The Complete Guide to Building a Successful YouTube Channel
There are opportunities everywhere for content marketers.
Different channels, different types of content, and different websites.
One that I think is criminally underutilized is a little site you might have heard of:
It’s by far the largest video sharing site—nothing even comes close to it.
Get this: YouTube has over 1 billion users.
Those billion users account for over 4 billion video views a day.
You can find literally any type of audience on YouTube, which means that just about any business can find a way to benefit from marketing on it.
And while other video sites have decent levels of traffic, most businesses could start today on YouTube and do fine because it’s far from saturated.
In truth, few businesses actually invest in YouTube marketing.
Because it’s difficult. Compare a video and a blog post about the same topic and of similar quality levels, and the video will cost more.
Smart businesses know that the cost can be worth it, but the higher barrier to entry scares away the rest.
If you’ve been considering marketing on YouTube, or you’ve just started and haven’t really found your feet, this post is especially for you.
I’m going to show you all the key components of creating a YouTube channel that thrives. Your videos will get views, and those views will lead to subscribers and sales for your business.
Video is still content, so you need to start with an audience
You should treat a YouTube content strategy just like you would treat a content strategy on any other channel.
Your content needs to be created for a specific audience you want to reach.
The more you define your niche, the more your content will resonate with viewers.
At this point, there are three main aspects you need to determine.
Aspect #1 – The type of person: First up is the type of person you want to create content for, which should be the same type of person who buys your product(s).
For example, if I were creating a channel from scratch today, I would be creating content for business owners and marketers because they are also the ones who buy my training courses and hire me as a consultant.
Try to get even more specific than that. For example:
- beginner marketers
- expert marketers
- marketers in North America
You can often narrow your audience by being more specific about their knowledge level of your topic and location.
A narrow audience is a good thing because it allows you to make your content just that more targeted.
You can’t create content for beginners and experts at the same time, so if you try to, at least half will always be dissatisfied.
Aspect #2 – What do they want to do? The second part of defining your audience is to specify their main goals.
Are they trying to make more money? make their home look better? learn to cook better? get in shape? And so on…
Determine the things they care about the most. Ideally, it will relate to your product as well, but it’s not always necessary.
For example, I could create content for “expert marketers who want to get in better shape.”
Even though those videos wouldn’t be directly related to my products, they still attract the attention of my target market. This would allow me to get my marketing advice in front of them and, eventually, my products as well.
The main point of content marketing, including videos on YouTube, is to attract the attention of your target audience.
So, if you see a need that hasn’t been filled, jump on it regardless of whether it’s directly tied to your product.
Aspect #3 – How do they want to consume it? Finally, you just want to do a common sense check and determine whether the audience you’ve nailed down actually wants to get their solutions in the video form.
It doesn’t necessarily have to be the whole audience, but it should be a large part.
Video is great for certain types of content:
- overviews of strategies
- education on a specific topic
- product reviews
Marketers, and just about any audience, would love to get fitness tips through videos. It makes sense because it’s the simplest way you can show movements and explain complex topics.
But it won’t suit all types of content.
For example, let’s say your audience wants to find resources.
You can’t exactly put a list of tools and resources in a video because it’s not easily scannable.
Once you’ve come up with an audience with a specific need that can be fulfilled with video, you’re good to move on to the next step.
3 Steps to videos that attract views
Marketing on YouTube has a lot of similarities to SEO.
To get views, one of your main goals will be to rank in YouTube’s searches without putting in more effort than your initial promotion.
You could try some black hat tactics, just like in SEO, to get the extra views, but that’s never a long-term solution.
Instead, you need to create videos people actually want to watch. There are three steps to it.
Step #1 – Accomplish or entertain, pick one: Ask yourself why someone watches a video. There are really only two reasons why.
Either they want to learn something to solve a problem, or they want to be entertained.
You need to make sure that your video accomplishes at least one of these, if not both.
The reason why understanding this is so important is because it will shape how you make your videos.
Does a super long introduction help your viewer learn what they want? No, they don’t care about a theme song. This isn’t a TV show.
Does the viewer care about an in-depth history to the problem? Again, no.
They want their solution delivered as concisely as possible.
Your goal is to make your videos as useful as possible because that’s what’s going to bring you subscribers and long-time viewers.
