How to Grow Your YouTube Channel in 2020

How to Grow Your YouTube Channel in 2020

Brian Dean

by Brian Dean · Updated Mar. 27, 2020

How to Grow Your YouTube Channel

Today I’m going to show you how to grow your YouTube channel in 2020.

This is the same step-by-step process that I used to grow my channel to 292,000 subscribers:

Backlinko – Total YouTube subscribers

And in this guide you’re going to learn exactly how to get more views and subscribers.

Let’s dive right in.

Step #1: Find Untapped Video Keywords

When it comes to YouTube, video keyword research is SUPER important.

Choose the RIGHT keywords?

Your videos rocket to the top of YouTube.

Choose the WRONG keywords?

Your videos get buried in the search results.

For example, one of the videos from my channel ranks #1 in YouTube for “YouTube Views”.

Backlinko ranks first for "YouTube views"

And largely thanks to that #1 ranking, that video generates 117k views every month.

Video analytics – Total views

With that, here’s how to find keywords for YouTube.

1. First, create a list of “Seed Keywords”

Seed Keywords are terms that describe super broad topics.

For example, if you were in the digital marketing space, your Seed Keywords would be things like:

  • Social Media
  • LinkedIn Marketing
  • Facebook Page
  • Content Marketing

And if you ran a fitness site, your Seed Keyword list would look like this:

  • Fat Loss
  • Kettlebell Workout
  • Paleo Diet
  • Cardio Workout

See how that works? These are broad topics that you can create videos about.

Now, to be clear:

You’re not going to optimize your videos around any of these terms (they’re too competitive).

But a list of Seed Keywords is SUPER helpful for the next step.

Speaking of…

2. Next, Pop Your Seed Keywords Into YouTube Search

Now it’s time to turn a seed keyword into dozens of long tail keywords.


YouTube Suggest.

This works just like Google.

Pop a Seed Keyword into YouTube…

…and check out the keywords that YouTube suggests.

YouTube suggests – Long keywords

If you want to scale this process, head over to

Keyword Tool – Kettlebell

When you enter a seed keyword into this tool, it’ll spit out hundreds of terms from YouTube Suggest.

Keyword Tool – Kettlebell results

At this point, you should have a bunch of long tail keywords.

Question is: which keywords should you pick?

That’s what step #3 is all about…

3. Finally, It’s Time For YouTube Competition Analysis

Just like with Google, you want to optimize your videos around keywords that:

a) Get lots of searches


b) Aren’t super competitive

How do you find these magical keywords?

An awesome Chrome extension called TubeBuddy.

TubeBuddy tool

(VidIQ also works well)

This tool shows you stats for each keyword right in the search results:

TubeBuddy results

That way, you know whether or not a keyword is too competitive…

TubeBuddy competition stats

…BEFORE you make your video.

Pretty cool.

OK, so you found a keyword. Nice!

Now it’s time for the fun stuff: creating your video.

Step #2: Create Videos Optimized For “Watch Time”

YouTube’s #1 goal is to keep people on YouTube.

(After all, the more time people spend on YouTube, the more money they make from ads)

And that’s why YouTube’s algorithm puts so much emphasis on Watch Time.

Never heard of Watch Time? Here’s a simple explanation:


Watch Time



The total time spent watching a YouTube video since it went live.


And here’s what that report looks like in YouTube Analytics:

YouTube studio – Watch time

As you might expect, YouTube LOVES videos that rack up lots of Watch Time.

In fact, YouTube has gone on the record saying that:

“Watch time is measured in cumulative minutes watched, and each video uploaded – as well as every channel on YouTube – is “ranked” by watch time. Channels and videos with higher watch times are likely to show up higher in search results and recommendations.”

– YouTube Creator Academy

In short: the more time people spend watching your video, the higher it will rank.

The question is:

HOW do you create videos that keep people watching?

Let’s find out…

1. Publish LONG videos

I don’t care what the “experts” say.

Long videos perform better than short videos.

And there’s data to back this up. We conducted the largest YouTube ranking factors study ever (we analyzed over a million YouTube videos).

What did we find?

That longer videos tend to outrank short videos.

YouTube video length

And this data confirms what I’ve seen with my own two eyes.

Back in the day, I only published short videos like this:

Short video example

And that’s one of the main reasons that my videos were practically invisible on YouTube.

Today? I focus on packing as much value as I can into a single video.

Which means that my new videos tend to be at least 10 minutes:

YouTube video length

And because my videos are so long, they rack lots of Total Watch Time automatically.

2. Cut out the fluff from your intros

According to YouTube, the first 15 seconds of your video is KEY.

The first 15 seconds of your video is key

In other words, your intro needs to grab your viewer by the eyeballs.

(And you have 15 seconds to do it)

Back in the day, my video intros had A LOT of background info.

