The number of views YouTube videos get in a single day is up to the billions now, with hundreds of hours of new content uploaded every minute, versus the month it would take twelve years ago when YouTube launched. Searching through that deluge of video can be harder than searching the entire web, so here’s a helpful guide to find that weird Wonder Woman video you found in 2007 that you can’t stop thinking about, but haven’t seen since — provided its still on Youtube.
The search basics
You can’t miss the YouTube search box, up there at the top of every page, but you can miss the filters that appear on the results page. They cover upload time, result type, video duration, and video quality, and they’re particularly handy when you want to find the latest clips in a sea of content—set the filters to today or even the last hour if you’re looking for a movie trailer that’s just launched and trying to avoid all the vlogs from two weeks ago filmed in anticipation of that trailer. To save a video for later without leaving the results page, open the overflow menu (the three dots) adjacent to your preferred video and add it to your Watch Later playlist.
If you want to see the very freshest content that YouTube has to offer then set the Sort by column (far right) to Upload date — we warn you though that this will serve up a lot of videos of lesser quality for the popular search terms. To see videos that are already a hit on YouTube, use the View count or Rating options.
Under the Features column are filters you can use to find particular types of content, such as 4K videos that are going to look great on your huge television set, or creative commons clips that you can use in your own projects without paying any royalties. The Duration filter is useful too, whether you have a little or a lot of time to spare watching clips.
Use search operators to narrow things down
As on Google, you can add search operators to your YouTube queries, though they’re not widely advertised. For example, your keywords are normally matched against the title, tags, and description, but if you put “intitle:” in front of them, YouTube only returns matches from the video title.
As on Google, you can put keywords in quotes to match exact phrases, put a plus (+) symbol in front of words you definitely want to match, and a minus (-) symbol next to keywords you definitely want to exclude (that last option is particularly helpful when you’re looking for something obscure and getting a lot of irrelevant results).
You can even add filters after a comma on the end of your search terms, and combine them together: look for “trees, today, spherical” to find 360-degree videos of trees uploaded today, for example. Other common filters include: Channels, film, show, short, long, 4k, HD, cc, creativecommons, 3D, live, purchased, spherical, hour, today, week, month and year.
Use channels and playlists to avoid junk videos
Sometimes the best route to the video you’re after is through a channel or a playlist rather than a general search, particularly if the video you want has been badly described or tagged, or there are a ton of copycat videos around (whenever we want an official, clutter-free, authentic movie trailer, we head to the channel of the film studio).
You can find channels and playlists from the main Filters drop-down menu but a little creative thinking is required—so maybe working out who might be publishing the videos you want to see rather than searching for titles and keywords specifically. Note that channels also have their own search box, on the front page of the channel and limited to that channel only.
You should subscribe to channels that you like, and if you get that mix right, you might not have to do much searching at all in the future—all the videos of interest get piped straight into your YouTube homepage whenever you happen to access the site (you can even get alerts when new videos appear by clicking the notification icon on the right-hand side of the channel’s front page).
Search YouTube outside YouTube
You don’t have to do all your YouTube searching inside YouTube. It’s especially unhelpful when searching for older videos. YouTube-owner Google has a dedicated Videos tab on its results page, but you don’t even need to use this if you include “videos” or “YouTube” in the original search terms. Get creative with your search terms and you can quickly turn up some hidden video gems.
You’ve also got access to all the usual Google search features, like the option to limit results by date under the Tools menu, or the advanced search pane available under Settings, which includes geographical limits amongst other options. As on YouTube itself, you can include and exclude search terms with a plus or a minus.
And here’s a bit of a curve ball: Bing is actually better at finding YouTube videos. Type in your search terms and then hit the Videos tab. The interface is an improvement on what Google offers. You can see related searches along the top of the screen, and you can quickly save results you’re interested in to check back in on later.
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It's not yet available in the UK, but has just been rolled out to five US states.