags. In a recent Q & A session, on the Google support forums, a member of a YouTube search and discovery team, told all of his video creators, to focus on the thumbnail, title and description, and don't worry too much about the tags. But you know what, I think we spent enough time trying to work out what the YouTube team wants us to do with video tags. Let's ask the YouTube platform itself, what it does with video tags.
While YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world, if you put in enough gibberish, it's not going to give you any results. Put in a highly searched term, on the other hand, such as ‘vidIQ’ and you'll get results from, not only our channel, our videos, but all of those video creators who have mentioned vidiq in their content.
So here's the idea I'm proposing to you. Let's create a unique, digital tracker, and see if YouTube can find it. And the way we're going to do that, is through a brand new search term called, ‘qidiv54321’. All right, it is just vidiq spelled backwards, but I'm always leaving Easter eggs in our content. But in all seriousness, we needed a unique phrase, that only we were going to create on YouTube, so that we could track it ourselves. We weren't just talking about video tags, we want to put this phrase in all sorts of metadata, including title, descriptions, translated titles, comments, even in channel tags. Yeah, you remember those? Basically, wherever we think YouTube may index a search term, we want to insert it there and see if it appears on YouTube search.
To give YouTube a fair chance of finding qidiv54321, I inserted it into our channel and onto our videos a month ago and analyzed the results and this is what I discovered.
Without doubt, the bullet proof solution to making a phrase appear in a YouTube search, is to stick it in your video title.
Whenever I changed a title to include qidiv54321, the video would appear in search within 10 minutes, if not less. It's also important to note that if you remove a phrase, from a title, implications are almost instant as well. That video may no longer appear, if someone searches for that keyword. So if a video is getting a lot of views, particularly through search traffic, that does support the time honored advice which is to not tinker with a video that is performing well, especially its title.
I should also mention that I tried putting the phrase at the end of a title to see if that would make any difference, but the result was always the same. It instantly appeared in search results. Inserting a phrase into a video description, also produced a very similar outcome. Searching for it on YouTube would bring up a result, although it would sometimes take up to 24 hours to appear. Also, something interesting to note here, is that while a video is listed as new and has more views in the top results in this search term, a video with the phrase in the video title, will take priority in search results over a video with a phrase just using the video description.
I also want to draw your attention to this video too. The reason it appears in search results, is because I translated the video title and description, into Turkish, but only inserted the phrase qidiv54321 into the Turkish translated description. Yeah, let me just repeat that one for you:
Even if you set your language on YouTube to English, when you search for a phrase, and YouTube finds that phrase in a translated language, it will show it to an English user of YouTube!
I don't even know if I can get my head around that one. All right, then let's get on to one that everybody wants to know about. Video tags that don't show up in search. Now of course, I wasn't going to check this once by putting the tag at the top of a video. I'll double check it by putting the tag in the middle of a video, or triple check it by putting a tag at the bottom of a video, or quadruple checking it just to make sure. I had to quintuple check it for my own sanity, but the result was the same every single time.
If I put the phrase 'quidiv54321' in the video tags only, that was not enough to make it appear in a YouTube search.
Now of course, this is very interesting. We'll explore this more a little later, but first of all, let's go through the rest of the YouTube metadata and whether or not it appears in search. There are two metadata opportunities when it comes to playlists, the title and the very infrequently used playlist description. You can filter YouTube searches by a playlist type only, but to my surprise, when I inserted quidiv54321 into a playlist title, or playlist description, no results were ever found. Now on to the channel itself. As keen as I was to test the channel name, I didn't fancy renaming ourselves quidiv54321 for an entire month. But I think we can safely assume that it would appear in search results, because when we added the phrase to the very end of the about section of the channel, that was enough to prompt a search result.
However, when it comes to channel keywords, which astonishingly, you can edit in a new Creator Studio, even though with time of recording, other features such as playlists, live streaming and translations are still unavailable, inserting a channel keyword does not make your channel searchable through that keyword.
On to comments. I thought I would give this one a try. Inserting a phrase into one of the comments on a video, with little to no expectation. And I was right. Comments do not add to a video's metadata, when it comes to YouTube searches.
What Does This YouTube Keyword Tag Test Prove?
I admit that this is not a highly scientific way of testing the YouTube algorithm for how it treats metadata. I'm testing this in a very binary way. An exact search term, which you won't find anywhere else and it appears on one channel and maybe a couple of videos. YouTube is usually trying to deal with very common words, or very common phrases that can be matched in many different ways across millions, if not billions of videos. But I think in isolation, this test does reveal some interesting results:
The first being that YouTube is always checking the titles and descriptions of videos because whenever you change them, they appear in search results almost instantly.
And secondly, in isolation, video tags do not seem to affect search results.
The fact that I've inserted quidiv54321 into five videos on our channel and not a single one of them appears in search for that term is very telling. So I would say, in very basic terms, YouTube appears to be telling the truth when they tell us that tags don't matter as much as they used to. And if that is the case, that leaves me with two questions for YouTube. The first one being, video tags used to be a lot more important didn't they? But if video tags aren't that important anymore, then please tell us exactly what video tags do these days?
YouTube has stated that sometimes tags can be useful if “the content of your video or your channel name is commonly misspelled, and we haven't yet made that connection based on people searching for that and finding your video.”
OK but if tags are used solely to establish the correct spelling of words, then please don't put a huge box on the page and give us an excessive 500 characters to play with and call it something other than tags, because video creators are being conditioned to think of tags as something far more important over the last decade.
Tags have been important to a lot of people for a long time, including ourselves. After all, we have tools that help you put tags into your videos, but you've always got to remember this with tags. It always comes into the wider umbrella of keyword research and that is still critical. Even if you didn't do any keyword research, you probably have some good instinct of what your title should be and what might be in the description.
And once vidIQ has even a sniff of what you might be trying to say we'll suggest a hundred more ways to say something similar. If you look at almost all video creators who create YouTube advice videos, through force of habit, they do the keyword research and they do add those phrases into the video tag section of their videos.
I personally will always maintain this philosophy. If YouTube is going to provide us with a box, I'm going to fill it to the best of my ability, because if that gives me even a percentage of an advantage over my competition, it's worth putting in the hard work.
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