As I write this my youtube channel, Coreteks, just passed 100K subscribers. To celebrate this achievement I thought it would be interesting to share some advice for those who either already have a youtube channel but have struggled to grow it, or are thinking of becoming content creators on the platform. This is a comprehensive article that will cover everything from small details to topics that are often kept secret by creators (yes, that includes financials) so get yourself some coffee and a notepad 🙂
Content is still king
While some of the tricks and tips present in this article will help your channel grow, it’s fundamental to understand that the quality of the content you create will always be the most important factor for long term steady growth. There are different ways to build a large audience on youtube but quality always trumps every other metric (especially quantity). Youtube is incredibly competitive and you have to accept that to get consistent growth you have to approach each video you make as if you are trying to make the best video on that specific topic that will be available on the platform. This doesn’t mean you have to please everyone, just that you have to put in the work to make it the very best it can be. If every video you put out represents unique value to your audience with information/analysis/entertainment that no one else can provide, they will treat each piece of content you release in the future as something they can’t miss. A lot of experts out there will tell you that you need to publish videos regularly (i.e. every day) in order to grow an audience, but inevitably this will come at the expense of the quality of each video. Unless you have a massive operation with editors and writers it’s going to be impossible to publish several quality videos per week. Focus on making each video great rather than publishing a constant stream of mediocre ones.
Charisma can go a long way
Some people just have the sort of personality that attracts others and some people are incredibly funny. Charismatic people will always have an advantage on youtube (and in life in general) as we tend to attach ourselves to others who we can relate to or admire. Usually this will help greatly if the content you are making doesn’t have a specific topic or niche, your personality traits can be enough to carry you to growth. The vast majority of successful channels on youtube fall into this category, channels that do vlog type content or other “low brow” reality entertainment. Personally I don’t see anything wrong with doing whatever type of content you want to make, there are no right or wrong types of videos. There’s no point in being resentful towards creators that become successful making low-effort reaction videos or barely edited vlogs, it’s just a reflection of what society wants to consume. For instance the majority of movies being shown at theaters are formulaic and usually involve flying hot men and women in tight costumes, or the music that’s trending is a copy of a copy of something that was terrible to begin with. It’s up to each individual to curate what they consume and complaining about the proliferation of low-brow content on youtube is a waste of energy that you could be spending in improving your content.
The good news is that there are 7.7 billion people in the world and there’s (virtually) unlimited space on google’s servers, it’s not like there’s a limit to how many videos can be published, so there’s plenty of room for whatever type of content you wish to make to be successful.
With that being said if you happen to have all your skill points in the Charisma trait, be prepared for a massive grind. If you plan to have your personality carry you quantity will be key, rather than quality. The lower the quality of your content, the more frequently you’ll have to upload. For a personality type channel creating familiarity will be fundamental to keep audiences engaged. This article will mostly focus on content that’s more of the educational/informative type, but a lot of the advice here will be useful to personality focused channels also.
How does the youtube algorithm promote videos?
Most of what the algorithm does is not known outside of youtube’s team, but there are a few things the company has disclosed. According to youtube, videos are promoted based on results from data analytics.
“For each video we look at things like titles, thumbnails, description, and how other viewers seem to be enjoying it. We also look at how much of the video they are watching. If they are clicking “Like” or “Dislike”, and how many people are commenting. And for each unique viewer, we look at things like what the person has watched in the past, how much time they spent watching, and what they don’t watch. The algorithm follows the audience”.– Youtube Creator Academy (emphasis mine).
It’s important to understand that youtube’s algorithm is designed to keep viewers on the platform, not to help you be successful as a creator. As such, it’s up to you to understand how the platform works. If people subscribe to you but don’t watch your videos, there’s something that you’re not doing right. Just like the algorithm follows the audience, you have to follow (your) audience and anticipate how their expectations will change over time. More on that in a minute.
The video title is key to attracting attention
When I have an idea for a video I always start with the title. It might seem obvious but I feel like a lot of people underestimate the importance of a good title. My advice regarding this is to write down some notes or a script of what you want to say in the video, and regularly take note of title ideas as you build your thesis. If your channel is mostly about you and your personality then having a script is probably a bad idea – people will want you to be as natural as possible and a scripted video will likely send the wrong message in this regard – but having a few notes about what you want to talk about is always a good thing to keep you focused and stop you from going on tangents and wasting the audience’s time. At the top of your notes write a bunch of possible titles, and constantly revisit this list of titles as your notes/script takes shape and your thinking becomes clearer.
Titles on youtube have a hard character limit and a truncated character limit, meaning that there’s a maximum number of characters that you can use, and also a maximum number of characters that will be visible before youtube cuts it and replaces it with an ellipsis (…), like so:
Even though truncated titles can still attract attention, my advice for creating video titles is that the title is only final once there are no more words to remove. The hard title limit is 100 characters, and it will get truncated if it exceeds 70.
Let’s use one of the above titles as an example. Optimum Tech’s full title for that video is “Apple’s ‘Silent’ Airflow Method – Genius or Pointless?”. What words can we remove from that?
“Apple”? No, because that’s integral to describing the video. “Silent”? Again, no because that’s descriptive of what’s being discussed in the video, and same for “Airflow”. But the word “method” doesn’t need to be there, and neither does the “-” character that separates the adjectives “Genius” and “Pointless”. So to make that title be fully visible on all platforms it could be something like “Apple’s Silent Airflow is pointless”. When audiences are looking for a video to watch through the recommended tab they will quickly scan dozens of titles (we’ll get to the thumbnail in a second), and the simpler to read your title is the more it will stand out.
