Over the years I’ve reached around 319,000 subscribers, with some videos reaching more than 3 million views. Today I want to talk to you about some tips and tricks I’ve learned to help make your videos and channel stand out and be more successful.
Why make content for YouTube?
YouTube is a video sharing platform that has an enormous reach and impact on the world. In 2019 it had 1.9 billion monthly active users worldwide and is the 2nd most popular social media platform. Its content covers 80 different languages (95% of the population), and a wide age group (between 18 to 44 years old, according to surveys). 720,000 hours of video content is uploaded to YouTube every hour, and people watch 1 billion hours of content every day on the platform.
Source: We Are Social/Hootsuite
From a business perspective, 62% of businesses use YouTube to post video content, and 90% of people say they discover new brands or products on YouTube. If those statistics don’t pique your interest as a marketer, you might want to investigate a new career.
So now that we understand the potential impact of YouTube content, let’s talk about some tips and tricks for creating content on the platform that will get you attention.
Content to post on YouTube
A strong theme is a great place to start when designing your video content. While some of the most popular videos on YouTube are people playing video games and screaming, there are tons of well-designed and executed videos coming from channels with a strong focus on their brand.
If you’re a business, you’ll want to think about ways you can turn what you do into video. For VMG Studios, we decided to create educational videos around what we do. Educational content is a brilliant way to go, as tons of people will go to YouTube to look up everything from how much it costs to make a video, to how to change the oil in their motorcycle.'
FortNine provides educational motorcycle content with links to products on their website.
Educational content pairs really well with a splash of humor or style. This kind of material is called “Infotainment” and it’s hugely popular. From theoretical physics (Exurbia) to modular synthesis (Andrew Huang), if you can engage and teach at the same time, you’re going to do great. This engagement will lead to a brand identity on a platform that has the potential for customer conversion and brand advocacy.
Andrew Huang mixes humor, smart editing, and great teaching into his popular music channel.
How to increase viewership on YouTube
When your channel gets to a certain size, you may find yourself being courted by an MCN. An MCN, or Managed Content Network, is a company that offers channel support through various means in exchange for a cut of your Adsense revenue. Adsense is the money you get from Google for displaying ads on your videos, and you’re only eligible for it after you meet certain conditions. We’re not going to dig into monetization in this article, but I do want to pass along some tips I got from a call with one of the bigger MCNs.
After you’ve nailed down the look and feel of your content, one way to make your content rise to the top of YouTube’s algorithm is to tailor videos to current trends and events. For instance, if it’s Christmas, make a video or series of videos with a Christmas angle. If the World Series is happening, see if you can create something that uses that in the video (and make sure it’s obvious via the video thumbnail and title).
Popular YouTuber zefrank1 shows off a sponsored holiday-themed video.
Holidays and sporting events aren’t the only trending topics you can jump on. Paying attention to viral trends on social networks will give you an up-to-the-minute view on potential video topics.
You don’t need to always be chasing trends if it’s not applicable to your channel but keeping up with them may lead to inspiration that translates to a video that people want to watch NOW.
Understanding the YouTube algorithm
I mentioned The Algorithm earlier, and how sometimes certain kinds of content can work out better for you. YouTube’s algorithm is a mysterious and complicated thing. When it’s working in your favor, your videos can rise to the top and get thousands of views in an hour. When it’s against you, your videos may never see the light of day unless someone searches for the exact title of your video. Let’s dive into what we know about the algorithm (for now) and how you can use it to your advantage.
YouTube’s algorithm affects the six different places your video can surface on the platform:
- In search results: when someone searches for a topic on YouTube.
- In the recommended streams: the videos recommended alongside what you’re currently watching.
- On the YouTube homepage: videos shown when you’re not logged in or on the homepage not showing your subscriptions.
- In trending streams: a special section on the YouTube homepage.
- In channel subscriptions: creators you’re subscribed to.
- In notifications: creators you’ve subscribed to and opted-in for notifications about.
