Feels like literally everyone is on YouTube these days, right? What used to be a destination for viral videos (remember “Charlie Bit My Finger”?) has evolved into the world’s second-largest search engine. A video content distribution powerhouse, YouTube has become a popular place for businesses to reach new audiences through helpful and educational video content.
Despite its ubiquity, YouTube’s sheer size can be intimidating. Sure, many companies know there’s an opportunity and that they should have a presence. However, many fall short by simply re-posting existing video content to the platform without really understanding what type of videos will do well. You wouldn’t post the exact same thing across all your other social platforms — so why should YouTube be different?
“You wouldn’t post the exact same thing across all your other social platforms — so why should YouTube be different?”
Many marketers (especially in B2B) struggle with developing a true YouTube strategy. Someone in the company — maybe even you — is tasked with uploading every new video asset to YouTube with no real rhyme or reason behind the approach. The result is a small trickle of views, no new brand awareness, and lots of shoulder shrugging all around. This is not an effective YouTube strategy, but we’re here to tell you there is a better way.
Whether you’re just getting started with YouTube or you’re looking to evolve from an undefined “video dumping” strategy — we’ve got you covered.
Success on YouTube requires work and planning. Below are five questions we recommend answering before embarking on your YouTube journey. If you’ve already launched a YouTube channel, it’s still worth working through these questions to decide if the platform is an efficient place to focus your efforts.
The first part of this question is easy; we can even answer it for you. The short answer is — yes, your audience is absolutely on YouTube. With over 2 billion active users, it’s safe to say any business can find and reach a relevant audience across YouTube.
The second part is where it gets a bit more nuanced. Before we can move on to understanding audience behavior on YouTube, we want to be sure you understand your audience in general.
Surveying your existing audience is a great start for some quantitative data. How many of them regularly visit YouTube? What accounts do they follow or frequent? What type of content do they look for on the platform? What qualitative information do you have about these folks?
Customer and persona interviews are a proven way to get more qualitative feedback. Some companies might build this research into ongoing audience development, but it doesn’t have to be that formal. For example, ask your sales team if they’ve ever come across prospects looking for info on YouTube, and ask them to dig deeper during their calls if the right moment strikes.
Simply knowing that your niche is on YouTube — and a little about who they are — isn’t sufficient to gauge whether or not you should devote resources to this channel, and it certainly doesn’t give you any guidance on how to do so effectively.
Consider this analogy: A significant percentage of Wistia’s audience drives a car each month. Let’s call these folks roadway users. This is useful information for us as we try to, say, build a profile of our typical prospect, but it doesn’t suggest that we should immediately invest in highway billboards — nor does it tell us where to put them.
We’d need to learn a lot more about the specific behavior of our roadway users if we’re going to leverage that information to advertise effectively to them. The same is true of our — and your — YouTube users. We’re just getting started!
It’s time to dig deeper. Add questions around what type of YouTube videos your audience watches into your customer research process, and use that feedback as a starting point to see where your company videos might service a need or grab their interest.
Competitive intel can also be a good step to understanding your audience. Are your competitors active on YouTube? What size is their audience? What type of content are they producing? If you aren’t finding a ton of overlap between businesses in your industry, this could be an opportunity to fill a gap. On the other hand, if the space you’re in seems crowded already, this will give you intel on what’s working and resonating across your shared audience. You’ll have to get a bit more creative in order to stand out, but that’s good to know before you start.
To harness YouTube successfully for discovery and engagement, you need to find the overlap between what your target audience is currently consuming and what content you can and want to create.
For example, if you sell accounting software and your prospects are heavy YouTube users but they’re only watching NBA highlights, you might be better off with an advertising-only strategy. It’s not likely these avid sports fans will actually go to your page and watch your full-length videos, so targeting them with a YouTube ad might be the next best thing.
