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Starting and Growing a Successful YouTube Channel

YouTube is the world’s second-largest search engine—Google being the first—and is home to more than 800 million videos consisting of instructional, educational, and entertainment content. Hosting 37 million channels generating over a billion daily views, YouTube is the largest and most diverse online video platform. With the accessibility of public access television and the potential to reach prime-time metrics, a YouTube channel can be an extremely lucrative venture.

Creating the channel is easy, however, making it profitable requires understanding the platform and capitalizing on viewer behavior. This article will guide you through the five basic phases of creating and growing a successful YouTube channel.

  1. Establish Your Content

Channels with an undefined subject may experience difficulty finding traction with an audience. Knowing what type of content to create and who you are creating it for is essential to an effective launch.

The first step is picking a subject matter, then identifying a niche. For example, you may choose to create an instructional fitness channel for the best workouts in a home gym. Now ask yourself, what type of viewer are you trying to attract? People seeking to lose weight? Young athletes looking for high-intensity training? Those who only have time to exercise before work?

It may be tempting to cast a wide net, however, 500 returning viewers are more valuable than 1,000 who visit just once. A channel that provides videos featuring 20-minute fat-burning workouts on a treadmill has a clear focus and recognizable demographic.

  1. Setup and Launch

Create a new Gmail address specifically for this channel and keep it separate from your personal accounts. Upon arriving at the dashboard you will find a vast number of settings available. Click on “customization” and under “basic info” you can name your channel and give it a description. You’ll want something catchy and easy to remember as this will essentially become your brand identity.

Under “Branding” you can upload a profile picture (which is the icon viewers will see for your channel, a banner image, and a video watermark (which acts as a subscribe button when clicked).

Under “Layout” you can select a trailer or introductory video if you have one. These are the first videos new visitors see and are great for building an early rapport with your audience.

You can familiarize yourself with more of the dashboard features as you go, but now you are ready to upload your first video!

  1. Releasing Video Content

So you know your topic, have identified an audience, and have a place to share it. Now it’s time to get to work! This article presumes you already have experience creating videos, and we’re going to highlight some key methods to get the most mileage out of them. When you upload a file you are met with entry fields for video details. There are a lot of settings you can adjust here but only a few of them are significant.

The thumbnail image is one of the most important considerations (do not use the suggested screen stills). It is the first thing viewers see so treat the thumbnail as a billboard; it has to sell your video. Illustrative images, limited text, balanced composition, and use of contrast will help your video stand out and catch attention.

A good thumbnail will guide the viewer to the second thing they will look at: the video’s title. This is your one-second pitch to convince them to click. You could title a video “Different speed settings for running a mile”. However, “The 8 Minute Mile!” is more provocative.

The video description is an often overlooked opportunity, with many hosts leaving minimal detail. Writing at least one to two paragraphs not only tells the viewer what to expect but also helps with optimization. YouTube has processes that read the text and even listen to the audio so it can understand what the video is about and how to best match it with search results. The algorithm loves it when your keywords are used consistently within your titles, descriptions, and verbally in your videos.

You can also enter keyword tags. While it’s a good habit to include relevant keywords, tags don’t carry as much weight as they used to. After creators abused the feature to manipulate search rankings, YouTube diluted its impact.

You will be asked if your video is made for kids. The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) is a law that was established to protect children from inappropriate online content. This is not asking if your content is family-friendly, it is asking if children are your intended audience. Videos that are “made for kids” will be restricted from receiving comments, being included in playlists, excluding targeted ads (which impacts ad revenue), and several other features. You should select “no” unless your content is specifically made for minors.

Finally, take advantage of the “Video Elements” tab to include cards and end screens for keeping viewers engaged with your content. Cards are embedded links within your video and you can use end screen overlays to suggest what they should watch next. The longer an individual interacts with your content the more likely YouTube is to recommend it.

  1. Ride the Algorithm

Just because you released a video into the wild, that doesn’t mean your work is done. Consider YouTube an organic, living creature. One that pays attention, reacts to behavior, and has mood swings. The algorithm it uses is complex and always evolving, so the rules that apply today may not necessarily apply tomorrow. It’s tricky, but there are some good tactics you can employ to keep the algorithm (and your audience) happy.

First, keep a consistent release schedule. Your channel has a better chance if viewers know what to expect. If you publish daily and suddenly don’t release anything for a month, you will certainly see a performance hit.

Use your analytics. YouTube provides an almost absurd amount of metrics. While they all convey useful information, focus primarily on how your viewers behave. Pay attention to watch time and click-through rates. It may seem like views should be the priority, however, only 30 seconds is required for a view. YouTube would much rather have fewer viewers spend more time on the video than more viewers exit early. The sooner an individual leaves, the fewer ads they see. This upsets the algorithm and may trigger the aforementioned mood swing.

Click-through rate (CTR) shows the percentage of clicks your video received from the number of impressions cast. A low CTR is indicative of a weak title and/or thumbnail.

Observe which videos generate the most traffic. If a particular title attracts more viewers, then you may want to generate similar videos going forward. Your audience will tell you what they like and a successful publisher will steer the content in that direction. The customer is always right.

Never pay for views or channel boosts! These services hire freelancers to click links, or worse, use bots to generate view counts. This is against site rules and the algorithm is good at picking up on this. You may end up with suppressed growth, or possibly even channel suspensions. Invest your efforts into cultivating genuine traffic.

  1. Generate Income

Now it’s time to reap the rewards! There are several ways you can generate income from your channel.

When reaching 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 watch hours within 12 months, your channel will be eligible for a YouTube Partnership, enabling shared ad revenue. These amounts are small at first, but as your library grows and attracts more engagement this can become a significant income source.

You can also generate additional earnings by using your channel to sell your merchandise, provide vendor affiliate links, and accept sponsorships.

Third-party sites, such as Patreon, can encourage fans to donate in exchange for exclusive content and participation.

Every channel grows at its own pace and as that happens you can unlock even more tools to use, such as live streaming, community blogs, and private memberships (all of which can generate additional income). By investing in creating quality content and being cognizant of audience behavior, running a YouTube channel can be a rewarding and lucrative experience.

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