Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing advocate and author of nonfiction books, eBooks, and audiobooks. She is a former trade newspaper editor.
On October 12, 2022, I celebrated 13 years of having a YouTube channel. A whole lot has changed, and keeps changing on YouTube, mostly for the better, even though using it effectively is still a challenge.
I’ll be talking about some newer features that can impact authors and small businesses, as well as sharing insights from my YouTube journey.
Why YouTube Isn't Social Media
YouTube seems to want to be a social media platform really bad. Unfortunately, they are not and never have been. Just offering the ability for users to make comments or share video links doesn’t make it a social network.
Yet, YouTube keeps trying, even though they’re always late to the party and don’t appear to really understand these functions in a social media context. Again, they are not a social media platform. They are a video content distribution platform and search engine. Such a lack of self awareness. Didn’t they learn anything from their Google+ adventure?
Anyway, here are some updates and commentary on YouTube’s social-friendly and creator features.
One of the common features of social media platforms is user names or handles, usually starting with the @ symbol. In October 2022, YouTube finally jumped on the user handle bandwagon just like other social media channels such as Twitter and Instagram, which have had them since they started. What took YouTube so long?
From the beginning, YouTube username and channel links were kind of a mess. Channel and user names were awkwardly appended to a YouTube link, but there was a difference between users and channels. And there was the possibility that channels could have the same, or virtually the same, name. Ugh!
A Handle-based Username System
With the transition to a handle-based username system, YouTube will also be including the ability to tag handles in comments and video descriptions. This is helpful in creating conversations and making connections. But if you have any experience on a user handle-centric platform such as Instagram or Twitter, you know that this will also invite a flood of spam commenting and mentions. Be prepared! I hope they’ve figured out how to curb the bad behavior this will inevitably cause.
If you haven’t gotten an email yet about handles for your YouTube channel, you probably will soon. It’s being rolled about a bit at a time to all of YouTube. You do have the opportunity to change your handle if your desired handle is available.
In 2018, YouTube started hashtag functionality. The first three hashtags you use in your video description are then displayed above your video’s title on your video’s page as clickable links. And that’s helpful for me how? If a user sees a hashtag above my video title and clicks on it, it directs them to a search results page with other videos that aren’t mine.
Even worse is that when you type a hashtag in search, the search results page will likely have ads above the list of videos with the hashtag. For example, when I recently did a search for the #selfpublishing hashtag, there were five—FIVE!—ads at the top of the results page above the fold, meaning that I had to scroll down to see the list of videos. And two of the videos in first page results were completely irrelevant CNN videos on political topics.
In spite of that, using hashtags could help land your videos in search results. It’s an additional signal to the algorithm of what your video is about.
YouTube Chapters is one of the greatest additions to the YouTube user experience! What Chapters does is break up longer videos into topic segments. It is now automatic for select videos, though creators can add their own chapters. I add my own chapter segments since I want more control. Chapters provides SEO benefits for both the creator and YouTube’s search.
From a user perspective, I now expect chapters on videos, and will often skip long videos that don’t include them. From a creator perspective, while I still would love to have my viewers watch the entire video, I realize people are busy. I’m glad if they even watch a segment that meets their needs and interests. It still adds to my channel’s watch time hours.
YouTube is the main platform for long form and landscape oriented video content for creators. Why does YouTube tolerate all the big video content files being uploaded? For the advertising revenue of course.
But they are likely looking with a jealous eye at the likes of Instagram Reels and TikTok, winners in the short form video content space. So in September 2020, YouTube introduced YouTube Shorts, one-minute videos in the vertical orientation, built for the mobile video creation and consuming experience.
I didn’t start using Shorts until recently. I’ve already been using Instagram Reels and TikTok for quite a while. Those platforms offer a different viewing audience than what I have on YouTube’s standard video. I didn’t feel there was any advantage to using Shorts since YouTube is a clunky mobile viewing experience.
Shorts vs. TikTok and Instagram Reels
Like the Instagram Reels and TikTok formats YouTube seems to covet, you can record Shorts on your phone. But it’s as clunky as their mobile viewing experience. I have not been able to add a video description during the recording or upload process on my iPhone. Rather, I’ve had to go back into YouTube Studio after the Shorts video posts and add the description there. What a pain! Hope this will change.
