7 Ways to Increase YouTube Views

How to increase YouTube views

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. 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. 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.

Optimize YouTube Metadata

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.

Youtube Annotations

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:

  1. Release schedule. We release episodes every Tuesday and Thursday an aim to release them between 1:00 and 3:00 in the afternoon (CST).
  2. 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.
  3. Structure of episode descriptions. We use a teaser followed by our social links followed by the detailed recipe.
  4. 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. Try to anticipate what people might be searching for and build some  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!

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Comments

  1. Very interesting. I post on YouTube so little and so poorly, I’m not even a rank hobbyist, much less a professional like you. Has your system created a steady level of views or are the number of views growing with each video posted, or otherwise? Consistency or growth is the true test.

    I may try your techniques with my amateur attempts, to see if they’ll work for me. My views range from mostly a handful to one Doctor Who video with two tags but 140,000 views (which makes no sense).

    • Hey Bruce! Thanks for the comment.

      Our views are steadily and consistently growing. Each new episode gets views faster than the last one. And cumulatively the views are increasing over time. Some of this has do to with more traditional SEO which I have had in the mix since the early days – even down to some of the episode topics selected.

      Good views on your Doctor Who video! If you have any ideas for a Doctor Who themed food we could make on the show, send them our way.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing all this information. I am so excited for all the growth and success you and Hilah have had — your hard work is paying off!!

  3. Great summary. The video length is the least understood thing for me. There are at least 2 VERY popular cooking shows whose average time is over 10 minutes. I do think – and this is based purely on how I use YouTube – that a shorter run-time is more likely to grab the attention of new viewers. Once you’ve got an established base, though, maybe a longer time is really appealing to your viewers?

    • I don’t there is any consensus on what works best as far as running time yet. But you might be right about an established base willing to watch longer. I’d love to know what the retention rate on those longer videos is like.

      • Coodles2noodles says:

        I need help getting my videos page get noticed. I have been trying many techniques but nothing seem to work for me :(

  4. Hey Christopher,
    Great information. I wonder if you could also increase your views by letting your audience jump straight to specific parts of your videos…..
    eg click on the name of an ingredient & go straight to the part of the video where that’s dealt with.
    I’ve put together a ‘starter’ demo for you, using your gefilte fish & stuffed mushroom videos.
    http://www.tagmotion.com/tree/free6
    I’d love to know what you think.

    Andrew.

  5. This sums it up really nicely. I love the Hilah thumbnail, but the up close food looks like I can eat it off the screen. I also like the new Q&A on saturday. Your writing is also beautiful, I am going to check out the rest of your blog.

  6. Treating Youtube just as a video hosting site and not a social network is the biggest mistake we always make. Thanks a lot for the great tips Chris!

  7. Christopher,
    Really insightful information. I too, work in Austin. If you want to save time on your uploads and increase the quality of your YouTube video you can upload through latakoo.com and then push to YouTube and Facebook. I just subscribed to your blog and am looking forward to following your experiment. Feel free to contact me anytime and keep cooking up great content.

    Cheers,
    Steve

    • Hey Stephen! Thanks for your comment. I’m not familiar with latakoo.com, but it looks really cool. I’m definitely going to check into it further. So far I haven’t been happy with any of the third-party uploading systems, but I’m always into testing new things out.

  8. Thanks for the tips also its useful to have links to previous videos at the end of the finished segment for upto 8 seconds in the annotations so people can click on your other videos.

    • Hey James. Thanks for reading. That is definitely a great tip and we will be implementing it really soon. Just figuring out the format and how exactly we want to focus it.

  9. Great post and insights! Appreciate your specific examples illustrating the points. It was fascinating to hear your experience with the branded thumbnail vs the close up of the dish. I produced hundreds of cooking videos for Mahalo.com and Recipe.com and fought for this very thing! We used stills of the food and found them to have much better click-thru. If only I had been able to to reference your article!

    • Hey John. Thanks for your comment. The thumbnail issue still drives me a little bit crazy. I waste a lot of time trying to figure out how to make “fancy” thumbnails work, but the food thumbnails drive way more clicks. It makes sense because when it comes to search, people are looking for an answer to something. Might as well give it to them in the thumbnail.

  10. Great article! We are attempting something similar with our company and it’s very valuable to hear how the process went for someone else. I will keep checking back to your site for further updates and wish you continued success with your video production.

  11. I like the suggestion to “tent-pole” but what about a less common mainstream niche, such as paranormal? Does anyone have any suggestions for this?