Be strategic. Simply uploading your existing video assets and hoping for the best is not good enough. Neither is assuming that stellar content will be seen eventually, or that your content should be company-centric. The truth is, no one is going to YouTube looking for your company testimonials. You can optimize keywords and descriptions ’till the cows come home, but you’re not going to drive significant discovery with content that your prospects aren’t looking for.
Instead, you should be making video content specifically to match the search intent of your prospects.
“You can optimize keywords and descriptions ’till the cows come home, but you’re not going to drive significant discovery with content that your prospects aren’t looking for.”
Is anyone on YouTube searching for videos about how awesome your company is? Sadly, no. That’s why we recommend focusing attention on the things your target audience is trying to learn on YouTube.
By and large, people go to YouTube for entertainment and education. If you’re thinking entertainment is the way to go, we encourage you to reconsider. For the average company, competing with Comedy Central, Red Bull, and music videos on the entertainment side is a losing battle.
You can, however, compete on the education side.
Educational videos will be most effective if they are related to your industry or field of expertise — but again, not about your product in particular. In Wistia’s case, a video showing how to look good on a webcam is a good fit for YouTube, as a lot of people want to know how to do that. While the video itself is fairly simple, it’s answering a question people are actually searching for on YouTube. As a result, it has more than 10k views! That’s bringing us way more attention than a video straight selling our software would be able to.
If you are committed to growing brand awareness and driving discovery on YouTube, you should almost certainly plan to supplement your organic efforts with YouTube’s paid advertising. YouTube advertising is self-service via Google Ads and there are no minimum budgets, making it accessible even for small companies.
Even if you can’t make relevant content for YouTube, you can still do advertising or retargeting there. Basically, you can follow an “advertise only” strategy.
Despite the attractive CPMs, many digital marketers struggle to see results from YouTube advertising because of the limited targeting options. For example, you can target pre-roll ads (the most abundant of YouTube inventory) based on geography, basic demographics, broad interest areas, and specific videos or channels.
If you are a large B2C brand like Nike, these targeting options are probably sufficiently granular. For example, Nike can target any female aged 18–25 who is interested in athletics and living in the U.S. and feel relatively confident that the audience they are reaching consists of many prospective customers.
If you’re a B2B brand selling enterprise accounting software, however, you are going to struggle more with targeting. There isn’t a way to target CFOs or any other job function with YouTube advertising.
Instead, you’ll need to spend more time looking at your buyer persona research. Maybe lots of people who buy enterprise accounting software also watch World of Warcraft videos on YouTube. Maybe they are mostly women aged 35–50 and living exclusively in Atlanta. Both of these scenarios give you better criteria to use to target prospects on YouTube and highlight why it’s important to know as much about your customers as possible.
“Before launching your next YouTube advertising campaign, evaluate how precisely you can reach your audience with YouTube’s targeting options.”
In the end, targeting your audience as precisely as possible will always be the most efficient approach. If you’re targeting everyone in accounting, you will likely hit many potential prospects, but you will also be paying for lots of useless impressions. So before launching your next YouTube advertising campaign, evaluate how precisely you can reach your audience with YouTube’s targeting options.
This final question is designed to help you tie your efforts on YouTube to your broader business goals. After all, building a YouTube channel with lots of viewers and subscribers is only a means to an end — which means you need to identify what your ideal end state is and whether it involves people visiting your site.
YouTube is great for brand impressions but less effective at driving traffic directly to your website. The large B2C brands make a living keeping their product top of mind, increasing the likelihood someone buys their product on their next drugstore visit simply because they recognize it or are now familiar with it. YouTube fits neatly into this context because it’s another touchpoint with no immediate follow-up action required, very much like a TV ad.
“YouTube is great for brand impressions but is less effective at driving traffic directly to your website.”
If you’re looking for more than brand impressions, you will face a significant challenge on YouTube. Like a casino, YouTube is explicitly designed to encourage viewers to stay put, consuming more videos and, subsequently, more ads.
