The 11 Commandments of an Infallible YouTube Strategy

So you’ve got a stockpile of top-notch videos. Either you’re making hilarious, entertaining videos for the brain-dead millennials, or you’re making informative stuff for the educated NPR types. But no matter the type of videos you plan on producing, there’s more to success on YouTube than simply posting quality videos.

If you don’t want your video-making efforts to go to waste, you’ll have to know the 11 Commandments of an Infallible YouTube Strategy. Consider this your burning bush.

Best Practices for Uploading a Video

I. Video Description

A YouTube Description should include:

  • A thorough description of the video, including keywords
  • Video-enhancing links, i.e. links that are useful to users
  • Channel Boilerplate: a description of your channel including a call-to-action.
    • If you’re promoting a specific product or promotion, include a custom link to that landing page with the call-to-action. Then you can use analytics to track the behavior of users on your site referred by each specific video.

The “Description” should include video description, links, and channel boilerplate, in that order. You want the readers to be able to read most of the descriptive section without having to click ‘read more.’

II. Thumbnail

The thumbnail of your video is where you directly compete with other videos on YouTube for user clicks. A well-designed thumbnail draws user attention and is more likely to be clicked on in the “related videos” section.

The best video thumbnails are:

  • Representative of content
    • Don’t be misleading about your video’s content. Doing so attracts viewers who are not likely to watch your entire video.
  • Aesthetically “clean”
    • High-res image: YouTube’s recommended thumbnail resolution is 1080×720, with a minimum width of 640 pixels. For other sizing recommendations for your channel, check out our social media image size guide.
    • Visually compelling: Let’s be honest, people judge books by their covers. The thumbnail is your chance to grab attention, or lose it altogether. Try to be as “click bait-y” with your image as possible without being misleading about your video’s content.
    • High contrast image
BAD THUMBNAIL, and probably a bad video
GREAT THUMBNAIL; I must watch this video

III. Annotations

Annotations are the little text windows that sometimes pop-up during a video. When used correctly, they are a great way to interact with viewers and keep them engaged. However, annotations should not be distracting, but should add to the user’s viewing experience. Otherwise they’re no different than those annoying pop-up advertisements that do everything but make you want to buy what they offer.

When adding annotations, consider the following:

  • Function (clickable vs. non-clickable)
    • If you reference an earlier video of yours or an opportunity arises for the display of another relevant link, place a clickable annotation at that point in your video.
    • Note: to have external links in annotations, YouTube requires that you enable advertising on your video.
  • Placement
    • Make sure to avoid obscuring any important visual aspects of your video (e.g., a speaker’s face, important text, a phone number)
  • Timing & duration
    • Annotations should be immediately relevant. They should also remain visible long enough to be read and interacted with if a user so chooses.
“Click to Subscribe” annotations are popular

IV. Branded Bumpers

Any branded bumper preceding your video should be no longer than three seconds. A good bumper represents the brand, but doesn’t annoy users. Also, vary the bumper to include any relevant promotions. Post-video bumpers can be longer, should include CTA’s, and should ask viewers to subscribe to the channel.

V. Optimization

Having a video that is optimized for YouTube search is not going to automatically get your video views, although it doesn’t hurt to do everything possible to attract your target audience. YouTube optimization is a simple process. To optimize a video on YouTube, you need to do four things:

  1. Upload in HD
  2. Keywords in the Title
  3. Keywords in the Description
  4. Upload a transcript for Closed Captioning

2015 YouTube Channel Strategies

In the past, VIEWS drove discovery. Now, WATCH TIME drives discovery.

The content you choose to upload to YouTube needs to be contextually relevant, and the videos need to be well-executed. A video can be about a topic a user is searching for, but if the video isn’t engaging, most users will stop watching. People stop watching a video because it is:

  • Different from what they were hoping for
  • Too Long
  • Poorly made
  • Marred by annoying background music
  • Boring
  • Visually unstimulating

The list could go on. But the point is, you want viewers to finish a majority of your video, and there are ways to ensure success for videos you upload to your channel.