However, you can use clips from your existing landscape YouTube videos as Shorts which will then link back to the original video. That’s useful.
Aside from the poor creator experience, my recent experiments with Shorts have received better numbers of views than many of my standard weekly podcast videos. But I will have to watch the analytics over time to make any informed judgments.
Even as recently as 2021, I was paying to create transcriptions for my YouTube videos. The automatic YouTube subtitle transcriptions were so bad up to that point, that I felt the hundreds of dollars I spent on it was worth it.
But as with every technology, voice-to-text transcription continues to improve over time. At this point, I don’t even bother proofing YouTube’s automatic subtitles unless there’s something very significant that needs to be 100 percent. I’ve estimated that currently the automatic subtitles on my videos are around 90 percent accurate. That’s good enough for me for free.
YouTube Studio and Analytics
Since the beginning, there was a Creator Studio for YouTube creators to get analytics and do other administrative or editing functions for videos. But in 2019, it was rebranded as YouTube Studio and it just keeps getting better and better as time goes on.
If you’re familiar with Google Analytics, you know the granular level of detail you can get for your website content. YouTube Studio does the same for your YouTube channel. Its Analytics are just incredibly good. Views, viewer demographics, subscriber stats, trends, and so much more are available for measuring your channel’s success against almost whatever metric you choose.
My YouTube Journey
I never wanted to be on YouTube in the early days. YouTube started in 2005. In the early years, it was a lot of stupid trend videos that I would liken to a lot of what you see on TikTok these days. I certainly didn’t want my business to be associated with that nonsense.
But then Google bought YouTube in 2006. I understood Google and what SEO was about. So in 2009, I broke down and started making videos. Let me rephrase that. I started having videos made. Recording and producing video wasn’t as easy and cheap back then. I hired some friends in marketing and graphic design to produce my first video. Though it was professionally done, it was expensive by today’s standards for social media video, and quite a lengthy process of production.
I quickly realized that if I hoped to cost effectively build my presence on YouTube, I would never be able to finance the professional production of weekly videos which, at that time, could have run into the tens of thousands of dollars each year. So I turned on my low res webcam and started recording short videos on my computer.
For the first four years of my YouTube journey, my videos were on buying promotional products, or swag. My main goal for doing this was sales lead generation for promotional products. I figured if I could educate potential customers on how to buy swag, they would think of me when ordering it. Unfortunately, that’s not how the internet always works. Watching my analytics, I soon realized that people want to consume helpful content, but few have the need to buy immediately, especially when it came to more complex business purchases like promotions. More and more content and competition began flooding YouTube, too.
About the middle of 2014, I made my final video on swag buying tips. I was beginning to wind down the promotions side of my business, and was transitioning to other things. I essentially walked away from my YouTube channel for almost four years, but left it up anyway.
My Transition to Self-Publishing
In 2015, I shifted my blogging and consulting focus to small business and self publishing. But I didn’t start posting videos on this new topic until much later. I find video content a lot more investment in time and effort than blog writing. Once again I resisted diving deep into YouTube. In 2016, I took a stab at audio podcasting. As with my earlier YouTube efforts, I got a huge dose of reality on gaining traction, this time with podcasts, and I abandoned them, too, for about two years.
In mid-2018, after listening to Gary Vaynerchuk’s podcast, I thought I should give podcasting another try. This time, my show was going to be more clearly focused on publishing topics. As before, the traction was miserable on the audio podcast. But I was seeing podcasters adding YouTube as a venue for video versions of their podcasts. In the fall of 2018, I started doing the podcast on both audio and YouTube. The traffic on YouTube was greater than anything I had ever done on audio. But it didn’t rival the traffic or income I was getting from my text-based blog, which is still my main writing income.
As I’m posting this, the podcast has been on YouTube for four years. Due to YouTube’s new partner policies, it’s unlikely I’ll be able to successfully monetize this channel anytime soon. But I still think it’s worth doing since YouTube is the second most popular search engine in the world, rivaled only by its parent company, Google, or is that Alphabet?
I plan to continue on YouTube with my weekly podcast content on publishing for the foreseeable future. I’ll also continue my experiments with YouTube Shorts. The SEO and analytics benefits of being on this mega platform are just too good to ignore.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2022 Heidi Thorne