BetterOn YouTube Curriculum - Part 2
In traditional entertainment (i.e., television), programming means scheduling the best times for certain content to be played on a channel in order to attract and retain an audience. Daily schedules and special programs are given strategic time-slots based on things like holidays, demographics, and data on watching habits. Halloween? Good time for a horror film marathon. Late night? Probably better to schedule shows geared towards adults rather than kids.
Television: A Viewer’s Journey to Your Content
In digital entertainment (i.e., YouTube), programming also means strategically scheduling content to attract and retain an audience. However, because digital platforms are more advanced and diverse - as well as relatively quite young - there isn’t always a straightforward method to programming. New technology and data accessibility are creating entirely new ways to program that were never possible on traditional platforms. Remember that your viewers watch video whenever, however, and wherever they feel like it! We’ll talking specifically about that connection in a bit (Audience Development) but just remember that reaching their hearts and minds is not a 1+1=2 equation.
YouTube: A Viewer’s Journey to Your Content
We’re here to help you get your videos to cut through the noise of digital programming. You have to be willing to experiment and be flexible for a while. With time and persistence, you figure out what works. Starting basic and adapting with what you learn is a smart way to go. In the meantime, we’ve outlined some best practices for you.
Have a schedule (at least one video a week), and be consistent. In order for your audience to develop trust in you and feel comfortable with your content, you have to have a posting schedule they can rely on. As YouTube expert Derral Eves says in the video below - it doesn’t really matter in the beginning what your schedule is, but rather that you simply have one. We call this high volume/low production - meaning invest more time in putting something out and learning from it, instead of trying to create perfect, aesthetically-pleasing content. After you start retaining an audience from being consistent, you can use analytics (don’t worry - we cover that in a bit) to figure out what days and times your audience is most engaged.
Do your research, so you can ride the waves of trending topics. YouTube is first and foremost a search engine. If you want to create content that attracts an audience, you need to create content that people are searching for. We’re not telling you to sell out and mass-produce entire videos on fads - but there are ways to creatively incorporate searchable trends into your videos, when appropriate. You can use Google Trends to research, track, and analyze trending topics on the Internet, or even specifically on YouTube.
LABS: Brainstorm some ideas, send them in video form to your coach and schedule time to go through.
Metadata, metadata, metadata. This is information that search engines and viewers use to label, read, and organize your data. On YouTube, this includes the title, thumbnail, description, tags, end cards, and playlists. Metadata helps users find your video when they search on YouTube. You can leverage this function of metadata to grow your channel. We call this search engine optimization (SEO). We’ve broken down some tips for each type of YouTube metadata.
Titles & Thumbnails. The words you use in you video title are the most-weighted search keywords of all your metadata. This means you need to be smart about the title you choose from a search perspective, but also from a viewer perspective. The title combined with the thumbnail acts like a billboard to help viewers decide whether or not to watch your video. When well-executed, it can attract viewers to click on a video and encourage them to keep watching until the end. Think about what would grab your own attention, and go from there.
Descriptions. These are less important because the keywords here are weighted the least, and descriptions are not seen immediately (the viewer has to click “see more” below your video). You can take creative license with your content here. Oftentimes you can use the description as a place to give your viewer any links, resources, or other information you mention in your video.
Tags. These are keywords you submit with your video during the upload process. They live on the backend of YouTube (in other words, they don’t display to viewers). Tags are an opportunity to label your video with any keywords that don’t fit naturally into the title or description. You can be strategic about this by including keywords related to your channel, trending topics, or videos similar to yours. Think of it as if you are reverse-engineering the search process.
End Screens. An end screen is a short clip that plays at the end of your video. Think of it as similar to where the credits would fit in during a movie or TV show. You have to create the blank end screen in your own editing process, but interactive elements can be added through the YouTube platform after you have uploaded the video. You can add elements to direct viewers to other content - a video, a playlist, your channel - or to subscribe to your channel.
