A YouTube channel can be worthwhile in many ways. It's a place where you distinguish yourself as a professional, build up a community and gain new customers. But how do your videos get as many clicks and views as possible? What makes them more likely to be subscribed to? And what is YouTube SEO all about? I'll explain everything in this article.
Planning and producing videos and building a successful YouTube channel can be a lot of work. How much work? That depends on what kind of videos you want to make. And how easy it is for you to plan, shoot and edit them. In any case, you should be clear about why you actually want to make the effort in the first place.
How to create videos for YouTube
Do you want to create your first videos for yourself, agency or company? On the smallest budget possible? Then check out Jan's guide on the right technology for YouTube & Co.
Your YouTube goals
A clearly formulated goal helps you to give your channel a meaningful direction and to optimize your videos towards the hoped-for end result. Some examples of things you could achieve with a YouTube channel:
- Position yourself as an expert on a topic. The platform is perfect for this.
- To help your content marketing. (See also my guide on content marketing. Videos attract more attention because they also show up in Google's search results and add value to your posts.
- Build a community from which new customers can emerge.
- Pass on your knowledge and enjoy the good feeling of doing something meaningful.
For these and other goals, a YouTube channel can be a good idea. Whether it's the best action to achieve each of these goals is another discussion point that would go beyond the scope we have here.
I wrote an article here in the magazine about how to choose the right social networks for you. Many of the tips in it also apply to your decision for or against video marketing and/or YouTube.
How to draw more attention to your videos
There are three ways your videos can attract new viewers on YouTube:
- They appear in a search result. After all, YouTube is considered the second largest search engine after Google. Some people prefer to watch a video rather than read an article. And for certain topics, it's actually better to see something with your own eyes and have it demonstrated.
- They are recommended on another video. On the desktop, they appear in the right-hand sidebar. They are also displayed after a video has been played.
- They appear as a suggestion on the homepage. In addition to subscribed and generally interesting content, YouTube tries to find videos here that match your own interests.
For your video to appear in these places, it must have been well received by the previous viewers. And secondly, it must be clearly positioned in terms of content. Let's take a look at how these two points work.
What makes YouTube videos successful
When it comes to search engine optimization (SEO), everything usually revolves around keywords: how to find the best ones, where and how to use them and many other points. I'll come to that in a moment.
YouTube has one special feature when compared to a web search engine like Google, however. The video platform knows exactly how each individual video is received by the user community, while Google has much less information about how well a search hit is rated. YouTube uses this information intensively.
What matters to YouTube
So what makes a successful video from YouTube's point of view? Firstly, bear in mind that YouTube primarily earns money with advertising. The platform is also increasingly trying to win over users for its ad-free premium membership.
For these two revenue streams to work optimally, YouTube depends on two things:
- Users should come back as often as possible. So they have to like what they find themselves and what gets recommended to them.
- Each time you visit, you should use YouTube for as long as possible.
That's why the platform looks at, for example, how long your video can keep the viewers' attention for. Because "watch time", also known as "audience retention", has become such an important criterion, there's been a trend towards creating longer and longer videos. The challenge here, of course, is to make a long video interesting.
By the way, don't let anyone tell you that videos on YouTube can't be longer than ca. 2:30 minutes. This supposedly optimal duration is sometimes quoted because that's apparently the average playback time for videos on YouTube. This figure is meaningless simply because it indiscriminately mixes all types of videos, all age groups, all topics, all user intentions and much more.
It's simply nonsense to generalize in such a way. There are videos that are 30 minutes long and enormously successful. Because these 30-minute videos deliver exactly what the target group is looking for.
Watch time: How long are people watching for?
Your videos have to be interesting, sensibly structured, well executed and suitable for the target group. Over time, you'll learn when and why viewers leave your videos because YouTube provides you with detailed statistics. The first 15 seconds, for example are considered particularly important so don't waste them with a meaningless intro. Get straight to the point and arouse interest.
Session time: How long do they stay on YouTube?
YouTube doesn't just look at how long viewers watch your videos, however. The platform also takes into account whether your video causes them to leave YouTube or whether they watch other videos. This is the "session time". For this reason alone, it's a good idea to link to other, suitable videos from your channel and to sort your videos into meaningful playlists.
Engagement: How many reactions does your video generate?
And last but not least, the engagement factor – already well known in the social web – also plays a role. How many users give a like or comment? How many new channel subscriptions does the video generate?
It's therefore a good idea to stimulate discussion or be available for questions. Often the makers of a video themselves write a comment with the main question and "pin" it so that it's always visible right at the top.
Research on topics and keywords
Now that you know what the basics of your videos need to be, it's time to find the actual topics. An important step here is keyword research. You should evaluate the ideas coming from your keyword research with the following points:
- How well they fit your target group
- How they can help your business and
- Whether they are in demand at all
I've written a separate article on how to test and refine content ideas in advance. You'll find lots more advice there.
