If you want to maximize your outreach with online video content, YouTube is undeniably the place to be. More than a billion people use YouTube. That’s one third of the entire global population of internet users. The video-sharing platform continues to grow at an astounding pace; growth in watch time has jumped 50% year over year for the past three years.
But there is a downside too; more than 300 hours of video are uploaded to the site every minute. Think about that for a moment. Your video is just one tiny droplet in a deluge. You are not going to stand out from the crowd without a solid plan.
What can you do about it? The best approach is to grow a strong channel with a dedicated subscriber base. If you can do that, you can focus on producing engaging content that appeals directly to your followers. From there, you can expand until eventually you reach the point where you have a shot at going viral.
Whether you are brand new to YouTube or you have been on the site for a while, we are here to help. In this guide, we will walk you through the steps to grow a YouTube channel from scratch.
1. Conduct market research to identify fans
You have to start out by first figuring out where your target audience is spending time on YouTube.
Here are some general statistics about the user base that may interest you:
- The user base has a fairly even distribution of male and female users.
- Men spend 44% more time on YT than women each month.
- YouTube has numerous users in every age bracket, even the 65+ category. Still, the largest percentage is in the 25-34 age bracket.
What is also useful to know is that there is a gender breakdown by categories. Men dominate the following categories in terms of viewership:
- Computer animation and graphics
Women meanwhile dominate these categories:
- Skin and nail care
Some more evenly divided categories which appeal broadly to both men and women include:
- Pop music
- East Asian music
- Weight loss
This is one reason it is essential to choose the right categories for the videos you upload. Not only does this ensure that your videos rank higher for relevant search queries, but it also helps the right demographic to find them.
Whatever your product, it is important to come up with a marketing persona. This is simply a thumbnail of the typical buyer or audience member you are targeting.
Say for example that your product is Let’s Play videos like those by PewDiePie, YouTube’s top celebrity. You can actually use demographics from PewDiePie’s channel to build a marketing persona for yours. According to this information, the average Let’s Play viewer is:
- Male (Though this is a swiftly growing category for female viewers as well. Interestingly enough, female viewers also spend slightly more time on each gaming video than male viewers do on average)
- Ages 13-16 (But there is a wide distribution, see source link above)
- Not a serious gamer (surprisingly, only 37% of a Google Consumer Survey group who watched Let’s Play videos reported that they thought of themselves as “gamers”).
So here is an example marketing persona:
Tyler is a 15-year-old boy who plays a couple times a week on a PS4. Despite this, he isn’t dedicated to the point of considering himself a “gamer.” Sometimes he needs ideas for dealing with a particularly challenging in-game task, and wants to know what other gamers have done. Most times he just enjoys the humor. His girlfriend, 14-year-old Linda, isn’t an avid gamer either, but she’s starting to take an interest. She plays now and again, and also watches a lot of Let’s Play videos for their entertainment value. She’s picked up on a number of Tyler’s subscriptions.
Knowing why users enjoy your videos is very important. If you know that users are mostly tuning in for walkthroughs, you can focus on providing useful strategies. If you discover they are tuning in mostly for your sense of humor, you can focus more on just being funny.
Now that you have a more solid idea of who you are targeting, you are ready to fine-tune your marketing efforts.
One thing that is important to point out here is that you need to focus on fans who are actually active on YouTube. Cross-promoting is a good idea, but you cannot assume that the users you target on Facebook, Twitter, and other sites are active on YouTube as well. They may be members of the same target demographic, but that does not guarantee that they will help you to grow your YouTube channel.
2. Optimize your profile and channel branding
When you open your YouTube account, the first thing you are going to want to do is optimize your profile and channel branding.
Your channel is simply your homepage on YouTube. There are three main elements you need to set up:
- Your channel art
- Your icon
- Your about section
So let’s look at PewDiePie’s channel as an example.
Across the top of the page, you can see a large banner. That is PewDiePie’s channel art, which is currently a promotion for his Virtual Reality In Public video. It is smart to regularly change your channel art. This keeps your page looking fresh and it draws attention to your latest videos, products, or projects.
You will notice social media links in the lower right-hand portion of the channel art. In the upper left you can see PewDiePie’s icon. Your icon represents you throughout YouTube. Choose something that displays well large or small.
Next, optimize your “About” section. Here you can input a description of your channel and provide contact information and links.
If you are cross-promoting on your own website, Facebook, Twitter, etc., be sure to use consistent branding. Use the same fonts, colors, designs, and logos. You want everyone to know instantly that they have arrived at the right place.
3. Organize your channel using sections
While you were checking out PewDiePie’s channel, you probably also noticed he does an amazing job organizing his content using channel sections. With a section, you can group together related videos. This helps your audience to find content which will interest them.
PewDiePie for example has a featured video and then a list of recent uploads. Below those, you can find the following sections:
- The Latest Hot Videos To Watch
- Mirrors Edge Catalyst
- All Finished Playthroughs
- Scare PewDiePie
- Weird Stuff Online
- Fridays w/PewDiePie
- PewDiePie Montages
- PewDiePie Animated
- HTC Vive
You can see how this makes it a breeze for users to find what they are looking for. If you want to watch a completed playthrough, click on the All Finished Playthroughs section. If you want to watch an episode of Scare PewDiePie, you can find them all right there in that channel section.
Contrast that with the mess you find on channels that don’t have organized sections. Nothing is worse than having to skim through videos which appear in upload order without any further categorization. With only the names and thumbnails to go by, it can be next to impossible to find what you want. Oftentimes, users just give up in frustration.
So organize your channel! You can create up to 10 custom channel sections.