These elements give you the opportunity to have a call to action. People need to be told what to do, so you’re giving them an action to work with that is as easy as one click. Most of the time, it is best to ask viewers to watch more content from your channel. You can do this by including a link to another video as an element. But keep in mind - don’t ask people to do everything all at once. They will get tired and overwhelmed, and then do nothing. Figure out the one or two things you want them to do, and focus on those.
Playlists. These are ways to catalog your videos into categories and/or series. They serve as means of organization for you, and - more importantly - a means of suggesting similar content for viewers. People like to watch more of a good thing, and playlists are a way for you to manually suggest which of your videos they should watch next.
First, create a new playlist and give it a title.
Then, you can select videos to add to the playlist. In this case, the creator was making a playlist of all the collaborations they had done with other musicians.
And boom! Now, when someone watches a video in this playlist, the other videos in the playlist will not only be suggested alongside it, but also autoplay if the viewer doesn’t click away.
So, you’ve started making your content. You’ve programmed it to attract and retain an audience. It is now time to turn that audience into a community! Here are some ways to get started:
Engage in the comment section. This is the quickest and easiest way to directly interact with your audience. Schedule time to respond to comments on the same day you upload, and try to check your notifications regularly. You can like comments, as well as “heart” your favorite ones - viewers tend to react quite well to hearted comments. Responding to comments not only shows that you listen to and are interested in what they have to say, but encourages viewers to comment in the future if they know you might respond.
Listen to your audience’s feedback and implement it. Pay attention to what people are saying in the comments about your content, or even ask directly for their feedback in your video. What do they like? What don’t they like? Obviously, at the end of the day it is your content, so do what you feel is best - but if you hear a good idea, testing it out can show your audience that you care about their opinion. You can watch the end of this video by The Game Theorists to see an example of this. The more flexible you are asking and considering what your viewers want to see, the more authentic of a connection you’ll build with them.
Let your audience become a part of your content creation. One of the coolest things about YouTube is the ease with which the viewer can become the creator. A way that you can encourage your audience to become creators is to include them in your creation process. This can be as simple as having them send you a Snapchat of a question you’ll include in your video, or as complex as having them come up with lyrics that you curate into a finished song. This develops a sense of community among your audience because they all came together to produce something. Your audience also becomes invested in your content on a personal level.
Collaborate with other channels. One of the most effective ways to grow and diversify your audience is to make content with other creators. This allows both of you to introduce each other to your respective communities.
Analytics & The YouTube Algorithm
What is the YouTube algorithm? An algorithm in social media refers to a distribution mechanism that determines what content gets pushed to the top depending on a variety of variables, or metrics. YouTube does not make these metrics publically available, but experts have done a lot of research over the years to figure out what metrics matter.
Before we dive into what those metrics are, you have to understand the data that is being given to you by YouTube in your Analytics section. Only a few of these analytics will really matter for the current algorithm, but let’s do a brief overview of everything first.
Revenue: Total estimated revenue (net revenue), from all Google-sold ads and transactions for the selected date range and region.
Ad rates/CPM: Effective cost per mille, or the estimated average gross revenue per thousand served ad impressions.
WATCH TIME REPORTS
Watch time: Estimated total minutes of viewing time of your content from your audience.
Views: Total views for the selected date range, region and other filters.
Audience retention: Estimated average minutes watched per view for the selected content, date range, region and other filters.
Average percentage viewed: Average percentage of a video your audience watches per view.
Demographics: A broken-down look at who your audience is based on age, gender, geography, subscription, status, and more.
Playback locations: The page or site the video was viewed on.
Traffic sources: The various means through which the viewer found your video.
Devices: The physical form factor of the device on which the view occurred.
Translation Sources: Whether translated content (video info, subtitles/CC, or audio) was used during a view.
Subscribers: The change in total subscribers found by subtracting subscribers lost from subscribers gained for the selected date range and region.
