Anyone saying things like “luck” or to “just make good content” doesn’t understand how YouTube works. There are actual steps you must take to engage with viewers to build an audience, and it’s not something that can be broken down into a few bullet points.
Fore-warning: This article is lengthy and exhaustive. It includes almost everything I know about building a successful YouTube channel, culled from years of my own mistakes and advice from creators more successful than myself. If you are a serious YouTuber who is just now cutting his / her teeth on the platform, you are going to learn a lot.
Please benefit from the thousands of dollars I have spent and years of frustration it took to learn these lessons. You will be better armed for success.
Update November 14th 2015: This guide seems to be the most popular article on my blog, written back in January 2014. Considering that, I have written a detailed book that explains how to build a business from a YouTube channel. The result is The Lean Channel: YouTube for Entrepreneurs.
The book is basically an expanded version of this blog article, with information not covered here. If you found this article useful I would urge you to purchase my book to get access to the more advanced material. You can order the book off Amazon, as a Kindle eBook or the more traditional print version.
Pre-requisite: Watch this Game Theory video about how PewDiePie became so popular. Once you have a working knowledge of how YouTube’s algorithms works, the information in my blog will be most helpful to you.
This article is not a couple paragraphs of advice telling you tired cliches like “consistent audience requires consistent content” or that if you just produce good videos you’ll get discovered. Because quite honestly that is a bunch of bull; sure, you need to make good videos and you need to frequently deliver fresh content every week, but producing videos represents 10% of the effort required to make a successful channel. Suggesting people just make videos is like suggesting the only thing you need to run a restaurant is the ability to cook food.
I know there are articles from prominent YouTubers who advise you to focus on production and leave the rest in the hands of the YouTube algorithms (here’s one from Freddie Wong) but that’s because they are either purposely leaving the 90% out to diminish competition OR they honestly do not know how they built an audience to the size that they did (which means someone else did it for them).
Maintaining an audience is different than building an audience, and all of the articles I’ve read primarily discuss techniques to maintain an audience. That’s why I’m writing this guide.
Well, it’s part of the reason. I’m also very sick of people promoting themselves as “YouTube SEO experts” while having little to no understanding about eccentricities of the platform; they know how to upload a video and make a shiny thumbnail, and that’s about it.
On eLance I’ve seen people bill clients for thousands of dollars worth of services that resulted in very few video views. Worse, a lot of freelancers abuse bots to drive fake views and comments to their clients’ content, but the client doesn’t realize until after they’ve paid that all the engagement was fake.
There are also people who spend a lot of time trying to get a video to “go viral” without any consideration on what the value of a video going “viral” is. View count is only good if it leads to something more tangible like subscribers (aka your “tribe” who will become life-time fans of your work as an artist and part of the community built around your work). It’s common for many to mistake high view count as success. It’s about the audience and the quality of that audience.
I think educating people about the realities of operating a YouTube channel will save a lot of people from wasting time and money chasing the wrong things.
To establish some credibility: I run the channel http://www.youtube.com/therpgfanatic and my old channel was http://www.youtube.com/jfreedan (I had to abandon it a few years ago due to issues with YouTube’s monetization and copyright team). My videos have accumulated over 4 million views, though I no longer actively produce videos for my gaming channel anymore. I decided to take a different career path.
I am also the founder of the YouTube MCN Power Up TV, and I am the former Vice President of the Thunder TV MCN. I’m thoroughly schooled in every function of a basic YouTube channel, as well as the advanced things like Content ID and rentals. Because of my experience I’ve worked as a consultant for a few companies, and now I’m passing some of this knowledge onto you.
Some people have different definitions of success; a lot of YouTubers just see this site as a hobby and operate with the idea getting anyone to watch their videos is a huge success.
In this article I’m defining “success” the way I think most people putting professional effort into YouTube mean: building a sustainable small-business producing web videos.
And unless you really *love* your day job, that is the same definition you should be using.
Draw a line in the sand today and declare, “I will become a professional YouTuber“. It’ll make things much simpler for you.
With that said, this article will be written as a guide for how to get subscribers to your channel. This is because the number of subscribers your channel has will dictate how much revenue your channel will earn throughout its life-time.
AdWords is chump change. When you get to the point advertisers are interested in hiring you to make a sponsored video, they will typically pay $75-$100 for every 1,000 subscribers you have subscribed to your channel (you charge for potential reach, not actual viewership. The video will be on your channel forever, so it’ll always accumulate views. You are charging the advertiser for the potential audience reach you currently have.)
This means if you have 100,000 subscribers you can expect to earn $7,500 – $10,000 per sponsored video.
And why are we talking about money? Well, it’s because film-making is a very expensive hobby; you need a good work-station computer for editing, prosumer level cameras, mics and lighting equipment, After Effects ( a $900 product) and more. You need to be able to buy this stuff to continually improve your show. Film is an art form, and as a creator you are an artist like any other. You need good supplies to create good work.
Besides, with the level of video production quality needed to build an audience, you could instead be hired by other companies at anywhere from $25 to $65 an hour. If you’re like me and you only have one computer to render videos on, and it takes roughly 36 hours to shoot, edit and export a 5 minute video then you are missing out on $900 to $2,340 by making a video for your channel versus getting an eLance gig.
