5 Things I Learned in my First Month Using YouTube

Confession: I’m a complete rookie when it comes to YouTube.

Our subscriber base just recently climbed out of single digits (40!) and we’ve released a total of 10 videos.

So, naturally, I’m writing a post giving advice on using YouTube. 🙂

I know it seems a wee bit cray-zee but I’m a huge believer in the idea of expert enough. As a matter of fact, I’ll go so far as to say that sometimes not being the ultimate expert can actually make you a better teacher (see the above link for reasons why).

So if this isn’t The Expert’s Guide to YouTube, then what it is? I think a better way to describe this post would be A Look into my Notebook: 5 Things I Learned in my First Month Using YouTube.

5 Things I Learned in my First Month Using YouTube | foodbloggerpro.com

Over the last few weeks I’ve piled up an impressive stack of (digital) notes on building a YouTube channel. I’ve tinkered, explored, researched, Googled, YouTubed (ironic, I know), and even Skyped with the channel manager for a top 20 YouTube channel.

After a while I started to notice some common themes with the advice that people were giving me. That advice, along with some other “ah ha” moments, are included in this list of the five things I learned in my first month using YouTube.

Here they are:

Quick tip: Want to watch a video instead of read the post? You can scroll to the bottom of this post to check out the “video recap” from our YouTube channel.

1. The video thumbnail is really important.

Food bloggers don’t need to be told the importance of images. We’ve all been coached on how a recipe’s food photo can make or break its popularity on Pinterest, Foodgawker, Tastspotting, or the 100 other food sharing sites that exist.

The same concept is true for YouTube. A video’s thumbnail image can make or break the popularity of a YouTube video.

Check out these popular cooking channels to see how they utilize the video thumbnail to make their video more appealing. You can click on the image to see the full-size screenshot.

Laura in the Kitchen

Laura in the Kitchen - YouTube Video Thumbnails Example

Epic Meal Time

Epic Meal Time YouTube Thumbnail Examples

Food Wishes

Food Wishes YouTube Thumbnail Examples

Can you tell when we realized the important of the video thumbnail with Food Blogger Pro’s YouTube channel? 🙂

Food Blogger Pro

Food Blogger Pro's YouTube Thumbnails - Before and After Comparison

The Food Blogger Pro video thumbnails still aren’t awesome, but they’re a lot better than the randomly selected video frame that we used in our first few videos.

Here are some things to consider when creating your video thumbnail:

  1. Use a photo for your video thumbnail. A photo will almost always look better than a frame selected from the video. Food Wishes and Laura in the Kitchen both do a really job with using appealing photos that showcase the recipe.
  2. Consider adding text to the thumbnail. As you can see above, the Epic Meal Time channel uses epic text in their video thumbnails. If you decide to use text in your thumbnail then be sure to make it huge. Tiny text is useless when it comes to thumbnails.YouTube Thumbnail with Text Example, Source: Epic Meal Time YouTubeQuick tip: Don’t know Photoshop? Use Canva to create your custom video thumbnail. I started using this service just last week and have already fallen in love with it. It’s so easy to use! You’ll need to use custom dimensions of 1280×720 (see below) if you’re going to create a custom video thumbnail.Using Custom Dimensions with Canva
  3. Keep it simple. Even though YouTube recommends using a size of 1280×720, the thumbnail itself will usually be pretty small. Keeping your photo simple will make it easier for people to understand what it’s about. For example, check out this screenshot of a YouTube video in a Google search result. The width is 120px on that lil’ guy!

ouTube Video Thumbnail in Google Search Result

2. Watch time impacts YouTube search and suggested content.

Have you ever heard the fact that YouTube is the second most popular search engine in the world?

Well, that’s wrong. 🙂

Technically speaking, YouTube isn’t a search engine. It’s a site that has internal search capabilities.

**Bjork pushes his thick rimmed glasses up his nose**

That being said, it’s estimated that there are over 3 billion searches on YouTube every month, so it’s still one of the most popular sites that people use to search for information.

Hmmm… all so interesting, isn’t it?

Yes…yes it is.

So interesting that it actually brings up a couple of questions that I’d like to ask myself (and then answer).

Q: What’s the best way to get noticed on a site where one of the primary ways to find content is through search?