  12. I appreciate you taking out the time and writing this and providing specific examples.Great Article but I would agree with Chris. I’d love to know what the retention rate on those longer videos is like.

  13. Great post! I’ve been dragging my feet when it comes to making and posting videos to YouTube. I guess I was afraid I’d be discouraged by the initial low view count and the “NICE TITZ” comments. Well, maybe the latter would help put a little pep in my step. I’m half kidding. But really, thanks for this post. It seems a lot less daunting now that some tips are laid out for me. It took me awhile to get my view count up for my blog but I’m trying using similar tips that you’ve listed.

  14. Very helpful. Succeeding on YouTube is like speaking another language–I appreciate the great tips.

  15. Thank you for sharing, I have a cooking show in Spanish and I’ve been looking for ways to increase my audience, your tips have giving me a good idea of what to do.

  16. Just wanted to say thanks for the valuable info.

  17. When you say that you figured out the advertising system what was the trick? Or did you get better at the system from gaining experience? did you use advertising on all of your videos?

    • It was actually pretty dumb and I just didn’t have the ads turned on correctly. The new interface is WAY easier to see exactly what you’re doing – so this probably wouldn’t be a problem for most people now.

  18. It’s weird how some 13 or 14 years old can record themselves dancing in an Apple retail store along to copyrighted music. He likely spent 1 minute recording and maybe 5-10 minutes for post has a few millions views for each of his Apple Store dancing videos. To make things worst Youtube allow him to monitize this content.

    • The way they get around it’s now set up so that the music copyright holders actually make money when the music is played. If you hear copyrighted music, the rights holder is almost certainly getting a piece of the action and has agreed to it. If they don’t agree to it, the audio track gets turned off. I’m not sure how the split works out or if the kid is getting a cut or not.

  19. I would also add that it’s pretty obvious and obnoxious when someone is being a shill for a product. Without full disclosure of sponsorship driving the content/products in a video it is generally viewed as being very disingenuous on the part of the person posting the video.

    • Agreed. And legally, this kind of thing has to be disclosed now. There’s even an option when you upload the video to tell YouTube if the video has a paid product placement or not.

  20. Great suggestions. Excellent job too with Hilah’s YouTube channel. Great video quality, vivid animation, simple and clean.

    Just curious if you had any issues when Google bought YouTube? We ended up with a Google account and a YouTube account with the same username that created a conflict that I am still dealing with to this day. I’ve had to download/upload videos from a personal account to a Google Apps account, rename, genenerate multiple similar yet different email addresses and try to decipher the pros and cons of Google+, Google Dashboard, Google Apps, Google personal etc. Fortunately, this happened before we had a lot of videos loaded.

    Wondering if you had to deal with any of that with the huge Hilah video library you have or am I just chasing my Google tail?

    Thanks!

    • Thanks for the kind comments, Alex!

      The Google account thing does get confusing. I made some errors when setting up the Yoga With Adriene account – basically I shouldn’t have linked up to Google+ etc. because now the name is listed strangely on the channel. The Apps thing only makes it more confusing. I’m not sure I have a good answer for you on this one, because I’ve definitely spent a lot of time tail-chasing.

  21. I have enjoyed watching Hilah’s channel grow. I’m probably one of her first subscribers. My wife and I have full time jobs, so we aren’t as “business like” in our approach to our channel, (YouTube.com/BBQMyWay) although we are YouTube Partners. It became obvious to me very quickly that Hilah’s team was approaching this in a scientific, business-like manner, right down to equipment, lighting, format, etc.

    We battle with format (each of our videos tend to be different in terms of feel), and how to really improve search engine results. What is your average audience retention percentage? I’m told that’s an important factor in terms of search term rankings.

    • Hey Dave! Thanks for stopping by and thanks for your comment. As far as audience retention goes, our average view duration is about 4 minutes 5 seconds. We aim for 5 minute videos but lately have been going long. The retention does seem to play a role in where you rank in the YouTube search engine, but doesn’t seem to be that big of a factor in Google – where title, description, tags, annotations etc. are much more important.

  22. I’m glad youtube has a nice assortment of videos asking people to ban the illegal tobacco drug, now!

  23. I have noticed something about your video and this blog. Your approach appears very laid back. However, you obviously approach things methodically. Hilah does the same thing. She will say something about not being sure if something is hot enough, and then turn around and explain how baking powder differs from baking soda. Laid back smarties. Interesting approach. Having said that, I would be very interested to learn more of your video production techniques. I think there is an audience for a video production instructional series. I realize that YouTube is full of this type of content. However, there seems to be a lack of really well-done video production.

