YouTube is ranked one of the most visited sites in the world, second only to Google. It rakes in a whopping 36.4 billion views a month, above Facebook by more than 10 billion views.
And it’s only expected to grow. Video content has shot up in popularity, thanks to the digital consumption habits of millennials and Gen Z. The current pandemic pushed that consumption even higher, as people now have more time to watch videos, and have an increased desire for enriched entertainment and learning, as confined as they are.
With how much traffic it gets, how can marketers and publishers be remiss of YouTube?
If you’re eager to tap into this platform and develop a marketing strategy on YouTube, you’re in the right place. Here’s a guide with all the updated information you’ll need to know to conquer YouTube in 2021:
- The YouTube Algorithm
- YouTube Channel Strategies
- New Features & Updates in 2021
- The Future of Marketing on YouTube
The YouTube Algorithm
Like any other social media platforms, YouTube’s algorithm is shrouded with truths and myths. In its 16 years of service, its algorithm has evolved consistently with the times
For marketers and publishers, ensuring your content gets the most eyeballs as it can is essential. That means playing by the algorithm’s rules. Hubspot and Search Engine Journal recommends these few optimisation tips, based on how the algorithm favours keyword relevance and engagement metrics:
1) Keyword Relevance
Placing relevant keywords in line with the most popular viewer queries from the YouTube Search Report will assist in optimizing for the specific audiences. As explained by the YouTube Creator Academy, the system follows the audience. Adding keyword rich and relevant titles; descriptions and tags alongside video and thumbnail files will increase the likelihood of attracting attention and therefore search visibility.
Neil Patel further explains the relevance of keyword accurate descriptions using the analogy “you never get a second chance to make a first impression”. Using relevant keywords in the copy attracts not only relevant, high intent audiences, it enables the algorithm to pick it up and recommend it to more similar audiences as well. Moreover, adding self-created closed captions will be much more accurate than automatically created ones. Ensuring an elevated viewing experience for those who need the added accessibility.
2) Engagement Metrics
When considering video engagement, we first have to examine viewer penetration. Over 500 hours of content are uploaded to YouTube every minute, and the platform has over 31 million channels. To optimize the reach of our own content, we have to ponder the question: how does YouTube know what videos to serve to users?
The first thing one sees upon loading YouTube is the homepage – which YouTube uses to push select videos to the user. These videos are predetermined through a combination of signals that the system feels the user is most likely to watch. Performance signals measure how well the video engages other viewers using click-through rate and average view duration. They also take into account the viewer’s personalised watch history and the frequency of engagement with specific channels or topics.
With that being said, grabbing attention that results in a click is a process on its own that relies on thumbnails. Creating a striking thumbnail that differentiates is difficult amongst the noise. For optimum results, use humans in the image as people are naturally drawn to faces, with a contrasting foreground and background colour to make it striking.
Another form of recommendations comes in the suggestions section, which appears on the right of the screen. It showcases a list of possible videos a user is likely to watch next, considering their watch history, the videos that are typically watched together or are topically related to ones the user has watched before.
Knowing so, here are the tips that can help to put your videos into suggestions:
- Develop a connected video series
- Use of playlists and end screens to help featured videos place in suggestions
- Consistent, and identifiable branding can help users spot distinct thumbnails/titles amongst other suggestions.
- Incorporating a call to action at the end of the video can result in higher engagement that feeds into the algorithm. However, be wary of long endings that may delay viewers from watching more.
There are also other factors at play that are outside of a creator/marketers’ control. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t combat them accordingly and turn them into opportunities:
Niche & audience size
While niching down is often recommended, sometimes a niche could be too specific, limiting the exposure your content can get. Due to a lack of active intent to search and watch such content, your potential audience size gets restricted. To give an example, many search for how-to-knit videos, but how many will search for ice fishing tutorials, especially outside of countries with cold climates? In this sort of situation, it can be hard to grow your channel’s viewership.
That being said, starting in a specific niche can allow you the opportunity to zoom out of your initial topic and expand your target audience in future. Starting broad and going niche later could backfire instead, as your viewers might unsubscribe if they aren’t interested in the narrowed focus.
A tip is to profile your intended audience, and create a wider range of content that would appeal to them, their lifestyle and beliefs.
