I’ve been trying my hand at YouTube for almost nine months now. I thought I should share what I’ve learned. If you have ever thought about doing the same, this might help you out.
Before I begin, I think I should share my credentials with you:
- A YouTube channel with 1.2K subscribers
- A YouTube channel with 650 subscribers
- Entry-level contract writing for a YouTube channel
If you weren’t sure, this is not impressive. Take my advice with a grain of salt.
However, as someone who’s consumed far too much YouTube in my life, I’ve spent the past year analyzing what good content creators do that has kept me on the platform for so long.
Here are three things I’ve found you need to succeed on the platform (and a few other tips as well).
Make Your Titles Matter
This and thumbnails (which I’ll cover next) are the first thing a potential viewer sees. If you don’t have a good title, you won’t get views. Plain and simple.
So, unless you’re Emma Chamberlain, you shouldn’t title your video about pineapples, “pineapples.”
You’ll want to make your titles snappy, concise, and intriguing.
Don’t worry about punctuation either. Check out the difference between these three channels:
Punctuation is preference. Do what you wish.
Thumbnails Sell Your Channel
Think of thumbnails as your book cover. Books with no cover, bad covers, ugly covers, or misleading covers won’t sell.
Likewise, YouTube videos with bad thumbnails are seldom clicked on. You could have the best video in the world, but if you don’t have an effective thumbnail, no one will ever see it.
Sure, there are successful YouTubers, like Penguinz0, who just use the YouTube-generated thumbnail, but they’re exceptions.
You can find guys like Jay Alto on Twitter, whose account solely exists to advise people on better thumbnail making. While I think he focuses too much on the over-the-top, exaggerated, and overpolished thumbnails, he offers solid reasoning for dos and don’ts of thumbnail design.
I’ll leave Dooby in the rain for now, but I’ll come back to her and explain why I think this thumbnail is so effective in the next section.
You also don’t need to be a pro in Photoshop to create exciting custom thumbnails. I’ve been using Procreate to create my thumbnail, but you can create effective thumbnails with some simple color editing and text addition on Pixlr.
One of the best simple thumbnail/title combos I’ve ever come across is “this is not yellow” by Vsauce. The thumbnail? A yellow tile:
Once you’ve earned their click with a killer thumbnail/title combo, you’ve got to keep them on the video itself. The longer people watch, the more YouTube will recommend your video.
The best way to do that is by captivating your audience quickly.
A great way to set viewer expectations is by laying out exactly what’s in the video ahead in the first thirty seconds. Establishing the narrative of the video can make or break your video.
Some of the biggest channels on YouTube use this strategy, even if you’re not working with scripted content.
While MrBeast’s “this is a map, I’ve hidden a trillion dollars in the forest, go find it” method works well, this isn’t the only way.
Baseball Doesn’t Exist has exploded in the past two years. People who don’t even watch baseball, like Wale, mentioned that the channel was among their favorites. Why? Because the channel previews the action, keying you into drama you want to learn more about.
You can even do this in slow-paced vlogging.
Yeah, we weren’t going to keep Doobydoobap in the rain forever. She’s not giving away thousands of dollars, she isn’t pranking her best friends. She’s just vlogging about her life in Korea while occasionally cooking. She doesn’t have a loud, rapid pace, but her hooks are still incredibly effective.
Remember that thumbnail from earlier? That’s actually one of my favorite videos by Doobydoobap. Let’s talk about it.
Dooby AKA Tina spends the first thirty seconds in the rain, waiting, possibly with or for another person. This immediately satisfies the viewer’s expectation of the video set by the thumbnail and title. It also intrigues the viewer, wondering what she’s waiting on…
However, we’re transported quickly to her apartment and, with all the interesting aspects of Dooby’s life, it soon fades off to the back burner. Still, throughout the video, the thought lingers in the back of your head: how does Dooby eating at this restaurant cause her to get stranded in the rain?
1. Don’t worry if your first video doesn’t catch on. You’ll probably need 5-10 videos before you get any sort of audience at all.
2. Having clippable parts of your video can help expedite your growth. Whether it’s TikTok or YouTube Shorts, clipping out small portions of your video and posting them as a 30-second clips can help drive viewers to the full video.
3. There are channels that give great insight into the “creator economy.” Colin and Samir is a great channel to start with.
4. Don’t tell your family and friends (unless you’re in their niche). The best way to have your video find the niche is by letting youtube algorithm do it for you.
5. Just get started. If you’ve even thought a of having a YouTube video, just go for it. You don’t need fancy editing equipment (I use DaVinci Resolve—it’s free). As long as you can make interesting content, viewers will find you.
Mitchell Barbee graduated from Calvin University with a B.A. in writing in 2021. Originally from Boone, North Carolina, he is currently residing in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He enjoys hanging out with the few friends who stayed, wearing grey hoodies, and hoping that he doesn’t get sucked into the nightly wormhole of watching a baseball game.