VI. Length Matters


The longer people watch your videos, the more likely YouTube is to suggest your videos in search and in the ‘related videos’ sidebar. According to a 2012 Wistia study, the average viewer of a 0-30 second video will watch 80% of it, while only making it through about 60% of a video 3-4 minutes in length. Obviously, this data shouldn’t be the sole factor determining how long your video runs, but it’s something worth considering.

VII. Cross-Channel Collaboration

A great way to expose your channel to a group of users who may have never heard of your brand is with cross-channel collaboration. Given the social nature of YouTube, many people are interested in allowing guests on their channels, and vice versa.

An example of one such collaboration is Dude Perfect—a channel based around trick shot videos with over 6m subscribers—making a video with Brodie Smith for his frisbee channel (over 1m subscribers). By combining the forces of two YouTube channels with large subscriber bases, each channel gains access to the other’s audience and promotional efforts.

VIII. Content Curation

Don’t flood your channel with content. Just because you have a video, this doesn’t always mean you should upload it to YouTube. A video should make sense for the channel and the channel’s viewers.

After videos are uploaded, their performance needs to be tracked in YouTube Analytics. Videos with a low viewer completion rate should be delisted. They’ll still appear on your channel, but won’t show up in searches. This will help the videos that are appearing in search results perform better.

IX. Channel Content

Channel content should be 90% recurring content and 10% branding. Recurring content is content you can talk about with authority. Successful recurring content is:

  • Scalable
  • “Evergreen” (always relevant / timeless)
  • Informational
  • Drives consistent engagement

Recurring content is the average channel’s bread-and-butter. These are the videos you can churn out that build your subscriber base, and continue to get views month after month. It’s the equivalent of a base hit on the YouTube baseball diamond. It’s not sexy, but it grows your brand reach.

Branding is the home run. It’s how you differentiate yourself. It’s all about positioning your brand. Content created for branding is typically:

  • A large investment & heavily promoted
  • Campaign focused
  • A promotion of your core brand
  • Aimed at driving extreme engagement, possibly viral (the elusive grand slam)

Branded videos are used to drive awareness for your brand, help position yourself in the industry, and ultimately, to send users to your channel. They need to be well-produced (not necessarily expensively), well-planned, targeted, and promoted.

Promoting Your Videos

Just like any other online platform, paid discovery is a great way to drive impressions for your YouTube channel. While promotion isn’t entirely necessary, it can be a relatively inexpensive way to boost your channel’s performance, helping grow your subscriber base and increasing your viewership for the long term.

X. Video Promotion Platforms

StumbleUpon is a niche platform. From our research, people in our industry have had mixed success rates running promoted videos through StumbleUpon.

Outbrain is a cheap way to drive traffic, but typically you want at least a small library of content to run a successful Outbrain campaign. It’s something to consider once a channel has an established library of content.

Reddit is a fickle beast. Reddit users sniff out promotional material like I do someone cooking bacon. However, targeting the right subreddit with carefully promoted material can be a great way to drive traffic to your channel. And, it’s cheap.

XI. YouTube Pre-Roll advertising

Aside from making videos for your channel, running your own ads on YouTube can be incredibly successful if you target highly relevant channels and individual videos. Making ads relevant to the video being watched increases the likelihood users will not click “Skip Ad.”

This Burger King pre-roll Ad campaign is a great example:

XI.v. Trolling

One fun way to use pre-roll advertising: troll your competitors by displaying pre-roll ads on their YouTube channels. It is an aggressive tactic, but it’s also a great audience to target because they’re already interested in your industry. While your competitor’s channel has to have ads enabled for this to work, some money-grubbing companies think the chump change they get from pre-roll is worth annoying their customers. Take advantage!

Using YouTube to Boost Conversions

Your YouTube channel is like the friend you bring along as a wingman on a night out.

While courting potential customers, sure it’s wonderful to have the ol’ sport, YouTube, around to attract more people. But when you can put together a cohesive, cross-platform content strategy—in other words, when your buddy is successfully talking you up and making you look spectacular—your YouTube channel will assist conversions on your website.

Posted in Content