Step #2 – Quality always comes first: Even though YouTube is far from saturated, one aspect that really impresses me is the quality of the videos put out by popular channels.
They’ve quickly figured out that viewers won’t watch low quality videos.
Compare this to blogging: the standard level of content has only gotten to a high level in the past few years, and there are still plenty of businesses producing ugly content without much value.
There are two main types of high quality videos that you’ll come across and that you’ll probably want to produce yourself.
Let me clarify what I mean by quality: I’m talking about how good the video looks.
High quality videos look professional: they have good lighting, aren’t blurry, and look like someone invested some time and effort in them.
The first type is the classic white background. Derek Halpern often uses it in his videos:
Not only does it look professional, but it keeps the focus on you rather than some random things in the background.
The other kind of popular video is the whiteboard video, where narration is done alongside drawings on a whiteboard:
These look great and are an entertaining way to explain complex products.
How do you make videos like these?
Well, the white screen background (you could also go with a green screen) type of video is pretty easy.
It’ll cost you a few hundred dollars in a photography store to get set up the first time (for a low cost version), but that will last you a long while.
Here’s a great video on how to get your own setup:
Once you have the screen in place, you just need a decent camera, and you’re good to start filming.
The whiteboard videos are a bit trickier unfortunately.
If you don’t have the illustration skills yourself, you don’t have any choice but to hire someone to do it for you.
Create a job posting on any of the major freelance sites to find a whiteboard explainer video creator or designer, and you should get a few applicants with experience:
On top of filming a high quality video, you will also need to edit it.
Good editing allows you to make the video flow nicely from one section to another to keep the viewers’ attention.
Again, you’ll need to hire a freelance video editor if you don’t have the skills yourself.
Step #3 – You need to make a name for yourself: Having your own YouTube channel is a lot like having your own TV show. You need subscribers who will watch your videos on a regular basis.
That’s why a single video, no matter how good it is, is not enough for YouTube marketing success.
Compare it to the pilot episode of a TV show. Even if it gets good ratings, that doesn’t ensure that it gets picked up for a second season.
You need to commit to making regular videos for your channel.
Take Derek Halpern, whom I mentioned before. He has close to 90 videos on his channel from my quick estimations.
He created those over a period of a few years.
This does a few major things.
Firstly, it gives him the chance to accumulate subscribers. Even if your first video doesn’t impress a viewer enough to make them subscribe, maybe another one of your videos in the sidebar will.
On top of that, every time a subscriber sees a video, there’s a good chance they will share it. This will lead to more views every time you release a new video.
The number of views your videos will get is not linear. It will start slowly, but like a snowball, it will grow exponentially over time.
If you’re going to do whitehat video marketing on YouTube, plan to give it a year or so before you see real results—but that doesn’t mean it’s not possible to get them sooner.
Start with basic video SEO
The next step of making your videos work for you is optimizing them for search.
Your primary goal is to get a video to rank in the results of YouTube searches, but it’ll have an added benefit of ranking in Google results as well:
Videos often show up in Google results, and it can drive a decent number of views to your video.
I wouldn’t rely on showing up in Google because videos don’t show up in all searches. However, it can be a nice boost to your views, and you can maximize your chance of showing up in searches by targeting phrases with the following keywords in them:
- what is ____
- how to ____
Now back to YouTube optimization. There are two major parts of the ranking algorithm that you need to optimize for.
Part #1 – Your video information: The first thing YouTube looks for is whether your video is relevant to a search.
It’s a fairly simple search engine; it looks for keywords in three areas of your video:
- the title
- the description
- the tags
You don’t need to—and shouldn’t—keyword-stuff.
Include your keyword once in the title, once or twice in your description, and in the tags if it makes sense.
Here’s an example of the description from Brian Dean’s “advanced SEO” YouTube video that he ranks highly for:
He mentions the keyword at the very start and the very end of it.
But notice there’s a lot more to the description than just the keyword.
YouTube doesn’t have much to work with when it comes to ranking videos. The title is only a sentence long, and tags can’t be weighed too heavily because they contain limited information.
This makes the description the main source of additional information for YouTube’s algorithm.
By including a detailed description of the video, you’ll naturally include related terms the algorithm can use to understand the topic of your video. This will make it easier to rank for relevant terms.