Your YouTube channel needs to be a business and if you don’t consider that from the start, it will be challenging for you to produce 1 to 3 videos a week and not starve. Therefore your goal must be focused on building a subscriber base that will allow you to get sponsorships.
Why a YouTube Gaming Channel?
Most people (myself included) originally created a gaming channel just because we love video games and wanted to share that hobby with others. But over time I’ve learned there are other reasons that make a lot of business sense, and I wish I knew this stuff when I was first starting out.
Gaming content is the most popular type of content consumed on YouTube. That might seem surprising to non-gamers, but to us it makes a lot of sense; video games are an audio-visual medium, so if you want to know what the game is like you can look up reviews that show you clips of footage — or even watch a series of videos of someone playing the game.
Additionally, according to a Google study 95% of gamers consume online video content. This is more than many other types of demographics, and explains why gaming videos are such a popular category.
However that popularity also means there is a lot of gaming videos competing for views in the search pages and related video feeds. This blog post will talk about how to stand out from the crowd by giving you a proven recipe for success.
(By the way, many of the tips can be applied to other kinds of content but each niche has its own particulars. I’m writing this specifically about gaming because that is the niche I have the most proven success with).
I. Video Production & Editing
i. Analyze the Selling Points of Popular Shows
Before you make your show (or if you want to figure out how to improve it) you should look at the channels that have the kind of audience demographic and size that you’d like your channel to have.
For example, when I decided to take my show out of a year-long hiatus, I sat down with my friend RuDee Sade ( a branding specialist who runs The Shameless Plug) and watched videos of several popular gaming channels who I personally liked, and listed traits about each show that made them unique; their “selling points”, if you will.
Angry Joe Show http://www.youtube.com/user/AngryJoeShow
- Joe focuses almost exclusively on reviews and previews of current-gen games. He also does news reports and top 10 lists.
- Appearance wise, Joe is the GQ Magazine version of a nerd. He looks crisp and trendy, and he is always wearing that black Superman shirt (the one he wore during the Return of Superman series) and leather jacket. He’s cool and sports the ideal image of what many gamers would like to be.
- Joe’s background is animated; his show has a lot of chroma-key involved, so it’s a professionally produced work. Joe also tends to have good but gentle music in his backgrounds while he’s talking.
- When Joe does cut-aways he uses a lot of slow motion zooms on images or footage to keep the audience interested.
- Joe’s rants are angry but they backed by research. They also discuss gaming issues that have international importance, giving him an international appeal. His assessments also consider transmedia; he talks about the business of games and the ecosystem of the entertainment industry quite frequently. He is a resource for gamers to receive high quality news.
- Joe focuses on using comedy to get his point across, which makes it easier for the audience to stay interested in what he’s talking about. He has the Daily Show effect working in his favor.
- Joe often incorporates other trusted news sources into his videos, giving his opinions a sense of legitimacy through association with the professionally produced interviews or trailers he is commenting on.
- Joe’s onscreen persona is that of a “champion of the people” for gamers, focused on old-school appreciations and values. The reason he focuses so much hate on DLC packs is because it’s a new business model that the majority of his audience are hesitant to embrace.
- Joe often talks about a problem in a title and then offers a solution, if he can think of one.
- Joe also shows an occasional vulnerable side, like when he asks for the audience for help or admits he honestly doesn’t have an answer to a question. This makes him a more relatable character.
JonTron Show http://www.youtube.com/user/JonTronShow
- Jon is like Mystery Science Theatre 3000 for retro gamers. He often invents internal voices for characters in the games he plays and makes tons of pop culture references. Sometimes he even has conversations with the characters. His videos exist in this surreal world that kinda-almost takes place in reality (a lot of gaming shows have this alternate reality feel to them).
- Jon uses a lot of fast zooms in his edits to create humorous effects.
- The games Jon plays are really just an accessory; people are watching because Jon is entertaining, not because the games are. Playing videogames is just a theme.
- Jon sometimes breaks out into humorous songs.
- His videos are structured to be a collage of different media (video, audio, music and sounds) to support the opinions he forms about the games.
- Jon often does fan requests, and solicits them in his videos.
Gaming Historian http://www.youtube.com/user/mcfrosticles
- Gaming Historian uses a lot of slow zooms on pictures, coupled with fades to black or white. His show relies heavily on stock photos and footage, although there are some custom images created to help support his arguments.
- He does well researched articles of edutainment; he uses a lot of quotes to support his arguments, and the humor (if at all) is pretty dry. There is also a lot of narrative embellishments to create drama in the story, with statements like “rushed in…charged ahead…” and such to describe business decisions.
- Much of the music playing in the background is from classic video games, which adds an element of nostalgia to the videos.
Guru Larry http://www.youtube.com/larry
- Larry is like if one of the smart-ass cynical characters in a Monty Python skit decided to review video games.
- Larry specializes in retro games that were developed and released for the UK. He does do games that were released in North America, but he focuses on the PAL version of those titles. He also occasionally reviews movies
- Larry often used limited animation techniques on a cartoon caricature of himself, especially his collaboration videos. His videos sport a lot of motion graphics in the editing.
