Moin. It's time for this year's installment of the forever-burning question new creators have: "How do I get more subscribers on YouTube?" It'll start by covering the channel setup, followed by some guidelines on optimizing videos. After that come more advanced optimizations for both channel and individual videos, and lastly, strangely enough, the prerequisite for this all: Making good videos.
This article serves as an addition to the fundamentals outlined here:
Part one: The Channel Setup
This part is about setting up the channel from scratch. It assumes that you don't have videos yet, but that you do have a clear vision of what you'd like your channel to be.
1.1: The Channel Name (Difficulty: Surprisingly hard, Impact: Medium)
The channel name is one of the first things someone will see of your content. It's how people can find you later in case you impress them with the first video they watch so much that they want to see more of you.
Goal: The channel name should match what you're doing to some extend without locking you in. It should be a name you can be proud of, one that you wouldn't be ashamed to tell your parents about, one that is memorable and one that isn't overly generic or has pre-existing meaning.
Examples to avoid:
CSGO gamer 42: This makes it difficult to justify making videos about anything other than CS:GO, it locks you in to just one type of game. More broadly, "gamer" does the same.
Cool videos: This makes it very difficult to search for your channel as there are a lot of "cool videos" out there.
xXbrsgnlXx: While it's possible here to find just your videos when searching for them, it also is kinda difficult to remember what one actually should search for.
Tip: You can change your channel name at any time, but if you do it, all your viewers will have to re-learn your name which not all will do. The earlier you're set on a channel name, the better.
1.2: The About page (Difficulty: Easy, Impact: Small)
The about page dictates the snippet that's shown when someone searches for your channel, which links show up on your channel page and establish contact information.
Goal: Have an about page that...
tells new people finding your channel what your channel is about
tells viewers when to expect new videos ("upload schedule")
has an "for business enquiries" email address
has links to relevant social media accounts
Tip: Have a dedicated business email address that isn't attached to your Google account in any way. This way, it becomes more difficult for a hacker to guess the password of your account, because they don't know which account to hack to get access to your channel.
1.3: The Branding (Difficult: Medium, Impact: Medium)
The branding is the combination of your channel name, channel logo, channel art, channel trailer, about page, your video thumbnails, intros and outros, watermarks, graphics you have in your videos and so on. You'll notice that the name and about page are the two steps previous to this - that's because you'll need your channel description and name anyways to determine what the branding should look like.
As YouTube puts it:
Goal: Make a consistent brand across your channel
You can hire a graphical artist for this.
You can try doing the branding yourself, especially if you're choosing to mainly go through typography.
Don't expect good fonts and artists to be free. Artists and type designers want to get paid for their work just like you (probably) very much would get like to get paid for your videos later on.
Part two: Video Optimization
This part focuses on things you can optimize for on a per-video-basis.
2.1: Thumbnails (Difficulty: Medium, Impact: High)
The thumbnail makes and breaks the success of a video. A boring thumbnail won't get clicked on, while a good one can make you click on content even if you don't know what the video is about ("clickbait").
Make clickable thumbnails that add to the title of the video and represent your video.
Take thumbnails seriously
Tips: There's so many of them that we have its own article on it, with the article linking to yet more articles!
2.2: Titles (Difficulty: Medium, Impact: High)
Titles are the other half of the thumbnail when it comes to getting people to click on your videos. It always displays right next to it, so you don't need to repeat the information given in the title in the thumbnail and vice versa. Unlike thumbnails, titles also fulfill an search engine optimization (SEO) role: Search engines can read text, but have difficulties reading thumbnails. And titles are text.
Have a title that accurately describes the topic of your video
Have it do so in an SEO-friendly manner.
Take titles seriously
Keep the most important information first, branding and part number can come later
YouTube has some tips on the topic (plus some more about thumbnails)
You don't need to optimize titles for search if you don't want to get found through search. This can be a valid strategy for some Hub content. (What's that?)
“Chocolate Ice Cream” is nice, but “How To Make Chocolate Ice Cream with Low Sugar” would be better as it contains more keywords that are very relevant for the video.
"[SomeChannel] Let's Play The Game That Isn't Tetris: Extreme Edition Part 4: THE BLOCKS ARE MELTING" is bad, "THE BLOCKS ARE MELTING! #4 Let's Play The Game That isn't Tetris: Extreme Edition | SomeChannel" would be better because in the first example, the text would cut off after "Extreme", taking away vital information (part number and the actual title). Potentially better still would just be "THE BLOCKS ARE MELTING!" if this isn't content that requires people to watch the previous episode to get the current one. (see also: Why making a good Let's Play is hard - and being successful with it near impossible)
2.3: The first 15 seconds (Difficulty: Easy, Impact: Medium)
Once you've got a viewer to click on your video, you'll need to keep them watching. A viewer who isn't hooked in by the first couple seconds may thing "meh, boring", and simply click the "back" button to watch a different video. This is especially true for tutorials and similar content where there typically is multiple tutorials about a single thing.
Goal: Cut away as much fluff as possible from the beginning.