For example:

Here’s an intro from one of my early videos (before I knew what I was doing):

Now check out this fluff-free intro from one of my latest videos:

See the difference?


My intro previews exactly what you’re gonna learn. No background. No fluff.

And that effective intro is one of the reasons that this video racked up over 143k of watch time minutes in 30 days:

YouTube – Total watch time

As you can see, your video’s intro is really important.

But there’s another GREAT way to increase Watch Time that I haven’t mentioned yet.

Which leads us to…

3. Incorporate “Pattern Interrupts” into your videos.

Want people to watch your video all the way to the end?

Use Pattern Interrupts.

Seriously. They work insanely well.

In fact, Pattern Interrupts are one of the main reasons that my Audience Retention tends to be so high:

YouTube average view duration

So: what are Pattern Interrupts?


Pattern Interrupts


Pattern Interrupts are elements in your video that are different than the rest of your video (they literally "interrupt" the "pattern").

Pattern Interrupts can be things like:
  • On-screen graphics
  • Animations
  • New background or setting
  • B rolls
  • Different camera angles
  • Sound effects
  • Bulleted List
  • And more

How about an example…

My old YouTube videos didn’t use ANY Pattern Interrupts:

As you can see, this video is super static.

It uses pretty much the same exact shot the entire time.

(The video also lacks visuals, cuts to different shots… or anything else to break up the pattern)

Flash forward to today, and it’s Pattern Interrupts galore.

My videos use tons of B rolls:

You’ve got on-screen graphics and animations that explain key concepts.

And it should come as no surprise that these changes helped push my average view duration up to a very solid 4 minutes, 55 seconds.

4. Script Every Line

This is a biggie.

Unless you’re one of those people that drops the mic at the end of every conversation, you need to script out your videos.

(Or at least follow a detailed outline)

In the early days of my channel, I’d would fire up the camera and start talking:

(There’s also the issue of my hair. And my shirt. But that’s another story 🙂 )

Sure, I knew the general points I wanted to cover.

But I didn’t have a script. And that made it hard for people to follow along with my tips.

Today, I know better. That’s why I outline and script my videos before I shoot.

In case you’re curious, here’s what one of my scripts look like:

Typed out video script

Because I script every single line in advance, my delivery is super crisp.

(Which keeps people watching)

Step #3: Optimize Your YouTube Videos

You already know that YouTube SEO is important.

So let’s dive right into the steps.

1. Keyword-optimized your video title

Here’s the deal:

Keyword-optimized video titles aren’t as important as they used to be.

In fact, our YouTube ranking factors study found a weak relationship between keyword-rich titles and rankings:

Exact match title

That said, using a keyword in your title DOES help (a little). So I recommend doing it.

For example, one of my videos is targeting the keyword “SEO tips”.

So I make sure to use that exact term in my title.

Target keyword in video title

2. Write titles designed to maximize CTR

Unlike Google, YouTube has confirmed that they use click-through-rate as a ranking signal.

In fact, a YouTube research paper states that, when it comes to recommending videos to users:

“To evaluate recommendation quality we use a combination of different metrics. The primary metrics we consider include click through rate (CTR), long CTR (only counting clicks that led to watches of a substantial fraction of the video)…”

– The YouTube video recommendation system,
Research Gate

Put another way:

The more people click on your video, the more YouTube will promote it.

YouTube will promote videos that more people click on

The question is: HOW do you do it?

You want to write titles that have a clear benefit…

Optimize title for CTR

…without resorting to clickbait.

Avoid clickbait

3. Write keyword-rich, SEO-friendly video descriptions

Most video descriptions on YouTube are REALLY short:

Short YouTube video description

According to YouTube, short descriptions like this really hurt your video SEO.

In fact, they officially recommend long descriptions:

“Write full descriptions: up to one to two paragraphs.

Some creators only put their social media links in the description, potentially missing out on a lot of extra views.”

– YouTube Creator Academy

Which is why I write in-depth descriptions for every video that I upload to my channel.

Detailed YouTube video description

4. Optimize your video tags

It’s no secret that YouTube tags are HUGE for SEO.

But how do you optimize them, exactly?

  • Use 2-3 tags that include your target keyword… and close variations.

    Use 2 to 3 keywords for video tags

  • Add 2 tags that describe your video’s topic using words that aren’t in your main keyword.

    Add 2 more non-keyword video tags

  • Add 1-2 tags that represent your high-level industry or vertical.

    Add 1 to 2 more industry keywords to video tags

For example, check out this video from my channel that’s optimized around the keyword “link building”.

A handful of my keywords are either my actual keyword or long tail versions of that term.

Video keyword tags

Others are other ways of describing my video’s topic.

Video topic description tags

And three of them give YouTube context about my video’s broad, overall category.