- Many of the games Larry talks about are really crappy, so he’s able to make fun of the games. And because there aren’t many people reviewing PAL-only games from people’s childhoods he is able to monopolize the YouTube search pages for those titles.
- Like JonTron and Angry Joe, Larry does a lot of top ten lists.
- Outside of his show, Larry heavily engages with other gamers using Skype and Facebook groups.
- Gamester81 is that rich dude in your neighborhood who is always coming over after work to show off his latest thing-a-ma-bob. His videos primarily focus on game systems that weren’t well known or failed in the market, or additional peripherals.
- Gamester81 has a consistent look; he always wears a baseball cap in reverse.
- A lot of the items in his collection are hard to find or outright rare. His videos are one of the few ways gamers have to get close to an actual working unit.
- In the early days, he was one of the most subscribed gaming channels on YouTube. This was primarily because of his massive game collection.
- Gamester81 has a gentle way of talking. He’s like your favorite geek uncle.
- His newest videos have more use of motion graphics and chroma key.
- He’s done a large number of collaboration videos, sometimes doing tours at other gamers houses to look at their collections.
- He started a website with dozens of other gaming channels signed up as contributors. He’s known for being a very approachable and social person in the retro game collecting scene.
The Game Chasers http://www.youtube.com/user/Captain8Bit
- Billy and Jay are American Pickers for retro game collectors. The show is absolutely 100% edited the exact same way and they have the same co-hosts dynamic — and it works.
- Unlike in American Pickers, Billy and Jay are competing to build their own personal collections. They race to find a good game before the other does, but there is still this level of respect between them which many game collectors can identify with.
- Many gamers who don’t have the disposable income to build a massive game collection watch the show to live vicariously through them, but many die-hard collectors also watch for tips and tricks to help them in their own hunts.
- Each episode is an adventure where they might find a super rare game worth hundreds or thousands of dollars. There is some actual tension in the videos due to this factor, and it makes it very engaging to watch.
- They sometimes do animated specials that bring in many of the notable game channels they collaborate with, usually done in the style of an Aqua Teen Hunger Force episode.
The Angry Video Game Nerd http://www.youtube.com/user/JamesNintendoNerd
- The prototypical YouTube video game show, AVGN invented the genre. Because he is the progenitor, elements of his show format are common in almost all game review web series (such as JonTron). This is especially true about his show existing in a surreal universe where he can interact with the characters in the games the same way a child might talk to bad guys on the TV screen, only the adventure on the TV screen typically spills out into the AVGN’s game room. The AVGN universe is probably best called “childhood nostalgia” and he is the host guiding you through that universe.
- One of AVGN’s strongest selling points is that he “takes people back to the past”. This line is even in his theme song; the song is telling you exactly what he’s going to do and what the premise of the show is about; re-living nostalgia and reminiscing about “better days”, which for many guys in their 30s and 40s was playing games that (by today’s standards) are quite awful.
- Like Angry Joe, AVGN has a uniform he wears in every episode; the stereotypical white shirt, glassed and pocket protector attire for a 1980s film nerd.
- There are often sub-stories within the episodes; a good example is the Christmas Wish list videos. The larger narrative is the 80’s time period, the smaller narrative is the contents of the Sears Shopping catalogs, and the even smaller narrative is the mini-reviews of games and items that appeared inside that catalog.
- AVGN puts a lot of effort into the editing of the videos; his opening is long and has a theme song, but he also edits a brand new collage of game footage and show clips for every episode’s title sequence (which is the only reason people don’t just skip through it; normally an opening shouldn’t be longer than 10-20 seconds). You can tell that he is a perfectionist that cares deeply about ensuring his audience is engaged by the way he edits the video; he frequently talks directly to the audience the way he’d talk to a friend sitting on his couch, which makes you feel like you ARE sitting on the couch with him.
The notable thing about shows like AVGN is that the videos are legitimately entertaining; the point of his videos isn’t to educate you about games. They do that, but only because the vehicle in which he is working requires him to talk about the games.
In particular, the AVGN videos are actually a comedy — a parody on game reviews and those stereotypical angry players who break their controllers and start flame-wars on internet forums. AVGN episodes have re-watchability because it’s about the character and the mad world he lives in. A video focused 100% on a game review has poor re-watchability.
Anyway after comparing the elements of these larger channels to my previous episodes and reading all the comments on every single video on my channel, I did the same kind of report on myself:
The RPG Fanatic Show http://www.youtube.com/therpgfanatic
- I only do RPGs, so people know what to expect of me. Additionally, the times I’ve done games that had RPG elements but were very action-y (Like Batman Arkham City) some people did throw a fit saying they didn’t consider it to be a real RPG. Many members of my audience want to see videos about hard-core RPG games, not casual or mainstream titles.
- Of my retro reviews, the most popular videos are games that have been re-released on the PSN or Wii Store — which means thousands of people are STILL actively buying and playing them.
- Many people loved the original opening of my show because it reminded them of themselves; playing a game long into the quiet night. People also appreciate the detailed analysis of a game’s production history or things about the game that were amazing or irritating. Like the AVGN, there is a strong nostalgia factor in the appeal of my videos.
