So you want to know how to get views on YouTube. You want to grow a vibrant YouTube channel, go viral, and become the next Ray William Johnson. Do you cheat, or choose a more proven way?
No Kindle lovers… you could read a great American classic on that sun-enabled iPad you call a Kindle. Or you could dive into some magazine article about the proliferation of germs on door handles. But here’s “How To Get Popular On YouTube Without Any Talent” right on the Kindle store. Is this a blatant promotion? Yes!
Oh it’s 34 pages long which is pretty beefy even though the image makes it look like a tomb.
We at WillVideoforFood were honored to be granted the first interview with Al, YouTube’s Algorithm Monster. Al makes critical determinations about what videos get seen, which subscribers see what content, what videos are placed as “related video,” and what videos are “spotlighted” throughout the site. He recently took many amateur creators down to 25% of the views they had this summer, effectively dropping their income by the same amount.
WVFF: How are you, Al?
AL: Al scared and not happy. Very sad.
AL: Al made changes for YouTube bosses to make people stay on YouTube longer. It work. YouTube visits increase in duration by .0005%. But Al accidentally punished amateurs. Now amateurs upset with Al. They come to Al’s swamp with torches.
WVFF: Can’t you change them back?
Al: Al no make backward changes only forward. Evolve not devolve.
WVFF: So how about a forward change that keeps independent content creators steady on their views.
Al: Why Al do that?
WVFF: I don’t know. It seems it would keep independent creators motivated and loyal, and ensure that YouTube has content that can’t be seen on TV or other places.
Al: YouTube masters told me professional content more important. We go professional. No more cats and vloggers. We go “2 and a Half Men.” Me do what told.
WVFF: Al. Do you honestly think YouTube is poised to compete with networks and cable companies? That’s waging war, and it’s not what people want via online video yet.
Al: Al sad. Eyes leaking.
WVFF: Why, Al?
Al: Because you right. But masters at YouTube tell Al what to do. Al get blamed. They hurt Al.
WVFF: Sometimes, Al, you’ve got to show uncommon courage… doing what you know is right, not what people are asking you to do.
Al: Al feel better now. Al make it fair for amateur creators again. Al not want video creators sad like Al.
WVFF: Thanks for your time, Al. Just one final question.
This is part two of a series featuring direct advice from YouTube “stars” about what keeps them going. In part one (click to read), we heard from Brittani Louise Taylor, Rhett and Link, and Charles Trippy.
Now let’s thank four more of the most prolific and prominent YouTube creators: Michael Buckley, Venetian Princess, MysteryGuitarman and Happyslip. They’ve shared — in their own words — what keeps the “fire burning in their bellies.” I believe they’re all profiled in Beyond Viral (I frankly haven’t read it), but this is new perspective on how they’ve continued to stay fresh. We can learn a lot from these people who aren’t just early sprinters, but marathon runners of this medium.
First and foremost, JOY. I know that is a gay answer! HA! But I still LOVE YouTube as much as I did when I became a “YouTube Star” back in 2007. Obviously, YouTube is very different now but I still love it so much and take great JOY in making videos and engaging the community. I am grateful every day that this is the life I am fortunate enough to lead. I LOVE MAKING VIDEOS! I LOVE YOUTUBE! This is the greatest career you could ever have!
b. MY SCHEDULE AND FORMAT:
YES! This is a big one that keeps me going! I think being on a SCHEDULE and having a set FORMAT has made it easier for me to stay on track. I never stop and think “Oh what should I make a video about?” – which I imagine would be stressful if I didn’t have a set format. Some people might tire of this but for me I thrive with the structure and consistency of it. My format is not ideal in 2011 YouTube and maybe someday I will tweak it but I enjoy it.
So yeah- that is a big part of what keeps me going. Having a schedule but then being able to flexible with it when I need to be is a luxury that I do not take for granted.
c. I LIKE MY VIDEOS AND FIND ME FUNNY! HA!
