Video SEO: Factors for Ranking in the Top 10 on Google

What does it take to rank your video in the top 10 results on Google? And on YouTube? Well, these are two very different enterprises entirely. A recent study found that 64% of all YouTube videos appearing in Google search results had a different rank hierarchy when searched on YouTube. In other words, videos ranking high on Google, didn’t necessarily rank the highest on YouTube, and vice versa. And to be honest, why would they?

Google vs. YouTube

While Google does own YouTube, the two platforms have vastly different goals in mind for their business models. YouTube wants to keep you on the platform for as long as possible to sell more advertising whereas Google wants to solve your query as quickly and painlessly as possible. YouTube and Google have their own specific ranking factors that determine where a video will rank in its search results.

YouTube Ranking Factors

Youtube ranking factors include the following:
  • Watch time
  • Platform abandonment rate
  • Freshness
  • Likes / Shares
  • Embeds
  • Relevancy
Like Google, YouTube wants to return extremely relevant results. However, they also have the goal of keeping you on the platform, so they tend to favor content that has a proven track record of user engagement.

Google Ranking Factors

Google is known to have hundreds of different ranking factors, but the primary ones we’ll list are:
  • Keyword relevancy
  • Backlinks
  • On-page optimization
  • Domain authority
When it comes to video SEO, Google takes these factors into consideration when ranking most kinds of content. However, like many of the SERP features that can appear in results, videos also have their own rules that combine video elements and traditional SEO elements as ranking factors.

How Does a Video Rank In the Top 10 on Google?

There are roughly 6 types of queries that will normally return video results in the top 10 on Google:
  • [keyword] video
  • How to [keyword]
  • [keyword] tutorial
  • Tour of [keyword] (usually city name)
  • [Movie title] review
  • [Video game] review
For our study, we took a relatively small sample size of over 100 queries that featured over 130 YouTube videos ranking in Google’s top 10 results.We decided to look at a mix of video SEO factors mixed with YouTube factors to see if there were any definitive correlations. The factors we looked at were:
  • Closed captions
  • Backlinks
  • Date published
  • Subscribers
  • View count
  • Advertisements
  • Number of words in the description

Closed Captions

You’ve probably heard before that it’s important for YouTube and Google to get a written description of your video. What better way than to provide closed captions? Of all the videos we looked at, 75% of the YouTube videos in the top 10 search results had closed captions. This shouldn’t come as a surprise; Google is very intent on providing the best answer to a query, and the more it knows about a video, the more sure it can be about the quality and intent of the information. When performing video SEO, it’s a good idea to have closed captions.


One of the most surprising findings from the study listed above was that some of the top videos on YouTube were nowhere to be found on Google. But after checking the backlink scores against the higher ranking videos on Google, it wasn’t so surprising. The 1st video result on Google has more referring domains than the 1st result on YouTube and thus sends a higher ranking signal to the search engine. However, there were three video results appearing in the top 10 results on Google: The backlink profile of each results are different, and somewhat surprisingly, the 2nd result had the strongest profile of all. 2nd video result on Google: It’s clear that our winner is the 2nd video result, which again points to the fact that other factors are in play. However, we know that the results featured in Google all contain better backlink profiles than the 1st result on YouTube, which adds to their video SEO ranking value.

Date Published

YouTube likes to give new videos a fair chance. They won’t necessarily place the newest videos at the top of their search results, but you can generally find weeks, sometimes days-old videos in the top 5 or so results. The video below is already in the 4th position on YouTube after just 3 weeks. There are a variety of other cases where you can find fresh videos at the very top of the results. For this study, we wanted to see if videos that were older or newer were more likely to show in the Google results. We found that 57% of videos in the top 10 were published more than 2 years ago and a total of 82% had been published more than a year ago. Google doesn’t seem to value freshness as much as it does longevity when it comes to displaying videos at the top of their result pages.


A direct correlation to a YouTube ranking factor did not prove to be definitive. Videos with subscribers ranging anywhere from less than 10,000 to over 1 million all appeared similarly in the top 10 of search results. While it might matter to YouTube, it’s seemingly not a direct video ranking factor for Google.

View Count

This one is a little trickier as we didn’t take into account historical data for the purpose of this study. View counts can be directly affected by the appearance of a video at the top of the search results, so the view count may have increased as a direct effect of its appearance there. However, the data was interesting. Videos with more than 500,000 views appeared in the top 10 results 48% of the time and videos with more than 100,000 views had a 74% appearance rate. Thus, getting more views on your YouTube videos can certainly help your YouTube ranking, and may provide a boost in your video SEO rankings on Google as well.


Does having a video with advertisements on its video help your chances in the Google SERPs? The results leaned in the favor of yes. Videos with advertisements appeared more frequently in the search results. This could have an affect on how YouTube increases revenue depending on how much traffic the videos are getting comes from Google. Below, Google would fall under “External” sources, along with other places like Facebook and other websites that have your video embedded. However for videos with advertisements, it’s not too much of a discrepancy to warrant as a significant factor.

Length of Video Description

What do you think the optimal video description length should be? I was actually surprised to find that more videos ranked in the top search results with less words than more. About 61% of videos appearing at the top of the results had less than 50 words in their descriptions. Coupling this, with the fact that the majority of videos has closed captions would lead me to hypothesize that those videos with short descriptions most likely included closed captions in their videos. Out of the 75% of top ranking videos with closed captions, 59% had descriptions of 50 words or less. In this case, less is more when it comes to describing what the video will be about.


Out of all the factors we looked at, the strongest rankings signals were:
  • A strong backlink profile for the video
  • Closed captions
  • Video longevity
  • Short but informative descriptions