Why your writing matters on YouTube

The words that accompany your YouTube videos, once you’ve created them*, are a big part of how hard your channel, video and/or YouTube community at large will work for your brand or message. So never discount, half-arse, or rush the writing part. Every YouTube video can, and should be, organically optimised to derive the most value.

Let’s look at best practices for writing video titles, video descriptions, hashtags and the all-important, oft-neglected calls to action.

#1. The video title

The first step to optimising any YouTube video is to craft an appealing title that contains relevant keywords. Many experts use Google Adwords Keyword Planner or similar tools (Google TrendsYouTube Trends) for this, but I prefer to generate mine organically and I try to include exact keywords that match common search terms.

Use the word “Video” in the title (“How to,” “Tips,” “Tutorial” also work well).

Here’s an example of one of mine:

The best ways to end a business email | Video by Tiffany Markman

YouTube video titles may contain up to 100 characters; I recommend 60 or fewer so nothing’s cut off on the search pages.

#2. The video description

Video descriptions tell YouTube what your video is about. If YouTube doesn’t know how to categorise it, it’s not going to rank highly, so you should strive to create a robust, effective description each time. Here’s how:

Offer substance but don’t give everything away. Provide a basic outline of your video, including its main themes and general points, but withhold the real, value-adding elements. Make it clear what people can expect but don’t take away their incentive to sit back and watch.

Front-load main keywords ie put them closer to the start of the paragraph.

Always have one focus keyword — the main phrase you’re trying to rank for — and include two or three alternative versions of that keyword. For example, if your main keyword is business email, alternatives might be email writing tipsemail writing strategies etc.

Include a couple of broad category keywords to offer context. For this example, your broad keywords might be business writing or writing training.

The official character limit for YouTube video descriptions is 1 000 characters. So why do I recommend 120–200 words for each video, treating it as a mini blog post?

Two reasons.

1) Your viewer is most likely on your channel to watch a video, not read an essay. 2) YouTube only displays the first two or three lines of text — amounting to ±100 characters. After that, viewers have to click “Show more” to see the full description.

Here’s an example of one of mine:

The best ways to end a business email | Video by Tiffany Markman

This practical 2-minute how-to video presents some of the best ways to end a business email [tip 2; tip 3] (in other words, how to create what business writers [tip 4] call the “email sign-off” [tip 3]). It covers which phrases to use, how to punctuate them correctly, and which words to avoid using altogether [tip 1]. The video also covers old-fashioned email writing habits [tip 3] like “Yours sincerely” and “Yours faithfully”, bad writing habits (you’ll have to watch to find out if you’re guilty of any of these!) and the very short list of modern email sign-off options [tip 3] that you have outside of the baddies and the oldies. Created by leading Johannesburg-based business writer and writing trainer [tip 4] Tiffany Markman, this is a must-watch mini-tutorial if you’re interested in how to write best-practice emails for business [tip 3] and if you want to create emails that impress and express.

136 words [tip 5]

#3. Hashtags

When you use #hashtags (which are functionally different to “tags”, the short name for “metatags”) at the end of your YouTube video description, you’re telling your viewers what your video’s about. But choose ’em wisely. Don’t use an irrelevant, clickbaity or skelm hashtag because you think it’ll get you more views.

As with your description, lead with the most important keywords, including a good mix of those that are common and those that answer a question like “How do I?”.

Here’s a sample list of 12 of mine:

#howtoendanemail #businessemailwriting #businessemailtips #endinganemail #emailsignoffs #businesswriting #emailwritingtips #howtowritegoodemails #businesswritingtraining #businesswriter #bestpracticewriting #bestpracticeemail

I suggest an absolute max of 15 hashtags (’cos this is YouTube’s rule) for each video. Here’s more detail on YouTube’s hashtagging rules.

Tags are something different. You’ll find this section towards the bottom of the Video details section, under “Show more”. Now, you can remove the hashes (#) and repeat your hashtags in the tags field, separated by commas, but my advice is not to worry too much about them. Even YouTube says, “Tags can be useful if content in your video is commonly misspelled. Otherwise, tags play a minimal role in helping viewers find your video.”

#4. Calls to action

Sometimes, the easiest way to get what you want is to ask for it. There’s a reason every YouTuber ends their videos with a verbal call to “Like, share, and subscribe”: it works, and takes zero effort. Given that users might view your video and want to learn more, you must ensure that your video description gives them an easy way to contact you and/or access your website, blog or social media profiles.

Buuut, I prefer to think of these as calls to value, not calls to action.

A strong verb alone isn’t enough to compel a reader to take action — users need to understand both what the action is and why it’s valuable for them. The inclusion of that “why” is what separates a call to value from a call to action.

Instead of “Find out more”, what about “Get started — it’s free”? And instead of that, what if you used something like, “Start improving my email writing”? Yup, that’s first-person (I, my, me), which works beautifully in calls to value.

*I’m not going to cover set-up or scripting in this article. That topic really needs its own piece (but you can start with this helpful Hubspot resource: The Complete Guide to YouTube Marketing in 2021).

This article originally appeared on MarkLives on 13th May 2021.

Tiffany Markman gives good advice on words and writing. Want some?

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