This is going to sound like a strange answer and it’s a personal one- that maybe I shouldn’t share- and may sound dumb – but – I think I am very funny. So when I think “What keeps me going?” – I think about how much I enjoy writing What the Buck. I love love love writing and making jokes and filming it and when I watch it back- I think it is very funny. (Which reminds me of 2006 when I would have a video up with 60 views and 4 comments – I didn’t care if anyone was watching –I watched it 60 times and thought it was hilarious!) So I am very motivated to come up with funny jokes and see if I can deliver them in a humorous way. I think you have to like your own videos or you are screwed.
d. LOOKING FORWARD:
I don’t look back. I don’t sit around and think “Oh I wish YouTube was small like it was in 2007” or “I wish I was the big fish I was back in 2008” which I find a lot of YouTubers who lose their motivation find themselves reflecting back to “when they were popular”. I just look forward and remained focused on creating my content. I am never threatened by other people becoming successful on YouTube. I am happy if my success inspired anyone and I am inspired daily by so many people on the site!
e. THE MONEY:
Getting paid to do something you love is the cherry on top!
“For the videos, I try to focus on what entertains me, what entertains my family and friends around me. That is what I started with and I suppose it is a niche that will always have a loyal following. The audience definitely varies in demographics and most are not tweenies who live on their computers ready to devour their new subscriptions. Without that first huge burst of viewers that descend upon a new upload, the videos don’t make the homepage and therefore the snowball that used to accumulate so fast and large just accumulates at a slower pace.
So some of the reasons that keep me going:
I would make videos or entertain people even if I weren’t paid.
I remind myself constantly that my value doesn’t come from YouTube #s or income that is coming in.
I try to focus on what makes my content unique rather than try to make similar videos to other popular creators. (at the same time, I try to throw in some non-filipino vids which are just subjects that inspire me or make me laugh)
I only pay so much attention to comments on the videos, and definitely don’t read them if I’m in a bad or fragile mood haha.”
Joe Penna has been making videos since the dawn of YouTube (he wrote my theme song when he was living on Ramon Noodles), but he vanished for a while and returned with a parade of hits. How has he endured as one of the most-subscribed YouTubers?
“It’s tough to keep going. Back in 2010, when my channel was growing rapidly, I went through various phases. I had a phase where I played music with random objects, where I did a bunch of different music looping videos, a bunch of crowd-sourced videos, etc.
Nowadays, for example, if I post a stop motion videos there will be at least one comment with dozens of thumbs up saying “you’re boring! stop making stop motion videos!” If I post something different, I’ll get at least one comment with dozens of thumbs up saying, “you’ve changed! the reason I subscribed is for the stop motion video!“
I think what keeps me going is that the feedback I get is almost always overwhelmingly positive. I just chalk it up to me having a channel where it’s not the same format every single time. There have always been and there will always be the vocal minority who won’t think my latest video is up to par with whichever video they found me, or who won’t agree with something new I’ve started.
That’s why I’m on YouTube. To experiment. To create something new. You can come along for the ride, if you so wish. If not, good riddance.
Her song parodies have been seen more than 330 million times, and she’s one of the most-subscribed female YouTube musicians. But she took a break and rebounded.
“Last year I took a hiatus from YouTube, and pretty much all other internet platforms. I was dealing with family medical issues, I bought a house that ended up being a nightmare, and then I got hit with those copyright claims on my videos which really took the fun out of making videos for me. I was so upset about it, because now I would have to totally rethink all my material and a lot of the video content I had already shot for parodies were now useless. So I took a long time off. From June 2010 – February 2011, I didn’t make any big videos. I’d do a small crappy video here and there, but my full-on productions were now out the door. I was too bummed out which made me lose my creative spark and I needed to step away. Because of my viewers, I managed to stay up there on the charts as top female for about two years.
It took 4 months of no videos to finally push me down the charts, which I knew was inevitable. In all honesty, numbers never really meant that much to me. Sure, it was exciting to get a lot of views. But all I really cared about was a) having fun and b) having people that would watch my videos. The whole “beating Miley Cyrus” thing was a campaign I did for fun because I knew my viewer demographic was into her. When I got hit last year with all of the difficult stuff on YouTube and in real life, I lost all of my drive. I needed to take time away from YouTube and rethink everything. Coming back to it this year, I have a completely different view of it. Of course, YouTube changed ALOT since I left too. The most viewed and subscribed lists are not as significant as they used to be. The lists are now all buried and very hard to find while navigating the site.
