When we first started up Hilah Cooking, I really hated YouTube and the last thing on my mind was how to increase YouTube views.
There were many reasons for my hatred. The quality was terrible. The commenters were idiots. The interface was ugly. And particularly insulting to me: we didn’t get very many views.Â For all of these reasons, I spent very little time optimizing our YouTube videos and at the end of the first season we decided to ignore it altogether and just use it as one of our many upload destinations.
But during our summer break between season 1 and 2, I started to look at YouTube a little differently. Slowly but surely our videos had started to gain some traction and the comments were actually improving. Instead of just dropping by and writing “NICE TITZ” we started to get some very helpful feedback and questions from people genuinely interested in how to make the recipes in the videos. Even better, we started getting a lot of traffic from YouTube to our main site. Starting with Season 2, we decided to rethink our YouTube approach, ignore my initial prejudices and invest some time into it.
Once we started looking at YouTube as a social networking site based around video, everything changed. We began to attract new subscribers on a consistent basis, our views steadily increased and once I figured out the advertising system – it became a significant income stream. This all led to us winning one of the slots in the YouTube Next Chef program.Â In addition to getting a bunch of great new gear and meeting some amazing people, the YouTube Next Chef program hosted a series of online workshops about how to take our channel to the next level. These workshops were eye-opening and incredibly helpful and after implementing the things we learned our channel has consistently grown.
Here are the 7 most valuable lessons I learned about how to increase YouTube views and how to build a profitable YouTube Channel.
1. MetaData is Boring, but it Makes the Difference Between a short-term and long-term hit.
Creating and releasing new videos is fun. It’s the sexy part of publishing online video content. There is an immediate sense of gratification as your video goes live and the feedback and comments start pouring in. However, for long term success, meta data is critical.
Filling out a detailed description of your video, writing good headlines and strategically optimizing your tags is the part of video publishing that everybody would like to ignore. But the meta data makes a HUGE difference in a video that gets discovered through search engines (especially YouTube and Google) and one that just sits there after the initial buzz wears off.
When we first started, we barely even filled out the meta information for each video. I’m embarrassed to admit that some of them only have a title and a link back to our home page. We’re now going back and optimizing the meta data on all the videos. We’ve gotten a lot better and our older videos are starting to climb the search engine results.
I don’t claim to be an expert on any of this, but for what I currently think is a pretty good example of meta data, check out How To Make a Frittata.
2. Create Thumbnails That Attractively Represent the Content of Your Video (Simple is Better Than Awesome)
Custom thumbnails are still only available to YouTube Partners, but if you’re a partner, definitely take the time to create good thumbnails. If you’re not a partner, you will have a choice of three thumbnail options auto-generated by YouTube. Pick the best one and don’t sweat it too much. This is what I did for our first 80 or so videos. Once you have the option of creating custom thumbnails, focus on thumbnails that will look good in search engine results. This will result in more views.
This drives part of my brain completely crazy. When we started the third season of HC, I rolled out fancy new thumbnails that featured a picture of Hilah, our logo and a food photo. I was really happy with how these looked and from a branding perspective, I still think they work great. But guess what? Thumbnails that show the food close-up work way better. I dragged my feet on this, refusing to believe it, but my desire to test everything won out. I was wrong.
When creating video thumbnails put yourself in the mind of the person who is searching for the content you’ve created. When somebody types something into a search engine, they are looking for a solution to a problem or an answer to a question. In our case, they’re looking for information about how to make some kind of food. I’ve found that the thumbnails that result in the most views for us is a simple close-up picture of the food. If somebody is searching for something, make the thumbnail clear enough that they think clicking on it will give them the answer. And don’t be deceptive or it will backfire.
3. Annotations are an effective tool for increasing views and subscribers.
Annotations are the little bits of text you can add as overlays to your video. In addition to adding additional text information, you can also link to other videos and your subscription box. I’m sure there is even more that can do with them because I’ve only started to scratch the surface. Use them and experiment with different ways to present them. We’ve been able to increase views to related videos and greatly increase subscribers to our YouTube channel.
If you watch very many of our videos you’ll start to notice that we have kind of settled on a consistent format of:
- Subscribe Box in the Top left of the screen. This runs for the entire video.
