YouTube SEO Best Practice: Sainsbury’s Christmas ad ranks higher than John Lewis

YouTube SEO Best Practice: Christmas adverts 2015

Christmas ads are part and parcel of the holiday season (excuse the terrible pun). Retailers such as John Lewis invest seven figure sums in hopes of achieving top dog status, and it seems to have paid off for them this year, if you’ll believe one consumer poll, which heralded their “Man on the Moon” advert as the best Christmas ad of 2015.

However, it’s Sainsbury’s Christmas ad “Mog’s Christmas Calamity” which seems to have taken the lead in YouTube for a variety of key search terms, including “Christmas advert 2015”, “best Christmas ad 2015” and “Christmas ads 2015”.

(NB. rankings are constantly changing so you might see different results today than we did during our testing)


Sainsbury’s rise above John Lewis in YouTube Rankings

YouTube SEO best practice: Christmas Adverts - YouTube Ranking 2015


YouTube SEO best practice: Sainsbury's and John Lewis ranking in YouTube


But why is Sainsbury’s ranking higher than John Lewis on YouTube?

John Lewis does rank in position no.1 for a number of other searches in YouTube, but these are pretty key terms which you’d expect them to perform best for, given their reputation.

Using our Pi Datametrics Page Diagnostics tool we are able to analyse some of the key on-page and off-page YouTube SEO ranking factors. We’ve decided to compare Sainsbury’s and John Lewis on their respective levels of optimisation, based on the key search term “Christmas advert 2015”, to find out why Sainsbury’s may have peaked highest.


John Lewis outperforms Sainsbury’s both on and off-page

YouTube SEO best practice: Pi Datametrics Page Diagnostics - Sainsbury's and John Lewis YouTube SEO Comparison


We’ve input the key search term and respective video URLs to compare key optimisation metrics.

Based on backlinks, social shares and on-page optimisation, it seems like John Lewis should be returning highest for the search term “Christmas Advert 2015”, but as we already know, it’s not.

So, there must be some other factors which YouTube has considered when returning Sainsbury’s as position no.1 in the rankings for this and other key search terms…


Sainsbury’s vs John Lewis: 10 YouTube SEO Ranking Factors

YouTube SEO best practice: YouTube Ranking Factors - Sainsbury's vs John Lewis

Read our YouTube SEO Ranking Factors article for more information on each point explored below.

1. Title (John Lewis Wins):

According to Pi Datametrics Page Diagnostics Sainsbury’s title, despite incorporating the key search term, is too long so John Lewis wins.

2. Description (draw):

Sainsbury’s incorporates more of the search term, albeit interspersed throughout the copy and in a slightly different order.

John Lewis has, however, done a better job of incorporating its key online assets within the description (i.e. website, social media) which is good for building brand authority, and leads to views of future content, which evidently affects ranking.

3. View Density (Sainsbury’s wins):

At the point of writing Sainsbury’s in fact have 1 million+ more views than John Lewis for their Christmas advert, despite having less backlinks and social shares.

A video’s cumulative view count growth over time is also a deciding factor in where it ranks in YouTube. ClickZ support this theory, stating that: “The more views your video gets in 48 hours, the better [your video] ranks.”

Sainsbury’s Christmas ad, for example, was actually released a week later than John Lewis’ (JL: 5.11.15, Sains: 12.11.15), yet has more views, and is simultaneously beating JL in YouTube results pages for certain key terms.

4. Thumbs Up/Down (John Lewis Wins):

John Lewis’s Christmas ad has approximately five thousand more “likes” than Sainsbury’s, and has less ”dislikes”. YouTube will have taken this into consideration when ranking each video, so in this context John Lewis is better optimised.

5. Comments (John Lewis Wins):

As we can see John Lewis has over double the amount of comments than Sainsbury’s for its Christmas ad video.

However, quantity isn’t everything. Sainsbury’s comments may, theoretically, have included less spam and more relevant keywords, which would also have determined ranking.

