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The Definitive YouTube Guide

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Building an Audience, Optimizing for Search, and Making Money

The title to this post is fairly tongue-in-cheek. The reality is that if you catch any well-known so-called “you-tubers” off-the-record, they’ll tell you that all bets are off. Even panelists from last night’s YouTube Partner’s Meet-up, which was held at Google’s New York City offices, confided that the ubiquitous platform and it’s community seems to be very different from year to year. Panelists included: Michael Buckley (What the Buck), Ben Relles (Barely Political), Kevin Nalty (Nalts), and William Hyde (TheWillofDC). Each of these guys gave varying perspectives on their success and have taken different approaches to their content, much which I love. However, the most helpful part of the evening were two sessions lead by Margaret Healy, Google Partner, and what she shared about how their platform works and how to make the most of our shows. What follows are some of those insights:

Michael Buckley, William Hyde, Ben Relles, and Kevin Nalty

Building an Audience

Early in the evening, Healy posted a TubeMogul pie chart depicting statistics about where video views come from (no, not from the lettuce patch). Additionally, a number of statistics were thrown out to the audience, like the fact that YouTube is the second largest search engine (ostensibly second only to Google), that 24 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute, and that 40% of online video views happen on YouTube. Interestingly, during the Q&A, one partner asked about securing placement on the YouTube platform. Healy’s response was that videos didn’t get popular because of a YouTube spotlight. Essentially, YouTube’s perspective is, “you need to build your own audience.” There was encouragement for partners to network, collaborate, and even form friendships. There was a lot of talk about inbound traffic to YouTube utilizing video embeds, links, and the new email option that partners were encouraged to ask their subscribers to opt-in to (note: it’s a multiple-click process to opt in). There was talk about how to share subscribers and a ton of talk about interaction. Buckley pointed to how much time he spends interacting with his audience via the comments on his videos and that he is less focused on his website than on his YouTube channel. When a follow-up question was asked about how many hours a day he spends responding to comments he emphasized: “A LOT!” I was quickly reminded of a conversation I had last year with Joe Swanberg (Young American Bodies) when I asked him how building an audience was different online than it was in film. He responded to the affect that building an audience was just the same online: one viewer at a time. So, back to the TubeMogul pie chart: while 45% of video views come from within the site, 44% came from inbound traffic (ie. blogs, links, etc.). The next obvious question is, beyond sharing subscribers and getting people to link to a video or embed a video, what can you do to find an audience?

Optimizing for Search

How, exactly, does one rise above the noise and get her video found and seen? Healy had some interesting thoughts about optimizing for search (note the earlier statistic about YouTube being the second largest) and that Google search results now include video. Healy went onto say: “I know a lot of you guys spend about 10 hours perfecting you video,” boy, does she underestimate, “and about 10 seconds writing a description for your video.” That was when she introduced Al (short for algorithm). She explained that while the YouTube Algorithms do not watch the videos, they read all the text available (title, tags, and description). She gave CookingWithDog as an example of the kind of specificity needed in descriptions to help optimize a video for search. She did a quick Google search for “cooking bento” and the cookingwithdog video was available above-the-fold. Once on the video page she opened up the description and there was the entire recipe. Then she offered a tip for those of us with text rich videos: turn on auto-captions, copy and paste the captions into the description, correct the captions, save, and then turn off auto-captions. Other things that impact the YouTube Algorithms? Any of the following will help: inbound links, frequency of posting (the more you post, the more Al will like your video), and getting included in official playlists. Also, note that the algorithms are designed to identify spam and misleading behavior as well as copyright infringement, etc.

Making Money

Once you’ve figured out how to build an audience all on your own and how to optimize your video so people will find it when they search for related stuff, of course you’ll want to know: HOW DO I MAKE MONEY?  If you want to make money on YouTube, you need to first apply to become a YouTube partner. Once you’ve done that, there’s a lot of stuff to know and figure out:

The first question is how exactly one makes money on YouTube. Very simply: advertising. Wait. No. The TWO ways to make money on YouTube are advertising and rentals. Oh, but wait…the THREE ways to make money on YouTube are advertising, rentals, and paid placement. Yes, the list is still growing. But, don’t worry…there is no comfy chair! (Special note about the third: YouTube allows partners to get paid for product placement but due to recent FCC regulations requiring the disclosure of paid content, please check the box during upload that says: “This video contains a paid product placement.”) However, the main way that video on YouTube is currently monetized is with advertising (pre-roll, post-roll, and overlays, and in-stream ad-insertion in videos longer than 10 minutes, as well as with AdSense).

YouTube has three ways they package their video inventory for advertisers.

  1. Category – When you go to upload your video, you should select which category your video is best suited for. Sometimes ad buyers will buy the entire category.
  2. Video Vertical – This is determined by all the metadata on a per-video basis (ostensibly based on views, content, and other qualifying factors such as extensive descriptions)
  3. Custom Packs – YouTube has an unlimited number of custom packs of videos that advertisers buy. Special interest right now for YouTube is video content geared toward moms.

Please note that the algorithms on YouTube/AdSense are designed to weed out racy content and other kinds of content that advertisers might find objectionable. It was difficult to get a clear read on what, exactly, racy and objectionable might be; but one must assume that objectionable will trend with the sensibilities of the culture at any given time. Healy’s suggestion was to make videos TV-ready to make them appealing to advertisers.

There were approximately two hundred partners in the room for the session and many of us “old timers” could be heard saying things like: “oh, I didn’t know you could do that now; that’s helpful.” Clearly, this was a great step for YouTube toward helping to build its collection of partners into a community. Hopefully, there will be many more YouTube Partner Meet-ups and YouTube will continue this more personal flow of information. I, for one, believe that it’s incumbent on we the Partners to build our community.

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