Today I’m going to show you how to grow your YouTube channel in 2021.
This is the same step-by-step process that I used to grow my channel to 451,000 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
- Step #2: Create Videos Optimized For “Watch Time”
- Step #3: Optimize Your YouTube Videos
- Step #4: Use Thumbnails That Stand Out
- Step #5: Create (and Promote) Optimized Playlists
- Step #6: Promote Videos To Your Audience
- Step #7: Turn Viewers Into Subscribers
- Bonus Step: Rank Videos in Google Search
Step #1: Find Untapped Video Keywords
When it comes to YouTube, video keyword research is SUPER important.
In fact, choosing the right keyword can make or break the performance of your video.
For example, one video from my channel ranks #1 in YouTube for “YouTube Views”.
And largely thanks to that #1 ranking, that video generates over 30k views every month.
With that, here’s how to find keywords for your YouTube videos:
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
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.
2. Next, type your seed keywords into YouTube search
Now it’s time to turn a seed keyword into dozens of long tail keywords.
This works just like Google.
Pop a Seed Keyword into YouTube…
…and check out the keywords that YouTube suggests.
If you want to scale this process, head over to KeywordTool.io.
When you enter a seed keyword into this tool, it’ll spit out hundreds of terms from YouTube Suggest.
So at this point, you should have a list of long-tail keywords.
3. Finally, look for low-competition keywords
Finally, 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?
A helpful Chrome extension called TubeBuddy.
(VidIQ also works well.)
This tool shows you stats for each keyword right in the search results:
That way, you know whether or not a keyword is too competitive…
…BEFORE you make your video.
Now it’s time for step #2.
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:
The total time spent watching a YouTube video since it went live.
And here’s what that report looks like in YouTube Analytics:
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 more views it will generally get.
The question is:
How do you create videos that keep people watching?
Let’s find out…
1. Create long videos
All things being equal, 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.
And this data confirms what I’ve seen from my own experience.
Back in the day, I tended to publish short videos like this:
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.
This means that my new videos tend to be around 10 minutes or longer:
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.
Back in the day, my video intros had A LOT of background info.
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 newer 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 5.4k hours of watch time in 30 days:
As you can see, your video’s intro is really important.
3. Incorporate “Pattern Interrupts” into your videos.
Want people to watch your video all the way to the end?
Use Pattern Interrupts.
In fact, Pattern Interrupts are one of the main reasons that my Audience Retention tends to be so high:
So: what are Pattern Interrupts?
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 my videos are packed with different Pattern Interrupts.
My videos use tons of B rolls:
Along with 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. Plan your videos in advance
This is a biggie.
Unless you’re one of those people that’s a complete natural in front of a camera, you probably want to script out your videos.
(Or at least follow a detailed outline.)
In the early days of my channel, I 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. Which 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:
Because I script every single line in advance, my delivery is super crisp.
(Which keeps people watching.)
Step #3: Optimize Your YouTube Videos
You probably already know that YouTube SEO is important.
So let’s dive right into the steps.
1. Keyword-optimize 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:
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.
2. Write titles that 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,
Put another way:
The more people click on your video, the more YouTube will promote it.
How do you create YouTube titles that people want to click on?
You want to write titles that have a clear benefit…
…without resorting to clickbait.
3. Write SEO-friendly video descriptions
Most video descriptions on YouTube are super short:
According to YouTube, short descriptions can hurt your video’s ability to rank in search.
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
This is why I write in-depth descriptions for every video that I upload to my channel.
4. Optimize your video tags
Here’s how to create SEO-friendly YouTube tags.
- Use 2-3 tags that include your target keyword… and close variations.
- Add 2 tags that describe your video’s topic using words that aren’t in your main keyword.
- Add 1-2 tags that represent your high-level industry or vertical.
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.
Others are other ways of describing my video’s topic.
And three of them give YouTube context about my video’s broad, overall category.
Step #4: Use Thumbnails That Stand Out
YouTube reports that “90% of the best performing videos on YouTube 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:
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.
Second, use colors that stand out on YouTube.
As you know, the YouTube platform is mostly red, white and black.
So to stand out, you want to use colors that aren’t red, white and black in your thumbnails.
Step #5: Create (and Promote) Optimized Playlists
Playlists can significantly 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 really cares about.
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.
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.
This time, your video is KEEPING people on YouTube. So they’re going to promote it.
That’s where playlists come in.
When someone’s done watching a video from a playlist, it automatically plays another video.
In other words, playlists automatically improve your Session Time.
That’s why I curate my videos into playlists…
…and feature those playlists on my 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 people to see them.
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.
Sending an announcement to your email list.
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.
No amount of promotion can make up for a bad video.
For example, a few years ago I published this 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.
Unfortunately, that video wasn’t all that great.
This is why that video barely gets any views today.
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 are 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.
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.
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.
And the best way to rank your videos in Google?
Target keywords that already have a video section in the SERPs.
As an example, the keyword “video SEO” has a video section.
When you see a video section, 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 SERPs.
For example, one of my YouTube videos ranks in the top 3 of YouTube for “How to get more views on YouTube”.
That same video also ranks in Google for that keyword.
What Did You Think?
That’s it for my guide to growing a 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.