    You are in an interesting position. You have the film production background, but you also produce what appear to be home-spun kitchen videos. I will never make a full movie, that is out of my grasp. I would love to learn how you make your home-spun videos look and feel so natural.

    • Hey Steve – Thanks for writing! I haven’t really thought through much about the “laid back” approach that you mention, but I think you’ve pretty much nailed it. It’s definitely not an intentional approach but I think it is just our actual personalities coming through.

      I will definitely be doing some blog posts and behind the scenes videos about Hilah Cooking and some of my other projects. It will all be geared towards people making content for the internet – as opposed to making scripted movies. I find the approach to be very different even though the equipment is sometimes the same. Thanks again for writing and for your kind comments.

  24. Hi Christopher,
    Appreciate the honest advice. Entering into the world of YouTube is not easy and as you said, having the correct mindset and approach will change and shape your entire experience.

    I’ve recently started my own little channel, with the aim to have viewers share in the happiness of ours travels. I must admit that’s its a tough journey and there’s still a long road ahead, but for the moment, while uploading videos… I’m still educating myself on how best to get the word out to the world (to the people who want to share in it) – this article definitely provides good insight into the different aspects that need to be considered. Many thanks!

    • Hey Queue Ball – Thanks for your comment. Nice work on your channel. The best way to learn how to do this stuff is to just start producing content on a consistent basis and see what works. Let me know if there’s any way I can help out.

  25. How long does it take to do a shoot? Sometimes I think about posting something, but I’m too lazy to do it “right.” Because I’m so lazy. I know as a viewer, I won’t put up with someone who doesn’t make an effort with lighting, framing the shot correctly, editing, etc. I can’t even stand it if someone isn’t mic’d up nowadays.

    • Hey Steve – I think it all depends on what type of video you’re trying to do and what goals you have for it. It usually takes us about an hour to shoot an episode of Hilah Cooking, but it all depends on what type of food we’re making. I try to shoot it and Yoga With Adriene in “real-time” as much as possible. The travel show takes a lot longer.

  26. I have a question about copyrights and meta data. One of the things (there are so many things) I like about Hilah Cooking are the printed recipes the website. Is it OK to list a recipe on a site that is similar to other sites? Does Hilah have to re-invent recipes in order to publish them on her blog? I looked and looked for an example of something Hilah shared that seemed pretty much same as everyone’s recipe. Funny thing, is that most of her recipes are so unique that it took me a long time to find an example. I looked at her recipe for Sangrita (http://hilahcooking.com/sangrita/). It is similar to everyone’s recipe for Sangrita.

    The reason I am asking, is I was thinking about this recipe I have for Broccoli Cheddar Soup. I started with a great recipe from Eating Right. I have changed a few quantities to make it best for me. Is it now my recipe? If I want to put on-line on a free blog, do I have to site the source?

    I am not asking for legal advice. I am just curious how you two deal with this issue? Thanks — Steve

    • You know what? I should have done a quick Google search before asking this question. There is a lot of information out there for me to read on the topic of adapting recipes or being inspired by recipes.

  27. Thanks for the titz … sorry, tips.

  28. Chris- great points. I’d consider the length and searchability of videos to be up there as factors in driving viewership. We’ve crunched some numbers on this and found some interesting results, which you can see here: http://www.verbalizeit.com/blog/posts/top-three-ways-to-turbocharge-your-awesome-marketing-video

  29. Hi Christopher,

    This was very helpful! I’m trying to better my content on my videos on YouTube and by reading this post made me rethink how I do things on YouTube. Keep it up!

  30. Thanks for the tips – very helpful as I’m trying to increase my subscribers and views of my cooking videos. I’m in the process of going back and reworking my metadata for sure, and I’ve realized that the title is so critical.

    I’ve subscribed and will be watching!

    • Hi Nica! Hope the post was helpful. I think you’ll notice big changes just by spending a little time on a consistent basis working on your metadata. We are continually working on ours to find out what works and what doesn’t. Thanks for stopping by!

  31. Cool! I love Hilah Cooking, she’s hilarious and cute! Great information.. i’ve been steadily growing my youtube foundation as well.. glad i came across this article!

  32. Yu Yao Yang says:

    I am posting minecraft videos too,but my views are DAMN low,why…?That’s when I started to plan on posting League Of Legends gameplay and some hearthstone.

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