Note: If you have been on YouTube for a while, you may know sections by a different name: playlists. YouTube has recently changed their lingo. This may be a bit confusing at first, but they are exactly the same thing.
4. Comment and connect
As I discussed previously, your target market is on YouTube. But you need to target active users within that group. How do you do that? Where do you find them? The answer is to turn to videos which are similar to yours and draw the same audience.
To find active users, you need to hunt down videos that are getting plenty of real-time engagement. The best way to do this is to run a search for recently-uploaded videos in your niche. Look for those that are getting a lot of viewership and activity. These videos are being watched right now.
Comment and reply to other peoples’ comments. Be polite and do not spam; actually participate in real conversation and say something meaningful.
If you do this, viewers in your target market who are actively watching the videos will see your comments. They may decide to follow your links and watch your videos next.
5. Collaborate with other YouTube users
Why does the strategy above works so well for growing your YouTube channel? You are in essence piggybacking on videos and channels that are already successful.
But that does not need to be an impersonal process. If you discover people who are successful in targeting the same audience you do, you may be able to collaborate with them. This gives you access to their audience. If they have already worked with other YouTubers, that is a good indication they may be receptive to your proposal.
There are numerous forms that YouTube collaborations can take. You can create a short comedic sketch together, or maybe a shared review. Another idea is to make a video entirely on your own and host it on your collaborator’s channel. Your partner can then make a video to host on yours. You can also make videos where you react to each others’ videos or products. Or you can work together to make an amazing how-to video. There literally is no limit to the great ideas you can come up with using a little creativity. Put your heads together and you will come up with even more awesome possibilities.
YouTube has an excellent guide on Collaboration here.
Another way that you can work with other YouTubers is to set up your Featured Channels section. Add channels here that you want to promote.
Here are PewDiePie’s Featured Channels:
This is a great place to promote your friends and collaborators. For example, PewDiePie is promoting his girlfriend’s channel here, CutiePieMarzia.
This is a great opportunity to promote your competitors too. That might sound weird, but the idea is to build up an association between your channel and those in your niche which are already successful. That way you pick up on some of their authority (and hopefully their followers).
Be sure that you always tell other YouTubers when you add them to your Featured Channels. You will not get a response every time, but sometimes you will find that this leads to further collaboration and cross-promotion. They may also decide to add your channel to their Featured Channels. At that point you have a great working relationship which can really grow your audience.
Just how much growth can you get from collaborating with other YouTubers? There is a great case study on Zoe Sugg, a.k.a. Zoella. In 2014, she grew her subscriber-base from one million to five million users. During this time, she created an average of one collaboration video every month. Each was featured on another user’s channel and included a call to action to subscribe to her channel. Every single video led to a spike in new subscribers.
6. Ask for subscribers
This is the simplest tactic in the world, and yet numerous YouTubers forget to employ it. If you want people to subscribe to your channel, you need to ask them to do it!
Internet users are notorious for their short attention spans as well as their tendency to simply move along. They may have enjoyed your videos, but they will probably just click out of their browser and forget about you unless you remind them to follow you. What a waste that would be.
This is why you should add annotations to your videos. With annotations, you can layer all kinds of useful information over your content. This can include links, text, and hotspots.
You can invite users to subscribe at any point during your videos, but you should always remember to do it at the end. Personally ask for subscriptions, and then layer on the link to subscribe. Users click the annotation and effortlessly are able to follow you.
7. Buy plays, likes, and subscribers
If you follow all of the suggestions above with diligence, you should gradually start seeing results. But it can take a long time to grow a channel organically from scratch. The problem is that users who click through to your channel look at your statistics and see that you don’t have many subscribers. Because of this, they may not see you as particularly relevant. As a result, they then click away and watch something else.
When your channel has a lot of plays, likes and subscribers, you have something known as Social Proof, which means that people see your numbers and perceive that you are already popular. This produces a bandwagon effect, where they want to jump onboard and see what you have to offer.
Your established competitors are already way ahead of you in terms of likes and subscribers. It’s not a level playing field. Buying likes and subscribers is one way to catch up fast.
If you decide to buy subscribers, make sure that you go with a service that drip-feeds new followers from aged accounts. That way the growth looks organic, even though it isn’t. Otherwise, buying subscribers could easily backfire on you. So long as you choose a quality provider, you should see excellent results.
Need help finding a quality provider? Read our list of the top 10 places where you can buy YouTube views.
YouTube is a realm of abundant opportunity. With over a billion users, pretty much every target market imaginable has a presence on the massive video-sharing platform. Targeting active users can be a challenge though. It is also difficult to generate visibility on a site that is constantly flooded with fresh content.
That is why you need to have a solid growth plan for your channel. To review, here are the steps:
1. Conduct market research to identify your fans. Understand your fans’ lifestyles and habits, and in particular, why they watch your videos. Make sure you know what categories to upload your videos to in order to reach the right demographic.
2. Optimize your profile and channel branding.
3. Organize your channel using helpful sections. This makes it fast and easy for users to find videos that interest them.
4. Comment on recently uploaded videos which are similar to yours and getting a lot of attention from active users.
5. Collaborate with other YouTube users and make use of Featured Channels.
6. Ask for subscribers. Embed calls to action in your videos using annotations.
7. Buy plays, likes, and subscribers.
YouTube success will not happen overnight. It can take many months of sustained effort to reach a level of visibility where you have a shot at going viral. Building a strong channel however gives you a core audience of dedicated subscribers. These devoted fans will tide you over and will help you spread the word. Who knows—eventually you could become the next PewDiePie!