One could argue that to get your video recommended in the first place you need to have as many keywords in the title as possible so that the youtube algorithm will pick it up. That’s a fallacy, and so are any methods for gaming the algorithm. Firstly, the algorithm is constantly evolving and no one apart from google’s youtube team knows how it really works. That will probably change in the future with legislation from the EU likely forcing the company to fully disclose how videos get promoted, but for now my advice is to always focus on attracting viewers, not on gaming the system. As such, a short title will stand out for its simplicity in a sea of text walls. This concept of “simplicity” is crucial across all facets of content creation, take note of it.
Because you cannot use bold or italic in titles (at the time of writing this), to emphasise a word in the title what I usually do is put that word in all-caps, so in the above example I would put the word “pointless” in all caps, like so: “Apple’s Silent Airflow is POINTLESS”. If bold becomes available you should use that instead. The reason for this is that a single all-cap word will attract people’s eyes to it, and it will help carry the rest of the title. We don’t actually read words, we see them. If I tell you to not read the word “CORONA” you cannot not read it, no matter how hard you try. Your brain registers it and everything that’s associated with it even though until recently this wasn’t a word even remotely on your radar. Also, if you take a quick scan of this paragraph, the words in all caps will immediately stand out without you having to read the paragraph up to the point where they appear. Do not overdo the all-caps thing though, for instance having the whole title in all caps will communicate all the wrong things, it makes it look like you are desperate for attention, and cheapens the title. Viewers will perceive you as low quality or click-bait.
Using complicated words in titles is generally not a good idea unless the subject absolutely requires it. In my channel’s niche such a word would be “Heterogeneous”. It’s a complicated word but most people in my niche are familiar with it to the point of instantly registering it, and if someone specifically searches for it on google or youtube search there’s a good chance it will pop up in the results because it’s not a commonly used word. So having a list of words that are familiar only to your niche can be a great way to make a title stand out, and can create a powerful image in the viewers mind even before they’ve clicked on the video!
I usually write down about 5 to 10 possible titles in my video notes, like so:
RDNA vs TURING – Will NVidia keep CRUSHING AMD?
RDNA vs TURING – NAVI is the inflection point in performance
RDNA vs TURING – The end of NVidia’s performance dominance (chosen)
RDNA vs TURING analysis
RDNA vs TURING deep dive
RDNA vs TURING – How GPUs work
Another useful tip is to add this spreadsheet to your bookmarks:
It’s a list of words that will get your videos demonetized, so it’s a good idea to avoid them (we will get to monetization later in the article).
And finally when it comes to titles it’s fundamental to understand who you are targeting. If your audience consists mostly of men in their mid-20s to late 50s, using terms that are related to survival, power, competition, or resilience are more likely to attract viewers. Due to various factors like cultural conditioning, biology, hormones and various others, men typically show a stronger reaction to words like “Destroy”, “Kill”, “Crush”, “Dominate”, “Future”, “Trouble”, “Survival”, “Doomed”, etc. If your audience consists mostly of young women, words that are more likely to attract women will include stuff like “Bridge”, “Connect”, “Attention”, “Special”, “Practical”, etc. This is obviously a generalization but whether you like it or not, men and women react differently to different terms, and the same is true for different age groups and different ethnicities, cultural tribes, etc . Just remember to check the no-no terms in the spreadsheet linked above before publishing a title.
A quick word on clickbait
There’s some confusion on what constitutes clickbait and what doesn’t. Because you have such a limited amount of characters to use it’s ok to use titles that can appear sensationalistic, as long as they describe the video accurately. If I make a video covering Intel’s upcoming GPUs but my title reads “NAKED WOMEN!!”, that’s obviously misleading. That’s what I would consider clickbait, having a title that will attract views but that doesn’t correspond in any way to the content. Don’t be afraid to be a bit sensationalist in your titles though – as long as they are descriptive. But always be mindful of how your audience will perceive you! If every title you use is something like “XXXX will DESTROY the competition” or “I can’t believe THIS and THAT happened!” or “I’m LEAVING youtube” (without actually meaning it), your audience will start to mistrust you. They might watch one or two videos, but will catch on to the over-sensationalism quickly and move on to someone else (even if they stay subscribed). There’s a difference between creating a title that creates excitement and a title that cheapens your content and damages your image. As a rule of thumb, never compromise your dignity for the sake of getting views. It might work in the short term – and with certain audiences – but for the vast majority of creators it will only damage their image and reputation, and at best attract the wrong kind of audience. This also applies to thumbnails, speaking of which….
A good thumbnail is worth a thousand words
If there’s one thing that’s greatly misunderstood by content creators on youtube is the thumbnail. The vast majority of people get it wrong. Remember when I said simplicity is important for titles? For thumbnails simplicity is not only important, it can make or break your career on the platform! There’s a lot to go through so pay attention.
Firstly, you should always create a custom thumbnail for your video, never use something automatically generated by the platform. Secondly, the thumbnail should be at least 1280 x 720, but it’s a good idea to scale that to a higher resolution so that your thumbnails age well into the next decade (this is especially true for videos that you intend to be relevant for years to come).
What constitutes a good thumbnail is subjective to a certain degree, but there are some fundamental principles that will apply to every niche and every video. Take a look at this image, which rectangle stands out to you?