- The long live-host segments sometimes upset people. They don’t engage with the humor as much as I wanted. They just wanted to learn about the game.
- The Student Sword character annoys some people, but others find his antics amusing.
With all of this data in mind, I decided to make the following changes to awaken my channel from its long slumber:
- Review episodes will now run for 3 to 6 minutes, instead of 10 to 20 minutes. Because I currently don’t have a set to film in, the host segments are either cut out or very short.
- Produce news segments every week, hosted by the Student Sword mascot character.
- Brand new video thumbnails that have consistent branding.
- Going forward, all background music used in my videos will be original chip-tune mixes. This allows me to avoid copyright issues related to my music choices while still creating a nostalgic atmosphere for the audience.
- Personalized Calls to action at the end of each video where the Student Sword asks for subscriptions and comments.
- Scripts will be written to appeal to the nostalgia of the audience, whenever possible.
- Scripts will be written with the perspective that I am a voice for the viewer; to be his / her champion who can express the ideas that he / she struggles to clearly define.
- During live-action host segments I will wear a consistent uniform, rather than frequently change my t-shirt.
- More motion graphics, more time spent editing.
- The Student Sword needs to be used more in material as a mascot character and in promotional materials. As a separate character in the show he is able to speak to the audience differently than my character can.
- I don’t refer to my subscribers as “fans” anymore. I call them “RPG Fanatics”, because that’s what they really are. We’re bound by a love of an often under-appreciated genre; hardcore tabletop gamers tend to dislike us, and mainstream gamers can only stomach easy level games with the latest high-res 3D technology, like ES: Skyrim or any of the new Final Fantasy titles.
- My show is for hardcore RPG videogamers that don’t mind grinding for hours in a turn-based retro-style game like Disgaea but will also play the latest Final Fantasy. This is important, because the most popular channels have accumulated audiences that share their taste in games; this is why gaming channels aren’t really competitors to one another in the traditional sense. While there is some audience over-lap, someone like Angry Joe has different tastes in games than I do, so I will accumulate subscribers that wouldn’t have followed him because he doesn’t share their tastes (and vice-versa).
The point is that I realized I’ve had enough views to where if my content was a little better designed, I’d have built a larger subscriber base. If the content you are making isn’t building the audience you want you need to do a harsh examination of yourself and figure out what you are specifically doing right and what needs improving, and make changes.
ii. Basic Production Tips & Tricks
First of all, make sure you record good footage. Don’t just aim your iPhone at a TV and expect people to swoon for you. Read this detailed article I wrote a few years back on how to capture good video game footage.
Beyond that, you need to treat your YouTube Show like a real TV Show. Real TV shows utilize a variety of techniques to build audiences, both in the scripting and the presentation.
- Main character: This is probably you, the host of the show. You have to understand that even if you’re playing yourself, you’re not a real person in these videos; you must assume the persona of the host of your TV show. This allows for breaks from reality to occur, creating comedic situations and whatnot. You can also become the voice of your audience. As an example, The RPG Fanatic persona I take on during my reviews is of a passionate gamer who becomes violently angry at things that upset other hardcore rpg gamers. Whatever you end up doing, be passionate and energetic. There is a lot of competition for viewer’s attention; they are gamers after all. You need to be a caricature of yourself.
- Supporting characters: The RPG Fanatic Show has a comedic side-kick character, the Student Sword. He is also the mascot of the show. The Student Sword frequently appears in promotional material, including the video thumbnails. He also warns the viewer there may be spoilers in the videos, and he hosts my news show.
- Good Intro & Outros: You should have, at the least, some kind of end-slate with a final call to action request. You can find good intro templates for After Effects at Videohive.net
- Put Effort Into Your Videos: You have to go the extra mile. If you don’t know how to use After Effects, either beg a friend to help you or pay someone. You need GOOD transitions, lower-third name-plates, sound effects, and maybe even some limited animation to stand a chance these days. Everyone needs motion graphics; remember, film-making is an art form. Every aspect of your video (whether it is sound design, background music, the script-writing and the way you zoom into clips) needs deep consideration. Imagine YouTube as a Wal-Mart and your video is a product on the shelf. You’d want to make sure the packaging is beautiful, right? Do the same for your videos because they are your product.
- Each Video is an Investment: You are spending time and money to make your videos (even if it’s just the copy of the game you bought or cost of electricity and food consumed while making the video). As I said before, you need to treat your channel like a small business and expect a return on the investments you make. Don’t put more money into a video than you expect to make back from the ad revenue that video generates in the next few months.
iii. Fair Use and Copyright
There is a lot of misunderstandings about fair use and copyright law. There are lots of videos and articles about this subject already, so I don’t want to beat a dead horse. But here’s the basics as it relates to video games.
- Game footage used in reviews, top ten lists and essays is probably fair-use. It depends how much you are borrowing from the original work and what you are doing with it. It’s probably also okay to use scenes from other games and media in your videos in order to parody the original properties and/or the ideas they represent. As a general guidelines I try to avoid using clips that are longer than 30 seconds, and create videos out of a long sequence of 30 second clips that are only shown to explain the subject I am talking about in the video.