Avoid using intros (aka title cards) or sponsor messages at the very beginning - people coming in may just have watched 2 ads just to get to your video (see also: Why intros are unnecessary)
If you have to have intros or sponsor messages near the beginning, put a hook (aka cold open) before them. A hook is an exciting part of the video that also appears later in video (often the part just before the climax)
2.4: Description (Difficulty: Medium, Impact: Medium)
A video's description is built out of 2 parts: 3 lines of "Above the fold" section, and a "below the fold" section. It's mostly the "above the fold" section that's going to be shown in search results or next to videos.
Have an "above the fold" section that adds to title and thumbnail, especially for people coming from search.
Have a "below the fold" section that features further information on your video, links to relevant pages and info on your channel.
You can use the below the fold section for all sorts of SEO purposes. Any keywords that you haven't mentioned yet in the title go here. But do craft an actual description here, search engines will simply ignore it if you just put a list of keywords in it.
You can put a sponsor link into the above the fold section if you want more people to click it.
Very few people actually read the description. If you want people to know something about the video you didn't mention in the video itself, have a pinned comment.
YouTube has some tips on the topic.
2.5: Hashtags (Difficulty: Easy, Impact: Low)
If you write a #hashtag in the description, it can be clicked on and searched for. YouTube displays up to 3 hashtags above the title.
Goal: Put the most important keywords that aren't yet part of the title as hashtags in your description.
2.6: Tags (Difficulty: As hard as you make it for you, Impact: Very low)
Tags used to have loads of strategies for them, but turned rather irrelevant in the past couple years. What we do know about them:
The first few tags have additional weight
Tags are only used for a while until YouTube figures out based on viewer interaction on who is or isn't going to like your video and does recommendations based on that.
Goal: Put the most important keywords you had in title and description in your tags.
Tip: Don't spend too much time on this. Maybe a minute or two while you wait for YouTube to finish processing your video.
Part three: Channel and video optimization
This part assumes that you already have a couple of videos.
3.1: Calls to action (Difficulty: Easy, Impact: High)
A call to action is you telling your viewers a thing to do. "Subscribe to my channel", "watch this video next", "press like if you liked it", "support me on patreon" etc.
Goal: Incorporate CTAs into your videos.
3.2: Cross-referencing content (Difficulty: Easy, Impact: Low)
After having made a couple of videos, chances are that a new topic you want to tackle happens to contain very similar information to something you made earlier. For example, if you're explaining how flowers reproduce and you already made a video how bees eat. In this case, instead of repeating the information again, you can point to this other video and continue without the repetition.
Goal: Identify other videos of yours that are particularly relevant to what you're doing at any part of a video and link to them using Cards.
Tip: issue a call to action and physically point to where the card will appear if you want everyone to notice them.
Note: Linking to other channels or to external websites will reduce the watch time on your video.
3.3: Endscreens (Difficulty: Medium, Impact: Medium)
Just like cards, endscreens can be used for cross-referencing content of yours. The difference here is that a) endscreens can only be placed in the last 20s of the video, b) endscreens cannot be hidden and c) you want your viewers to click on end cards as much as possible, as they can only extend the watch time your channel receives. Endscreens are part of your branding.
Goal: Use endscreens to guide users to watching more videos of yours, subscribing or supporting you otherwise.
As said in aforementioned "Like comment and subscribe" - the worst way to end a video, don't overwhelm the viewer with things they can do. You have 20s to do it, you can space your CTAs quite a lot.
Avoid covering still ongoing content with endscreens
Focus on keeping people watching, either by having them watch more videos now (by suggesting a relevant video), or later (by asking them to subscribe)
Always pair the endscreens with CTAs
Be clear on what you ask. This isn't the place for subtleties.
3.4: Building Watchtime (Difficulty: Hard, Impact: Very High)
Watch time is the most important metric on YouTube by far. You can have done any of the above, but if people don't actually watch your video, you won't be getting anywhere. Note that watch time is only the metric you have access to; YouTube actually likes session watch time more - ie how long you keep people on the platform. This means that, all other things being equal, YouTube would prefer a video linking to another video in the end screen more than a video linking somewhere off-site.
Goal: Keep people wanting to watch more of your videos.
This is a difficult and rather intangible goal to reach. I can give some tips on this, but you really are put to the test here to really know what your audience wants and how to satisfy them.
Tips: Make as much good content as possible. Or in other words
Make longer videos...
Without adding any fluff, off-topic discussions or ramblings.
While coming to the point as quickly as possible.
Without reducing quality or upload frequency
Livestreams drive a lot of watch time...
But livestreams usually lose a lot of their value once they're done, so their recordings can be worthless and bury the rest of your content
but YouTube isn't a live streaming platform, so a lot of viewers aren't willing to watch live streams on it
but streams often are difficult to incorporate into a normal content schedule
but it makes it more difficult to be relevant anywhere else on the globe other than your own time zone
Make more videos
without reducing their quality or length
without overwhelming your viewers
without burning yourself out
Make higher-quality videos using e.g. B-roll, more camera angles and other film techniques
without reducing the upload frequency or length
without burning yourself out
At the end of the day, "how to get more watch time" is as complicated as "how to get more subscribers". There is no clear guideline on how to get it, there's only "make as much good content as possible" with some compromises you can take.
