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