Probably you took a split second scan through the whole set of rectangles but your eyes eventually landed on the orange square. Why is that? All the other squares are more colorful, and some a lot brighter. If you want to stand out from the crowd and the whole crowd is shouting, trying to shout louder or at the same volume as everyone else won’t work, the best way to stand out in that context is to be silent. Similarly, if most thumbnails on youtube have text on them, don’t put text on them! (or use very little of it). If most thumbnails are garish with 100 photoshop stock effects on them, keep your thumbnails flat! If most thumbnails have the content creator with his/her mouth agape in shock, then stand out by not putting your face on thumbnails! (unless your channel is a vlog/personality type channel). The shocked-face thumbnail was a trend (and continues to be to some extent) based on the myth that the youtube algorithm promotes videos where people look shocked in the thumbnail because it probably means the video will shock viewers and therefore result in more engagement. Again, don’t try and game the system. In the long run how the audience perceives you is more important than what the algorithm promotes. Even if a shocked face in a thumbnail can work for some, it’s extremely unlikely that the hundreds if not thousands of videos with similar thumbnails will succeed, and over time the audience will realize that you are being manipulative and lose interest in your content. People are smarter than you think and our brains have evolved to evaluate other people’s facial expressions down to the smallest detail. The shocked face will do more harm than good and your standing with audiences will likely suffer as a result, even if the algorithm is more likely to promote your video with such a thumbnail.
Keep it simple! Let’s look at some examples from my niche, PC Enthusiasts and Tech.
Each of these thumbnails can be greatly improved. Starting from left to right, Tech Yes City’s thumbnail is excessively complicated, uses red arrows and a shocked/palm face. This is a good example of a no-no thumbnail. ( This is nothing personal against Bryan, the point of this article is to be informative not to attack anyone 🙂 )
Thumbnails that your brain will associate with having a red arrow or red circle on them are usually from videos about UFOs or Big Foot “footage”, the point being to try and direct your eyes to a certain detail in an image that would otherwise look inconspicuous. It basically communicates something like: “See this image of a bush? Look closely and you’ll see something unexpected!”.
Do you want your audience to perceive you as the type of channel that makes videos about Big Foot sightings or UFO conspiracy theories? Probably not (I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with those channels mind you). The brain is very quick to create associations, even if they’re not conscious, so you should avoid getting associated with something that will cheapen your content. Never put red arrows or circles on your thumbnails!
The second mistake Bryan made here was using the photoshop stock “drop-shadow” around every element of the thumbnail. This effect is incredibly over-used throughout the web and whether you notice it or not, your brain will associate this effect with low-effort content. Don’t believe me? Take a look at these two catalogues from two different supermarkets:
Even though I blurred the prices, your brain will associate the top catalogue with expensive products, and the bottom one with cheap products (even though the bottom actually has more expensive products in these particular pages). The reason for that is that the top catalogue uses flat product images in a structured grid and with no effects on them, while the bottom one tries to fit as many products on the page as possible (your brain will perceive that as a supermarket that’s trying to save on printing costs and thus has lower margins), uses a white drop-shadow effect around the products (your brain will associate this with a cheaper design firm being used to make the catalogue), and it looks a lot messier with not enough white-space around each product, projecting in your mind’s eye an image of a supermarket with little room to move around, every isle stock full of stuff (aka cheap!), as opposed to the catalogue above, which projects an image of harmony and order, something you’d associate with a more expensive shop. These same simple design cues also apply to thumbnails, so avoid stock Photoshop effects that everyone uses like drop-shadows or outlines as these will communicate cheapness and laziness.
Still on Bryan’s thumbnail, another problem is the lack of scalability. The video is about a laptop battery not charging but it’s hard to make out that that’s even a laptop battery, in a smaller screen it just looks like a black rectangle. A much better thumbnail for that particular video would be something like this:
It’s simple, describes the problem even without a title, and it scales well to any size. (I actually just took that from a Dave Lee video and removed the text on it, but you could make an even better thumbnail if you actually spent some time on it. For the sake of this example it suffices.)
Next is Steve from Gamers Nexus and he makes basically the same signal-to-noise-ratio mistakes. The thumbnail is excessively complicated, doesn’t scale well, and the subject matter (the cat themed PC case) is hard to make out in the image. Following the same principles I applied to Bryan’s thumbnail could contribute to a much broader reach for Steve’s video.
The third is from Tom (who’s setup I’ve featured here on the coreteks website) from the Moore’s Law is Dead channel and again, the thumbnail is messy, with way too much text (in way too many colors), and doesn’t scale to smaller sizes. My guess is Tom made this thumbnail at 100% size in an image editor. Had he zoomed out to about 10% size these issues would probably become more apparent to him. Tom’s fantastic content deserves better thumbnails!
And lastly we have Paul from “Not and Apple Fan” which gets most things right except for the text positioning. Youtube puts time stamps and other stuff on top of the thumbnails making the safe area for text pretty small. Another issue with this thumbnail is that the text on it is a repeat of the title, making it redundant. If you want to add text to the thumbnail use a maximum of 3 words. This is hard and requires putting a lot of thought into it. Again, Dave Lee serves as a great example of how to make thumbnails (with and without text) really stand out. They are simple, usually have high contrast between subject and background, and use little or no text:
Notice also how none of his titles are truncated and the text on the thumbnail is never covered by the timestamps. Dave has built an image for himself where the audience perceives his content as “clean”, uncomplicated, professional and aesthetically pleasing, and creating those expectations starts with the thumbnail and title. The views on his videos and the success that he’s enjoying are a consequence of this attention to detail. (but never forget that content is king)
Consistency will establish your brand
Having your thumbnails follow a consistent theme will help audiences quickly identify your content on their sub-boxes and even in the recommended tab. Many of your subscribers will miss your videos simply because they get lost in the ocean of content they get bombarded with every day. Keeping your thumbnails similar in style will ensure your audience will recognize you at a glance. This might seem inconsequential but it compounds with the other tips I present throughout the article.
