September 13, 2019
How To

How to Write an Effective YouTube Description: 7 steps


If a video is posted to YouTube but has a bad title and description so no one sees it …

… does it make a sound?

Even the best videos won’t help you achieve your inbound marketing goals if they don’t get viewership. There are many organic and paid tactics to get those views, but today we provide a laser-like focus on one of the most impactful as we discuss how to write an effective YouTube description.

Read the story of how a video jumped from 1,200 to 104,196 views, and learn how to use LSI keywords and give YouTube AI the information it needs to find and associate your videos.

by Daniel Burstein, Senior Director, Content & Marketing, MarketingSherpa and MECLABS Institute

(As seen in the MarketingSherpa Inbound Marketing newsletter. Click to get a free email subscription to the latest from MarketingSherpa.)

Video marketing is big business. YouTube likely generates more than $16 billion (and perhaps as much as $25 billion) in annual revenue, according to Daisuke Wakabayashi in The New York Times. In other words, if it were a stand-alone company and not owned by Google (which is why the revenue reporting is so vague), YouTube would be a Fortune 250 company somewhere between D.R. Horton and Starbucks.

But being successful on YouTube doesn’t just require video and audio (and ad buying) skills. Whip out that copywriting pen. Because what you say in the headline and description can affect how likely your video is to get found, as well as how likely people are to take a next step with your company. In other words, your writing doesn’t have to simply please an algorithm, it must help a person as well.

And this isn’t only an academic exercise. MarketingSherpa’s sister brand, MarketingExperiments, recently launched a YouTube Live series. So we’re constantly optimizing our own content as well.

“Descriptions like titles create specific data points informing YouTube’s AI (artificial intelligence) the type of content that is being watched and what other content it is related to. YouTube’s main goal is to keep people on their platform and consuming content. As a video creator, the more data points you provide YouTube, the more YouTube will be able to suggest your videos [to] viewers. Create data points and YouTube will continue to recommend your content,” Derral Eves, a YouTube and video marketing consultant with 567,840 subscribers, told me from “The Power of Video” festival in Ireland.

Here are the key steps to get you started:

Step #1: Begin with the audience

“Hopefully, companies or individuals have considered their audience and goals prior to creating content. We don’t create for ourselves. We create for others,” said Dick Grove, founder and CEO, INK Inc. Public Relations.

As with any good content or marketing, begin with the potential customer (in this case audience). There are obviously a lot of videos on YouTube already, on almost every topic. Does yours have a reason to exist? If so, why? What is the process-level value proposition of watching the video? How will it benefit the intended audience? Is it to entertain, inform? Develop a customer theory before you create the video that will help guide its creation and ultimate description and promotion.

Essentially, the video you’re creating is a product. And like any product, it should have a value proposition.

Step #2: Conduct keyword research

Once you have a good understanding of who your video is going to serve and how it will serve them, decide on which keywords to focus on.

“We suggest keyword research before titling and writing a description. Most people search YouTube the way they would pose a question, i.e., ‘How to install a dryer?’ The goal should be to research on what people are searching and then use that phrase as your title for your video. The same keyword phrase should be used in your description and keywords,” advised Erin Gordon, Founder, Savvy Outsourcing.

Remember, Google is owned by YouTube, and search is a huge driver of video discovery on the site — and not just on YouTube. YouTube videos feature prominently in Google results, and even in Google competitors like Bing/Yahoo! and DuckDuckGo. All of these search engines have a video tab that surfaces many results from YouTube. This is in addition to YouTube videos showing up on SERPs (search engine results pages) as inline images with results, as well as in a knowledge panel. 

And of course, YouTube has its own search function as well, which emphasizes the keywords.

“I have found including the keywords you're targeting in the description as well as the title to be effective in helping your video stand out since YouTube bolds any searched-for keywords in search results,” suggested Stacy Caprio, owner, Her.CEO.

“See [this] image example, a video I made with over 500,000 organic video views that illustrates this point.”



While at the end of the day successful videos will be those made for people not algorithms, keyword research can help inform the content and description.

“I do keyword research for every video using a tool called TubeBuddy. This lets me know the keywords I should target in my video and include in my description, title and tags. When I write my descriptions, I am sure to implement as many keywords as I can into it while still making it sound natural (ideally, if I can get two-to-three keywords in at least once, that's good),” said Matthew Speiser, staff writer, Fundera.

Since becoming lead of YouTube content strategy at Fundera in April, Speiser has been able to expand the subscriber base from 700 to 1,100 and improve channel views by 63%.

Step #3: Make the video

And make it awesome, using your understanding of what can best serve a potential audience.

We’re not going to focus on the video itself since this article is about descriptions, but it is worth mentioning that there is more to getting your video watched than keywords. The YouTube algorithm is constantly changing, but some element of engagement has usually been a factor — such as watch time, likes, dislikes and comments.

If a person engages with your video, it not only helps a specific video get watched more, but it’s more likely that person will receive more recommendations to see other videos you created.

And while we’ve mentioned search so far, getting your video recommended is key to getting viewership. More than 70 percent of the time spent watching YouTube videos is influenced by YouTube’s recommendations engine, according to YouTube Chief Product Officer Neal Mohan.

Remember, YouTube is a business. Their goal is to get as much of people’s time as they possibly can, keep them on YouTube watching YouTube videos. So you also might want to consider frequent advice that Google provides when asked about SEO — don’t focus so much about the technical aspects and gaming the system. Produce quality content. And it’s our (Google’s) job to get the traffic (or in this case, viewers) to you.