Part #2 – User engagement and feedback: Not surprisingly, YouTube’s algorithm has taken an approach to ranking videos that’s similar to Google’s approach.
Instead of just using the basic information an uploader provided with a video, it also looks at how users interact with your video.
The simple concept behind it is that if users are indicating they really like your video, it’s probably a good one to show to more people. Naturally, the algorithm ranks it higher.
So, what does it look at?
There are a few major areas of user feedback YouTube can consider when evaluating a video.
The first is how much of the video most viewers are watching.
If they all drop off after the first 10 seconds, that’s a bad sign. But if 50%- 60% of your viewers watch the whole video, that’s fantastic.
You can check this in your account’s statistics, where you’ll see a graph similar to the one above.
Where else can YouTube get feedback from?
- Overall views – From YouTube’s perspective, if a video is getting a lot of views without its help in the search rankings, it must be good. More views typically lead to better rankings (as long as the audience retention is good).
- Rating (thumbs up and down) – Users can also rate a video by giving it a thumbs up or thumbs down. The higher this ratio is, the better.
- Views to subscribers – If a video is really good, a lot of people who view it will click the “Subscribe” button underneath. Similarly, no one will subscribe after watching a bad video.
- Views to favorites or social shares – Just like with subscribing, people will also share a video only if they like it.
- Comments – If a video is inspiring a lot of comments, it may be good. YouTube can’t put much weight on the comment count since comments could be negative too.
Using all these factors, YouTube comes up with an appropriate score for each video to decide how to rank it.
The biggest thing you can do to optimize these engagement factors is to make high quality videos (as discussed above).
There are a few other small things you can do as well, which I’ll show you throughout the rest of this post.
Views rule YouTube rankings
While there are several factors that contribute to YouTube rankings, quality views are the most important.
When I say “quality views,” I mean a situation when the average viewer watches most of the video.
For almost any term you search, the results will have one thing in common: all the videos will have a lot of views. Here is an example:
For “advanced SEO,” the lowest view count of the top results is over 3,600.
It’s important to understand what “a lot” is to an algorithm.
The difference between zero and 2,000 is greater than the difference between 2,000 and 200,000.
Once you have a few thousand views, you have what you need to rank.
Why? Because now YouTube has a large enough sample size to compare your video’s engagement to the others’. Things such as retention and rating become viable ranking factors.
You don’t need to get hundreds of thousands of views to rank well, but you do need to find a way to get your first few hundred and, if possible, first few thousand on each video.
As you get more and more subscribers, you don’t have to focus on promotion as much because your videos will automatically get thousands of high retention views from your fans.
When you’re starting out, you have many options to promote your videos. I’m going to show you four of the best ones.
Option #1 – Cross-promotion: If you already have a bit of a name in your niche, cross-promotion is a great place to start.
The idea is to participate in a video hosted by the top YouTubers in your niche in order to get exposure to their audiences.
Rand Fishkin does it often:
At the end of this video, you should be able to ask the viewers of the channel your video is featured on to subscribe to your channel. Make sure you place a link for it in the description.
To find these channels, search for big keywords in your niche on YouTube, and check out the number of subscribers the users on the first page have.
For example, I could take a look at Josh Bachynski’s channel as he ranks highly for “advanced SEO”:
Clicking his name under the video will take you to his profile, where you can see his subscriber count in red:
Obviously, the bigger the number, the better.
Try to target at least 20-30 users with a solid base of subscribers. Find their email addresses, and send them a pitch offering to create a video for them.
Ideally, you’ll get at least a few guest opportunities.
Option #2 – Promote your videos to your email subscribers: If you’re producing high quality videos, why wouldn’t you share them with your audience?
Better yet, why don’t you create a blog post to accompany each and embed the corresponding video into the post? This is exactly what Derek Halpern often does:
Then, readers can choose whether they want to read your post, watch your video, or do both.
When they watch the video while it’s embedded on your site, it still counts as a view.
If you have a couple of thousand email subscribers already, you can get your YouTube channel going really fast if a good portion of those subscribers watch your videos as well.
Option #3 – Email outreach: Videos on YouTube are just like any other type of content. One of the most effective ways to promote them is with email outreach.
Make a list of top bloggers in your niche, and send them an email about the video.
