Today you’re going to see how Buffer grew their YouTube channel by 59%.
(In 30 days)
The best part?
They didn’t need to publish a thousand videos to do it.
In fact, most of their growth came from FIVE videos.
And in this case study I’ll walk you through the step-by-step process that they used.
How I Helped Buffer Turn Their YouTube Channel Around
Last year, Buffer’s YouTube channel was struggling:
As Buffer’s digital marketing strategist, Brian Peters, put it:
“When I first joined Buffer, our YouTube channel was in maintenance mode. We were posting videos every once in a while, but we had no idea how to make them successful.”
On paper, Buffer was doing everything right:
- They published videos on a consistent basis (just like the “experts” recommend)
- Their videos were short (< 2 minutes)
- They shared their videos on Facebook and Twitter
But nothing worked.
In fact, as Brian Peters told me:
“It got so bad that we began to wonder: is YouTube really worth our time?”
That’s when he gave me a call.
“Dude, our YouTube channel is struggling.”
“Here’s what to do…”
Keep reading to see what happened next.
Now, Let’s See The Results…
Since implementing my advice, Buffer’s subscriber growth increased by 59%:
Their monthly views shot up by 35%:
Watch time increased by 61%:
And for the first time, people started to like their videos…
…and leave comments:
You might be wondering:
“How did they do it?”.
Two words: YouTube SEO.
Buffer’s Secret Weapon: YouTube SEO
I probably don’t need to tell you that YouTube is HUGE… and growing fast.
In fact, YouTube is the 2nd most popular website online (Yup, even more popular than Facebook).
And YouTube isn’t just a huge website, it’s a huge search engine.
So to succeed on YouTube, your videos need to rank. Period.
Actually, that’s the main reason that Buffer’s channel grew so quickly:
Their videos started to rank for popular keywords.
“Social media marketing tips”:
“Facebook marketing tips”:
And “social media for small business”:
And those first page rankings directly led to more views, subscribers, and traffic.
Or as Brian Peters put it:
“The biggest mental shift we made with our YouTube strategy was to stop looking at YouTube as a social media site. Instead, we started treating YouTube like a search engine (similar to Google).”
Now it’s time to show you exactly how Brian Peters implemented my advice…
…and got Buffer’s videos to rank in YouTube.
Step #1: Find Untapped Video Keywords
When it comes to YouTube, keywords are everything.
Choose the RIGHT keywords?
Your videos rocket to the top of YouTube.
Choose the WRONG keywords?
Your videos get buried in the search results.
It’s as simple as that.
Back in the day, Buffer didn’t spend much time on keyword research.
For example, here’s one of Buffer’s videos from last year:
Overall, this is a solid video. The content is helpful. And it looks professional.
So what’s the problem?
This video isn’t optimized around a keyword that people search for on YouTube.
And because of that, this video has struggled to get views:
Contrast that video with this one that Brian recently made:
This video has racked up over 10k views:
Yes, this video was created to maximize Audience Retention and Total Watch Time.
(More on that later)
For now, the important thing to keep in mind is: this video was optimized around the right keyword.
And that’s the #1 reason that it did so well.
With That, Here’s Exactly How Buffer Does Video Keyword Research Today:
Here’s the process that Buffer uses to find untapped keywords on YouTube:
1. First, they create a list of “Seed Keywords”
Seed Keywords are terms that describe super broad topics.
For example, Buffer’s Seed Keywords are 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.
2. Next, Brian Pops His Seed Keywords Into YouTube Search
Now it’s time to turn your seed keyword list 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 like crazy, head over to KeywordTool.io.
When you enter a seed keyword into this tool, it’ll spit out hundreds of terms from YouTube Suggest.
As you might have noticed, “social media marketing” has appeared twice in our searches. And it just so happens to be a PERFECT keyword for Buffer’s channel.
Boom! We have a keyword.
But is it the right keyword?
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?
Buffer uses a nifty Chrome extension called TubeBuddy.
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.
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”
Buffer’s YouTube channel made the same mistake that A LOT of channels make:
Creating videos NOT 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 higher it will rank.
The question is:
HOW do you create videos that keep people watching?
Let’s find out…
How Buffer Boosted Their Average Watch Time By 61%
Here are 5 things that Buffer did to improve their Watch Time by 61%:
1. They published LONG videos
I don’t care what the “experts” say.
Long videos perform better than short videos.
And the data backs this up. Last year 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.
Before, Buffer would upload really short (1-2 minute) videos to YouTube.
These types of videos work well on Facebook and LinkedIn. But they DON’T work on YouTube.
And sure enough, when Brian started producing longer videos with lots of meaty content, they racked up a ton of views…
…and started to rank for their target keywords:
I’ve noticed the same thing happen with my own channel.
Back in the day, I only published 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.
Which means that my new videos tend to be at least 10 minutes:
And because my videos are so long, they rack lots of Total Watch Time automatically.
2. They cut out the fluff from their intros
According to YouTube, 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, Buffer’s intros had A LOT of background info.