You can certainly add links in your descriptions and video annotations, but getting a consistent traffic flow from YouTube is rare. Phil Nottingham of Distilled analyzed 95 of his clients’ YouTube channels and found an average referral rate to external sites of 0.72%. Take this into account as you establish realistic goals for your YouTube channel.
Any place your audience spends time and looks for information has the potential to be a strong marketing channel for your business. YouTube is no different. However, translating that potential into tangible results takes strategic planning, lots of research, and solid execution.
In addition to discoverability within YouTube’s platform (more on that in the next section), here are a few other scenarios where YouTube can come in handy as a marketing distribution channel.
An often overlooked benefit of YouTube videos is that Google, YouTube’s parent company, tends to prioritize its own content in search engine results pages (SERPs).
Ever seen a snazzy video featured front and center after searching for something? Nine times out of ten, that video is a YouTube video. While we’re big advocates of hosting video content on your own website and driving traffic to owned properties, we simply can’t ignore how Google has shifted to favor YouTube videos over videos hosted on other providers (like Wistia).
Be mindful of this cannibalization and what it means for your content. If you have a video on a blog post and that same video on YouTube, Google will likely prioritize the YouTube version over the website version. Your blog article might rank really well right below the YouTube video, so this could be a situation where you’re winning two spots on the results page. But, it’s something to be mindful of as you’re developing your YouTube marketing strategy.
YouTube videos are also prominently featured on Google’s video tab. These results often include a mix of videos hosted on individual websites and YouTube.
These videos are often a mix of what appears on the main search engine results page and additional videos that Google thinks are a good fit for the search query. The same cannibalization warning applies here for repurposing video content in multiple places. If driving search traffic directly to your website is a priority, YouTube might not be the best distribution channel to help you meet those goals.
While we discussed that targeting opportunities on YouTube advertising can be challenging for B2B marketers, video retargeting is a prime chance to reach the people you’re looking for. YouTube’s massive audience is primed and ready for video content, so why not get in front of relevant eyes with a timely ad?
Check out this YouTube ad we ran that poked fun at the platform. Our team targeted this ad towards folks who visited specific pages on Wistia’s website, like the product or pricing page.
Of course, this is a very specific example. But we encourage you to get creative and have fun! YouTube is the perfect place to experiment with different ads and try some crazy ideas. You never know what will stick.
How can you make the most of YouTube’s sophisticated algorithm? While we certainly don’t recommend trying to “game the system,” it can be helpful to understand how the algorithm works at a very high level and lean into content that serves their model.
YouTube has been around for a while, so they’ve had over a decade to fine-tune how content is prioritized and presented. When the platform first launched, the algorithm valued vanity metrics like clicks and views, resulting in shady practices like clickbait and misleading titles and thumbnails.
“Over the years, YouTube has gotten much more sophisticated and now values satisfaction and responsibility above anything else.”
Over the years, YouTube has gotten much more sophisticated and now values satisfaction and responsibility above anything else. They use viewer behavior to weigh recommendations and implement millions of satisfaction surveys each day to help improve the system.
Personalization is now the name of the game. YouTube’s number one goal is to serve folks the right content at the right moment to keep them engaged and browsing the site longer.
So how can you “win” on YouTube? We’re sorry to say — there’s no easy way to slide to the top of the rankings. Creating attractive content on a regular basis is truly the only way to win here. While we can’t help you hack your way to a leading spot, we can provide some tips on what type of content tends to perform well based on where folks find your content.
“Many creators ask how to optimize content to get more views. The difficult answer is: You can’t. You can’t optimize for a traffic source; you can only optimize for people or viewers.”
In the video linked above, Rachel describes the three main places to discover video content within YouTube:
- YouTube homepage
- Search rankings
- Suggested or related videos
Let’s explore each placement further to figure out how the algorithm treats each area and what you can do to help your video content perform better.
YouTube’s homepage aims to deliver the most relevant and personalized recommendations to each viewer when they land on the site. However, when someone first arrives on the page, YouTube doesn’t have a ton of information on the intent for the visit. Is this person here to learn something? To be entertained?