Likes and dislikes: The change in total likes found by subtracting "likes removed" from "likes added" for the selected date range, region and other filters. The change in total dislikes found by subtracting "dislikes removed" from "dislikes added" for the selected date range, region and other filters.
Videos in playlists: The number of times your videos were included in viewers' playlists, including favorites, for the selected date range, region and other filters.
Comments: The number of comments on your video and channel for the selected content, date range, region and other filters.
Sharing: The number of shares of your video for the selected content, date range, region and other filters.
Annotations: The number of annotation clicks on your video for the selected content, date range, region and other filters.
Cards: The number of times a card has been clicked.
Watch Time & Views
YouTube wants watch time - in other words, they want more people spending time on their platform. If you have a high watch time, then YouTube will promote you, then you will get more views, then you will get more watch time...and it continues in a cycle.
Watch Time → YouTube Promotion → Views → Watch Time → and so on
Think of the channels you watch a lot. If you pay attention, you’ll notice that YouTube starts suggesting their content everywhere to you. Therefore, it is very important that you use strategies to encourage viewers to not only watch one video all the way through, but to continue to watch more of your videos after they finish the first video. Here are some actionable strategies you can implement to increase watch time:
Make your videos longer. Search a topic on YouTube, and the site will probably suggest longer videos first because they have evidence that those videos get more watch time. This is because longer videos can get more watch time with less views than shorter videos. An example of this is when the channel The Game Theorists uploaded livestream that was 90 minutes long, they got about 45 minutes of watch time per view. When they uploaded a shorter video, the video had a better rate of being watched the whole way through, but each view only amounted to 5 minutes of watch time. This is an example of two extremes, but you can see how this strategy could work depending on your content.
IMPORTANT: Don’t confuse this strategy. Creating solid, purpose driven video is hard. Do not simply fill time so your content lasts longer to tick this box of the algorithm. The goal of this curriculum is to think before you dive in. There’s nothing wrong with starting by testing shorter formats then going longer as you begin to learn about audience engagement.
Keep track of your audience retention graph. This graph shows you where viewers are watching, where you’re losing them, and where they’re coming back. Focusing on Watch Time as opposed to Views means you shouldn’t have videos where the audience jumps to the “good part.” In other words...you can’t really “cheat the system.” Sure, you can have clickbait, but you can use this graph to make sure that viewers are still watching the whole video through. See which videos have the best retention and do more of those. See what type of content makes viewers leave and do less of that.
If you have them, utilize collaborations/relationships with other creators to drive watch time to your channel. There is a trend going around on YouTube right now of large groups of creators who all hang out together and post similar content (search “Team 10” or “Vlog Squad”). Each of these channels act as puzzle pieces in the bigger narrative of the entire group, which makes it necessary for viewers to subscribe and watch each of their channels. While these examples are pretty extreme, you can use this concept in collaborating with other creators or even businesses.
Figure out new hacks to drive audiences deeper into videos. Narratives with a three-part story arc are more likely to keep viewers hooked. Top 10 Lists and DIYs - basically anything with lists or steps you have to follow to reach an end product - are usually good at keeping viewers watching.
Subscribed & Non-Subscribed Views
Go to Watch Time and separate your subscribed and non-subscribed views using the drop-down menu at the top. This separates fans (subscribed) from people who may have not seen your content before, but are interested enough to watch (non-subscribed).
Subscribed views will tell you if your subscribers are continuing to watch your videos over time and if they can keep up with the videos you’re producing. This lets you know if you’re getting subscribers and keeping them. Once they find my videos - do they keep watching?
Non-subscribed views will tell you if you’re making videos that new, non-subscribed people can find.
If subscribers can’t keep up with how many videos you’re producing, then they might only watch 3 out of your last 10 videos. Therefore, YouTube will think your subscribers don’t like your videos and won’t promote you. If you want to try new content, check your subscribers watch time first - is the line going up? Are they on board with the change?
If you see the subscribers watch time going down, it’s time to look deeper.
Demographics. What can I make that all my subscribers (or the biggest demographic of my subscribers) can relate to?
