YouTube is by far one of the most popular ways for people to express themselves, educate, and generally be creative online. The barrier to entry is extremely low, you can even start with just your phone and an idea, as many have. It is also relatively easy to build an audience on YouTube.
Note the “relatively” in that sentence.
Compared to getting noticed in the television or film industry, or building a following in the music industry, it is remarkably easy. What you will need, however, is patience. This isn’t something that can be fast tracked by throwing money at it. For long term, authentic growth, you have to do it the hard way. So let’s go over the caveats.
Before We Begin
Before you even think about how to approach your YouTube channel, you should strongly consider what videos you plan to make, and why. Though becoming a professional YouTuber is a very attainable goal, it should not be the reason you start making videos. Consistently uploading content can be a hard and tedious process if you don’t enjoy what you’re doing (it can be hard and tedious when you do enjoy what you’re doing). Couple that with the slow progress you’ll see initially, and it makes for a strong chance of you giving up.
As a general rule, if you’re not making something you’d be happy to keep making regardless of how many people are watching, don’t make it.
The next thing to understand is that quality content is the root of all good on YouTube. This article will cover things you can do to help your audience grow bigger in a shorter space of time but if you are making quality content, your channel will grow regardless. Similarly, if you are making poor quality content, your channel will suffer no matter how much good practice you employ.
Quality content is the root of all good on YouTube.
Understanding YouTube's Motives
YouTube are a business, and above all else they are looking to make money. Even if the people running the show have the noblest intentions, they are still beholden to shareholders and the need to pay their employees and so on. The primary way YouTube makes money is through advertising revenue. Now, obviously these things can be complicated. But for the purposes of this article, we can simplify matters and say that the more time a person spends on YouTube, the more advertising revenue they will generate.
And that should tell you all you need to know.
YouTube is looking for content that keeps people on YouTube. If people watch your video and then click away to an external site, YouTube might push your video less. Similarly, if YouTube pushes your video to a thousand people and nobody clicks on it, they might decide to put a video that does get clicks in that spot instead of yours. This is also the reason why longer videos tend to be more successful on YouTube than shorter ones. One full watch of a thirty minute video is equal to ten full watches of a three minute video in YouTube’s eyes, and that is the other part of the equation; watch time. If users are clicking on your video but only watching the first minute and then leaving, that video will be considered less valuable.
So what can we take from this?
Create Engaging, Quality Content
Firstly, just to reiterate, your content has to be good. There’s no way around this. Everything will ultimately crumble if what you’re making is not of value to your potential audience. This doesn’t necessarily mean technical quality, before you go buying a $500 camera. Viewers will forgive fuzzy video and less than stellar audio if the video is something they really want to watch.
This means there has to be something of value in your content. That value can come in the form of educational material, tips and tricks, video game walkthroughs, lifestyle vlogs, or just pure mindless entertainment. The key thing is there needs to be a reason people will want to watch your content. Merely getting views will do nothing for you anymore. In fact, as touched on above, YouTube will likely punish (meaning not promote) videos that get a high volume of clicks but very little watch time or subscribers.
Make Effective Thumbnails and Titles
Another area where YouTube looks carefully at your video’s performance is the ratio of people being shown your video to people who actually click on it. This is known as the Click Through Rate, or CTR. If your CTR is low, YouTube will be less likely to put your video in recommended feeds, so it’s important to maximise your chances of getting people to click when they see your video. And you do this with carefully crafted thumbnails and titles.
The Danger of Clickbait
The first thing to get out of the way; click-bait is a short term solution that ultimately will harm your growth. You can promise all manner of things in your titles and thumbnails, but if your video doesn’t deliver on those promises, you’ll annoy potential subscribers and reduce the chances of viewers coming back for future videos. No matter how wild you get with your thumbnails, never make implications that your video doesn’t deliver on.
Be Descriptive in Your Titles
The first thing you should strive for with your title is make sure it is descriptive. This can be difficult to balance with being attention grabbing, but titles that give the viewer a good idea of what the video is about will often do well. Look at the keywords you are targeting, and see if you can incorporate any of the keywords into your title without it seeming forced or unnatural.
Do Some Research and Trial and Error
For thumbnails, unfortunately, it’s a matter of trial and error. You can look through popular videos to try and spot trends in thumbnail design. For example, a perennial favourite is the “Before and After” style. Another trick is to search specifically the kinds of videos your video would be competing against and look for commonalities in design. However, instead of copying them, you want to go in the opposite direction. If most of the competition have a blue colour scheme in their thumbnails, maybe try something in red. That way, when your video shows up alongside those other videos, it will stand out more.
Put Together a Deep Back Catalogue
Here’s where the patience really comes in. It will greatly help your channel’s growth to have a solid back catalogue of videos. This allows you to reference your own material, put cards and end screens linking to related videos that you made, and generally increase the likelihood of one of your videos showing up in someone’s feed or search.
This not only acts favourably in the eyes of YouTube (because viewers are spending longer on the site specifically on your page), but also because you increase the chances of more of your videos getting views—which, if you have made good content, improves your odds of gaining new subscribers and increases the chances that YouTube will choose to promote that video.
Relate to and Engage With Your Audience
This is much easier when your audience is small, but you want to build a relationship with your viewers. Reply to comments, contribute to discussions, even find ways for them to participate in the video-making process (for example, suggestions or competitions).
As your audience grows, it obviously becomes impractical to maintain such a relationship with a high volume of people. There are alternatives, however, such as occasional live streams, Q&As, and VIP Discord channels where you regularly participate.
There are many YouTube success stories that claim different things with regards to upload quantities and timing. Some people swear by uploading multiple times a week, some claim that uploading once a month is fine as long as you are reliable and always get your video up on time. Whether either of these methods, or anything in between, is right for you will depend on your content; daily uploads are unrealistic on content that takes many hours to make.
What is universal across all approaches is consistency. If you set the standard of uploading once a week, stick to that. That’s not to say you can never change your upload schedule, but you shouldn’t play fast and loose with it.
Content Is Key
Ultimately content is key. It’s almost cliche at this stage, but it remains true. Having great content might not make you next PewDiePie, but having poor content will almost certainly ensure that any success you might achieve will be short lived. Know your audience, be yourself, make good content.
And it can’t hurt to optimise your chances with some of the tips in this article.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 John Bullock