For example, check out the intro from this video:
Contrast that intro with one of Buffer’s recent videos:
See the difference?
The second intro quickly previews exactly what you’re going to learn from the video.
Let me show you another 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:
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:
So yeah, 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. They Incorporated “Pattern Interrupts” Into Their 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:
So: what are Pattern Interrupts?
Pattern Interrupts are elements in your video that are different than the rest of your video (they literally "interrupt" the "pattern").
- On-screen graphics
- New background or setting
- B rolls
- Different camera angles
- Sound effects
- And more
How about an example…
Buffer’s old YouTube videos didn’t use ANY Pattern Interrupts:
This video is VERY static.
It uses 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 one of Buffer’s recent videos, and it’s Pattern Interrupts galore.
You have B rolls:
You’ve got on-screen graphics:
You even have Brian demonstrating some of the tips in real time:
And it should come as no surprise that these changes helped push their average view duration up to a very solid 2 minutes, 11 seconds.
(A 61% increase)
4. They Scripted 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 the Buffer blog, Brian P would fire up the camera and start talking:
Sure, Brian knew the general points he wanted to cover.
But he didn’t have a script. And that made it hard to follow along with Brian’s tips.
My early videos were the same way…
I’d hop in front of the camera without a script.
Which meant my videos were PACKED with meandering nonsense like this:
(There’s also the issue of my hair. And my shirt. But that’s another story.)
Today, Brian and I know better. That’s why we both outline and script our videos before we shoot.
In case you’re curious, here’s what one of my scripts look like:
Because we script our videos, our delivery is super crisp.
(Which keeps people watching)
5. Finally, Buffer analyzed what already worked
Yes, the 4 strategies I just shared with you are universal.
That said, every niche has its own wrinkles.
So before you finalize your script, see what’s already proven to work.
It’s simple: watch the videos that rank in the top 3 for your target keyword.
Then, note what they all have in common.
For example, when you search for “social media marketing” in YouTube, these are the top 3 results:
When I watch these 3 videos, I notice that they have a lot in common:
- They all use LOTS of examples (like Gary V’s Instagram)
- 2 out of the 3 videos are >10 minutes long (the #1 result is 22 minutes long)
- All of the videos mention: live video, Instagram, “mobile first”, influencer marketing
- 2 of the 3 videos emphasize that these tips are specifically for this year
Obviously, you want to incorporate these proven elements into your video.
In fact, that’s exactly what Brian did when he made a video about social media marketing:
Let’s move on to…
Step #3: Optimize Your YouTube Videos
You already know why YouTube SEO is important.
So let’s dive right into the steps.
1. First, Buffer keyword-optimized their 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.
In fact, once Buffer started using keyword-rich titles like this…
…their views increased.
2. Second, they wrote 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,
Put another way:
The more people click on your video, the more YouTube will promote it.
And this is something that the Buffer team discovered firsthand.
“We found that the more folks you can get to click on and watch your video, the better it will generally rank.”
The question is: HOW do you do it?
What are Power Words? They’re words and phrases that push people to CLICK.
For example, you can see that Buffer uses a Power Word in this title…
…and this one too:
Want a few more examples of Power Words? Here you go:
Words and phrases that push people to CLICK.
Next up, we have…
3. They wrote keyword-rich, SEO-friendly video descriptions
Buffer’s old video descriptions were REALLY brief:
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
Today, Brian P writes a full description for every video:
“We treat our video description as a mini blog post – giving users detailed information about what to expect.”
And here’s an example:
4. Last up, Brian optimized his video tags
It’s no secret that keyword-optimized tags are a MUST.
But how do you optimize them, exactly?
Buffer uses a simple, 3-step process:
First, they use 3-5 tags that include their target keyword… and close variations.
For example, in Brian’s video about social media marketing he uses these tags:
Next, Brian fires up TubeBuddy.
Specifically, he enters his target keyword into the “Tag Explorer” feature…
…and uses any relevant tags that TubeBuddy pops out.
The third and final step is to spy on the tags that other videos use:
This last step is a big one.
Yes, using your competitor’s tags can help your search engine rankings.
But they’ll ALSO help you show up next to your competitors as a suggested video:
Bonus Step #1: Use Thumbnails
That Stand Out
Your video thumbnail is HUGE.
Unfortunately, Buffer’s videos used default thumbnails on most of their videos:
In my opinion, this is one of the main reasons that their videos struggled to get views.
(Yes, your thumbnail is that important: YouTube reports that “90% of the best performing videos on YouTube have custom thumbnails.” That’s LEGIT.)
That’s why Brian stepped up Buffer’s thumbnail game in a big way:
See how much those new thumbnails stand out?
THAT’S how you want your thumbnails to look.
Bonus Step #2: 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.
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.
And that’s where playlists come in…
When someone’s done watching a video in a playlist, it automatically plays another video.
In other words, playlists automatically improve your Session Time.
And that’s why Buffer curates their videos into playlists…
…and prominently shows them off on their channel page.
Now It’s Your Turn…
And now I’d like to hear from you:
What’s your #1 takeaway from today’s case study?
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.