YouTube is simple but vast, we wanted to understand the platform better and the best ways to use it to help businesses. So let’s talk about the power and pitfalls of YouTube.
This includes the greatest strengths of YouTube, like how it aligns with Google. Also where businesses can lose money, as well as lesser known features you may have missed.
We’ll talk about tips for optimizing a video’s SEO, when and when not to allow ads, and how much YouTube is actually taking from content creators.
This is a lot of research rolled up into this one video. So let’s get started on this behemoth of a platform, YouTube.
A Little Background
YouTube has been around since 2005, and is easily the biggest video hosting and sharing platform there is. It’s actually the second biggest search engine online, second only to Google, who bought YouTube in 2006.
It’s a social network, a video hosting service, and a search engine all in one.
Which is why people generally default to the mentality of, “why not just use YouTube for everything?!”
And there’s some wisdom to that - not taking advantage of YouTube’s massive audience, and ease of entry would be a mistake.
Just keep in mind it’s not the only option, and possibly not the best option for all of your content. We’ll cover other platforms and their best uses, and from there you can decide the best course for you.
Let’s first talk about the biggest advantages and disadvantages of hosting and advertising on YouTube.
Advantage 1: Reach
YouTube’s biggest advantage is its audience. It gets 30 million visitors every day.
A 2018 survey revealed that a whopping 90 percent of internet users in the United States use YouTube to watch videos online.
This is unparalleled just on its own, but since YouTube is owned by Google, it gains an even larger reach. Google favors YouTube videos on the SERP, giving them higher rankings and making them more prominent to searchers.
When you make a Google search, sometimes it will return a video right there at the top of the SERP.
Sometimes it’s even a carousel of videos. These results are always going to be heavily weighted toward YouTube videos. Because that is where Google and YouTube want to direct your clicks.
Yes, it’s incredibly biased toward their personal profit. But YouTube is also fast, convenient, and everyone uses it!
Again, 30 million people every single day.
The potential growth you could garner by tapping into this massive audience would previously cost your business an arm and a leg. But not with YouTube, which brings us to the next huge advantage.
Advantage 2: Price
Another huge benefit is that it’s FREE for content creators. Both in quantity of videos, and bandwidth usage from the people who watch them.
You only start paying if you start running ads, which we’ll cover later in this series. But anyone with a computer or smartphone can just hop on, upload as many videos they want, and not be charged a dime.
Advantage 3: Ease of Use & Technical Specs
A lot of social networks have fairly specific technical requirements for their uploads, especially for ads, which can be limiting. YouTube’s technical requirements are a lot more flexible, especially in terms of size and file type.
It’s also incredibly easy to upload videos from your Android or iPhone, if you have the YouTube app you can upload a video to your YouTube account in just a few clicks.
All of this makes it a lot easier for content creators to expand their creativity without worrying about the consequences of exporting an AVI versus an MOV file.
The biggest restriction in terms of specifications - your videos can only be 15 minutes long, until you verify your account. Luckily, verifying is a matter of sharing your phone number and typing in a confirmation code, and you’re good to go!
Now you can now upload videos up to 12 hours, or 128 gigabytes, whichever is smaller.
Disadvantage 1: YouTube’s Cut for Content Creators
For normal content creators trying to make money from ad revenue, the hardest thing with YouTube is they hold all the cards.
They take a 45% cut from creators’ ad revenue, and then another 30% is taken for taxes. That plus cost of production might mean you are spending more to make the video than what you take in.
YouTube recently revealed that they made over 34 billion dollars in the last 3 years because of ad revenue. This was a lot higher than even the experts predicted.
In 2019 the top 10 highest-paid channels earned $145 million combined. That’s certainly a large number, but in reality it’s less than one percent of YouTube’s ad revenue for that year.
And again, that was the combination of the most profitable channels on the platform.
This can be discouraging for content creators. Because even channels making a $100,000 in total revenue annually, might only see a net income of under $15,000 after production costs.
It’s kind of wild and unpredictable, and it’s different for each channel. This is why I still encourage content creators to think of YouTube for supplemental income, instead of depending on it to be a main source.
Disadvantage 2: YouTube Helps YouTube
YouTube simply isn’t built to help businesses. It’s built to help YouTube. It’s always going to want to lead users back to YouTube.
As such, they don’t allow external links within the videos, meaning you can’t lead people to, for example, a purchase page for the product that you were trying to promote in your video. Because again, it’s in their best interest to bolster their own brand rather than yours.
Even for the biggest channels, there are limited branding opportunities.
Instead they limit customization, and work to direct traffic back to their site.
Do you ever wonder why so many YouTube videos include some version of the phrase, “Be sure to like and subscribe”? It’s because that is the only call to action that YouTube was built for.
Even if you have a YouTube video embedded on your site, it’s going to prompt the viewer to click on another YouTube link and ultimately have a viewer fall down the ‘YouTube Video rabbit hole’ instead of to your site.
Which is great for the viewer who is ready for a good binge session. Also great for advertisers, as their ads will be shown more often.
But for businesses running a content channel trying to get people to learn and engage with their site and products; this distraction siphons off potential customers.
This is the same reason that we don’t recommend business channels to allow other advertisers to run their ads in front of their videos. Though the little extra ad revenue you might get from Google would be nice, it will inevitably siphon even more people away from your product or message.
What’s worse, is that the targeted ad that plays before your video might be from a direct competitor of yours, simply retargeting audiences with similar interests. Your audience.
Again, YouTube is great for reach and brand awareness, don’t deny your business that vast audience by hedging your bets with 3rd party ads.
Disadvantage 3: Social Network Woes
A final disadvantage, that I wasn’t sure if I should mention, is that the YouTube community isn’t always kind. It’s a social network, and comes with some of the same problems that other social networks do.