Applying the golden ratio
If you come from a background in art or design you’ve probably heard of the golden ratio, but for the laymen among you, in mathematics, two quantities are in the golden ratio if their ratio is the same as the ratio of their sum to the larger of the two quantities. This phenomenon occurs naturally in nature (pardon the redundancy) – although not to the extent that is often reported – and in design this creates a sense of harmony and is believed to be aesthetically pleasing to most of us. Personally I think the golden ratio is overrated but it does provide a simple framework to use as a basis for thumbnails. In simple terms, you should position the subject of your video according to the golden ratio proportions in your thumbnails. Here’s how:
This is the thumbnail from the most recent video that I published. The fujitsu chip that I’m covering is positioned according to the golden ratio, the subject being divided by the central vertical line, and overall aligned to the right of the thumbnail (instead of in the center) making the image appear more natural. Like I said though, rules are meant to be broken, and sometimes you have to trust your instinct when it comes to positioning the subject. (On a side note, the chip already has text on it so it wouldn’t make sense to add text to the thumbnail. A thumbnail is only ready when there’s nothing left to remove 🙂 )
Words, what do they even mean?!
Words can be hard, especially if you are not publishing content in your native tongue which is my case. Words can be misinterpreted, mispronounced, and misunderstood. Again, simplicity is key. The vast majority of my scripts can go up to 10K words. I usually end up cutting it to around 3K-4K. I follow the same principle that I discussed above for title and thumbnail creation, the script is only ready when there’s nothing else to remove.
“If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.”– Various authors
The quote above has been attributed to numerous people, probably the oldest reference to it is from Blaise Pascal. It means that condensing one’s thoughts while still saying all we wish to say is time consuming and requires a lot of effort. It’s important that you respect your audience’s time, it’s the most valuable thing they have! A comment that people often make about my videos is that 20 minutes feel like 5 minutes when they are watching them. This is because I spend a great deal of time condensing my thoughts and information as much as possible, making sure it flows from one point to the next with carefully selected short pauses to divide each segment. Rambling will make the audience switch off and move to the next video and this can cause the youtube algorithm to flag your video as something that doesn’t interest them and as a result they will no longer get notified of your future videos. This doesn’t mean that you can’t make long videos, or that you have to listen to people who say your videos are too long or too boring (more on dealing with criticism in a bit), it just means that you need to be concise and get your message across in a way that respects your audience’s time. This is the main reason why I started scripting my videos, so that I can condense as much information as possible and don’t go on tangents that are irrelevant to the points I’m trying to make. There are exceptions to this rule, especially in podcast-like videos. In podcasts the audience generally wants to have a discussion playing in the background while they are doing something else that doesn’t require great focus, and as such the more natural the podcast sounds the better it will be, so a conversation that goes on a lot of tangents in that case is fine.
Create a narrative
In my videos I always reference past videos and encourage viewers to go back and revisit a topic I’m referencing in more detail. This is an incredibly powerful way of establishing credibility with your audience. If you want to be perceived as an authority in your field, your body of work should appear prolifit, and your past successes should always be displayed as much as possible. I don’t mean this in a manipulative way, but rather as a means of creating a narrative for your journey so far. Having a narrative will create the expectation that the journey is not over and the audience will feel compelled to continue following you, and see where this all leads to. Here’s an example of how powerful this can be:
In my latest video I reference a past video that discusses the RDNA and Turing gpu uarchs in detail, and I say something along these lines: “If this [the topic I was currently discussing] is going over your head I highly recommend you watch my video RDNA vs Turing from last year [show thumbnail of that video including the view count] which goes over these two micro-architectures in detail” and I continue on with the point I was trying to make. This creates in the viewers mind this idea of a continuity to my body of work, it encourages new subscribers to watch my older videos, and having the view count show under that past video helps solidify my credibility, if so many people have watched my videos in the past then surely I must know what I’m talking about (disclosure: I don’t XD ).
Again, don’t see this as being manipulative. It’s just a mechanism for creating a narrative, it’s a tool to show people that you are truly passionate about the topic you are covering and that you have something of value to offer, and the longevity to be worthy of a subscription. The result of using this narrative method? Here’s that video before I referenced it and after:
That’s an extra 6K views in a video from 8 months ago! So make sure you reference your past videos regularly and build a narrative.
Becoming a great communicator
The best way to become a great communicator is by avoiding figures of speech and by being as concise as possible. One of my favorite authors, George Orwell, wrote an essay on the topic of writing that I have used as a framework for my scripts and for articles I’ve had published in publications like PC Gamer. You can find it here: https://www.orwell.ru/library/essays/politics/english/e_polit
I will save you some time and paste a TL:DR of his wisdom:
- (i) Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
- (ii) Never use a long word where a short one will do.
- (iii) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
- (iv) Never use the passive where you can use the active.
- (v) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
- (vi) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
Number 1 on that list is especially common on youtube videos, expressions like “Your mileage may vary”, “Take this rumour with a grain of salt”, and other such figures of speech are overused and just outright lazy. I’m sure I’ve fallen victim to this laziness myself, but being aware of these rules will help you avoid sounding like everyone else out there, and hopefully make your ideas clearer and easier to understand, while also making you sound more approachable. What you have to say should be unique and sound unique, not a repetition of what people are hearing elsewhere. Your audience will greatly value this even if they don’t know it.
Also I highly recommend you learn Photoshop like the back of your hand. Communicating with graphs and charts as well as presenting relevant quotes in an aesthetically pleasing manner is a great way to communicate your ideas and helps establish a nice pace to your videos.
Use fonts that are readable in any size (Avenir is a good one, or Roboto from google fonts as a free alternative). Don’t use too many colors, stick to your branding.
The video description
Use this to describe the video you are making with keywords that the algorithm will pick up. This is not the same as gaming the system, this is precisely what the description box is for, to let the crawler pick up on words that might be of interest to the target audience. Don’t abuse this and fill the description with popular words that have nothing to do with the video just to attract viewers. Also include sources that support your thesis, and links to your social media, patreon if available, and to your website. At the bottom of the video description use tags with the hash character – like #intel #amd #cpus – this helps the algorithm prioritize the main topics that your video is discussing.
How can I get products for reviews? How can I interview relevant/famous people?