6. In-video annotations (Sainsbury’s wins):

YouTube SEO best practice: Sainsbury's YouTube annotations

Sainsbury’s and John Lewis also use YouTube annotations effectively to link to subsidiary assets, i.e. campaign pages on respective websites or behind the scenes footage. However, Sainsbury’s Christmas ad provides 2 annotations, so offers more options for users to explore.

7. Brand Authority – Sidebar Assets (Sainsbury’s wins):

YouTube SEO best practice: Sainsbury's monopolise YouTube sidebar

Sainsbury’s has done a fantastic job in this instance of building their brand authority in the sidebar suggestions. In fact, every single video within their Christmas ad sidebar links back to a Sainsbury’s video asset (even seemingly unrelated ones). Contrastingly, the sidebar for John Lewis’ advert offers up only four of John Lewis’ other videos – and actually also suggests two of Sainsbury’s Christmas ads. (NB. All analysis was conducted when signed out and in an incognito tab so as to avoid personalised suggestions).

But why are Sainsbury’s videos appearing more frequently in the sidebar suggestions? Well, having had a look at both Sainsbury’s and John Lewis’ channel in more detail, we’ve found that Sainsbury’s:


  • Provides more videos – Approximately 500 more to be precise.

YouTube SEO best practice: Sainsbury's Youtube channel vs John Lewis

  • Optimises better across its video assets – For example, most of Sainsbury’s videos come with subtitles, which can be indexed by YouTube to determine ranking, whereas John Lewis’ seldom implement this feature in their videos. Also, John Lewis often tends to use shortened links to its website in the description – therefore omitting its brand name. This could also have a knock on effect on YouTube SEO ranking.
  • Distributes content more frequently– It seems that Sainsbury’s tend to update their content on a more regular basis than John Lewis.
  • Incorporate brand name as a keyword in nearly all Titles – Most videos incorporate “Sainsbury’s” in their Title, therefore unifying the brand. John Lewis miss a trick, as many of their video titles fail to mention their brand name.

Sainsbury’s brand authority is, without a doubt, a significant reason for its strong performance in YouTube, as it is recognised it as authoritative.

8. Subscribers (John Lewis Wins):

John Lewis has the most subscribers to its channel in this instance (approx. 50k more than Sainsbury’s). More subscribers patently translates as more views, and affects YouTube rankings as a result.

9. Meta Tags (Sainsbury’s wins):

As we can see below, Sainsbury’s is better optimised for the specific term “Christmas Advert 2015”, which probably contributes to its no.1 status in YouTube for this term. John Lewis’ search terms are comparatively more short-tail and broad (i.e. “UK” and “Christmas”)

YouTube SEO best practice: Sainsbury's vs John Lewis YouTube Meta Tags

10. Subtitles, closed captions and transcripts (Draw):

YouTube SEO best practice: YouTube Subtitles for Indexing - Sainsbury's vs John Lewis

Sainsbury’s and John Lewis utilise subtitles to give YouTube something extra to crawl. Both are therefore well optimised on this occasion.


Sainsbury’s is more consistently optimised across its YouTube assets

This case study was all about highlighting the factors which contribute to overall positioning in YouTube. We’re not trying to state that one retailer is definitively better than the other, but rather attempting to identify the strengths and weaknesses of each video to demonstrate YouTube SEO best practice.

It just goes to show that factors which people tend to think are the be all and end all of YouTube SEO – such as social shares, comments and likes – aren’t the only ones which contribute towards ranking, otherwise, in our case study John Lewis would be top for everything.

At one point view count would have been the number one priority in terms of YouTube SEO, but now YouTube favours quality, relevance and consistency in SEO practice, and prioritises elements which inspire engagement, and increase watch time.

It’s clear from our findings that John Lewis’ Christmas ad is pretty well optimised and fulfills a lot of the requirements for ranking well in YouTube. However, that’s not necessarily the case across the JL whole channel, and despite having more subscribers, backlinks, and comments it seems to have lost out to Sainsbury’s due to its lack of brand authority and comparatively lower level of optimisation across a majority of its video assets.