YouTube may just be the most popular and inescapable social media platform around. It has no competitors, with no one selling a product even remotely as diverse, expansive, and as useful as YouTube. At the same time, because of all of its success and widespread use, YouTube is not out to help you. YouTube’s algorithm rarely works as advertised, and it seems to work against certain content.
This means YouTube is the hardest media platform to find success in. That doesn’t mean it isn’t worth it, because, of all the social media platforms, YouTube is the most powerful. Everyone with an internet connection uses it like they do Google. It’s entered the English lexicon as a literal verb, and that means it has a user base that outpaces every other social media platform. You don’t have to worry about it ever going away like with the profitless Twitter.
Ultimately, it just demands more from content providers, and that makes it a daunting hill to overcome.
The YouTube Algorithm vs You
YouTube is currently owned by Google so that should give you some hints as to how its algorithm works. Most views for videos from the search engine, which in turn gives suggestions based on keywords. From the start, you have to hit good keywords to appear towards the top, assuming you don’t pay for the ad placements.
The Uphill Battle of YouTube
Then you compete with channels targeting the same keyword. Here you need one of three things: luck that there are few videos targeting that same keyword; higher views to appear high on the list; or a high click-thru rate which means you will have high views. Think about that, you need views to appear higher in the search results. You need to have already won, to win. The system is not necessarily kind to newcomers who have not either spent years building up a channel, or thousands of marketing dollars to get there.
Even worse, as many YouTubers are beginning to experience, creating a diverse array of content only punishes you in the eyes of the algorithm. If you try to produce a new piece of content alongside your regular content, it will damage your views for your channel overall if it’s not a hit. A hit is a video that does as well or better than your average view count. YouTube’s algorithm does not incentivize YouTube channels to experiment once they find any kind of niche. It makes it impossible for anyone but the most determined to succeed on its incredibly lucrative platform.
Subscribers ≠ Views, Views ≠ Subscribers
I don’t mean this so literally, of course, there are viewers who subscribe to watch your videos. What I mean is that it isn’t one-to-one. Not everything you create is going to appeal to every subscriber. Subscribers will treat your videos like movie studios treat first-look deals with production houses; they get the first look at the content you’re putting out, but they don’t always bite. You’ll see many channels with a subscriber count higher than their average view count.
At the same time, views can be far higher than subscribers. Viewers will watch one of your videos on repeat, share it, spread it around, come back to your channel when they’re in the mood for your content, and never subscribe. This leads to many channels having subscriber counts lower than their average view count.
Ultimately, what subscribers do is raise your engagement in the eyes of the algorithm. It will get your video recommended more to your subscribers and viewers with similar subscriptions.
Whether or not you will have issues with Fair Use depends on your content. If you use footage you own, and music you’ve created or licensed, you’ll rarely have an issue. Otherwise, prepare to see YouTube block your video, even after letting it post months prior.
Fair Use, as defined by Stanford Library, “is any copying of copyrighted material done for a limited and ‘transformative’ purpose, such as to comment upon, criticize, or parody a copyrighted work.” YouTube’s algorithm will claim that your work isn’t abiding by Fair Use at the drop of a hat. Algorithms do not understand subjectivism, they do not see that you are clearly not pirating content. They see that you’ve used a movie clip for more than 25 seconds or any popular song, and will block your video. There are ways to get around this that we can talk about at another time, but best be prepared to edit and re-edit videos several times over if they’re not made with completely original content.
How To Beat YouTube’s System
While that may all sound scary, YouTube is worth it. It not only has the biggest user base of any social media platform, seeing over 5 billion views a day, it is also the only one businesses and people alike make a sizable profit from. Outside of creating ads and video content to spread brand awareness and sell services/products, you can make some changes based on how many views you get. There’s a reason so many people try to become influencers, there’s money to be made. If you master YouTube and put forth the effort and content, it can eventually fund itself.
#1. Targeting High Click-thru Rates
We’ve told ourselves not to judge a book by its cover since we were children, but let’s face it, we all do it. It’s the same thing with YouTube videos, only instead of a cover, we have thumbnails. YouTube thumbnails work like a book cover; they showcase an image of what your video is like, allowing potential viewers to decide if they want to view it or not.