- Avoid showing cut-scenes in high-profile games. Some publishers have their web dev. teams managing their Content ID matches. Many of these people have no idea what they are doing, and are matching all the FMVs in every new blockbuster release left and right. It’s a royal pain to deal with. Unless they are sending you advance copies of games and you can leverage a relationship with the marketing staff to address your matches, you shouldn’t give them any reasons to Content ID you.
- Don’t do let’s plays on games unless the publisher says it’s okay. Let’s plays are not a commentary; you’re showing the entire game and the publisher can argue you are hurting their sales by showing all the story-line, voice acting and cutscenes they spent millions making.
- Don’t use someone else’s game music as your theme song. Because it’s not your theme song. No excuses about it being too expensive either; go on fiverr and pay someone to make you a loop for $5.
- You’ll probably need to join an MCN: YouTube’s monetization team is notorious for disabling monetization on any videos featuring video game footage. It doesn’t matter if you have permission from a publisher because YouTube’s team will never give you a chance to appeal the decision. This can be avoided by joining an MCN who services gaming channels.
- Get a lawyer to guide you through anything else. I told you to treat your channel like a business so you should have one on retainer anyway.
II. Audience Development & Marketing
You absolutely should not expect to get views just because you uploaded a video to YouTube. There are more hours of video uploaded to YouTube every day than all the major TV networks have produced in their entire existence. According to YouTube there is over a billion channels on the platform. Millions of videos are uploaded every day guys, you have to take action to get noticed. Simply being “good” is not enough to stand out. You need to shout from the rooftops.
i. Readying your Channel for Discovery
1. Make Your Channel Look Good
YouTube has a Creator Academy course specifically designed to help people setup their channels to look nice. It integrates with your channel to help you through the steps. You can find the course here.
However, one thing they forget to talk about is how to pick a user-name that will help you get discovered in search results. I’ve detailed article about the topic here: How to effectively choose a YouTube channel username.
I used to have passable video thumbnails for the games, and no channel trailer. After producing better channel thumbnails my videos received more clicks from Google & YouTube Search. My channel trailer also got people asking me questions about which videos I used clips from, which led them to go watch those videos.
Anatomy of a YouTube Video Thumbnail.
Free Downloadable Adobe Photoshop (.psd ) Templates for YouTube video thumbnail and outro (end slates):
Want a free template for making video thumbnails and an outro end-slate? Get it below.
You can download the .zip file package by clicking here.
2. Video SEO
But there is another step YouTube does a poor job of explaining; SEO.
- You need to learn how search engine optimization (SEO) on YouTube works. There are a lot of articles on http://www.reelseo.com/ to help you if you don’t know how to do it.
Teaching video SEO strategies is well beyond the scope of this article, but I will give you some basic pointers to the right resources. I have also covered some of these issues in other articles on my YouTube marketing blog.
You need to get very good at using the https://www.youtube.com/keyword_tool & reading http://youtube-trends.blogspot.com/ to see what terms people are searching for, and then optimize your videos to rank for those keywords. Every month you should evaluate your low performing videos and figure out how to get them to rank better in search engines, so they receive more traffic.
YouTube SEO is basically five key things:
- Keyword density: Make sure your titles, video description and closed caption (see below) repeat the keywords you want to rank for. You also need to use any related keywords to the keywords you want to rank for (example: use both “Pokemon” and “Pokémon” ). YouTube has no idea what your video is about unless you tell it using these fields.
- Create back-links to your video: Video SEO is not much different than regular website SEO; back-links form the basis. There are several great places to get back-links from, such as Wikis or article directory sites. Obviously getting your video featured on sites like ScrewAttack, Destructoid and Kotaku are also great but don’t forget the small gaming blogs too like Original Gamer; just email them and ask if they’ll feature your video. You can use Google Blog Search to find the smaller sites. Make link-wheels from all the places your video is seeded, or hire someone else to do it for you.
- YouTube RSS feed seeding: Did you know your YouTube channel has an RSS feed? It totally does, and can help your videos get back-links that help it rank better in search results. This detailed article explains how to best use it.
- Closed-caption scripts: You need to include a closed-caption script for your video. YouTube datamines the CC scripts to find new keywords. Click here for a detailed article on how to do this. Most people do not do this, so if you do you’ll have a massive advantage over those who don’t. Besides, it makes it easier for those with hearing disabilities to become a fan.
- Get engagement: This is why you spent so much time creating an awesome video. The longer people watch it, the better it ranks for the “engagement” factor, which YouTube uses to keep garbage videos off the front page of search results. Videos with low engagement will not be promoted. Engagement is also improved by the more likes / dislikes (they mean the same thing to YouTube), shares, comments and favoriting that other users do.
You also need to realize that SEO is channel wide; the keywords your videos rank for is going to add to the appearance of your channel within the search page results. So if you produce videos about the exact same thing (like me; I only do RPGs) your channel will rank well for searches about that topic and become recommended.
By the way, have realistic expectations about this. It may take a few weeks for a video to rank on the first page of results, especially if you’re trying to rank above people with more view counts than your own video has. The most subscribed channels have a lot of advantages in this game, so you’ll only be able to compete if you have the patience and work ethic to out-SEO them.