If you have the courage to put yourself and your business out there, there are going to be some people who will want to tear you down for it, and sometimes they are very vocal.
Even cute puppy videos aren’t safe… trust me.
Fortunately you can do things like report, delete, or disable comments. Or just let them be. Just be sure to stay on top of what discussions are happening on your channel.
Analytics are important when trying to understand your audience and how they engage with your channel. This can help you improve your content and help your business grow.
The fact that YouTube is free, and has a massive audience, makes it a nice testing ground for things like ads, and uploads to different platforms like Facebook.
After you’ve posted some videos to YouTube you can check out their analytics by clicking on your account icon in the top right corner, and then on YouTube Studio.
From there click “Analytics” on the left-side menu.
YouTube’s base analytics look the same both for business accounts and personal accounts. So if you have an existing channel with just like, ‘home videos of your dog’, you can use that to learn the ropes of YouTube analytics.
You can get a broad overview of your channel and its content or dig into helpful sections like:
Reach helps you understand your video’s traffic. Including things like impressions, click through rates, traffic source types, and more.
Engagement includes how long your viewers actually watched a video and how your top videos are performing compared to each other.
YouTube sometimes describes Engagement as Audience Retention, which makes sense, because it describes how long you are retaining your viewers, but don’t mistake it with the next section.
When you click on Advanced Mode, you can get even more data focused on these various metrics.
There’s a lot to digest with YouTube’s analytics. They give some fun and intriguing insights on how your channel and content are performing.
Again, this is all free, so it’s great for getting a top level view on how your videos are performing. If you have some clear winners, you can consider leveraging those on multiple sites.
YouTube analytics isn’t always the most useful analytics platform to use when wanting concise or actionable metrics. But it’s definitely adequate for a base understanding on how your videos are performing.
SEO Optimization of Your Videos
We’ve already mentioned that YouTube has a leg up on pretty much every other video platform because of its ties with Google. Google leverages YouTube in the SERP, giving it automatic SEO prioritization over other hosting and social sites.
But there are some tips to help your video in the ranks compared to your competitors content. A lot of it follows general best practices in written content like blogs.
Keyword Research - any SEO work requires an amount of keyword research. Think of a keyword that best describes the content that you’re creating and then do some research on it. You can always type it into google and see what pops up, but there are other keyword tools - like SpyFu - that make this whole process a lot quicker and easier.
Really quick I’m going to go to SpyFu.com and type in a keyword, any keyword. Right away, we see how popular this keyword is, and get a full list of keyword suggestions that might be better or more popular.
Find the keyword or keywords you want to focus on and be sure to include them in your video post.
Optimize Your Title - Think of your YouTube title the same way you think of your H1 in a blog post. You want to capture the viewer’s attention and convince them to click. You also want to include your targeted keyword in the title so it’s weighted more in the SERP.
Make sure the title clearly states what the viewer should expect when they click. For example, a lot of people come to YouTube looking for answers like, “How to change the oil in my Honda Civic?”
So if you’re creating content that answers one of these questions, title it clearly so they know that they’re going to get their specific question answered, if they click on your video.
Include Tags - It only takes a second to include relevant tags on your videos. YouTube allows you to add as many as you want, but it’s generally recommended to keep it between 5 and 8 relevant tags.
Consider adding your targeted keyword here as well, as a tag. And maybe include similar keywords here, this will help you cast a wider net for a potential audience.
Encourage interaction - You’ll often hear YouTubers say something to the effect of, “Please like and subscribe, and be sure to leave a comment below with your thoughts!”
Google loves engagement, and rewards content creators who have an active audience. Other than the amount of views a video has; this is the best way for Google to know how well your video is doing is by the amount of likes and comments it has. And the best way for them to know how well a channel is doing is by the amount of subscribers.
Any way you can encourage people to ‘smash that like button’ or leave a quick comment will help boost your SEO.
Include links in the description - This is frequently overlooked, but the description is one of the few places in YouTube that you can include external links.
So take advantage of that as much as you can. Include a link to a relevant product page on your site. Or if this is part of a larger piece, link to the blog posting. An easy starting point is by copying and pasting your social networks into every description.
Include text and/or closed captions if possible. A lot of people watch online videos on mute for a variety of reasons.
If your videos are mostly dialogue, like a lot of SpyFu’s videos are, your editor can overlay text onto the video itself. Highlighting the key points of what’s being said.
You also have the option of uploading a .srt file, which is a text file of closed captions. You can create this file yourself or outsource it to a business that specifically does closed-captioning.
Chapters - I’m not actually sure if this helps SEO, but while we’re in here let’s talk about a lesser known feature of YouTube, adding chapters to your video.
In the description of the video you can include timestamps to different parts of your video and even title them. When clicked, the viewer will jump to that particular part of the video! But in order to have those timestamps translate into actual chapters you have to edit the description with a 0:00 timestamp at the very beginning.
This lets YouTube know that your intention is to have these timestamps titled, and separated. Making it easier for the user to click to the part of the video that they want to watch, or rewatch.
Remember that even if you have an existing channel, and haven’t done these best practices yet - you can always go back and edit the titles, descriptions, etc. at any time without affecting the actual video itself.
Though Google tends to favor newer content, it doesn’t hurt to optimize older stuff. You might be surprised when a 3 year old video gets a surge of popularity, and this optimization can only help encourage that.
YouTube’s enormous audience and ease of use make it ideal for content creators who want to start showing off their stuff. This can be individuals and businesses alike.
The name YouTube has become synonymous with online video, everyone knows what it is. Phrases like, “I’m sure you can find it on YouTube” have entered our normal vernacular, which is really saying something.
It might not be ideal for all content, especially regarding businesses looking for conversions. But it is a juggernaut that everyone can take advantage of.