With thousands of active channels on YouTube, the competition is very real. If your audience spends more time on a competitor’s channel, YouTube will recommend more content from that channel to them, rather than yours. Their content will get prioritized in the viewer’s watch queue as well.
However, having successful competition means having an insight to the blueprints of success for your own channel. Rather than having to wade in blind, you can check out your competitor’s videos, see what resonates most with the audience and strive to emulate it.
Of course, rather than copying wholesale, you should value-add with your own unique spin on things. Value isn’t necessarily practical, it can be emotional as well. Play into your audience’s likes and dislikes; capitalize on imagery, phrases and audio that are familiar to them to increase relatability; evoke strong emotion; and build anticipation, for them to watch the video to the end. All these can make a video even more satisfying to watch.
Seasonality & trends
A channel’s performance is naturally prone to fluctuations. Viewers today have a lot more options as compared to 10 years ago. They may be interested in your content this week but not the next. Expect performance to fluctuate during specific holidays or seasons. Videos reviewing winter clothing naturally won’t perform as well in the summer. As a creator, it’s important to anticipate such trends and produce relevant content accordingly.
As far as possible, align video content or drop references to what’s currently trending. By providing your own perspective on things, it may even enable you to start a conversation with your audience. Reaction videos and tutorials serve as a good start to providing value while remaining relatable.
All these will enable you to stay on top of the algorithm, and allow your channel to flourish.
YouTube Channel Strategies
On YouTube, the main goal for marketers and creators alike is to build your channel and community. But how do you go about achieving this?
1) Understand your audience
Learning how to attract viewers is the core competency of success on YouTube.
Like any other social media channel, understanding your audience is step numero uno before embarking on anything else.
Take the time to analyze your brand’s applicable audience profiles and personas. This will enable you to pinpoint and craft compelling, relatable content that your target audience will appreciate.
Say for example, a food channel. Food recipes are an extremely broad genre of content. However, rather than picking and featuring recipes randomly, you can break down target demographics into different profiles and personas: teenagers and young adults living on their own, looking for easier recipes that are cheap and fast to make, vs adult food enthusiasts interested in gourmet dining, seeking more advanced sous vide technique dishes.
Depending on which route the channel chooses to take, the recipes they feature will be vastly different.
However, for whichever audience you settle on, it’s not enough to simply create and publish content either. You also have to:
2) Interact with the community
Viewers are more likely to return to watch videos when relationships are formed. Engage with viewers by responding to comments or follow their channels and leave comments on theirs. A channel is much like a community. By paying attention to members, you are much more likely to be inspired by content ideas that are relatable to them.
In this sense, collaboration with like-minded creators in the community is one way to do so. Reach out to creators that have similar audiences and incorporate them in your videos, featuring “Guests that drop by”. Common video formats for this include interviews/podcasts or skits. In the process, ensure the creators are well taken care of and featured prominently.
Not only does this improve creator relationships that increases the likelihood of future collaborations, cross promotion is also more likely. Thereafter, viewers will likely be more inclined to stick around, and your channel benefits from the cross promotion with community growth.
By building an invested and loyal community, certain monetization options will be open to you and your channel.
3) Include a Call to Action (CTA)
You may have noticed that many YouTubers tend to sign off with a cheery “Don’t forget to subscribe!” or “Remember to like, share, subscribe… hit the bell below”. This is a common yet essential Call to Action, prompting viewers to subscribe to their channel, after which they receive notifications when the creator publishes a new video. Through subscribers, new videos rake in views more quickly, boosting their ranking in the algorithm which then recommends it to more people.
There are a few other types of CTAs to use on YouTube as well. Suggesting viewers to watch another video is one, as well as prompting them to follow you on other social media channels. You can also ask them to visit your website, or sign up somewhere to access a lead magnet.
While inserting a CTA at the end is the norm, some also include it at the front or in the middle of the video. However, we recommend newer channels to refrain from doing so, as a lengthy disruptive CTA could cause people to quickly skip their video entirely out of impatience.
To help the audience complete the CTA, you can include cards and end screens to your videos. This directly provides viewers with a clickable element, which brings them directly to another suggested video, your merch store, or another website.
Much like how using a CTA at the end of a video can help drive viewership, cross-promoting between platforms can also achieve this purpose. This is especially so if there’s already an established community elsewhere, that can be tapped into to increase your video’s exposure. Cross-promoting also improves accessibility, as not everyone would have caught your past videos.
