YouTube Chapters: What They Are & How to Add Them

by | Last updated Aug 22, 2023 | Digital Marketing

Read Time: 7 min read

Summary: TL;DR: YouTube chapters are a game-changer for video content organization and SEO. They enhance user experience by allowing viewers to navigate videos easily and boost visibility in search results. By manually adding timestamps to videos, creators can optimize SEO and improve viewer engagement. Automatic chapters can also be enabled, but may not work for all videos. Testing and monitoring metrics like average view duration is crucial to assess the impact of chapters on video performance. Properly formatted timestamps and relevant chapter titles are key to maximizing the benefits of YouTube chapters. Incorporating YouTube chapters strategically can significantly enhance your digital marketing efforts and online performance.

YouTube and video content in general continue to play an increasingly prominent role across the digital marketing landscape. Adding chapters to your YouTube videos—either manually or with the automatic chapters feature—helps your content show up in search engine results and allows viewers to easily navigate them with the YouTube scrub bar. Here’s everything you need to know about YouTube chapters, including why and how to use them.

YouTube video

What Are YouTube Chapters?

Video chapters are a way to organize your YouTube videos into easily accessible subtopics. By using labeled timestamps, you can create sections that viewers can preview to see the content of a video and easily find the parts they’re looking for within the video’s progress bar.

A standard YouTube video without chapters looks like this:

Screenshot of Hurrdat YouTube Video Without Any Chapters

And a video using timestamps to add video chapters looks like this:

YouTube Video with Chapters Set Up

As you can see, adding YouTube chapters creates a neat and organized feel for your videos. That isn’t their only benefit, though. Let’s dive into the all the ways video chapters can benefit your marketing efforts.

Benefits of YouTube Chapters

Adding chapters to your YouTube videos has two primary benefits. The first is the improved user experience you get by making it easier and faster to find information within a video. The second benefit is helping your video to show up more prominently in search results.

Better User Experience

Just like the Google search algorithm, YouTube chapters aim to help viewers find exactly what they’re looking for more quickly and in as few steps as possible. Giving people the ability to easily find and jump to specific video sections of content is very powerful.

From letting you jump straight to your favorite song in an hour-long concert video to helping you instantly find the exact step where you’re struggling within a tire-changing tutorial, YouTube chapters can make a video far more user-friendly. When videos have chapters, viewers don’t have to watch an entire video or try to blindly scrub their way through the video progress bar to find a certain piece of information they want.

Increased Visibility

Not only can YouTube chapters help videos be featured more prominently in search results, but it’s also likely that chapters have some influence over the videos Google displays in its search engine results, including its featured snippets.

Here’s a great example of how chapters likely played a role in helping a video win the top search result position. You can see that the video also gets significantly more search engine results real estate than the others since the chapters are featured on the results page.

Screenshot of Google SERPs Showing YouTube Chapters

YouTube chapters that are clear, descriptive, and labeled with keywords can help Google and YouTube provide better results to searchers. With YouTube videos making their way into Google’s search snippets more often, adding chapters is a simple way to help Google understand your content better, while also helping your videos gain more organic search traffic.

How to Manually Add Chapters to YouTube Videos

YouTube video

Adding YouTube chapters manually can maximize your YouTube SEO strategy and metrics—and it’s easy to add them! Just follow these simple steps:

Timestamp Your Video

The first step is simply to watch your video and identify when a new section starts. Here’s how it will look using this video as an example:

YouTube video
  • 0:00 – Choose High-Quality Images
  • 0:19 – Showcase Relevant Images
  • 0:33 – File Formats and Dimensions
  • 1:10 – Keyword Research
  • 1:18 – Optimize Image File Names
  • 1:29 – Add Structured Data (Schema Markup)

One important note to remember is that you must start your video timestamps with 0:00 for YouTube chapters to work. And if your video exceeds ten minutes or one hour, the timestamps will have to change from 0:00 to a 00:00 or 0:00:00 format, respectively.

Add the Timestamps to Your Video Description

Screenshot of a YouTube Description with Timestamps for Chapters

When uploading your video, include the timestamps in the video description to create a sort of table of contents for viewers. It’s common practice to also add a “Timestamps” or “Chapters” header in the description to create structure and context for why these timestamps are in the description. Once you’ve added the timestamps and saved your updates, the chapters in your video description should look like this:

Screenshot of YouTube Chapters Shown in the Description

That’s it! Those two simple steps will add chapters to any YouTube video in your channel.