3. Call to Action End-Slate
This was mentioned before, but having a good outro at the end of your video that asks the audience to do something ( i.e. like, subscribe, share or comment on the video) is crucial. It’s best if you ask them to do something specific that allows them to add their own personality to it; for example, I started asking people to tell me who their favorite characters were. You can see what that engagement end-slate looks like by clicking on my Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory review (I’ve set the link to go directly to the end of the video).
Anatomy of a Good YouTube End-slate
The increased engagement helps the video get re-shared to their G+ , Twitter and Facebook profiles they’ve integrated with YouTube, and sends social signals to the search engines that the video is something to pay attention to.
ii. Analyze the data
This is where most creators go wrong. They forget that YouTube is a sophisticated piece of technology that uses complex mathematical algorithms to determine what videos appear in search result pages and related video feeds. You must give the platform enough data to know where to place your video or it won’t be able to do its job.
There are many tools on the market to pull data from, but I use Social Blade to get a general sense of how different channels are doing.
I also created an account at VideoLC, which is a service that looks at my channel’s data to tell me a few things. It’ll generate a report manually or email me one every Monday about…
- The best days and times to release new videos.
- How well my videos rank for high search volume keywords, and how to improve the rankings.
- Results of A/B (split-marketing) video thumbnail tests
- Detailed analysis of how many views my channel receives per day, (which helps me know how many videos I need in my back library in order to get to millions of videos a day)
VideoLC software is really good stuff and I highly recommend it.
iii. Other Pointers
- Use YouTube’s built-in tools. The new Fan Insight tool can help you make a G+ Circle of your fans, and regularly try to engage with them. Also make sure you upload a closed-caption transcript (just make a .txt file with everything you said; YouTube will associate the words with your video automatically). Also set the GPS location of your video, and set a create date; these features are more for things like Google Maps and third-party apps, but every little bit helps.
- Make an email list. I suggest using FanBridge and ask your subscribers to join it so you can send them regular updates. Offer perks only available to email subscribers like unlisted video blogs or gift cards contests.
- Setup a Google Alert for your channel name. This will help let you know where people are talking about you, so you can better engage with the communities that are watching your content.
- Make a thunderclap.it. Thunderclap is kind of like groupon for mass social sharing. After a specific number of people agree to share a topic on sites like Facebook or Twitter, Thunderclap will auto-share the message to their walls at all once. This can help build a trending topic. I’ve not used this personally for my channel (yet) but I’ve used it for other things quite successfully. It’s meant for sharing causes and events, so just use it responsibly. Make some kind of event related to your channel or tie your video to an event, and you should have no problems.
- Engage with users who comment. This should go without saying but YouTube is a social network. You need to talk to people who are commenting on your video, because that is what they are doing; talking to you. This an opportunity to build a community around your channel; a tribe of fellow gamers, if you will. Another thing I did when reviving my channel was look at how many have commented on videos compared to how many had subscribed. There was a huge number of comments that didn’t result in subscriptions. I formed them into a list and then reached out to them, encouraging them to see my latest video and subscribe to be notified of new ones.
iv. Seeding your videos on user-submission websites.
This is going to vary depending on what kind of content you are making, and what games you are doing videos about. I don’t do let’s plays, else I’d probably get more engagement from places like The Let’s Play Archive or Steam; I even have a detailed video guide on how to get views from Steam.
Anyway, the gaming websites my videos have historically received the most engagement from are:
- http://n4g.com/ though it’s challenging to actually get your videos approved unless you have a gaming blog you can cite as a source. I’ve shared one of my war stories about N4G, which you can benefit from.
- CoPromote: This is a cool service that allows you to connect your YouTube channel to have other people share your videos in exchange for you doing the same. It’s free.
- ScrewAttack : make an account and embed your videos as a blog. Be fore-warned that ScrewAttack is kind of a pain to submit to because they ask you to upload a bunch of images every time and the submission form likes to time out often, but it’s a solid places to get views. They have a good audience not completely over-ran with trolls.
- reddit; in particular the let’s play one, but also reddits focused on specific titles I did reviews about. I generally avoid posting into gaming and games because they are filled with astro-turfing accounts for the big gaming sites that flag & down-vote anyone they deem a competitor. If you don’t have an army of hired social media thugs w/ reddit accounts, you’re not going to be able to compete against them. The only way you can win the reddit game is by making about five different accounts and commenting in the same places on all of them. When you make a video submission, you can only use each account to submit it once, and in a different subreddit. Otherwise mods will look at your account history and think you’re a “spammer” because you shared your video in more than one community (terrible, I know /sarcasm). I know it’s ridiculous but it’s also ridiculous for a website funded by ad revenue to encourage their community to hate promotion.
- Neogaf, though the community is smaller than it once was, they are focused on industry people like journalists and developers. But if your story engages with the users they will often re-post the video into their own blogs.
- Something Awful forums require a paid subscription but they have a huge audience of gamers. There’s a lot of big YouTubers who got their first 100K subscribers by having one of their videos go viral here. The only problem is you are just as likely to get dedicated haters with any dedicated fans; there is a lot of troll hobbyists here.