A: Make sure your video shows up in a top spot on the search results page.

Q: What’s the best way to make sure your video shows up in a top spot on the search results page?

A: Make it engaging.

YouTube tracks how engaging a video is by analyzing how many people start and continue watching it. In other words, YouTube keeps track of a video’s “watch time.” If YouTube notices a video is performing poorly (i.e. lots of people leaving before it’s done) then it won’t show that video at the top of search results as often.

YouTube, just like Google, wants people to have a great experience when using their site, and the best way for YouTube to do that is by showing the videos that are most engaging and helpful at the top of the search results.

This same concept also applies to YouTube’s suggested videos. If your video is highly engaging then YouTube will want to suggest it to other people.

In this sense YouTube is actually a lot like me.

Let me explain…

Never in my life have I shared a video that I’ve stopped watching after 5 seconds. Why? Because the video stunk and I knew that people wouldn’t like it.

Okay, truth be told…there is one exception to that statement.

Best 5 second clip ever? I’d say yes.

The bottom line is this: YouTube doesn’t want to promote crummy videos. That’s why YouTube tracks engagement and favors the videos that are most engaging.

You can see how engaging your videos are by looking at your channel’s analytics.

Video Manager > Analytics > Audience retention > then click on the individual video

YouTube Analytics Audience Retention

Is there a big dip in the Audience Retention graph at a certain point? That’s a hint that something is off with your video. It’s possible that the intro isn’t enticing, the title is misleading, or the video is just plain boring.

Absolute Audience Retention

3. Playlists are searchable and can show up as suggestions.

The first set of videos we created for the Food Blogger Pro YouTube channel was for a post called 7 awesome apps we’re using to build Pinch of Yum and Food Blogger Pro. I created a basic video for each app, posted it to our YouTube channel, and then created a YouTube playlist out of the videos.

After creating the playlist I was curious as to whether or not it would show up in search results. Granted, I had to search for a really specific keyword phrase (“7 awesome apps”), but the playlist did indeed show up! Awesome!

YouTube Playlist in Search Result

Here’s what YouTube has to say about playlists:

Playlists should be an essential part of your channel strategy. Not only do they increase watch-time, they create another asset that will appear in search results and in Suggested Videos. You can create playlists using your own videos, other videos, or a combination of both.

Playlists have their own unique thumbnails, so be sure to review #1 in this list for tips on creating a strong thumbnail image.

4. Consistency is key.

This one is really important. It’s also really easy to understand, so it doesn’t take much explaining.

In order for your YouTube channel to be successful you have to deliver consistent content.

Dane Boedigheimer, creator of the insanely popular AnnoyingOrange YouTube show, used this comparison when explaining the importance of consistently publishing new content:

You can rely on this show the same way you can rely on a television show.

Have you ever turned on the T.V. to watch your favorite show only to see a blank screen? Neither have I. Successful YouTube channels have that same level of reliability and consistency.

5. You can include an annotation that links to an external website.

Video is an awesome medium for mentioning a product, service, or website that your viewers can check out. Video is an even better medium for mentioning a product, service, or website when you can put a link within the video itself.

YouTube allows you to do this with the video annotation feature.

Example of a YouTube Video with Annotation that's a link to an external website

This feature is like a power tool. If you use it right it can be really helpful, but if you use it wrong it can be really dangerous.

It’s helpful for obvious reasons. Linking to an external site from your YouTube channel makes it really easy to direct viewers to the landing page of your choice. For us that means the Food Blogger Pro home page or the Blogging Tips Newsletter sign up page.

It’s dangerous because, if used at the wrong time, it has the potential to negatively impact your video’s watch time and engagement (see #2 above).

Do you see how that’s a catch–22? You want your link to be really enticing so people click on it, but you also want people to continue watching your video.

I don’t have an answer for what’s best in this situation, as it depends on what the goals are for your YouTube videos. If nothing else just be aware of the positives and negatives when using a link to an external website in your YouTube videos.

In order to create external annotations your YouTube account must be verified and in good standing. You can learn how to make that happen here.

Video Recap

What about you?

Do you have a YouTube account? Are there other tips or tricks that you think are important to know? What are your favorite channels to follow and why do you like them?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and advice!