YouTube solves this context gap by serving a variety of different video content.
Homepage videos are personalized, but not nearly as personalized as videos you’d see recommended elsewhere on the platform. There are two leading indicators that YouTube considers for homepage videos:
- Performance - how well a video engaged and satisfied similar viewers, among other factors
- Personalization - the viewer’s watch history, and how often a viewer watched a channel or topic
What can you do to help your video content perform on YouTube’s homepage? Here are two quick tips:
- Look at your video and pretend you’re a new viewer who is unfamiliar with your channel. Does it catch your interest? Would you click to watch it?
- Uploading content consistently can help you sustain your audience’s interest and help viewers build a routine around your channel.
Suggested videos offer viewers a selection of videos they’re most likely to watch next, based on their prior activity. These are videos you’ll find in the right-hand column when you’re watching a video or in the “up next” list after a video finishes.
The recommendations here factor in more contextual and behavior information, including:
- Videos often watched together
- Topically related videos
- Videos from the viewer’s watch history
What can you do to optimize your video’s chance of being recommended?
- Develop a series of videos
- Have a consistent title and thumbnail style
- End with a Call to Action (CTA) to watch more
- Use playlists and end screens
Search results pages display a list of recommended videos based on a search query.
Remember that specific types of video content are more likely to drive views from different spots across YouTube. For example, according to Rachel, roughly 80% of news-related video is discovered from the homepage, while about 60% of educational videos (tutorials and how-tos) are discovered from search.
“YouTube’s recommendations system finds videos for viewers (rather than viewers for videos).”
Now that you know where your videos might show up on YouTube, what are some of the best types of video to add to your YouTube channel? Well, like many things in marketing, it depends.
In general, we recommend being strategic with what types of content you add to the platform and what you save for your own website. And we definitely do not recommend adding every single one of your videos to YouTube with no clear plan or strategy.
“We recommend being strategic with what types of content you add to the platform and what you save for your own website.”
That said, here are a few types of videos that tend to perform well across YouTube.
Tutorials and how-to videos are wonderful for driving search traffic and are an especially appealing opportunity for B2B marketers. You can use tools like Ahrefs and Keywordtool.io to find relevant keywords and phrases that might translate to relevant video topics. Remember to focus on topics that address questions and pain points relevant to your niche.
Video blogs (or vlogs for short) are a popular video format on YouTube. Brands can take advantage of this by creating thought leadership-driven content or by creating a compelling video series. You could even widen your reach to a whole new audience by collaborating with an influencer that’s already known for this type of content.
Adding video to your podcast is a fabulous way to build a deeper connection with your audience and add a human element to your brand. Posting a trailer to your show or individual episodes to YouTube can expand the reach of your show and bring in new fans. Just remember to point folks to your own website to subscribe for updates and exclusive content.
YouTube is a terrific place to spread your brand story. The proof is in the pudding — compelling stories cut through the noise and create stronger connections. Use this to your advantage by identifying compelling brand stories and sharing those with video. Try posting behind-the-scenes content, employee interviews, customer stories, or videos around your company’s core values.
Online events are a hot commodity as more companies have embraced a remote-first approach to how they do work. Going live on YouTube is a creative way to engage new people around the world and take advantage of folks searching for content related to your event.
If you don’t have a live component to your event, you could always post clips or full sessions to YouTube later for folks to view on-demand.
Of course, this is just a shortlist of a few formats that tend to work well on YouTube specifically. Other videos that B2B marketers make, like product demos or webinars, could also be a good fit, depending on your goals. Many companies use these robust assets for demand generation and prefer to host them on their own website, especially since you can easily gate these assets and follow up with folks after. Be sure to always keep your goals in mind and be mindful about what assets you host and where.
We covered a few tips on the type of video content YouTube’s algorithm loves earlier, but we don’t want to lose sight of the fact that you’re creating content for people, not computers. With that in mind, let’s dive into a few tips on how to make engaging video content that your YouTube audience will love.