Ask them to share it with their audience if they think their audience would enjoy it, but also explain why you think the audience would.
Option #4 – Advertising: YouTube also allows businesses to buy ads on the site to promote their videos:
The average cost is about $10-$30 per thousand views. With practice, I think you could get the price down even further.
If you’re spending a few hundred dollars (at the minimum) to make a video, doesn’t it make sense to spend $50 to promote it initially?
I think it does, particularly when you don’t have many subscribers.
Don’t waste those views! Here’s how to make them count
At this point, you should have a pretty good idea of how you’re going to make videos and get those initial views.
Assuming your videos are solid, you should be getting a stream of organic traffic from YouTube itself.
But remember what the whole point of creating a YouTube channel is.
It isn’t to get views. It’s to increase your business’ sales.
To do this, let’s take a step back and consider where YouTube would fit within your sales funnel:
It’d be right at the top.
It’s the marketing channel where you get the attention of your potential customers.
But the next step has to be to get them onto your website and onto an email list.
Part #1 – include a call to action to get subscribers on YouTube: When you want to get someone to do something, you need to ask them to do it.
In this case, you want your viewers to subscribe to your channel.
Subscribers will get notified of your latest videos, and a decent portion of them will watch all your videos as you release them.
Not only does this help you rank better, but it also gives you another opportunity to get these people to your website.
And sure, some viewers will subscribe to you without any prompting, but most won’t. A call to action will significantly impact your viewer-to-subscriber conversion rate, which is why all top YouTubers do it.
You have a few different options for a call to action; I recommend testing them all with your audience.
The first option is to create a nice big “Subscribe” button at the end of your videos.
You can see why that’d be effective.
To add the button, you’ll need to modify your Google Adwords settings to allow you to have access to the CTA (call to action) panel in YouTube itself.
Here’s a great video that shows you the entire process:
Your next option is to simply use annotations on your videos, which you can configure when you upload your videos.
For example, look at the way “BBALLBREAKDOWN” uses annotations to prompt viewers to either subscribe or watch another video hosted on the channel:
They compared the conversion rate of this approach with not having any CTAs and found that CTAs converted an impressive 31 times better.
Finally, you can also take a few seconds at the end of the video to ask viewers to subscribe. This can work better because most viewers won’t shut off the video while you’re (or your narrator is) still talking.
Part #2 – put a link to a landing page in the description to capture email addresses: In order to get people to your website, you’ll need a link somewhere.
You can test adding it to your videos, but the best place is your description.
You should add a link to a landing page for a relevant newsletter to all your video descriptions:
Don’t just link to a blog post because those won’t convert nearly as high as landing pages will.
3 Simple but crucial tips about YouTube marketing
By now, you know just about everything you need to know about building a successful YouTube channel.
However, there are a few final tips that I’d like to give you that can make a big difference in your success.
The first is that building a successful YouTube can take time.
If you have a large email list or existing relationships with influencers to leverage, you can get thousands of views in no time.
But if you don’t, like most businesses, expect to create great videos for at least a few months before you start getting thousands of organic views. Don’t give up if a few videos fall flat—keep going.
The second tip is that you will get negative comments from time to time.
There are two types of negative comments, and you should handle them differently:
- troll comments – these are not serious comments; they are made just to get a reaction out of you. There’s nothing you can do about them except ignore them.
- honest comments – when you first start out, you have a lot of room to improve. If someone says something legitimately negative about your video, take it as an opportunity to learn and improve your future videos.
My final tip is to remember YouTube is a marketing channel. Like with any other marketing channel, you should not build your business on it.
Instead, always look to drive those YouTube users back to your website so that you can grow your email list. This way, even if YouTube bans your account for some reason, your business will still be fine.
YouTube is a fantastic marketing opportunity for businesses interested in content marketing.
Almost all audiences use YouTube, and there really isn’t too much competition yet.
I’ve shown you everything you need to know, including the type of videos you should be making, how you can get consistent, how to get free views to them, and how to turn viewers into customers.
Now, you need to take action.
If you’ve been considering YouTube marketing, pull the trigger. Create a plan based on this post, and create your first video as soon as possible.
If you have any questions about how to determine whether YouTube is right for your business or how to make the most of it, let me know in a comment below.
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