This is where youtube analytics comes in handy. To get products for reviews your best chance is to get a large number of subscribers as unfortunately that’s usually the only metric that companies care about. Until you get close to 100K subs your best bet is to do reviews of products that you buy yourself or those of friends and family members. Put great care into these reviews and make them as if you were reviewing your dream product! This will serve as an example of how you conduct your reviews, it’s something you can send to agencies and companies when you apply for review programs.
Gather information about your channel, things like subscriber count and the growth trajectory so far, views on videos, prominent people sharing or commenting on your videos on social media, your demographics, your engagement levels and your reach. Most of these are all available to you in the Youtube Studio. Send an email out to the marketing departments of the companies whose products you wish to review including all of this information, keeping it as visual as possible. Don’t send people a massive wall of text on your first interactions.
As for getting people for interviews or documentary type videos, you will have to be diligent in getting their contacts, and you will need to attract their attention with the email subject alone. If they open the email you send them it’s likely that you will be able to get them to collaborate with you, so treat the email subject input box as if your whole career rests on it leading to a click! Type in the subject something that complements the person’s work and quickly describes what you want from them, like so:
“Your work in HPC has inspired me to work in the field 🙂 Have time for a quick interview?” or “You don’t know me but you have no idea how you changed my life! 🙂 Can I ask a small favor?”
It’s challenging to get people to collaborate with you when you are starting out but if you persist you will eventually get there, and this will quickly snowball and you will grow your network in no time.
It’s the algorithm’s fault that my videos don’t get views! (wrong)
You will see a lot of content creators complaining that youtube has stopped promoting their videos and that even viewers who are subscribed are not getting notified when they publish. This can be very frustrating and feel unfair, but guess what, it’s completely – 100% – the content creator’s fault! If I didn’t care about you and my fellow content creators I would just pander to your confirmation bias and tell you that youtube is evil (it is, actually) and that people are not watching your content because youtube has an agenda against you.
This is almost never the case (although there are exceptions, youtube is a corporation with certain interests and will act accordingly to protect their business – you know, like every corporation). But because I actually do care (more on that later also) I’m telling you the things you don’t want to hear. Many of my subscribers and followers tell me that they don’t get notifications for my videos on their sub boxes. Even if I occasionally vent about this, I’ve come to accept that it is up to me to make sure my videos will reach people, and investing in the quality of the content is the best way to ensure this.
I’ll use a couple of youtubers from my niche as an example, but I’ll reiterate that this is nothing personal against them.
Back when I started my channel in 2016 Tech Of Tomorrow was one of the most popular tech channels around. The channel still has half a million subscribers today but the view count on videos is usually fairly low, generally in the 2K to 10K views per video. What caused this drop in viewership?
Joker Productions is a similar story. Joker’s channel has 125K subscribers yet the views on his videos have dropped considerably in the last couple of years, with the odd video going viral now and then. Again, why did this happen?
Unfortunately for Joker and Elric the reason their videos aren’t getting as many views as they would like these days is because youtube is an ever changing platform, and the audiences are extremely demanding. While in 2016 you could get hundreds of thousands of views doing tech reviews for instance, or unboxing tech products, or even just discussing tech news in general, the reality is that today the audiences have narrowed down that type of content to just a handful of creators, generally the ones that kept raising the bar in terms of production quality. This can be hard to accept as a creator, but being successful today is no guarantee of future success. Many channels have come and gone, and it’s up to you to figure out what the audiences want to see, and do your best to match your content to their expectations (while still having fun doing it). I know this can be hard to accept, but if it was easy everyone would do it. Approach this as a challenge that you need to overcome by yourself, don’t expect youtube to change or others to fix the situation for you.
There’s nothing to gain in being resentful towards youtube, the audience, or the algorithm, the only thing to do is to take responsibility and constantly improve.
So how do I get views?
To get views you need a combination of luck, originality, and timing. Youtube can function as sort of an echochamber with creators making videos about topics that other more popular creators have made, either agreeing or disagreeing with their views. This feeds into the confirmation bias loop that a lot of the audience looks for, usually unconsciously. There’s a great book I often recommend to people called “You are not so smart”, which covers a lot of the fallacies that we often fall prey to. Being aware of these fallacies is the first step to growing an audience and consistently getting views in the 6 figures range. You should be the one covering topics that start a discussion, not the one following up on that topic. I come across a lot of channels that live off of confirmation bias, and my first thought is always that there’s no way that said channel will have longevity. Channels that cover the “woke culture” (either promoting it or mocking it) are a good example of this. The reason people watch those channels today is to get confirmation of what they already believe in. Something stirs up inside them, drives them to engage with that content, to be mad at the people who just “don’t get it”, and feed that feedback loop so that they become ever more convinced that they are right and that they have chosen to plant their flag in the right camp (which ever it might be, that’s irrelevant). But what will happen to such channels when society moves on to other issues? Hippies were popular in the 70s with messages of piece and love, anti-war propaganda and other narratives. Would a business or publication aimed at hippies still be relevant in the 90s? Would a publication aimed at yuppies still be relevant in the 2000s? These issues are transient and part of our growth as societies, there’s a constant clash of ideologies and a constant re-evaluation of the morals that underpin our behaviours and the things we believe in. Channels that narrow their scope to topical themes quickly become irrelevant when the next big thing attracts people away. This is what happened to a lot of channels in my niche. The audience is saturated with gaming build guides, tear-downs, unboxings, theoretical PC builds, mechanical keyboard reviews, mice reviews, etc.