Tools and tips
A simple step for research here is to enter your terms into the YouTube search and pay attention to what other keywords are suggested to you. Just like Google, YouTube has an "autosuggest" feature that aims to save searchers as much typing as possible. You start typing a search term, and YouTube suggests several possible completions. You can assume that the terms and term combinations listed here are actually being searched for.
Unfortunately, what you don't see is how often it's searched for. You can find such information in tools such as Rank Tracker. They often make your research work much easier because they generate complete suggestion lists based on autosuggest.
With tools like TubeBuddy and VidIQ, you can find out more about your competitors and learn from their approach. They also give you information about how big the competition for a keyword already is. You'll find many more tools for YouTube SEO in this guide from the Content Marketing Institute.
Use keywords in the right places
Just as with search engine optimization for Google & Co., the next step is to insert the keywords in important places. Generally speaking, these places include:
- The title of the video. To ensure it's also displayed in full on Google, it should ideally be no longer than 60 characters.
- The content itself. Think about correcting automatically generated subtitles or replacing them with your own.
- The description text. YouTube recommends at least one to two paragraphs – not just one short sentence!
- The keywords (tags). Both the topic with all its keywords in singular and plural and the type of video ("test report") can appear here.
- Hashtags in the description text.
Other general SEO rules also apply here. For example, you really shouldn't overdo it with the keywords. Human beings still need to be able to read the content!
Moreover, it's not going to be about a single keyword – rather related keywords and whole phrases. If you produce a good video on a topic, it should almost happen by itself. However, it's always a good idea to pay attention and research in advance what terms your target audience is using and searching for. Read more about this topic in the above-mentioned article on keyword research.
When your video finally shows up in search results or is recommended by YouTube's algorithm, you only have a fraction of a second to get users to click. To achieve this, you should pay attention to the following things in your YouTube SEO:
You should certainly have a designed preview image for each video that attracts attention, arouses curiosity and makes the topic clear. Many YouTubers have discovered what marketers and advertisers have known for a long time: nothing attracts attention like a face. That's why you'll often see a person on the thumbnail.
You can work with humor and also engage the tools of clickbait: innuendo, controversy, surprises... Decide for yourself how far you want to go in this area and keep asking yourself, "what fits to me and my target group?"
And last but not least, don't overload the image because it needs to be easily recognizable even in a very small format.
The title of the video should not only help YouTube, but also the users. Similar tips apply as for the thumbnail, which should clearly describe the topic and the benefit of your video. At the same time, it should arouse curiosity for more.
Start of the description
In some places, YouTube gives out the first few lines of the video description, for example in search results. This can also be seen on Google. It's usually the first 100 to 120 characters. Make sure that your text starts with something interesting.
It's been possible to jump to a specific point in a video on YouTube for quite a while now. If a timestamp such as "2:13" is mentioned in a comment, it's automatically linked. When someone clicks on the timestamp, they'll be taken to that point in the video.
YouTube has since evolved the approach to chapter markers: You can divide your video into named sections that your viewers can jump to directly. This is useful if someone is particularly interested in a certain question or if a section isn't relevant for them at that moment.
You can simply add these chapter markers as a list in your description. It's important that you start with 00:00 and have at least three time stamps.
Share your own videos!
Don't wait for YouTube to bring you your new viewers. Share your videos through your own channels: social media profiles, newsletters and your website, blog or magazine.
This is also part of YouTube SEO. If you yourself provide an initial boost in attention, then YouTube's algorithm will notice this positively. Videos that bring users to the site get a bonus in the ranking. They're also recommended more often on the homepage. Videos being embedded on other sites is also helpful.
Long-term success through channel optimization
Having to collect viewers anew with every video is tedious. Your goal should therefore also be to increase the number of subscribers. To do this, you need to pay attention to two things:
- Your channel needs a clear theme: it should be clear who it is for and what this group of people will gain from subscribing to your videos. You can show this through your cover image, playlists of existing videos and or a welcome video ("channel trailer") which you can fix at the top of the page.
- Publish new videos as regularly as possible: this doesn't have to be daily by any stretch of the imagination, not even weekly. But it's good if your approach gives you the feeling, "hey, it's worth sticking at this".
Many YouTubers point out in their videos in one form or another that viewers should subscribe to the channel. Of course, you can do that too. As always, there are also counter-examples that never mention this and are still successful. In these cases, the videos are simply so good, interesting and special that viewers don't want to miss them.
In addition, your ultimate goal should not be to "manage" a channel, but to build a community. It's important that your YouTube videos bring together people who view things in a similar way as you. They should understand what you stand for and why you're running this YouTube channel. What drives you?
Conclusion: YouTube SEO
Over time, your videos will also develop recognition effects. This can be a certain greeting, a certain style, your face. When you get to that point, you've already come a long way.
With this article, I hope I've given you a rough overview of the key points you should pay attention to when making videos for YouTube. To end this article, I'd like to share a secret to success: Be an active user of YouTube yourself. See what's already out there on your topics. Look for role models in other subject areas. Think about what you like yourself. And then gradually develop your own style.