When I say “I’m going to help you grow your YouTube channel”, what’s the first thing that comes to your mind? Will I help you gain millions of subscribers, or will I guide you to make videos that garner tens of millions of views?
Most ordinary folk and even the majority of content creators would think along these lines, but in reality, if I want to successfully grow your presence on YouTube, I would pay more attention to another important metric and optimize for completely different parameters.
For the purpose of this blog post I want you to think of a YouTube channel as a human being. As humans, our outside appearance helps us fit into our surroundings and an entire ecosystem on the inside keeps us alive. Well, so does a YouTube channel. Having said that, what should we pay attention to and optimize for when trying to grow a YouTube channel? Let’s find out!
Following our human body analogy, when we talk about the “outside appearance” of your YouTube channel, we refer to any touch points your viewers have with you on the platform. This mainly consists of video thumbnails, your channel page and the actual contents of your videos, which you should obviously keep in stellar shape to make lasting first impressions on potential audiences and fit well within YouTube’s algorithmic ecosystem. If your thumbnails are akin to the clothes you wear and your general style as a person, your channel page is like your face and your videos are your personality.
Nowadays the importance of a well kept channel page has slowly downgraded and many successful creators opt for an extremely bare channel page that looks quite… unappealing, to say the least. If you’re an overnight YouTube success like Jannelle Eliana you can definitely afford to not care about your channel page and solely rely on the algorithm and the quirkiness of your content to gain watch time and views.
For your average YouTuber, especially one that is just starting out, keeping a tidy and well-organized channel page enables you to convert casual visitors of your page into loyal followers if you display your videos in a visually appealing way that offers a seamless navigating experience. YouTube is known to send more traffic to channels that can keep viewers on the platform for longer, and strategically displaying your content on the channel page can do the trick. You can compile your videos into playlists and display them either vertically or horizontally. There is actually a lot of customization you can do when it comes to choosing what and how you want to display your content, so do take the time to familiarize yourself with your options and see what suits your channel’s narrative best. Here’s what Mark Rober chose for his ‘YouTube face’:
Of course a neat channel page is not going to magically rocket launch you to YouTube fame but just as with a human face - people may not pay attention to it at first, but when they spend enough time looking at it, they get a better idea of who you are as a person (Note: I am in no way endorsing starring at random people’s faces to get to know them better).
I know many of you reading this are not newbies to YouTube and possess varying degrees of YouTube knowledge, so I’m sure that by this point you’re thinking “surely thumbnails and video titles have to be more important than your channel page as they directly affect your channel’s click-through rate and discoverability on YouTube’s homepage”. If you’re thinking this right now, check your mailbox, I’ve sent you brownie points. But in all seriousness, you’re absolutely right and if you could only optimize one or the other, I would recommend focusing as much of your attention on thumbnails and titles (Note: good thing about your channel page is that it only takes a little bit of time to set it up and you’re good to go).
Earlier we established that your thumbnails and video titles are akin to a person’s style and clothes, which in our vain society seem to attract others much more than our bare faces. And this is something every single YouTuber takes advantage of, with some, of course, taking it too far and that’s where we see “click-baits”, which generally refer to a thumbnail or a video title that is either completely unrelated to the contents of the video or are grossly exaggerated and unrealistic. Obviously, we want to avoid this but it doesn’t mean just adding a screenshot from the video as your thumbnail and writing a generic title will help you get more views and longer watch time.
In terms of best practices, it’s always helpful to have a theme going through either your entire channel or different segments on your channel to help condition your audience to seek out your videos in a never-ending stream of content they are served by the algorithm at all times. Personally I know exactly how Simply Nailogical or Safiya Nygaard’s thumbnails look as I’ve been watching their videos for years so my eyes naturally stop to read the title when I see a new video of theirs. You want to do the same and develop a thumbnail style. You can apply the same logic to the title, but here you’re restricted to writing, so some creators choose tp add a little flare with emojis or caps lock words. Bottom line is that as long as your title and thumbnail is exciting enough to make the viewer click, you’ve done a good job.
Pro Tip: If you’re curious to know whether its your channel page or thumbnails that attract more viewers to your content, just head over to Creator Studio —> Analytics —> Reach. Under “Traffic Source Types” you will see how many viewers stumble upon your videos after seeing them as suggested beside another video they were watching, how many just clicked on your video from their home feed and how many decided to watch your videos after landing on your channel page.
When it comes to the actual contents of your videos, it is probably one of the most tricky aspects of running a YouTube channel because of how easy it is to get this wrong and then have absolutely no idea why your channel isn’t growing. There’s no success formula or a 100% guarantee recipe for creating content other people would actually want to spend time watching. Most of the time successful creators didn’t know that their content would be as enticing as it ended up being so to leave you with something more than just a sprinkle of reality in your face, consider your videos in terms of two components: delivery and substance.