- Raptr is a social networking site for submitting content and achievements related to games. What is cool about the platform is you can search for game titles and see how many people are active in them, and then focus your efforts on sharing your videos only to the most active communities. This is important because you can only submit a video one time.
- Alienware Arena is a new place I’ve gotten some engagement from. It’s not terribly well known so it’s easy to dominate the lists if you produce good content.
v. Facebook Page Promotion
Facebook Pages can be a powerful tool for growing your audience. The nice thing about Facebook Promoted Posts is that you can target specific demographics and even select people by what topics they are interested in.
If you have a lot of Facebook friends, it’s not too hard to make a Page and get a following started. Here’s a detailed guide on how to get all your Facebook friends to like your new Page.
If you don’t understand the importance of Facebook because you have some weird philosophical leanings, put that nonsense aside. You need Facebook to help grow your channel.
1. Scheduling Posts
Managing a FB Page takes a lot of work. To keep people interested you need to constantly supply them with new posts. Using the Page scheduling feature allows me to spend 15 minutes of my day scheduling content for the next few weeks to ensure the Page has a steady flow of content. I generally schedule content to be released twice a day; once at 3 PM CST and again at 6 PM CST. I also re-schedule old videos after having published them 2-3 weeks ago. Because I have a large library of videos it is easy for me to keep the Page regularly populated.
2. Buying Promoted Posts
After my posts are released to the Page, I purchase a promotion campaign for the posts to get them seen by people who live in the United States AND have specifically said they like the game I am reviewing. Done correctly with a good call to action, you can get a lot of engagement to grow your audience.
As an example, I did a review for Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and then created this Facebook post to promote it.
Another example is my SaGa Frontier review,
3. Designing Posts
- Game Reviews from my YouTube Channel
- Game Fact Image Memes (see below)
- Game News / RPG Report segments
4. Facebook Cross-Promotion
vi. Collaborations / Cross-promotions
After you’ve done the above steps for about a dozen videos, you should have built up an audience of a few hundred people. This will allow you to gain some cred with other creators, opening the door to collaborations.
1. Find Collaborators
It’s gotten very easy to figure out who you should be collaborating with. YouTube’s new Fan Insight tools page will tell you what recent videos your G+ fan circle have been collectively watching. Once you know who it is, you can reach out to the creators of these videos.
I’ve talked about the value of collaborating with other YouTubers before, but here’s some additional info.
Keep in mind there is a specific way you need to collaborate with others in order to expand your audience.
- Collaborate with creators who have the kind of audience you desire. Think about it; if you want people to subscribe to your channel, who are the people most likely to do that? Answer: People who have already subscribed to YouTube channels that produce content similar to your own. So find channels who have the audience you want and do collabs to get introduced to that audience.
- Network with local creators. If you’re in Los Angeles, you should attend the weekly Happy Hour events at the YouTube Creator Space & network with others. If you’re not in LA then go to meetup.com and find a local creator group in your area; if one doesn’t exist, make one (I started the Austin, TX meetup group which has grown to over 60 people).
- Get featured. You need to be mentioned on their related channel feed, a playlist on their channel OR even their website. All of the top big YouTubers I looked at had these cross-branding elements; in many cases, because they were a featured contributor to a big website like ScrewAttack or Channel Awesome it helped them tap into a wide audience.
2. Engage with creators through YouTube
Comment on other YouTuber’s videos. Here is an example of a comment I left on one of Angry Joe’s videos.
Other people read my comment and upvoted it because it was contributing to the discussion, while my channel branding gives them a lot of reasons to click and see what I’m about. I don’t need to do anything special to get people to click on my user profiles; it’s engaging enough as it is. All I have to do is chat with folks about anything and I’m automatically spreading awareness of my channel.
You can also send a PM or G+ message to people you’d like to collaborate with. This can have mixed results and be less effective than meeting them at networking events, but it can result in collaborations occurring that might not have been geographically feasible (such as working with creators who live in other countries). Use Dropbox to share video files between each other to make the best possible collab video.
vii. Old-Fashioned Marketing
Yes, this is a digital platform and all that, but that doesn’t mean you should spend all your time in front of a computer. Your audience sure doesn’t. They go places, like chiptune concerts, gaming conventions and used game stores. There is a community of people around you who are dying to watch your videos, if you could just find them.
Also, meeting people in person can dramatically change how they interact with you online. I’ve had people who have trolled me on the net actually introduce themselves when they see me IRL, and after learning I’m not just some pixel on a screen but a genuine person, the way they interact with me in the future is much better. I’ve had people even apologize for their behavior.
- Make flyers and stickers. Think of your YouTube channel like you would a band. Make some flyers & stickers w/ QR codes to your channel and post them everywhere your demographic is. Attend things like Con Bravo, Playlist Live, VidCon, or any other con relevant to your niche. Go to networking events & pass out a business card with your channel info.
- Apply to host panels at conventions. Don’t just focus on gaming conventions either; anime and comic conventions have a lot of cross-over interests with gamers. Here’s another detailed article about how to go about doing it. Good conventions to attend are Magfest, PAX, SGC, RTX and ConBravo. You can also meet people to collab with at these conventions, too.