- Message telling people to check the description for full text instructions on how to make the featured recipe.
- A note for related videos – where applicable.
By the time you read this, we may have tweaked things somewhat, but after a few weeks of testing, we are getting really good results from this.
4. Be As Consistent as Possible in Everything You Do.
I’ve already written about how publishing videos on a consistent schedule can increase your video views. One of the things that the YouTube NextUp program really hammered home was that consistency counts in just about everything. In addition to publishing on a regular schedule, we are striving for more consistency in the following areas:
- Release schedule. We release episodes every Tuesday and Thursday an aim to release them between 1:00 and 3:00 in the afternoon (CST).
- Episode format. We use the same sequence of shots for each episode and try to get the “food porn” shot in the first 10 seconds.
- Structure of episode descriptions. We use a teaser followed by our social links followed by the detailed recipe.
- Episode Titles. The Episode topic goes first followed by any branding we might choose to do.
We may be going overboard, but I think it’s working. We’re presenting a consistent experience for our subscribers and presenting both content and meta data in a way that the Google robots seem to like. Our subscribers are now starting to comment if an episode is even a little late, and they definitely notice if we miss a day. Having subscribers that are primed to watch your videos at a certain time ensures a big boost in views right after launch.
5. Running Time Should Fit Your Topic
Recent studies have shown that people are more willing to watch longer content online. This is particularly great news for creators of narrative content. But everybody’s time is at a premium. When it comes to instructional videos, a running time of 5 minutes or less is probably ideal.
Our goal is to do something a little different than simply produce cooking demonstrations. If our only plan was to work the YouTube system and ramp up our revenue there, we would probably change the format completely and make short, fast-paced step-by-step cooking videos. But we aim for a blend of personality, humor, entertainment and information. We still try hard to keep our videos as short and to-the-point as possible. One of the ways we’ve streamlined is to lose the opening credits. They were cool and based on the feedback we’ve received, people loved them. But we could see a steep decline in viewers as soon as the credits started to roll. Now, we open the episode, get to the “food porn” shot as quickly as possible and roll right into the recipe. This has really helped our engagement rate with more people watching the episode for a longer amount of time.
6. TentPole Programming
Tentpole Programming means content that is time to coincide with a holiday, event or something else happening in the news. Our first indication that tentpole programming worked was our video for How To Make Black Eyed Peas. January 1st 2011 is still one of our best traffic days ever.
In our particular niche, episodes targeting holidays, Mardi Gras and the Super Bowl have worked really well.Â Try to anticipate what people might be searching for and build some Â content around it. Make sure to get the event in your title, description etc. so that it’s searchable. This will give you a nice boost from search engine traffic, but also – if the video is good – you have a good chance of getting promoted by YouTube around one of these tentpole events.
7. Engage With Your Audience – and Build The Community YOU Want For Your Show
I saved the worst for last. YouTube is not a video hosting site – it’s a social network.The cold hard truth is that you have to engage with your audience. This takes a lot of time, but it makes a HUGE difference. None of our videos have millions of views so it’s manageable for now but takes more and more time every day. Once Hilah started showing up on a regular basis and responding to comments, the quality and quantity of comments increased. This engagement also increased our YouTube views, shares and video responses. Once the YouTube algorithm detects action around a particular video, that video is a LOT more likely to get featured and getting a video featured is a sure way to explode your channel growth.
Depending on your project, you can take several different approaches to responding to your comments. Hilah takes an authentic and funny approach that’s perfectly in keeping with her personality and the tone of the videos. Our regular viewers feel that they are engaging with a real person who cares about what they think.
Now, I can’t remember the last time anybody other than me has left a “Nice Titz” comment.
After getting over my initial hatred of YouTube, I have to admit that I love it now – and it’s not just because we make money from it.
Despite lots of controversy, I think YouTube has made significant improvements to all aspects of its web presence. I actually enjoy using it now. I have built relationships with other content creators that started with comments on their channel. It’s now the cornerstone of everything I’m doing online.
I hope this post gave you some good ideas about how to take advantage of what YouTube has to offer. Despite clocking in at almost 2,000 words it barely scratches the surface. If you have tips and suggestions that I haven’t mentioned here, please leave them in the comments below.
Also, ask questions and I will do my best to answer!