Well-known methods to do this include teasing a new video upload, using a brief intro sequence on Instagram Stories. Instagram Stories’ swipe up function thus becomes a CTA that directs viewers to the new upload. In time, viewers will start to anticipate video content ‘drops’ and have a stronger inclination to subscribe.
In 2021, as many as 55% of marketers use YouTube as part of a comprehensive marketing strategy. With over 2 million users worldwide, there are bound to be some misconceptions that both creators and marketers face. Recently, a Product Manager on YouTube’s Recommendation System responded to the top 10 questions on the system. We have picked a few relevant ones to share here.
- Will breaking a regular upload schedule (taking a break) impact channel performance?
“As controversial as it may be,it was found that there was no correlation between taking breaks and a drop in viewership/performance. This is not a guarantee that there will not be an impact in performance. But rather does the behavioural patterns of the audience stay the same and whether the content has improved. The analogy used here is that much like watching any other series from season 1 to 2, viewers may have experienced interest changes in between and might need some buffer to get back into watching.”
- Does publish time affect video performance?
“A video’s publish time does not affect performance. As mentioned earlier in the article, the algorithm matches viewers to the most likely watched videos. Unlike live streams or premieres where getting higher viewership numbers matter due to the limited timeframe. Selecting the time period for the situation above would be recommended after looking at audience insights in YouTube Analytics.”
- Is there a need to upload daily or weekly?
“It was found that views growth does not correlate with the time between uploads. Each audience has a different set of demands for different quantities of content. Hence it is not recommended to upload daily.”
For a more in depth explanation and the full 10 questions, do check out the video on Creator Insider’s YouTube Channel.
After growing your channel and achieving a substantial amount of subscribers and views… What’s next?
It’s what every publisher will be most excited about —
There are many ways to monetize a YouTube channel, which is exactly why it attracts so many content creators. The platform itself enables it, and has set up official means for creators to earn with their
This program provides creators with YouTube-legitimized means of monetizing their videos. It is currently available in selected countries. Only channels that fulfil the following are eligible:
- Have 1000 subscribers
- Have 4000 public watch hours over the last 12 months
- Adhere to YouTube’s monetization policies, which includes their Community Guidelines and Adsense program policies
- Have a linked Adsense account
It is important to ensure your videos adhere to YouTube’s monetization policies before applying. If your application gets rejected, you can only attempt again after 30 days.
Methods of monetizing under this program include:
- Featuring ads on your videos
Those that allow YouTube to play ads before or in between their video will get paid for their ad space, much like how a publisher would. YouTube will analyze videos and indicate if they are eligible for full or partial monetization. Content that is seen as contentious or inappropriate will have limited monetization opportunities.
In March 2021, YouTube announced adjustments to their restrictions on the type of videos that can be monetized, making the rules less strict. Now, content featuring violent interactions or drugs in an educational context, adult humour, moderate profanity, or present controversial issues in an objective and non-graphic way can be monetized in full.
- Super Chats
When hosting a livestream, Super Chats can be employed in the live chat section. Viewers of the stream can pay a flexible amount to have their comments pinned at the top of the rush of comments that come in. The more one pays, the longer the Super Chat will stay pinned. This allows the host to see comments from their most fervent fans, and engage with their questions.
To get access to Super Chats, creators have to be over 18, and their channel cannot be made for kids or post age restricted content. YouTube takes a cut of about 30% from each Super Chat message. Each user can only spend $500 a day on them.
This feature was previously known as fan funding, and Twitch has an equivalent called Cheering, where one pays to use Bits, animated emotes, in their comments.
YouTube Partners with over 1,000 subscribers can enable channel membership tiers. With it, they can offer their viewers monthly paid subscriptions to different tiers of benefits on their channel. A channel’s membership program can have up to 5 different membership levels, with each level offering 1-5 perks. The price of each level is up to the creator.
Common perks are exclusive or early access to content such videos and livestreams, loyalty badges, and access to channel exclusive emojis.
- Merch Shelf & Store
On the videos page of an eligible channel, a Merch Shelf displaying up to 12 listings will be shown to viewers. This is where creators can feature their own branded merchandise. A Store tab will be accessible from the channel’s homepage, where fans can view and purchase even more products. These merchandise can be promoted during a livestream by pinning them to the top of the live feed.