Today, the standards for delivery have sky rocketed with the increasing video capturing and processing capabilities of even the most basic smartphones, so as long as you do a little bit of research and come up with the most visually appealing way to deliver your content, you should be fine. This also doesn’t mean that you have to get the latest, exorbitantly expensive gear to produce great content. If you can film your videos in 4K, that will give you a little bit of a boost from the algorithm but 1080p should do the trick just fine as well. I wouldn’t recommend filming in lower quality than that and if there’s anything else you should pay very close attention to, it is sound. Clean, crisp audio always elevates the overall quality of your videos.
As much as paying attention to the delivery of your content is important, if it doesn’t have solid substance, your retention rates will plummet unapologetically. That’s why it’s crucial to create content that will resonate with your audience and keep them engaged. There are a few ways of going about it (Note: this list is in no way exhaustive, but is just there to get the cogs turning in your mind):
- Pick a popular topic or format of videos and put your own personal twist on it like Casey Neistat has with his daily vlogs
- Invent an entire new genre of content creation that will bloom into something like the ASMR community
- Always stay on top of current trends and provide your own commentary
With this last one, don’t get me wrong, you shouldn’t jump onto every single bandwagon like some TikTok creators recently with the appalling Holocaust dress-up challenge. Instead, it’s good practice to not only be an expert in your particular content category, but also staying on top of general news and trends that you can incorporate into your content or build your content around organically to make it more relevant. At the end of the day you want to create videos that are interesting and current so more viewers are inclined to watch them. Just don’t overdo it like these TikTok kids did.
Before we delve into this part, I figured you’d still be curious about the “more-important-than-views” metric that I mentioned at the beginning, which happens to be your good old friend, watch time. Rather than views, it directly corresponds to HOW MUCH of your content your viewers are watching rather than HOW MANY viewers are watching it. The coveted YouTube algorithm tends to reward channels that have longer watch time more than those that have the most views (even though the latter doesn’t hurt either and ideally you should strive to increase both). Such channels get recommended to more viewers and considering how 70% of content watched on YouTube is determined by its recommendation algorithm, this is a hefty reward.
Continuing with our human body analogy, we have got to keep our insides healthy in order to live a long and hopefully fruitful life. The same applies to a YouTube channel where the only way to keep it healthy is to make sure that its backbone is always pristinely optimized and consistently updated. The backbone of any YouTube channel is the metadata, which encompasses things like your video descriptions and tags.
Tags will inform YouTube’s algorithm which other videos your audience prefers to watch and which of them keep your audience on the platform the longest so it can begin suggesting your videos alongside them, which inevitably draws more traffic to your channel. The YouTube expert community is currently torn whether using up as many of the 500 provided characters for tags is more beneficial for a particular video than just using as many suitable tags as you see fit and calling it a day. The gains a marginal, some might say. At the end of the day, as long as you don’t use irrelevant, marginally-related, or generic tags that only confuse the algorithm, you should be fine.
When it comes to descriptions, the “default description” you can find in the Creator Studio under the Settings tab is your best friend. It will save you SO MUCH time of not having to copy paste your social handles and any other repeating information you may have in your description. With that said, it’s always helpful to add a little description of what the video is about for SEO purposes that gives the algorithm clues of what the video is about so it can place it next to videos it deems to be similar. Don’t forget that you can also add tags to your descriptions now and the first 3 will appear right underneath your video, so choose them wisely!
Another component that wins your channel brownie points with the algorithm is your uploading consistency. YouTube is less concerned with how many times you upload (note, I said “less” and not “absolutely not” concerned. Just making sure this is clear and I’m not hung by the foot later) in comparison with how consistently you upload so make sure to follow the age-old advice of YouTube OGs and pick a frequency you can stick to as if your life depends on it. This is where you make sure you don’t commit to daily vlogging if you have 2 part time jobs, evening university courses and an elderly grandmother you’re taking care of at the same time. You will not last long unless you are Ross Smith and you have his grandmother, but even then, don’t put too much strain on yourself or else you will eventually burn out.
Lastly, don’t forget to interact with your audience through comments or the community tab and just have fun. I feel like for some time now YouTube has been seen as this lucrative path to quick money and fame that people are taking too seriously and analytically. That has almost sucked the creativity and naturalness out of most of YouTube’s content at this point with some exceptions still going strong. Whether you want to make YouTube your future career or not, do not forget to enjoy the creative process while you’re at it, folks!