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  1. Wow, thank you so much for this post. Even though you’ve only done 10 videos, you know way more than I do, who has never made a video but wants to start for her food blog. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    Might I ask, I didn’t see it in the post, what type of video camera you guys are using?

  2. Hey Bjork! I’ll definitely be coming back to this post at a later date. I plan on starting some video recipes in American Sign Language this year. So thanks!

    I just discovered Canva a few days ago too, and I absolutely love it! It is so much more user friendly and more customizable than some of the other free programs out there. I even used it to design my business card, and to do a few pictures with text that I just published. I also love that it saves all your projects right there, and you can work on them or change them how you like at any time.

    And I do hope you and Lindsay have a good time while you go your separate ways this weekend. I grew up in CO, and it will always be home to me. I’m looking forward to seeing Lindsay’s pictures!

    1. American Sign Language? That’s awesome. My aunt is an interpreter and I have two cousins that are hard of hearing and use ASL. It’s such a beautiful form of communication.

      Yes! Canvas = Awesome.

      Thanks for the travel well wishes! 🙂

      1. I’m an interpreter too and I love it. I’m living in Europe right now though and I’m not using ASL, so maybe the videos will help me keep it up.

        1. Told ya I’d be back 🙂 Thanks for these tips–they’re even more relevant now. Next on the list is to make some playlists, as I now have enough videos lined up in the queue to lump them together. I need to work on consistency as well. https://www.youtube.com/cha…

    2. I think its a great idea to make recipes videos in ASL. My friend is a sign language interpreter and I know people in the deaf community. Its definitely a great market.

      The blind community feel the same way, lots of food videos now are just music with titles (I fall into this category) they wish there were spoken words so they could also follow and make the recipes shown on peoples youtube channels.

  3. Your timing is perfect Bjork, I recently started a Youtube channel in. Great tips!

    What are your thoughts on the channel trailers that start playing as soon as you go to the home page of a channel? Necessary or not? As a viewer I sometimes find them annoying, so I’m not sure if I should add one to my channel.

    1. Hmmm… To be honest I’m pretty neutral on this. You could convince me both ways!

      What’s your YouTube channel’s URL? I’d love to check it out!

  4. You are correct that the thumbnail image is very important. Also, making many short videos is better than creating a few longer videos (I’ve found) as the retention is more likely to last for the entire video than a partial, and viewers tend to have short attention spans unless they are looking for a detailed tutorial video.

    1. Love the idea of lots of short videos vs. one long one. It’s really hard to make a good short video. I realized that with they FBP YouTube videos. I feel like it’s a short video but when I finally hit stop it ends up being 5 minutes long. :/

      Reminds me of this quote: “I would have written you a shorter letter but I didn’t have the time.”

      Seems applicable to YouTube as well.

      1. Yes, I too have a loooong video for iYoodle atm but that was done, like you said, as I was short on time; kinda of an oxymoron huh?

  5. Great info. I still have no idea what I’m doing (I have a craft channel), but it seems that one key is hitting a ‘thing’ where there is interest, but not a lot of other videos on the subject. I have NO idea what I’m doing, but I have almost 6000 followers. You seem to know more about YouTube than me! I just got lucky with some subject matter and with my followers sharing the content, they are doing all the work for me!! I love all the great info in FoodBlogger Pro. Even though I have a craft blog (with some baking recipes to come), lots of the info works for both. Thanks for all you do.

      1. My YouTube channel if reasonableribbon Bjork. I’d love to have you take a look! My channel is a good example to show you can have success even if your videos are not super ‘professional’ looking. You just have to have something of interest that nobody else has. The making of my first video was so traumatizing (and awful!) that it took almost 2 years to work up enough courage to try again!! lol I am spread a bit too thin to do a really good job on anything lately, but the more recent videos are not too bad. I’d love any constructive criticism you might have too. Feel free to email me.