A seemingly small detail like your video thumbnails can really make or break your play rate. Put your best foot forward with colorful images that pop, clear, legible text, and a style that creates consistency across your related videos.
YouTube video thumbnail specs:
- Image formats: JPG, GIF, BMP, or PNG
- Size Max: 1280x720px
- Size Min: 640x360px
- Aspect ratio: 16:9
- File Size Max: 2MB
And when it comes to naming your video, avoid the temptations of clickbait and other potentially misleading hacks. Instead, your video title should be enticing but also deliver on the promise of the content.
Think about your video like a blog post. You wouldn’t post a new article without an intuitive URL, a few headers to organize your page, or a descriptive title tag and meta description, right? The same checklist applies to posting video content on YouTube.
This step is all about optimizing your video content for search and discoverability. Luckily, YouTube offers a ton of native features that can help with this.
There are a few other simple steps you can take to ensure your video is well-optimized for search:
- Do keyword research, and select one term or phrase for each video
- Rename your video file to include your target keyword or phrase
- Include your keyword in your video title
- Create a rich video description
- Use popular video tags that relate to your content
- Categorize your video
- Upload a custom thumbnail to optimize play rate
- Upload an SRT file for captions and subtitles
- Include Cards and End Screens with a clear CTA
This tip is related to the video content itself. While you can repurpose existing video assets without making any additional edits, adding in a little YouTube-specific flavor never hurts if you have the opportunity.
Here are a few ways to make your YouTube videos more engaging:
- Ask viewers to “like, comment, and subscribe.” You don’t have to use that exact wording, but do encourage folks to take action if they like what they see.
- Pose a question at the end of your video to spark conversations in the comments
- Use video chapters and annotation links
- Test different video lengths
- Post new videos regularly
- Engage with your community (Social Media Examiner has some handy tips for this!)
These small details can help YouTube better understand your video and how it resonates with your audience.
We’re big fans of taking a data-informed approach to marketing here at Wistia. YouTube offers a complete analytics dashboard under the YouTube Studio portion of your account, so use this intel to drive your YouTube strategy.
Where to find YouTube analytics:
- Log in to your company YouTube account.
- Click on your profile icon in the upper right-hand corner, and then select “YouTube Studio.”
- You’ll see a summary dashboard appear. For a deeper dive, click “Channel Analytics” on the left-hand menu.
This dashboard offers a ton of useful information about video and channel performance. You can see an overview of top-performing videos, metrics around views and watch time, subscriber growth, and other, more granular details on video performance.
With all of this data at your fingertips, it’s easy to get stuck in analysis paralysis. Here are a few metrics we recommend starting with to help inform your success and strategy:
- Traffic sources (where your videos are being discovered and watched)
- Engagement (likes, comments, shares)
- Watch time (total time spend on a specific video or with your video channel as a whole)
Using this information, ask questions like: Are folks finding our content? If so, where in the platform are we being discovered? What types of videos are driving the most engagement? What videos get folks to stick around for the most amount of time? These answers can help drive the creative decisions on what content to prioritize and what to cut from your calendar.
It bears repeating: Adding every video you make to YouTube (the “video dumping ground strategy”) is a popular but ineffective strategy. It’s equivalent to uploading every image from your website to Instagram or Pinterest. Sure, images are the currency required to play on those channels — but not just any image will do.
Instead, add videos to YouTube that your audience is looking for and will be eager to consume there. You’ll know what type of videos we’re talking about after you’ve worked through the diagnostic questions of whether YouTube is right for your audience and learned more about your audience members. Then, you can use what you’ve learned about YouTube’s placement and algorithm to create content that keeps people coming back for more.
And if you learn through your analysis that your audience either isn’t on YouTube or doesn’t need content from you on that channel, it could be that YouTube is not a desirable platform for you to leverage — and that’s okay! Find a channel that is better aligned for your specific business goals and get to work crushing that one.