How do YouTube tags work?

How do YouTube tags work? There’s a lot of confusion out there about YouTube tags, what they’re actually used for and how to use them to your advantage in 2020 as a new creator who is trying to grow your channel.

Contents of this video:

0.11 Understanding how the algorithm works
1:50 Factors for understanding the topic of a video
2:42 The purpose of video tags in 2020
3:08 Why our tags don't limit what we rank for
4:37 A tag approach for small channels
5:33 Tag example

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Morningfame's discussion of tags and their tag research results


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How do YouTube tags work? – Video Transcript

How do YouTube tags work? There’s a lot of confusion out there about YouTube tags, what they’re actually used for and how to use them to your advantage in 2020 as a new creator who is trying to grow your channel.

A good way to start is by thinking of YouTube as a gigantic video library with a very very efficient and helpful librarian. The Librarian has two main jobs. The first job is to make sure every new video that arrives at the library is filed and stored in the right place, based on its topic.

The second job the Librarian has is to serve the customers, who come to the search desk at the library and ask to see videos on a particular topic.

When this happens, not only does the Librarian go and collect the 20 most relevant videos from that topic’s shelf, but before they offer them to the customer, they also sort the videos into a customised order based on how much that particular customer is likely to enjoy them. Unless the customer has mentioned that they like a particular author, the librarian will tend to put the really popular videos from well known authors on the top of the pile because they’ve got a great track record.

The librarian in our example is the Google Algorithm, which just like the librarian has two main functions – working out exactly what a video is about, and sorting the pile of relevant videos so that YouTube can display the ‘best’ customised videos to its users – whether it’s displaying those videos as search results, as related videos, or as options at the end of a video.

What we’re doing with our YouTube tags is helping the algorithm to understand what our video is about, so that it’s filed in the right place in the library, and has a greater chance of being seen as a ‘relevant’ answer to the question it was designed to answer.

This is important, because only the top 20 or so relevant videos (out of potentially millions) are going to be displayed as the results of a search on YouTube. Or put another way, if your video isn’t seen as particularly relevant, it won’t get shown as search results.

To understand what a video is about, the algorithm looks at and analyses:

The title of the video, with higher priority placed on the words near the start
The words spoken in the video (based on the transcript that gets automatically generated)
The description of the video, in particular, the first part of it
The tags of the video, with higher priority placed on the tags listed first
The hashtags of the video and
The original filename of the video

What I want you to notice is that your tags are only one of the elements that the algorithm is going to use to work out what your video is about, and they’re far less important as clues to a video’s topic than they were a few years ago.

As the algorithm has become more sophisticated over the years, the relative importance of getting your video tags right has diminished. In the old days, you could add a few relevant(ish) tags to a video and it would instantly start ranking for those terms. It doesn’t work that way any more.

In 2020, what we’re trying to do with our video tags is to identify the search terms or search questions for which our video is a perfect answer. If we’re targeting a particular keyword with our video, then it makes sense for us to use the same keyword in our title, our spoken words, our description, our tags, our hashtags and our video filename. We’re also going to use tags for closely related keywords, as long as our video will be enjoyed by people searching for those keywords.

The reality is, we actually don’t need to worry about being too specific with our tags. It’s important to realise that the YouTube algorithm isn’t just going to limit our video ONLY to the tags that we’ve specified and ignore the rest.

MorningFame did a study recently – I’ll put the link in the description for you – where they looked at over 100,000 videos and found that while 57% of those video’s views were from a search term that INCLUDED a tag from that video, 43% of the views resulted from a search term that was NOT one of the video’s tags.

MorningFame then broadened their review to look at whether the search terms that generated video views matched keywords from the Title, Description OR the Tags of the video – and they found that while 68% of the video views were from search terms that matched keywords from somewhere in the title, description or tags, a huge 32% of the views were from search terms that weren’t actually in the metadata.

What this means is that no matter what we put in our metadata, the YouTube algorithm is going to build itself a picture about what our video is about.

The other thing that it’s really important to understand is that the tags we specify (by themselves) don’t have much direct influence on the second part of the Google algorithm’s process – which is the sorting and ranking of relevant videos for a particular search term, which results in the order that they get displayed in the search results.

That order is going to be more influenced by a videos watch time, how recently it was published, and the status and size of the channel who published it, than by the tags that were attached to the video.

Does that make it impossible for smaller, newer channels to rank well?

The answer is no… not really – but it IS important to understand that there’s not much chance of ranking well against large established channels for competitive keywords – even if your video SEO is impeccable.

What smaller channels need to do, is target key phrases that are less competitive, make sure your video SEO is on point, and focus on factors like audience retention to improve your channel’s watch time – which over time will have a flow on effect to your rankings. The algorithm does give a boost to new videos, so definitely use that to your advantage!

The whole point of our video tags – and SEO in general – is to help our video to be seen as relevant – we want it to be one of the videos that the algorithm grabs and displays as a search result for a relevant search.

To do that, you’ll want to make sure that each tag is a complete and standalone description of the content that’s in your video. Don’t expect the algorithm to cross reference your tags with one another to work out what your video is about.

For example, the keyphrase I’m targeting in the video you’re watching right now is ‘How to tag videos on YouTube’.

While I might add the tags ‘How to tag videos’ and ‘tag videos on YouTube’ it’s absolutely pointless to add tags of ‘How to’ and ‘YouTube’ and ‘videos’ – they’re just not specific enough about the topic my video covers.

If you learned something new about YouTube tags, make sure you give this video a thumbs up, and now that you understand how YouTube tags work – the next step is to put them to work for your videos.

Before you do that, you’ll want to watch my next video which has all the details about about how to tag videos on YouTube.

When it’s available, you’ll see a link to it appear here – but if it’s not there yet, make sure you subscribe and click the bell so that you’ll be notified as soon as it arrives. Better yet, if you’re a YouTube creator and you’re trying to grow your channel, make sure you subscribe and check out my other videos. I think you’ll find them quite useful.

Blue skies!