- Contests and sweep-stakes. This stuff can work quite well; you can require people to subscribe to your YouTube channel or an email list in order to enroll, or do things like pick the top comments to the video. Offer to give away swag like game codes or weapon replicas from games. It requires an investment of money but if you’re able to reach the right people it can pay off in spades.
- Paid views. Yes you can do AdWords but it tends to be expensive. It’s cheaper to use services like Virool that give you the option to advertise your videos on mobile games; you have a much higher chance of getting subscriber conversions that way.
III. Sponsorships & Money
So you’ve gotten an audience of about 10,000 people. Congratulations! It’s time to think about the next step: money.
Some people (mostly jealous types) think YouTubers shouldn’t make any money. They don’t consider what we do to require any talent or skill, and that we should freely entertain people while we promote the products of other companies without any consideration for where we will get our next meal. They sincerely believe we’re some sort of dancing clown that exists in their computer screens purely for their own amusement.
And that’s as much time as I’ll give those considerations. The fact of the matter is that your videos are going to sway people to buy the products of other companies. Why some people believe you shouldn’t expect to share in some of those profits is beyond me.
There are three basic ways you can make money with a YouTube channel:
- AdWords ( which I can talk very little about due to YouTube ToS, blah)
- Sponsored videos
- Affiliate link programs
There are loads of things I want to say about how AdWords works, and what kind of money you should expect to make with it, but it would violate my contract with Google.
So instead this will be a short section, but I’ll share some things others may not have thought deeply about before.
AdWords sells ad inventory against your videos based on what advertisers are willing to pay to place that ad against your video. The bidding system works as an auction; this means high volume search phrases like “anime” or “games” are worth a lot more than long-tail keyword phrases like “free massively multiplayer online rpg” because advertisers are constantly trying to out-bid each other.
When AdWords goes to sell an ad against your videos, you want to encourage it to pull an ad that is worth a high CPM. This means you must SEO your video to rank for those high volume keywords, because if you don’t AdWords will sell a low-CPM ad on your video.
So basically, if you’re SEOing your videos *correctly* (like I told you to do in the above sections) you will make more money than another creator who is not. Funny how that works out, huh?
One more thing about AdWords….. Google takes pride in the True-View ad system and claims that, site-wide, more people choose to watch ads than click past them. The problem with this line of thinking is that different demographics behave in different ways. It is entirely possible your channel will accumulate an audience that skips the ads.
In my experience, a lot of MMO gamers hate ads and won’t watch them, even if it’s a trailer for a game they like. Whether you should allow True-View ads or not is up to you, but certain channels will generate more revenue just using the normal pre-roll ads instead of the True-View ads. This has to be determined on a channel-by-channel basis.
ii. Sponsored videos
There is a reason I talked about True-View ads and why demographics matter.
Advertisers are perfectly aware of this behavior, which is why they reach out to creators who have tough to engage demographics and ask them to do some product placement in their videos. As a viewer you may not always be aware that it’s there, but it most definitely is on anyone who has a substantial audience. Without that sponsorship money there’s no way to keep producing videos at the break-neck pace that many creators do.
As I said before, the usual rate is $75 to $100 per 1,000 subscribers your channel has. That’s per video again, so if you have a few hundred thousand subscribers you can make quite a’bit of cash by just cranking out videos you would otherwise make, but now you’re working directly with a marketing team to ensure the video does what they need it to do.
I won’t go into too much specifics of how to gather your channel stats to put together the proposals and figure out which companies to target, because it’s a whole ‘nother article itself.
There are a lot of agencies who specialize in this sort of stuff, and it’s also one of the reasons people join networks. Sponsorships are entirely relationship based deals and it takes a lot of time to manage the relationships with the companies who do them. If you get to the point you can do this stuff I encourage you to hire someone to help so you can focus on what you do best: making videos and engaging with people.
If you’d like a detailed guide on how to get sponsorships for your channel, check out my book YouTube Sponsorships: How Creators Like You Can Fund Your Channel You can order it off Amazon.
iii. Affiliate programs
You’ve seen this stuff before. There are like a thousand different affiliate code programs out there, everything from Amazon to Mylikes and whatever else. Fullscreen has its own special Partner-only program for the stuff. I’m actually using a few affiliate code links in this article right now (hey, if my article causes others to use the product, why not?).
Just don’t go crazy with the codes; only endorse stuff you really believe in. Trust is the #1 commodity you have going for you as a YouTube creator, because your audience is going to make or break you. Don’t jeopardize the relationship just to make a quick buck. If you wouldn’t recommend the product to a friend then don’t recommend it to your audience.
Affiliate programs are easy to use; just sign up to an account and include the links to the product at the top of your video description. Every time someone watches your video about a game, they can click your link to buy it and you’ll earn a commission on the sales. It’s pretty straight-forward.
I know this was a lot to take in but I’m glad you made it to the end. Did you learn anything? Do you think I should add a section that is missing? Have a submission site for gamers I should know about?
Tell me what you think in the comments below! Feedback is appreciated.
Also consider purchasing my book, The Lean Channel: YouTube for Entrepreneurs.
This book is an expanded version of this blog article, with information not covered here. I would urge you to purchase my book to get access to the more advanced material. You can order the book off Amazon, as a Kindle eBook or the more traditional print version.