Going back to Joker and Elric, while the content they make would have been successful (view wise) 3 or 4 years ago, the tech audience has evolved, and it’s paramount that creators adapt to the audience’s expectations. As a creator you have to experiment until you find your “voice”, something that you have that’s unique and that audiences will value, regardless of what’s topical or what “gets views”. If you lack charisma, then you’ll have to rely on consistent quality content. Think about your journey in life thus far and what you’ve learned that can be of use to others. Chances are you have experience in areas that most people don’t pay attention to, like sales, or marketing, or design, or people management. Perhaps you faced prejudice or were bullied at one point, maybe you lost loved ones. There’s always something of value that makes you who you are, and you can develop your content and find your unique “voice” by building on those experiences and translating what you’ve learned to whatever topic you decide to cover. Having a unique perspective on things requires having had unique experiences in life.
I spent most of my 20s working in competitive corporate environments doing information architecture, UX/UI, and creating design guidelines for some of the world’s largest banks, ecommerce platforms, technology firms, brands and artists. I’m not saying this to flex, these experiences gave me a unique perspective that can enrich my content with something no one other creator will have much experience with. The same is true for you.
Finding your voice
To find your voice (and I’m not talking about your actual voice, more on audio in a minute), or your own unique style, think about the following questions:
- What subject could you talk about with your friends for hours on end?
- What work would you do even if you didn’t get paid to do it?
- What unique talents or skills do you have that most people know nothing about?
Write down your answers to each of these questions. Putting your answers in writing will help your thought process develop. Extract from your writings a few things you’d like to try out in future videos and constantly evaluate what resonates with your audience, and what type of content you are most proud of making. As I mentioned earlier, luck is also a factor but as in many things in life, you make your own luck, or rather, you create your own reality.
How much money can I make on youtube?
Describing the thought process behind title and thumbnail creation, the power of words, and all the other topics I’m covering in this article is kind of like breaking the fourth wall in cinema or theatre, so most creators avoid discussing these things, but nothing scares most more than having to talk about finances and how much they make. Being a youtuber is a fairly new thing, and it can be awkward to acknowledge that you make money off of other people’s time with something as simple as a video, but if you are creating value for society then there’s nothing wrong with getting paid for it. There’s plenty of money and prosperity available for everyone these days, and if creators don’t get paid the overall quality of content will likely drop, everyone loses. BUT, the days of lamborghini money are long gone! You can make a living off of youtube but don’t expect to become a millionaire any time soon.
The people making millions of dollars every month on youtube are a tiny minority. The vast majority of people will at best make enough to pay the bills and live a decent life, but many will be forced to have a part-time or even full-time job on the side to make ends meet.
How much money you can make depends on various factors, like what region your channel is based in, what niche you serve, and who your audience is. There are five main revenue sources for youtube creators, in order of importance being:
- Patreon (or similar platforms)
- Google Ad revenue
- Affiliate links
Patreon and similar platforms are crucial if you want to build a sustainable business and leave your 9-to-5 to work on youtube full-time. It’s going to be very hard to make a living off of ad-revenue alone, so having patrons support your work is the best way to ensure a steady source of income. I make relatively little off of Patreon considering how many patrons I have (I have 398 patrons and make $750 per month from patreon, give or take), and the main reason for that has to do with tiers. If I were to wall patrons off talking to me directly on discord for instance – in other words if they had to be on a $5 dollar tier to have direct access to me – I would probably be getting paid double of what I currently make. There is nothing wrong with creating such tiers – morally speaking – this is something that each creator will have to assess and see what they feel comfortable with. In the final portion of this article I will explain in more detail why I approach patreon in the way that I do.
Having a Patreon account and encouraging viewers to support you is extremely important, the future of content creation will likely be tied to viewer contributions seeing as the current alternative models don’t seem to be sustainable. Luckily there are a lot of people out there who are generous and if they see value in what you do they will feel compelled to support you. If you want to understand how what you create represents value and can translate into direct contributions I recommend you read “Debt: The First 5,000 Years” by anthropologist David Graebe. While I disagree with most of what David says and believes in, this particular book contains valuable information on how we feel indebted to others and act accordingly.
Suffice it to say that without patreon you won’t be able to make a living off of youtube, it’s that important.
Google Ad Revenue
The key metric to understand here is Playback-based CPM, or effective cost-per-mille. For every 1000 playbacks on which an ad was shown you will get a certain amount of money. In my case for every 1000 playbacks I currently get $5.94, so if a video gets 100K views I would make an absolute fortune right? Well, the problem is most people use ad-blockers. So usually a video with 100K views will make about $100 to $200 only. It’s frustrating and crazy to think that you are basically filling almost two football stadiums worth of people who have come to listen to what you have to say and you only get paid $100 for it. Some of my videos take weeks or even months to make so you can see how precarious living off of ad-revenue alone can be considering the amount of work you’ll have to put in to even reach the numbers I reach when it comes to views. And there’s no guarantee that a video will do well!
The situation gets worse if you are in a saturated niche, because you are competing with many other channels for the same ads. What the advertiser pays google doesn’t necessarily correlate to CPM. If you decide to make a games review channel your CPM will likely be lower than mine. Ideally the niche that you serve has a lot of expendable income and is not overly saturated with content. This would be something like tutorials for small business owners on accounting software or a specific ecommerce platform like shopify. You can make a living off of these niches even if you get small amounts of views because the ads that target those niches will only be shown in a handful of channels. If you are only interested in making videos to make money this is something you should keep in mind, but personally I would advise you to cover topics that you are passionate about and lower your expectations when it comes to making money.
I adapted my lifestyle to fit in with how much I make on youtube and keep my expenses to a minimum. Consider making some sacrifices if youtube is something you want to do full-time, at least while you are starting out and gradually improve your quality of life as you get more successful.