Look at which videos got the most subscribers, and make more of that type of content. These videos are what made people subscribe in the first place, so you know your existing subscriber base is interested in whatever type of content that is.
Do some math to find out your “subscriptions per thousand” rate. Take the amount of new subscribers a video got, divide it by the amount of views the video got, multiply by 1,000 = subs per thousand. This normalizes subscription rate based on how many views a give video gets. Some notes on subs per thousand rates:
Good subs per thousand rates depend on what YouTube vertical you are in (gaming, movie reviews, beauty, etc.)
Viral videos/overnight sensations = 9-11 subscribers per thousand
Solid number to be around for a fast-growing channel = 7
Average = 3-5
Low = <2, but with context this might not be a bad thing. These rates are often seen on channels with huge view counts, but whose viewers tend to be kids or older adults - in other words, people who aren’t necessarily familiar with the subscribe function. Think toy unboxing, car reviews, mom channels.
This will tell you what drives people to your content in the first place, and where are they finding it over time.
Important traffic sources include:
Browse features = Your subscribers. Logged in homepage and subscriber boxes.
Suggested videos = Suggested feeds on the right sides of videos. This means your viewers got here from somewhere else where YouTube placed your video. Great!
YouTube can only suggest your video against somebody else’s video if they have something in common, usually in the title or tags. This means searchable keywords in the context of other popular YouTube videos in your vertical are very important.
Once your video shows up on the suggested tab, your good thumbnail comes into play so that people are enticed to click on your video over other suggested videos.
Channel pages = Clicks from your channel page.
YouTube Search = Clicks from search results pages.
Plug all the keywords you want to use into Google Trends and see which ones are the best. Google Trends will also show you when trends have started to accelerate in the past.
You should post about a trend 2-4 days before you expect the peak of that trend to happen.
Title is most heavily weighted in terms of keywords.
Playlists = Autoplays from playlists.
There are four main sources of revenue as a YouTube creator:
Google AdSense. This is the form of revenue where YouTube places ads on your videos. You have to have at least 10,000 lifetime views before you can sign up for Google AdSense.
You don’t get to choose the specific ads that get placed before, on, or around your content, but your content does influence whether or not ads get placed on your video at all. YouTube has become very picky in the past year about what content is appropriate for advertisements so as to not lose partnerships with brands. Therefore, if you want your videos to be monetized, you should shy away from any content that YouTube deems inappropriate. You can learn more about YouTube’s advertising policy here.
Some other notes on Google AdSense:
It’s a yearly cycle. Ad revenue peaks in December and is at its lowest point in January and February. It peaks again in June and drops again in July. Knowing this, you can program more content around peak times and less content around drop times.
Geography makes a difference. Advertising changes a lot outside the United States. You’ll usually make less money on videos watched outside the US. As YouTube grows in other countries, this will hopefully slowly change.
Advertisers usually look at what is popular on the WHOLE web, not just YOUTUBE. Advertisers are usually not clued into the culture and trends of YouTube - rather, they tend to observe trends on internet as a whole. However, there are a lot of situations in which YouTube trends differ from Internet trends. You can research this by using Google Trends to compare to topics on “Web search” and “YouTube search.” An example of this:
Super Mario is more popular on the web, but Five Nights at Freddy’s is more popular on YouTube. Advertisers think they want to be in front of Super Mario videos, when really they should be in front of FNAF videos. Therefore, sometimes the most successful videos don’t earn the most because high-paying advertisers place their videos elsewhere.
Brand Partnerships. As your channel grows in engagement and numbers, you will most likely get opportunities to partner with brands. Brands and ad agencies are always looking for ways to promote their products and services. Brands are more likely to work with creators when the target audience for their product is similar to a creator’s channel audience.
Crowdfunding. You can have your community help in funding your channel through platforms like Patreon.
Merchandise. Just like any other public figure with a fan base willing to pay, creating merchandise for your community to buy is always an option.