An important thing to remember is this: you will never attract viewers not already interested in the topic you’re making content about. You need to target an appropriate audience and appeal to them. If you’re making a thumbnail about comic books, don’t try to attract people who don’t read comic books or watch their adaptations. If you do this, you’ve already lost, because you’ve forgotten to appeal to people who do want to watch your video. It’s incredibly hard and nearly impossible to do both with every video topic.
Thumbnails can be one of three things:
- They can completely misrepresent the video. This can get a lot of views but low average-view durations, or AVD, which leads to fewer views long after the video has been out. AVD is how long a viewer watches a video.
- They can accurately, but overly represent the video, and turn viewers off. Visually overwhelming a viewer will lead to YouTube users scrolling past your video.
- They can accurately tease what your video is about. They should say what the video is about in a few words and one specific image.
Examples of good and bad thumbnails:
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sxu24xiWeVg – This makes a good thumbnail by not having a lot going on, but at a glance, any viewer knows exactly what it’s about and if it’s for them.
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QtBtmsFKbjY – This isn’t a poor thumbnail, but it’s also not the best. It’s not difficult to fail to understand what’s going on, but it’s incredibly busy. Busy thumbnails are consistently unappealing to the human eye.
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FM5jk3BHS7A – This makes for a poor thumbnail. It’s hard to tell what it’s about, and it’s busy as well, with a ton of text and an image that doesn’t clearly relate to the topic.
#2. Power of Likes and Dislikes
This section will be familiar to anyone who’s read our articles about how to make the most of Twitter and/or Instagram. Likes tell the YouTube algorithm what videos are popular and what people are clicking to see. At the same time, almost ironically, dislikes can sometimes do the same.
This may make total or no sense at all, but viewers do click to watch videos they know or think they’ll dislike. The YouTube algorithm seems to distinguish between when a long view leads to a dislike and a short view. A video that has millions of views with decent AVD, and a lot of dislikes can still see itself recommended like a video with a lot of likes. YouTube wants to prompt videos that will be seen more than videos that are liked. That will lead to more people watching their ads and increasing their own ad revenue. Dislikes are another form of engagement that lets them know what to promote.
You can target your content for high likes and dislikes if you want by targeting your video’s stance or visuals, but that can be a risky venture. It may or may not pay off, and isn’t a tactic recommended to newcomers to YouTube.
#3. Secret Strength of Comments
Comments work similarly to likes and dislikes, in that a lot of them can signal to YouTube that your video has high engagement. This looks great to the algorithm and increases your chances of seeing your video recommended in search results and below videos currently being watched. They also serve to bring people to rewatch your videos. Viewers will have full-on conversations in reaction to each other, and to your video. This is true of other social media platforms, but YouTube is notorious for this.
To really take advantage of this, ask a question at some point in your video, purposely try to get your viewers’ opinions. Regardless of where you put a question in your video, take your question and ask it in the comments of your videos. Then pin that comment to the top of the video’s comment section so everyone who goes into the comments sees it first. This will trigger viewers to respond in your comments, and to each viewer’s response.
It’s an engagement system that works to help you double-dip on viewers and keep new ones.
#4. Raising that Average View Duration (AVD)
You’ve likely noticed us mentioning AVD, or average-view-duration, several times. This is how much of your video someone watches before they click on something else or click off. There is also something similar that YouTube measures called APV, or average-percentage-viewed, which is when it measures the average percentage of a video watched rather than minutes. Believe it or not, the average AVD for a video on Youtube is 1:15 to 3:25. Don’t be discouraged to see it this low, it’s an effect of viewers’ short attention spans.
It is recommended that you take the AVD over the APV. A video that’s 10 minutes long with a 20% view duration at 2:00 minutes is more impressive than a 1-minute video with a 25% view duration at 25 seconds. The former shows higher retention and the latter shows quick turnover.
To achieve this, you need to have good content. This may sound like the vaguest piece of advice, but let us explain. You need to put quality work into your content. Viewers can tell when you don’t put your all into it. They see dozens of videos a day, and hundreds a year, they know quality when they see it, and most viewers won’t settle for less. Make sure the editing is top-notch, the sound and music are mixed well, and your content has a target audience. That’s the only way to make sure that viewers are watching your content close to as much as you want them to.
Getting into YouTube
It may sound confusing, or even intimidating, but the most worthwhile things are. YouTube is a social media platform to be overcome, tricked, and conquered. You can do that and reach an audience that will lead to more clients and customers. If you become really successful, you can even make some revenue-making YouTube videos alone.