How to grow your YouTube channel: industry secrets
Who doesn’t love YouTube? It’s got something for pretty much everybody, from entertainment to news to travel vlogs and tutorials. It isn’t surprising that more and more people try to “make it” and build an audience on the website.
I was lucky enough to attend VidCon Europe (a convention all about online video) and learn all the industry secrets that companies and individuals use to market their content. The following tips were provided by business insiders and I thought I would put them together to help you grow your YouTube channel, too.
I find it useful to think of YouTube as a marketplace. All the channels are in close proximity and they all want to get the viewers’ attention. The most successful YouTubers in the long run will be those who provide the best quality content – but only if they manage to reel in some viewers first.
This is why you need to be thinking about the algorithm (which basically determines your reach to the viewers), and about the way that YouTube works. Now, of course, nobody really knows exactly how the algorithm works -that’s a trade secret- not to mention that it is constantly reworked and adapted for better results. But there are some basic features that really do matter and will influence the amount of views your content is getting.
So how do you reach the audience you make stuff for? How do you improve your view count? How can you grow your YouTube channel? The first thing to understand is that ‘the algorithm’ isn’t out to get you; you just have to learn to navigate it as best you can.
Here is a list of 5 things that will help you tame the YouTube algorithm to get it to feature your content and show it to the audience you want to reach.
1. Fix your thumbnails
Getting subscribers is great – but you first have to earn their attention. That’s trickier than you’d think; your video might be the funniest, most interesting piece of content out there – but if it isn’t clickable, it will never reach anybody. Think about this: how well a video does in the first few hours after its publication will determine whether or not it will be featured and suggested to users interested in your topic.
Thumbnails should appeal to emotions and instinct. No one looks at a thumbnail longer than a couple of seconds before they decide whether they want to click it or not. So forget informative titles; forget a collection of pictures to summarize your vlog; forget bland landscapes. What we like as people are faces. Faces speak to us. If you can base your thumbnail on an emotion, all the more power to you.
Unfinished actions (such as a hand about to throw a ball through a hoop) are also highly clickable: as humans, we like to fill in the blanks. We are wired to want to complete an action, so anything that might appeal to that intuition would make for a good thumbnail. This also explains why list videos are highly popular. We want to know what is the number 1 funniest scene in Harry Potter, because it is satisfying to finish a sequence or a list that pokes at our curiosity.
We process images from the top left-hand corner to the bottom right-hand corner. Because of this, you want to have most of your information on the left-hand side of your thumbnail; your logo (if you want to include one) should be on the upper right-hand corner. Extras that add a sense of emotion or urgency also work; emojis, red arrows, etc.
2. Take watch time into account
In other words, stop thinking about your channel as its own entity. If you want to grow your YouTube channel, you need to take into account that it is hosted by YouTube. The platform’s aim is to get viewers to stay on the website for as long as possible. This so-called “watch time” is the most precious resource on YouTube. If your video gets the viewer to click on a next video, it will rate better on the ever-so-mysterious YouTube algorithm. If, however, your content does not increase watch time, your video will be down rated and much less likely to be suggested to more viewers searching for the same topic.
Ideally, you’ll want to increase watch time by posting several videos around a same topic yourself; that way, your viewers will not only spend more time on YouTube, but they will also spend more time on your videos and your channel. Getting your audience to want to know you and your style better is always a plus. Another little tip is to make your videos the right length. Nowadays, the videos that rate the best are between 5 and 9 minutes long. Just keep that in mind.
3. Post more often, and stick to one thing
You’ve heard this a million times, but it’s true. Posting more often is one of the best ways to increase your views. YouTube likes to put forward not only relevant videos, but also recent ones. If you post a really high production, beautiful, engaging video, great! But if you can’t do that often enough and your channel stays inactive for a few weeks, that’s bad news for you. You would be much better off lowering your production value a bit so that you can focus on producing content more frequently.
You also need to consider that the YouTube algorithm is smart. It learns what your videos are about; how people find them; why they clicked on it, etc. Say you make a cooking video about how to make risotto. The algorithm will take that into account and suggest your video to people who are looking for cooking inspiration. But what if your next video has nothing to do with cooking? Instead, you’ve posted a video about your trip to Vienna. The algorithm will pick up on that, and your video will not be featured as much. Your channel cannot be trusted to provide consistent content on one topic.
Ideally, YouTube wants to find your niche so that it can always rely on your content to respond to viewers’ needs. If your content ranges from A to Z, the algorithm will have no idea how to categorize your channel. And when in doubt… it just won’t market it at all. If you do want to make a range of different videos, experts recommend you create a separate channel for each of them.
4. Get your meta together
Do not mistake YouTube for Instagram. You shouldn’t add more tags than necessary on your content. If you want the YouTube algorithm to understand how to market your videos, you should make the job easy. If you’re making a video about traveling in France, do not use the following: #france #baguette #yum #travel #fun, and so on. Piling lots of meta on top of itself is messy.
Your job is not to appeal to literally anybody on YouTube (think about it, that’s impossible). Your job is to make content that you enjoy for people that would enjoy it too. If they can’t find it because your meta is vague and too spread out, that’s on you. What you should do to prevent that is pick one good term and stick to it. Make it specific so that YouTube will know when to suggest your content to someone that is looking for it.
5. Don’t even think about sharing YouTube content on Facebook
Facebook and YouTube are arch enemies. They do not get along, and probably never will unless one acquires the other. If you share your YouTube video on Facebook, Facebook will flag that post and ensure that it doesn’t get featured on your followers’ feeds. Why is that? Because you’re linking Facebook users to the competition.
If you really want to share your content on Facebook, fine! Do it! But upload your video directly onto Facebook. This will boost your reach on Facebook and your content will be seen by many more of your followers. But be careful; contrarily to YouTube, Facebook doesn’t let you make any money off of ad revenue, and you have very little control over your content being shared and potentially stolen.
A good middle way would be to post a snippet of your latest YouTube video on Facebook (again, as a native video, not a link from YouTube) and add a call to action at the end. For instance, “See my YouTube channel for more”. Granted, this won’t lead to the smoothest user experience, so let me know if you have any other tips to go around the Facebook-YouTube issue.
As an end note, I’d like to point out that these tips come from an algorithm-oriented view of YouTube. Obviously, many more factors come into play when trying to build an audience. Of course your content has to match viewers’ expectations, and personality is often described as one of the most crucial points in building a loyal audience. So feel free to take all of this advice to grow your YouTube channel with a grain of salt. Still – it’s worth giving them a shot, no?