Having sponsored ads in your videos has fortunately become more accepted by audiences. People understand that making money on youtube can be hard and are ok with you featuring a sponsored integration at the beginning of your videos. To keep your audiences happy add a progress bar to the bottom of your ad integration so that viewers can skip ahead. This communicates to them that you respect their time and it might actually lead them to watch the integration as a way to reciprocate that respect. ALWAYS treat your integrations as you treat the rest of your content, with the utmost attention to detail. Make the integrations personal and only promote things you would use yourself.
For better or worse, how much money you can make off of sponsorships is closely related to the number of subscribers you have, not to how many views your videos typically get.
It can be frustrating seeing channels that have 500K subscribers but only get 2K views per video get sponsorship deals for most videos they put out, while you consistently get 100K views per video but no (well-established) businesses have any interest in sponsoring you because you only have 20K or 40K subscribers. I’ve been there, it sucks, but it’s just the way the industry works. Most companies only care about how many subscribers you have, so increasing this number is fundamental to get sponsorships and to command higher fees for each integration.
Currently I charge between $500 to $1200 for a 1 minute integration. If possible I try to negotiate with the advertiser or agency a performance based payment, so if a video reaches 100K views within a week I will get paid double, or something along those lines. It’s very hard to get good deals and it can be frustrating to make so little money when you are reaching so many eyeballs, but it is what it is. As your subscriber count increases you will get more and more offers and can therefore start charging more.
As a rule of thumb I only accept sponsorship deals that follow the following rules:
- The advertiser is not a company that I analise or whose products I often reference or review. (this would create a conflict of interests and lead my audience to mistrust me).
- The advertiser has a good reputation that I can attest to (this means I generally ask to use their products prior to accepting an integration).
- The advertiser is not perceived by the audience as a scam or as low quality [this would be stuff like game key vendors (many use stolen credit card data), most VPN services (many sell user’s data), Antivirus Software, etc].
Now I am not saying you should snob out of these deals with cdkeys and such businesses because they’re not cool enough, what I’m saying is that you should be morally responsible when it comes to promoting products or businesses on your platform. Again this is nothing personal but it bothers me that someone like Linus from “Linus Tech Tips” has a video on an Intel’s Official youtube channel promoting one of their products:
I’m not trying to sit on a high horse or signal virtuosity, but to me this feels like a massive conflict of interests and I have turned down several (very lucrative) sponsor offers because they came from companies that I often cover. I’m not saying that this sponsorship deal compromises Linus’s integrity, it’s always up to each individual to assess what he feels comfortable with, but in my opinion nothing positive comes out of these sorts of deals, other than Linus’s bank account getting a nice bump. Linus runs a business and is responsible for his family’s well being as well as his employees well-being, and I’m sure he carefully considered Intel’s offer and decided it was worth doing it. I would have declined, but that’s me.
To surmise, be mindful of not becoming perceived as an “influencer” because of potential deals you might agree to, as this can negatively impact your standing with your audience. And accept that being able to command high fees for integrations will take time and a lot of grinding. Adjust your expenses accordingly, it will be worth it in the end.
Personally I don’t make a lot of money each month from amazon affiliate links as I don’t do a lot of product reviews. I generally make around $50 to $120 per month through this source. If you do a lot of product reviews then this can become your main source of income, but again, be aware that audiences might end up distrusting your reviews if you come off as just trying to get them to click on the affiliate links. There’s a fine line between being a salesperson and a reviewer. Also note that it can be an absolute pain to get paid by Amazon if you live outside of the US, and you might not even be able to redeem the money you make, depending on where you live.
This is another source of revenue that represents very little income for me personally but that can be a good money generator for others. Currently I only have a few products available to purchase that automatically appear under my videos. This is a service offered by teespring who get a commission off of every sale, and in return handle the manufacturing and distribution of t-shirts, mugs, etc, with your logo on it. Because I have no control over the quality of their products, I don’t promote merch that much in my videos, if at all. As my channel grows I will likely transition in the future to buying merchandise upfront and selling it directly to viewers, and when this is the case I will invest more time into promoting it during videos. I currently make about $30 to $50 per month on merchandise. For personality type videos merch can become the main source of income. It’s important to have it available even if you make very little through it because many of your viewers dislike supporting you through Patreon (for various valid reasons) so buying a mug can be a way for them to support you and it all compounds in the end.
So in total I will make anywhere between $1200 to $3000 per month currently, depending on the time of year. It can take up to 6 months to get paid for sponsorship deals. Google pays me monthly, usually on the 22nd, and Patreon pays me on the 5th of every month.
Mind you that I have to convert this to euros which translates into a fairly low wage equivalent by EU’s standards, but I’m fortunate to be in a position where this is enough for me to live a comfortable life. I spent most of my 20s grinding so that I could go into my 30s and be independent. I highly recommend you do the same and build up enough savings so that you can follow your passion even if it takes a while for you to get a steady income.
Just don’t expect to be getting that lamborghini any time soon making youtube videos 🙁
Sound is more important than image
It’s ironic that in a primarily visual medium like youtube the quality of your footage isn’t anywhere near as important as the quality of your sound. I have struggled to get my voiceovers to sound good on the wide range of speakers or headphones that people use and I’m still experimenting with settings to try and perfect this. It’s fine to use an older camera and upload your videos at 1080p or even at 720p, but don’t underestimate the importance of having great sound. My voice is particularly hard to get properly equalized as it’s very bassy and a bit raspy, so getting professional help from a sound engineer (one of my patrons) has been very helpful. This is a work in progress and I do plan on investing in better equipment in the future. A useful trick is to use a video from an established channel that has great sounding voice-overs as a reference for your own voice. Compare the two voices and try to approximate yours to one that’s been properly equalized and mastered.