There are more terms and conditions to meet to be able to set up a merch store on the platform. Aside from abiding by the policies under the YouTube Partner Program, you also have to adhere to the paid product placements and endorsement policy, Google Shopping policies and the prohibited content policy. There are limitations to the type of stores you can connect to as well.
Different types of channels have different specifications. By default, a channel will have to have more than 10,000 subscribers. Music channels do not have to meet this number, however, only Official Artist music channels are allowed to own a YouTube Store. Channels that produce content for kids are not eligible for these features as well.
In addition, only users in 24 select countries will be able to view and access the store.
2) Affiliate Marketing
Outside of the YouTube Partner Program, you can promote products and earn through affiliate marketing as well. Create relevant video content, such as unboxing and in-depth video reviews of the product or service, and drop your affiliate link in the description or pinned comments. Depending on the sales model of your affiliate program, you can earn commissions with every impression, click, lead or sale.
The above video by Tech Gear Talk covers useful tips and tricks to using the Apple Pencil – something 15K viewers have found useful, according to the likes counter. In their description, they drop affiliate links to buying the Apple Pencil on Amazon, along with other Apple peripherals.
In fact, there are even better opportunities for affiliate marketing on YouTube now, as they have enabled external linking from cards and end screens. Instead of being restricted to a single website that’s associated with your channel, you can now link to other external sites. This means you can link to a variety of landing pages so long as they meet YouTube’s Community Guidelines and Terms of Service, which means you can promote a wider range of offers.
3) Influencer Marketing & Direct Partnerships
If you don’t want to work through an affiliate program and network, you can also seek partners directly and offer them a paid opportunity for you to feature their goods or services on your channel. Of course, the commission rates you propose should be based on your channel’s views and subscriber count. If it’s too low, logically, businesses won’t be interested.
On the flip side, if you are able to grow your viewer base and establish a name for yourself, brands will be the ones approaching you instead, to be their influencer.
Here’s how Patricia Bright, a fashion and beauty influencer with 2.89M subscribers, promotes Lily Silk, who sponsored the video:
She includes affiliate links in the description as well.
Marketers, take note that this is an option for your brand’s marketing strategy. Rather than build a channel from scratch, you can instead tap into the channels of influencers to promote your business.
While mega-influencers have an extensive reach and viewership, there is value in working with smaller channels as well. They may be privy to an audience that is more niche but more aligned with your desired profile and personas.
Sports fans can attest to the excitement when NFL All Day Access was made available exclusively on YouTube in 2020. Reaching over 30 million views in 2020, advertisers were given sponsorship opportunities in the regular and postseason. Providing a glimpse of the extent of success YouTube has to offer.
Such is the case where YouTube is now expanding sponsorships seasonally. focusing on sustainability and prominent events like Mother’s Day, Summer Wellness or Women in Music during Women’s History Month. Besides helping brands connect with their audience and driving engagement,the seasonal expansion enables a much wider range of opportunities to do so.
In addition, brands that prefer to have tighter control over sponsorships will also have a chance via YouTube Green light. Working along with rising YouTube creators for a fully funded creator original series that includes paid promotions. From a brand/advertiser perspective, YouTube sponsorships are great in maximising reach and getting messages across albeit an expensive one.
Next level: Video on Demand
So you already have the content, and you already have a loyal viewer base established in a specific niche. What’s next?
Take your monetization to the next step. Go off YouTube and create your own platform, build a content library and provide content on demand. Provide excerpts and teasers on YouTube, and direct viewers over to your website. By providing premium content directly to those who desire it, there is the potential to earn more than what YouTube’s Partner Program can help with.
Just like any social platform, YouTube is constantly buffing and building new features for their user base and content creators. To stay ahead of the curve, it’s essential for marketers and publishers to stay abreast of such features. Be an early adopter, and snag market share for yourself and your brand.
Here’re the developments to anticipate and look out for:
New Features & Updates in 2021
- YouTube Shorts | Released, March 2021 – US, UK
Like Instagram Reels and Snapchat’s Spotlight, YouTube Shorts are basically YouTube’s take on TikTok. Available within the platform, it’s a camera tool for recording, uploading and editing videos of up to 60 seconds long. Most exciting are it’s available music options, with titles from 250 labels and publishers. You can add audio from other YouTube videos as well. External music can be used too, but only up to 15 seconds of it.