While that advice is important to consider when making the actual video, it doesn’t write the description for you. So let’s get back to YouTube description writing …

Step #4: Write a clear title

“Clarity trumps persuasion.” MECLABS Institute CEO and Managing Director Flint McGlaughlin has been teaching that mantra for decades regarding conversion optimization. It turns out that advice is just as relevant when optimizing on YouTube.

“In 2012, I launched a video on my channel called ‘Do the Penguin!’ This video was about a stage anxiety-reducing technique used for lowering stress before public speaking. I called it ‘Do the Penguin!’ because when you do the exercise, you waddle like a penguin. What I didn't understand then, and do now, is that when you're titling videos and writing descriptions, you need to do so in a way that both humans and computers can understand,” said Jill Schiefelbein, owner, The Dynamic Communicator.

After one year, the video had 1,200 views. Schiefelbein then changed the title to “Calm Your Nerves Before Public Speaking: Do the Penguin!” and updated the description as well — and used a similar (clearer and more keyword-driven) strategy across all the videos in her 52-video series.

The video now has 104,196 views, “significantly more than the organic growth would've been,” she said.

“[I] chose that [title] by diving into YouTube analytics — especially search and suggest. Then did keyword research to find out what terms and phrases related to public speaking were being searched the most and chose the ones most relevant to my content,” Schiefelbein explained.

When writing the title, also keep in mind the limitations of the platform. “YouTube headlines need to be 100 characters or less, although they’re often truncated after 70 characters for searches, so being specific with the language is imperative,” Grove said.

Step #5: Support the title and video with a relevant paragraph

“Write a relevant paragraph that contains keywords, restates your title and is not spammy,” Eves recommends.

Beyond direct keywords, consider other words that are related to your topic.  “The description box is a great place to add related keywords, also known as LSI keywords, to boost SEO,” said Paul Farmer, VP of Marketing, Woodtex.

LSI stands for latent semantic indexing. These are words related to your keywords that help provide context to search engines. For example, if you’re targeting keywords like “organic food” and “organic produce” with your video, you might also want to consider related words like “healthy,” “fit,” “wholesome,” “whole foods,” “natural,” “farmers market,” “local,” “biodiversity,” “ecological” or “Earth,” depending on what your video is about.

If you’re targeting “Jacksonville Jaguars” as your keyword, you might add LSI context with “#1 defense,” “2020 Super Bowl champs” and “Josh Allen rookie of the year.” OK, maybe I’m getting a bit ahead of myself on that one.

Here is an example description from Speiser for a video called “5 Genius Tips for Opening an Etsy Shop,” that he said “is pacing well with over 1,200 [views] in its first month.”

Running a successful Etsy store is about two things: Having great products and knowing how to sell on Etsy. In this video we will provide you with five actionable tips for selling on Etsy that can increase your traffic and boost sales. Utilizing our Etsy tips can help bring your custom and handmade products to consumers around the world. For the complete guide visit:

Here is what we will go over in our video:

Using professional photos (0:27)

Curating your store (1:56)

Optimizing your store for search engines (3:23)

Pricing and Etsy fees (5:52)

Financials (6:59)

Subscribe to our YouTube channel for more videos on how to help your business succeed:

Want to discover what financial options are available for your small business? Using Fundera’s proprietary technology, you can apply for financing with over 30 different lenders with one application, at no cost whatsoever. Get started today:

“As you can see, we were able to implement three of our main keywords (how to sell on Etsy, Etsy tips, selling on Etsy) seamlessly. We also added a quick, punchy intro, CTAs (calls to action), and timestamps,” Speiser said.

Step #6: Add links

As Speiser mentions above, links are another key element of the description.

Timestamp links can encourage impatient viewers to jump to a specific part of the video to get the information they want instead of not watching the video at all because they consider it to be too long. Plus, the text associated with the timestamp links provides a nice summary of what is in the video.

Call-to-action links, as with any other type of marketing, encourage customers to take the next step in your brand’s funnel. “If I include links in my description, I make them Bitly links, as we are able to track these,” Speiser said.

And getting back to the discoverability of your videos, links are an important way for an algorithm to make associations.

“Provide data points to link your new video with similar content on your channel. This is done by adding two-to-four links to videos in a channel playlist. This informs YouTube these videos are linked and should be played as a series,” Eves advises.

Step #7: Add hashtags

While search is very relevant to YouTube, remember it is a social media platform as well.

You can use hashtags to coordinate all social media aspects of a campaign across all channels, as John Hancock did with its #WeRunTogether campaign.

And you can use hashtags to provide another signal for discoverability as well. Beyond catchy campaign-type hashtags, Eves advises marketers to “provide hashtags with keyword phrases and channel name.”

Giving YouTube information

There’s plenty of advice above, but if I had to sum it up — don’t go overboard in trying to game the system. Remember what a description is; it is supposed to describe the video.

To your viewers (humans).

And to computers as well (YouTube’s algorithm). As Eves said when summing up the advice he provided, “These three techniques provide rich analytical data points for YouTube’s AI to understand and suggest your content to the viewers in your niche.”

Related Resources

MarketingExperiments YouTube channel

Social Media Marketing on YouTube and Instagram — interview with a social media influencer

Social Media Marketing: 30% increase in website visitation for Nassau Paradise Island using YouTube ads

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