3.5: Channel trailer (Difficulty: Medium, Impact: Low-Medium)
Just like the about page, the channel trailer should tell the viewer something about your channel and in particular why they should subscribe to you.
Goal: Make a trailer that explains what you do, when you upload (your schedule), gives examples of your videos, and a call-to-action to subscribe. In other words, make an audiovisual resumé of your channel.
Just like a resumé, the channel trailer can change over time. You should update it probably once a year or so, because who you are and what skills you have now probably is quite different to what you had 3 years ago.
Keep it short, below 2 minutes or so.
You can let your work speak for yourself and just present your best video to date as your channel trailer. But, again, just like with a resumé, it's not that common to get hired simply because someone heard you did a stellar job somewhere else.
3.6: Playlists (Difficulty: Easy, Impact: Medium)
Playlists let you group videos together. This is useful if people want to binge-watch your content.
Goal: Make a playlist for every series/format you have going on.
Put videos into their respective playlists as soon as you upload them. Doing it later only makes things more frustrating for both you, who eventually has to shift through dozens of videos at once, and the viewers, who want to binge-watch your content, but can't because you haven't set up or kept up-to-date your playlists.
You can make playlists based on keywords, too. For example, if you have a car repair series, having a general car repair playlist as well as a Mercedes repair playlist may be useful.
If you can't upload for a while, share some "best of"-playlists with your subscribers and followers on social media.
For each playlist, put in a playlist description.
3.7: Collaborations (Difficulty: Hard, Impact: High)
Making a video or a set of videos together with someone else is always beneficial for everyone involved. If two channels with 100 subscribers collaborate, both can end up with 200 subscribers after the collaboration, because the subscribers on one channel may not have known about the other channel.
Goal: Find a channel similar to yours to collaborate with.
While homogenous collaborations are more common (eg two tech channels working together), collaborating with someone in a different genre can lead to good results as well (eg. a game dev and an artist).
Collaborating with channels smaller than yours is surprisingly effective; small channels tend to have a much more loyal and tight-knit community.
Collaborations should at least consist of 2 videos, one to be uploaded on your channel with your branding, one on theirs with their branding. Just making one video and uploading it to both channels will have the videos cannibalize each other in terms of watch time.
3.8: Community tab and Stories (Difficulty: Easy, Impact: Medium)
Stories are short, unedited videos and photos you can maybe slap a sticker on you can make in the YouTube-app. They can be used to show fans a behind-the-scenes of your production without annoying non-fans with fluff content they don't care about.
The community tab is a feed where you can post text, photos and polls for your fans and eg. update them on the status of an upcoming videos, or ask them for feedback for new topics.
Both of them are great for turning subscribers into fans and getting fans to support you through patreon or merch, however, both currently only are really visible on mobile. Further, there are subscriber limitations on both of them, so you may not be able to use them yet.
Goal: Use the community tab and stories in order to remind your subscribers that you are a human being and not some sort of übermensch that through magic produces one good video after another. Or as the cool kids would say: "Use it to make yourself more #relatable".
Tips: None yet. Do you have some? Share them below!
Part four: The prerequisite
All of the above requires you to roughly know and to be able to make good videos. A good video can be many things: Insightful, thrilling, inspirational, educational, artistic, technically impressive, entertaining and so on, in each case it's not boring, monotonous or hard to watch.
However, I've seen more people than I'd like crank out video after video over months or even years, with all of them being either boring, monotonous or generally hard to watch. Some of them had shown that they care about their channel overall, they had quite a good branding, metadata and so on, but despite all that, they weren't close to making good videos and the videos also weren't improving over time other than maybe some gear upgrades at some point.
I don't want you to be these people. So please:
Evaluate your videos critically. You usually can see issues others cannot see because you had the vision of the video in your head for so long that you know where the shortcomings are. Spend some time on thinking about those, and on how to improve them.
Challenge yourself with your videos. Go out of your comfort zone with your video and make something that's more difficult to do every now and again. For example, if you talk but have to cut every other sentence because you misspoke or forgot what you tried to say, make a couple livestreams where you can't do that. The livestreams probably will be rather unenjoyable, but if you then go back to your regular videos, you'll probably be a better talker that maybe can get paragraphs out at a time, making the any cuts an artistic choice rather than a necessity.
Evaluate how much you are enjoying making videos critically every now and again. It's easy to fall into a "I'm grinding away now, I'll become easier later if I'm just persistent enough" mindset. But grinding is worthless if you aren't either enjoying it or at least learning from it. Fact is, the time you're spending on making videos is time not spent on something else you may enjoy more.
With that said, I hope you all have a wonderful 2019!
If you have some tips and tricks you'd like to share as well, feel free to post them here.