Video category tags

Step #4: Use Thumbnails That Stand Out

YouTube reports that “90% of the best performing videos on YouTube have custom thumbnails.” That’s LEGIT.)

YouTube reports – 90 percent of best performing videos have custom thumbnails

How do you create eye-catching Youtube thumbnails?

Here are two quick tips that are working really well right now.

First, use lots of contrast.

You want the colors in your thumbnail to clash as much as possible.

Here’s an example of what I mean:

BrightSide – Video thumbnail example

See how all of the different colors in the thumbnail stand out?

In fact, they even add tiny borders between text and objects to increase this contrast.

BrightSide – Video thumbnail details

Second, use colors that stand out on YouTube.

As you know, the YouTube platform is mostly red, white and black.

Youtube brand colors

So to stand out, you want to use colors that aren’t red, white and black in your thumbnails.

Use non-YouTube colors to stand out

Step #5: Create (and Promote) Optimized Playlists

Playlists are an underrated way to get more views (and subscribers).


Playlists dramatically increase your “Session Time”.

Session Time is the amount of time someone spends on YouTube after they start watching your video.

And Session Time is a ranking factor that YouTube cares about… A LOT.

In fact, YouTube says this about Session Time:

“Your channel also gets a boost when people watch anything anywhere in YouTube after watching your content.

…and when you make content that makes people watch more from your channel, then you’re helping us out.”

– YouTube Creator Academy

For example, let’s say someone starts watching a video from your channel.

And right after they’re done, they close their browser.

User closes browser after watching video

Your video is causing people to LEAVE YouTube. So they’re going to demote that video.

On the other hand:

Let’s say someone starts watching your video. And after they’re done, they watch another video.

User watches another video after watching a video

This time, your video is KEEPING people on YouTube. So they’re going to promote it.

And that’s where playlists come in…

When someone’s done watching a video in a playlist, it automatically plays another video.

Videos in a playlist will auto play after watching a video

In other words, playlists automatically improve your Session Time.

That’s why I curate my videos into playlists…

Backlinko playlists

…and show them off on my channel page.

Backlinko playlists on channel page

Step #6: Promote Videos To Your Audience

You already know that YouTube is the world’s second-largest search engine.

But that doesn’t mean you can just upload a bunch of optimized videos and expect to rank.

Just like with blog content, you need to give your YouTube videos a little “push” to get going.

That push can include sharing clips of your video on social media.

Share video on Twitter

Sending an announcement to your email list.

Announcement email example

Or even promoting your videos using email outreach.

If your video is optimized for Watch Time, that initial push is all you need to get going. YouTube will pretty much take care of the rest.

That said:

No amount of promotion can make up for a bad video.

For example, a few years ago I published this video.

SEO strategy video

Because I promoted that video on social media and to our email subscribers, that video got a view spike in the first few days.

View spike on first few days after publishing

Unfortunately, that video wasn’t all that great (at least according to folks on YouTube).

Which is why that video barely gets any views today.

Video analytics showing few views

So yeah, promoting your YouTube videos is a key part of growing your channel. But it only works long-term if you have awesome video content in the first place.

Step #7: Turn Viewers Into Subscribers

The steps that I outlined so far should help you get more views.

But views is only one part of growing your YouTube channel.

The other part? Getting more subscribers.

One of the best ways to get more subscribers is to add a subscribe button to your End Screen.

Here’s an example from my channel.

Backlinko – Subscribe button at end of video

Obviously, only a small fraction of viewers will make it all the way to the end of your video.

But those people that DO watch your entire video are super primed to subscribe.

People that watch your video are primed to subscribe

And that End Screen button makes it easy for them to subscribe to your channel.

Bonus Step: Rank Videos in Google Search

Ranking your YouTube videos in Google is a GREAT way to get more views.

In fact, 34.6% of my “External” views come from Google search.

The majority of external traffic from Google search

And the best way to rank your videos in Google?

Target keywords that already have a Video Carousel in the SERPs.

As an example, the keyword “video SEO” has a video carousel at the top.

Video SEO – SERP

When you see a video carousel, you know that Google wants to show people video results for that term.

And if your video performs well enough on YouTube, Google may start to show your video in the carousel.

For example, one of my YouTube videos ranks in the top 3 of YouTube for “ “How to get more views on YouTube”.

Backlinko – Video appears at top of YouTube search

That same video also ranks in Google for that keyword.

Backlinko video appears in Top 3 videos on google

Pretty cool.

What Did You Think?

I hope this new post showed you how to grow your YouTube channel.

Now I’d like to hear from you:

What’s your #1 takeaway from today’s post?

Or maybe you have a question.

Either way, let me know by leaving a quick comment below.

I’ll be around to personally reply to comments and questions that come in.


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