  6. Bjork, Great article! You covered several key areas that are very
    important to have right or get lost. One big thing I have learned over
    the years on YouTube, is that YouTube is not the complete solution, but
    an important portion of your brand. It is as I like to call it your
    “Digital Resume & Cookbook” that you will be using to get noticed
    and send people to your blog. Over the last few weeks in my YouTube
    Foodies Mastermind Group, I scheduled two separate brands managers to
    talk to us about working with brands. Both said that they are now
    looking to work with Food Bloggers that have a YouTube channel as well.
    The brand exposure is a tremendous opportunity for them and they are
    looking at it very closely this year and next. You didn’t mention (or I
    didn’t see) the social media impact of having a YouTube channel – huge
    to say the least. There are so many platforms that you can send your
    videos to that it is almost over whelming is scope, all driving traffic
    back to you in someway or another. Facebook is now even letting you add
    “Call to Action” buttons at the back end of your video to send viewer to
    where ever you wish! Very cool.

    1. The social media insight sounds so interesting. So far I only posted my videos to YouTube and promoted it with G+ and Twitter (which was not so effective). Do you suggest that I should also post video to other platform as well? It sounds so time consuming and I’m not sure whether they will drive higher traffic to my site other than YouTube. Any suggestion?

      1. Maggie, you need to take advantage of the “Share” buttons that YouTube provides. You can get a lot of mileage out of that and it only takes a minute or two to share out to the links provided. As for Twitter, you need to post the video several times in the first few days of releasing your video. Post to various Facebook groups also. I drive the traffic to my video on YouTube as it is released then I post it on my website and that link gets posted to Facebook and Google+ groups. This works great for me to build my email list and you also rack up the views on your YouTube video. Don’t forget to share your playlist also 🙂 very important!

    2. Gary! Such an awesome comment! I’m going to bump this up to the top so other people are sure to see it.

      This video of yours has over 140,000 views! SWEET! https://www.youtube.com/wat…

      I think this part of your comment is really interesting:

      “I scheduled two separate brands managers to talk to us about working with brands. Both said that they are now looking to work with Food Bloggers that have a YouTube channel as well. The brand exposure is a tremendous opportunity for them and they are looking at it very closely this year and next.”

      Such huge potential for people that are willing to put themselves out there and jump into video.

    3. what are some of the other platforms other then instagram, facebook, twitter and twitch? I also have a food youtube channel and am curious about the brands manager. Do you have any more info on that?

      Thanks Foodie Denise – Channel – Snack Chat

  7. Thanks for those helpful tips Bjork! I didn’t know creating playlist is also important and I just created mine now! I started my YouTube channel a few months ago and only have 14 videos so far. But lately when I started to post at least one video every week or two, I started to see my subscribers growing slowly (still in 2 digits, but growing!).

    About the outbound link, I didn’t see this option (to verify my website) only until recently. I think YouTube requires channel owner to spend some time to build up the channel, before some “advanced features” to show up. Not sure whether this is the right understanding.
    By the way, I just subscribed your channel. Looking forward to see more blogging tips coming!

    1. Thanks for subscribing Maggie! 🙂

      Interesting observation with the outbound link option. We were able to add it pretty early on to the FBP channel. I haven’t heard for sure whether or not that’s an option that’s only available after you establish some creditability.

  8. Yes, I have a YouTube channel. I would add that consistency over time is important. My channel is not huge, but I have managed to get about 1700 subscribers in about 10 months time. But that took time. The first two to three months I had less than 100 subscribers. Even though I was being consistent, not that many people knew about me at first.

    The interesting thing is that YouTube has become the way that most people discover my blog. I mention my own blog posts in my videos, and I link them in the comments/ description box.

    Great tips!

    1. Really interesting! I can see that though. Videos are so much more engaging. I think people see a video and are much more curious then if they see a post on a blog. It’s a great way to find new readers!

  9. great post here! I am really considering creating video content to increase viewer engagement. However, I want to have 2 models –
    1) free videos on youTube
    2) a Membership website (like yours) where people can pay for advanced tutorials. Can you please help me on how to get started for building a website such as yours? Is Food Blogger Pro built on wordpress?
    thanks in advance!

    1. Awesome! It’s a great model.

      We use ExpressionEngine, Open Gateway, Membrr, and a custom design for FBP. I know lots of sites that run on WishList Member for WordPress though. Seems like a decent option if you’re looking to go the way of WordPress.

  10. Thanks Bjork Just reading this in advance of filming for our first Cooking Chat video. One question–in just starting out on YouTube, and not sure how much I’ll do with it, would you wait to set up a branded channel until there is some critical mass of videos? Or just get started with one? (I could upload the initial ones to my personal account I suppose…I just have a few other things there).