How to Enable YouTube Automatic Chapters

If you’d like to save yourself the time it takes to manually add timestamps, you can enable Google to generate and label key moments using machine learning. However, not all videos are eligible for automatic chapters and the eligibility requirements are still unclear, so the feature may not work for all your videos.

To turn on this YouTube feature, content creators can access their upload settings and “allow automatic chapters (when available and eligible).” This setting can be changed in bulk under “Upload defaults” on the YouTube Studio dashboard or under the upload settings for an individual video. If you see results you don’t like—such as generated chapter titles that aren’t optimized or chapter breaks in places you don’t want them—you can override the automatic chapters by adding manual chapters.

How to Get the Most Out of YouTube Chapters

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for leveraging chapters on YouTube videos. In some cases, you might actually want to avoid chapters completely. In other cases, you’ll need to do some experimenting to find out what gets the best results.

Decide Which Videos Need Chapters

Some videos will benefit much more from YouTube chapters than others, and some won’t benefit at all from having them. How-to videos, educational videos, and other long-form videos like video podcasts would be great situations to use chapters. Any video with several subtopics—especially those with potentially high search volume—are probably good candidates for having chapters, as well.

However, videos that are really short, highly-engaging, or entertainment-focused might not benefit from YouTube chapters. If you have videos that keep viewers engaged from start to finish, you don’t want to create a distraction or reason to skip around—which could ultimately have a negative impact on YouTube metrics like watch time, average view duration, and average percentage viewed.

Test with YouTube Metrics

Not sure whether adding YouTube chapters makes sense for a certain video? Testing is a great way to find out!

For example, if you add timestamps to an existing video, what happens to the video’s average view duration and the average percentage viewed? Tracking these metrics through YouTube Analytics (which you can find on your YouTube dashboard) before and after adding chapters will help you understand if chapters are improving or hurting your video’s performance.

Beyond these video metrics, keep an eye on how chapters increase or decrease the number of YouTube views and watch time. Do you notice more traffic coming in from external sources? Or better audience retention? Monitoring any growth in these areas after the updates will help you to understand the impact of adding video chapters, as well as the types of videos they do or don’t make sense for.

Follow YouTube Video SEO Best Practices

By using SEO research tools and a good keyword research strategy, you can optimize different fields in your video—including your YouTube chapter titles—to help you rank higher for the search terms your audience is using.

Let’s use an instructional video about hanging a shelf as an example. If you published a video titled “How to Hang a Shelf on Any Surface,” and titled your YouTube chapters after the names of the surfaces like “drywall,” brick,” and “sheetrock,” you’re not optimizing your labels based on how people actually search. Instead, if you write the chapters with more optimized labels like “How to hang a shelf on a brick wall” and “How to hang a shelf on drywall,” you’re more likely to reach a larger audience.

Why Your YouTube Chapters May Not Be Working

There are many common reasons why your YouTube chapters aren’t working:

  • Video is missing the initial intro marker (i.e., 0:00, 00:00, or 0:00:00)
  • There are fewer than three chapters in the video
  • Video chapter length is less than ten seconds
  • Timestamps are not in chronological order
  • One or more timestamps are incorrectly formatted
  • Timestamps are entered with a comma, period, or semicolon instead of a colon
  • Improper spacing in timestamps
  • Video has inappropriate content or copyright strikes

YouTube Video Chapters FAQs

How Do You Turn Off Youtube Chapters?

Creators are able to turn off YouTube automatic chapters for all videos by utilizing the advanced settings under the “Upload defaults” tab in the YouTube Studio dashboard, or you can opt out within individual videos by accessing the upload settings for that particular YouTube video.

How Do You Add Key Moments in a Youtube Video?

If you have automatic video chapters enabled, Google Search instantly tries to detect and present relevant YouTube key moments in your videos onto the search engine results page. However, you can manually select these key moments by including YouTube description timestamps or by adding structured data.

How Do You Properly Format a Chapter Timestamp on YouTube?

The formatting of your YouTube chapters will vary depending on the length of your video.

  • If your video is less than ten minutes, you’ll follow the “0:00 (m:ss) TITLE” format.
  • If your video is more than ten minutes and less than an hour, you’ll follow the “00:00 (mm:ss) TITLE” format.
  • If your video is more than an hour, you’ll follow the “0:00:00 (hh:mm:ss) TITLE” format.

Are YouTube Chapters Available in All Countries?

Yes, YouTube chapters are available in every country and in every language.

Incorporating YouTube videos into your digital marketing strategy? With a comprehensive approach to digital marketing, Hurrdat Marketing offers SEO services and content marketing services to improve your YouTube metrics and online performance. Contact us today to learn more!

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