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Digital distribution: SEOs, metadata and YouTube

As with all things digital, distributing your film online will bring you in to contact with some unfamiliar terms and technical jargon.

In this step, we’ll introduce some of those key terms, as well as offering some insight into how to make your video a success on YouTube.

SEOs, SERPs and searchability

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the practice of manipulating aspects of a website or piece of content to improve its ranking in search engines, improving what we can think of as its ‘searchability’, so that your video appears higher up the list in search engine results pages (SERPs).  With a video, this means paying close attention to the metadata you submit when you upload your video to a platform.

Making the most of your metadata

Metadata is data that describes other data.

So, in the case of your film, this means information relating to both format and content. Some metadata will probably be generated automatically, such as the size of the file, the length of the video, who created the file and when.

The really useful stuff - the data that will help your film to be found more easily both on the platform and more broadly on the web - is the metadata that you input yourself. This can be any information you feel is relevant or needed to help describe the file. For example, the video title, its description and tags and any associated thumbnail images are good to add.

Specific platforms may also have particular tools or advice that you might find useful when thinking about how to find an audience for your story, so be sure to see what they’ve got to say.


It might also be helpful to think about video metadata, that is title, description and tags, in terms of ‘keywords’. These are not usually single word terms, but multi-word phrases. Unfortunately, there are no ‘magic bullet’ keywords that will guarantee great searchability, but there are a few things to think about:

  • Be specific. Your keywords should accurately describe your video.
  • Try to avoid using too many single word terms, as they tend to be too broad and overly competitive, meaning that it’s hard to rank high using them. Make sure you also use lots of phrases of 2-4 words.


There are many video sharing websites, but the sheer size of YouTube singles it out from the rest. Hundreds of hours of video are uploaded to the platform every minute; billions of hours of video are watched every month. It processes billions of searches a month, effectively making it the second largest search engine in the world.

YouTube also offers a level of communication and interaction with audiences that means that both creators and viewers become part of a genuine online community, a community that can be at once intimate and international.

So, having a YouTube channel is a great way to get your content shared with as many people as possible, and for more information and tips on setting up a successful factual YouTube channel have a look at this podcast from the BBC Academy, featuring YouTube champions Jack Harries, Richard Herd and Chris Howard.

Once your channel is created, there are also a few things to specifically consider to improve searchability. There are many factors that influence where your video comes in the YouTube SERP, including your video’s number of views and likes, how much of it people watch, how often it’s added to a favourites list or video playlist, the number of subscribers to your channel and, of course, the metadata attached to the individual video.


  • Be descriptive, but not lengthy. YouTube has a 110-character limit for titles, but many search engines will truncate results to around 70 characters. Anything more than this is something of a waste.
  • Use keywords in your title (if you think it’s appropriate to your video), and place them as close to the start of your title as possible.
  • Remember that you want to entice a viewer to click on your video - make your title compelling.


  • Try to make the description for your video concise, but compelling.
  • Use this space to put in links to other videos, social media or other websites that you want to point your viewers towards.
  • Type time codes into the description to generate links to specific points in a video.
  • Choose keywords that fit naturally with your video (including those you might have used in the title), but which will also help with searchability.


YouTube also offers creators the ability to insert annotations into their videos, clickable links to boost engagement with viewers. Annotations come in many forms: links to other videos on the platform, including your own, or to playlists, associated websites, merchandise, or fundraising pages. They can also be used to provide direct links to your channel subscription page.

Currently, annotations do not work on most mobile devices, which is a significant fact considering that’s where over half of all YouTube videos are viewed. However, YouTube is developing a new annotation-like system called ‘Cards’ which will operate on all devices.

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This article is from the free online course:

Digital Storytelling: Filmmaking for the Web

University of Birmingham