Dealing with trolls and criticism
People are mean on the internet, what a revelation! 🙂 It’s easy to get involved in pointless arguments online trying to defend yourself. A lot of creators become defensive and even resentful of audiences, and you’ll often hear creators refer to the youtube comments section as a “cesspool” or as being “toxic” or full of trolls. This generally stems from not knowing how to deal with criticism and from a lack of maturity. Don’t let your ego barricade you from one of the best sources of information that you can have access to, your audience’s minds! There’s always a seed of truth even in the most trolling of comments. It can be hard to deal with people who use the youtube comment box to vent their frustrations, insult you and others, and generally be nasty, especially when you start getting thousands of comments in each video. I try and read every comment on my videos in the first 2 days after publishing, and no matter how thick of a skin you have, the negativity will get to you because of the sheer amount of trolling that you will be subjected to, even if the positive comments outweigh the negative ones by a large margin.
Having said this, it’s paramount that you take note of what people are telling you, and to extract valuable cues from it. If someone says that you sound like a robot then you need to work on your audio and your pronunciation. If a lot of people comment on your videos that you are fat or ugly then you should work on your image (to the extent that that’s possible) or consider not showing your face on videos because it can distract people from the points you are trying to get across. This can be hard to accept but there’s nothing to gain in blaming society for fat shaming or for being superficial. No one is forcing you to be on youtube, and being healthy is something you should strive for regardless of having a public presence or not – I don’t need to tell you that. Does your audience fat shame you? Lose weight. Have trouble losing weight? It’s likely that that is the case because of an underlying problem, and addressing that problem will not only improve your image but also have a positive impact on other facets of your content, so it’s a win-win type of deal. Or you can take those comments personally, get defensive, and look for sympathy on social media by exposing your haters, it’s your choice but the latter won’t do you any good and just leads to frustration, depression and resentfulness.
If you get a lot of dislikes in a video pin a comment under it asking people to explain why they are disliking, and don’t get defensive if people attack you on a personal level. Do your best to avoid posting on twitter or other public platforms mean/ignorant comments that people made about you as a way to get “revenge” on trolls, instead try and extract something useful out of those comments.
Once you’ve gone through all the criticism and took something of value out of them, use this absolutely phenomenal youtube feature:
Just because a toxic comment can have a seed of truth in it and you should pay attention to it doesn’t mean that people have the right to insult you or troll you. This option that is available for content creators is called a “shadow ban”. Basically the author of that comment will still be able to comment on your future videos and will see his/her comments published, but no one else will, including you! This means their comments still count as engagement for the youtube algorithm, but no one ever gets to see them other than the commenter. I use this feature A LOT 🙂 If you simply remove the comment or hard block the person you might come off as a Diva who can’t take criticism, while shadow banning on the other hand helps promote a positive environment over time without escalating the trolling and stressing you out.
To surmise, never engage with trolls, but always take negative comments into account, most of them hold truths that you don’t want to hear or deal with.
Motivation, burn outs, and why I make videos
To finish this rather long article I’d like to talk about motivation and what you get out of making videos, and how to deal with burning out. Earlier I said that I didn’t feel comfortable having tiered walls on Patreon for people to have direct access to me. This is closely tied to the main reason I make videos on youtube. Consider this quote from ancient times:
“What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.”– Pericles
The reason I make videos and what keeps me making them is this idea of providing value to the community. As much as possible I try to share valuable knowledge with others (this article being a good example), and the greatest gift that my channel has given me isn’t the “internet fame” status, the attention, the positive comments, the money, the cool hardware, or the career opportunities, but rather the awesome people that I’ve connected with. This includes patrons, viewers, industry figures and other creators. I have learned so much from these people!
If you want to live a life full of meaning and purpose, if you want to be whole, then money, fame, or success will not get you there. The only thing that will is giving yourself to others. In every decision I make – and every video I make – I always take into consideration how I can be a positive influence on others, and how I can help others achieve their goals and dreams, many times in detriment of my own success. I’ve grinded through countless hours of video editing just to get an animation right to illustrate a complicated subject. I’ve skipped sleeping several nights in order to get a review out in time for the embargo so that the company providing the hardware get’s a fair review in a timely fashion – even though most of the time review videos get way less views and barely make any money!
Lifting others is out of fashion, in fact modern society will pat you on the back when your schemes come to fruition and you crush your competitors. There’s a lot of youtube drama that stems from jealousy and resentfulness, and nothing positive comes out of that. We’re all flawed and I’ve certainly made many mistakes in my life, but as Pericles put it, people will remember you not for your personal achievements but instead for how you impacted their lives. Approach youtube in the same manner. Don’t go in expecting to make a fortune, don’t game the system for your own benefit, don’t buy subscribers (directly or by running giveaways), don’t use your influence to attack your haters, don’t mobilize online mobs to attack your competition, don’t join the hive mind just because it will bring you validation and conformity, defend yourself when you believe to be right but don’t be obsessed with being right. Instead strive to elevate others above you! I always tell my patrons that my channel is as much mine as it is theirs, and I try to have my actions reflect this. I try to be available as much as possible to help them, or just to chat, even to those who have stopped contributing.
Striving to make the very best video each time, integrating trolling and criticism into your personal growth, and making sacrifices in order to pursue a career as a youtuber will unfortunately inevitably lead to the occasional burn out. I had this experience recently when I pushed myself too far and that ended up having a serious impact on my health. I took a month off youtube and I’m now recovering, one day at a time. Unfortunately it’s unlikely that you will be able to succeed without burning yourself out at some point, but if you live your life for others there’s a decent chance that in times of suffering those people will be there for you also, and that can make all the difference in your recovery as I can personally attest to.
A huge thanks to my patrons for their continued support, huge thanks to everyone who subscribed to the channel and helped me get to 100K subs, to all the other creators in my niche who have invited me to collaborate with them and shared their knowledge and wisdom with me, and big thanks to all the trolls who are shadow banned from the channel, you have also helped me grow. Next stop, 1M subscribers 😉