YouTube is banking on this internal app, injecting $100 million worth of funds to reward and incentivise top creators. Only original content that reaches certain performance milestones will be rewarded. The details have yet to be released.
- YouTube Clips | Limited Release
This tool allows people to share a select, snipped section of a video of 5 to 60 seconds. The clip will play in a loop where it is shared on other channels, with a blue “Watch Full Video” button on the right of the video. It is currently in a limited alpha testing phase, available only to gaming creators at the moment. This feature is expected to roll out to more channels in future.
It is a tool that is long overdue, since alternative platforms like Twitch had rolled out a similar function since 2016. However, unlike with Twitch, YouTube Clips don’t create separate videos from the original content. They work more like embedded timestamps instead. Notably, YouTube clips aren’t featured anywhere else, which will limit discovery and opportunities of going viral.
- YouTube Studio Updates
1) External linking from cards & end screens | Released, June 2021
Select creators can now link to any external websites that are compliant with YouTube’s policies from cards and end screens on their videos. Previously, only associated or approved merchandise and crowdfunding websites were allowed. This will grant creators more flexibility with their CTAs and traffic direction.
2) Upload default improvements | In development
Currently, creators can apply default settings to their web uploads, including privacy settings, category, title, description, tags etc. YouTube is working on making multiple templates for these settings available. This will greatly aid creators who create a variety of content. Cloning settings of previous videos will be enabled, as well as the ability to apply these settings to mobile uploads.
3) Upload from Drive | In development
As it says on the tin, YouTube is working on allowing creators to directly upload content from Google Drive, rather than have to use up device storage space or an external drive.
4) Pre-publish checks for mobile | In development
In March 2021, YouTube rolled out a Copyright Checks tool that helped creators scan their desktop content for potential violations before publishing. For those that monetize, this tool will also help scan videos for Ad Suitability. All these helped creators in resolving issues before going live.
YouTube will be extending this tool’s functions to mobile as well.
5) Auto-generation of titles & descriptions | In development
To further lessen the burden on creators, YouTube is also working on technology to automatically generate video titles and descriptions.
6) Enhancement of thumbnails | In development
They are also working on enabling the enhancement of thumbnails using AI models. However, these high tech functions will likely take a while yet to develop.
- YouTube Analytics Updates | Released, June 2021
YouTube Analytics itself isn’t new. It was rolled out back in November 2011, replacing what was previously YouTube Insights. Analytics however is getting constant updates even to this day, to enable creators to evaluate and optimize their content.
In June 2021, exciting new updates were released. Creators can now get reports on their channel membership growth, clearer information about video performance, insight to revenue changes based on viewer geography, as well as detailed post engagement information – which includes impressions, likes, like rate, votes and vote rate. YouTube will be making things easier for mobile creators as well, bringing data that was previously locked to desktop onto mobile as well.
- Copyright Management Tools | Released, June 2021
To protect the rights of original creators, YouTube is stepping up their copyright game with protective tools. Uploaders can check off a box in the detection/removal options, preventing reuploads of their content onto the platform.
There is also a Copyright Match tool that detects potential matches of other videos to your own. Creators can then review it and see if they wish to issue a takedown request.
The Future of Marketing on YouTube:
In recent years, YouTube has increased the amount of ads they show on their videos significantly. In 2018, they started to show 2 ads back-to-back. In 2020, they announced that they would start playing mid-roll ads in the middle of 8 minute videos, when it was previously only applicable to videos that were 10 minutes or longer. Soon after, they also announced that ads will be shown on videos from creators that are not part of their partner program.
While necessary for YouTube’s growth and revenue, viewers are bound to get irritated.
This is likely why YouTube Premium, a paid service that enables users to view videos without any ads, is getting more and more popular. It reached 30 million subscribers in 2020, which is 13% out of the 2.3 billion users accessing YouTube at least once a month.
With this trend towards paid ads-free viewing, we can no longer rely on paid ad space as marketers & publishers. There’s a growing need to adapt, create valuable organic content, and grow our own channels and community —
Which is exactly what this guide is for.
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