The last two might seem strange: why would an algorithm decide to show me or notify me about content I’ve chosen to subscribe to and be notified about? Well, that’s the magic of the algorithm: even content you’ve opted-in for can appear and disappear according to its whims. It’s that powerful.
You also might think that the algorithm is focused on suggesting “good” videos: ones that have a lot of positive engagement (views, comments, and thumbs-up ratings). This, however, is not the case. The algorithm wants to match you with videos you might want to watch, with the end goal being that you spend as much time on the platform as possible (and see as many ads as possible).
The algorithm does have some preferences, though, such as how well your video’s metadata fits the user’s query. This is stuff like video title, description, and keywords, which we’ll get into below. Another big thing for the algorithm is video engagement through likes, comments, and watch time. It favors channels that upload regularly, likes videos around 10 minutes (this is the limit for a certain type of ad to be displayed on the video), and doesn’t really care if the engagement is good or bad. A video with a ton of thumbs downs is still getting engagement, and that’s a good sign in the eyes of the algorithm.
How keywords impact your YouTube SEO
Keywords are individual terms you can associate with your channel and videos that help the algorithm understand more about what your video might be about. They don’t have a major impact but add up with everything else we’ve talked about.
Channel keywords provide behind the scenes insight into what the overarching theme of your channel might be. For instance, as a music technology channel, I have mine set to:
Music, song, production, music production, jeremy blake, red means recording, learn, tutorial, music theory, ableton, op-1, op1, electronic music
You can see that some of those are very broad topics, like music and tutorial, while some of them are very specific, like Ableton (my music software), OP-1 (a quirky Swedish synthesizer that made my channel popular), and my artist name and channel name.
Channel keywords can be accessed and edited by logging into YouTube, going to “Settings”, and clicking “Channel”. It’s a good idea to create a document outside YouTube with your keywords comma separated, which you can just paste into that field.
Video keywords follow the same format, but you can have a lot more of them. As of the writing of this article, you can add up to 500 characters, including separators. You can also get a lot more specific with them, but keep in mind: the purpose of these keywords is to tag the video in the way it’s predicted to be searched.
An example of video keywords on one of my videos
Here are a few tips for using video keywords:
- Tags can be words or short phrases. Always use one, keeping in mind the logic of search engines.
- Avoid using tags that are unrelated to your video or give a wrong idea. Misleading will lead to removal of video.
- Don’t put tags in descriptions.
- You want to SHOW the breadth of the topics you cover without going overboard.
- Using too many keywords will dilute the importance of each one.
Video thumbnails on YouTube
Together, video thumbnails and titles make the billboard for your video. Your thumbnail is tied with the video title for first place in how your video comes across to a potential viewer. They’re incredibly important.
90% of the best-performing videos on YouTube have custom thumbnails. A custom thumbnail is one that you create instead of simply choosing a frame from the video in the YouTube interface. A strong, vibrant image that looks great large and small, and that plays on your title, will contribute to your video’s success in a major way.
Examples of some pretty classic thumbnail design from Brian Dean.
While some thumbnails are completely fabricated via a collection of images not found in the video, showing potential viewers a preview of what the video will look like can help them decide if the video is worth their time. Think about your thumbnail during the video creation process, like during the shoot, so you can take a few moments to get some potential image of the action in a curated way.
Videographer Matt Komo shows off a strong, design-forward thumbnail aesthetic.
Applying graphics and text to your thumbnail is a great way to increase its potency. Use the “rule of thirds” to compose the image. If you’re using text, make sure to use an easy-to-read font, and keep in mind that the YouTube play button will obscure the middle of your image. Be bold, eye-catching, and age appropriate with your choices.
Here are a few more tips directly from YouTube:
- Think about your thumbnail BEFORE you shoot so you can capture several options.
- Make as high resolution of a thumbnail as possible but keep under the 2MB limit.
- Specs: 1280 x 720 pixels (16:9 ratio) as a .JPG, .GIF, .BMP, or .PNG.
- Zoom in and out of your thumbnail to see if it looks good small and large.
- See if your thumbnail would stand out among other thumbnails.
Video description and title on YouTube
Your title, along with your thumbnail, help set the stage for potential viewers. Making the title catchy will engage potential viewers and avoiding clickbait-style titles will keep them watching, as the content is presented as advertised.
Keep your titles under 60 characters. If you’re doing episodic content, put the episode number at the end. Before publishing, check to make sure the title isn’t cut off on embedded versions of the video or on mobile players.
Descriptions appear under the title and can be chock full of supplemental information. Links to products, your website, other videos, your most recent novel, almost anything can go in a video description. But what makes a good description?
The arrow is pointing to where YouTube video descriptions show up in the browser
If you’re playing the algorithm, consider your description another searchable block of text. Using key terms, but not hashtags, in your description will help make your video more discoverable. Identify 1-2 main words that describe your video and feature them prominently in both your description and title while giving an overview of your video using natural language. After that, feel free to add links to your website, Patreon, or anything else that you might want to use as a conversion point for the viewer.
An example of a robust and well-written video description via Biteable.
As someone who spends a lot of time crafting video descriptions, I can tell you that, unfortunately, not a lot of people read them. This may be because most people are consuming the video as a share, and therefore they don’t see the video description without clicking through to the YouTube website or app where the description is readable. Regardless, it’s still one of those things that add up to making your content more discoverable and informative.
YouTube End Screens
There are two more things I want to cover, and the first one is End Screens.
YouTube has done a lot of messing about over the years with giving users the ability to put on-screen text and graphics on their videos to direct users to other videos or websites. Most recently they’ve settled on End Screens, which show up at the end of the video on all platforms. These are mini calls-to-action that give the viewer the opportunity to watch another video of your choosing, subscribe, or visit a website approved by YouTube. These websites can include portals for merchandise, crowdfunding, or your own website, if approved.
End Screens can be up to 20 seconds long and always appear at the end of the video. As such, adding a 20 second addition to your video content in the editing process gives you room to add these without going over your actual program content.
A YouTube End Screen template
A lot of channels design an End Screen with specific text on-screen and placeholders for the video, website, and subscribe buttons (which you add in the YouTube interface) to go. Googling “YouTube End Screens Template” will yield some helpful results in designing a custom End Screens.
Personally, I use some unobtrusive motion graphics with a bit of music underneath. I also really like the approach CollegeHumor uses with their End Screens where they have a cast member speaking a call-to-action in some humorous way.
An example of CollegeHumor’s end screens
Here are a few tips straight from YouTube:
- Feature elements that are relevant to the video.
- Encourage viewers to click using calls-to-action for different end screen elements.
- If you use a custom image, we recommend using an image that's at least 300 x 300 pixel width.
- Make sure you leave enough space and time at the end of the video for an end screen. Make sure you consider the video's last 20 seconds when editing.
- Consider timing different end screen elements to show at different times.
Upload defaults to your YouTube channel
Keywords, video descriptions, privacy settings, monetization settings, and a whole slew of other options can be set up to have defaults. This means if you’re always using a certain salvo of keywords, or you always want to include certain links in your video description, you can set these up once and not have to keep entering them.
I use this for a set of default video keywords that define my videos (which I always add to on upload), and links to all my places of presence on the web.
An example of some of my upload defaults
You can access these while logged into your YouTube channel under “Settings.” I encourage you to explore what’s available here to customize your creator experience.
I know we’ve covered a lot of ground in this article, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed when all you wanted to do was upload a cute video of your cat, but I hope it was worth it. Here’s a quick breakdown to help get your channel off the ground.
- Define your content theme
- Follow trends and current events to increase your viewership
- Optimize the YouTube algorithm
- Keywords and tags
- Video thumbnails
- Video descriptions and titles
- Use end screens
- Upload defaults
There are a ton of great resources on the web for making YouTube work better for you, but I recommend starting with YouTube’s own Creator Academy. Getting information directly from the platform will keep you up to date on what YouTube thinks are the best way to get noticed and build an audience.
That’s all for now. Thanks for watching, and don’t forget to like and subscribe.
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