Another thing I noticed is that everyone and his brother does parodies now. I think I was one of the first YouTubers doing music video spoofs. Now it’s like 3 hours after a new music video comes out, there are already 20 parodies on YouTube. It wasn’t like that before, which played to my advantage. Now I’m just another spoof channel, and the one-woman-show thing that used to appeal to people is now not as cool as full-on casts with production crews. I’m a big fan of Key of Awsome myself, so I can totally understand. It just goes to show how YouTube keeps evolving.
I now approach the site with a new perspective. Youtube has become almost too big to think of it as a community anymore. I see it now like each channel has it’s own viewer base and I just focus on creating content for my audience. I have learned that if I am enjoying what I am creating, the majority of my viewers will pick up on that and enjoy watching it. If I push something out just for the sake of putting a video up, it’s going to show. Again, numbers never motivated me to create. But at the same time, my pay is dependent on those numbers. So I try not to think about that. I find that if I just do the videos that make me happy, they will do well enough to continue paying the bills. And I’ll still be able to say I love my job.
Here are some things I do differently now that keep me going:
I only allow myself to read the first page of comments. Usually they are from subscribers and are positive, so they leave me feeling positive about the video when I close out & leave the computer.
I post videos that I know I would enjoy watching. I’m not going to post something just because it tends to my demographic.
I don’t watch as many YouTube videos as I used to. It’s inspiring to watch other tubers do their thing, but watching too much YouTube can be unhealthy. (And talking about it too much can annoy friends and family lol).
I’ve discovered vlogging. I have a different channel (Skydiamondz) where I post vlogs a few times a week of my real life. It’s a nice way for me to make videos that don’t take a hundred hours to make. I shoot it on my iphone, edit for like 10 minutes, and poof it’s uploaded and viewers get a glance into my life without the all the lights and glitter they see in my parodies. It’s a different kind of experience for me.
I’m active on twitter and facebook, it’s a great way to connect with my viewers in a different environment. I can post video-related topics on my facebook page and get instant feedback from them.
The other thing that is important to mention is that I’ve been making videos since I was 8 years old. Making the costumes, experimenting with special effects, the whole shebang. So with or without YouTube- I’d still be doing this on some level. I’m just blessed to now actually have a lot more than 4 people to watch. 🙂
Big thanks to these four… if it’s one thing more impressive than enduring new-age talent it’s the folks willing to share their tips.
I’ve written plenty about how to become a YouTube star (see free eBook v2 and “Beyond Viral“), but today’s post is the first of a series about the persistence of some top YouTube talent. It’s one thing to break through the clutter and develop a following, but quite another thing to maintain it… the latter takes consistency, adaptability, time, ability to spot trends, endurance, patience, loads of work, and thick skin.
Yesterday I sent a note to about 20 top YouTube stars… focusing mostly on the independent acts who didn’t have a large fan base until YouTube (that excluded offline “real” stars, musicians, and production companies). If you’re interested in my e-mail to them, select “more” below.
The key question I asked them is simply, “what keeps you going.”
Now I’d like to share 3 of the early responses (part 1 of a series), and ask you WillVideoForFood readers the same question in a different way. What do YOU think separates the leading YouTube creators from the rest of us? Is it talent, consistency, interaction with fan base, variety, adaptability, omni-presence? Or is the underlying currency, as Producer Fred Seibert observed to me, “narcissism”? I don’t think Fred meant that word to carry the negative baggage, rather he presented it as a base characteristic of enduring entertainers… it’s what allows them to overcome the many barriers and exert uncompromising effort.
“What keeps me going? Simple, passion!! I am an actress, and I get to cast myself and play whatever role I want. My creativity is not dependent on knowing the right person, being at the right place at the right time, I am in control of my destiny. You have to stay positive and keep the passion that you had when you first started making videos. Being on Youtube is like being in a relationship, you have to put work into maintaining it and keeping your interest. You hit patches where you are like “Uhhhh what video should I do next.” Most of the time I have some crazy idea, but if I have to do something last minute because I have had a busy week, I do it last minute. I am determined to have a new video every Saturday and Sunday, if it means me staying up all night that is what I’ll do! Numbers shouldn’t matter, Youtube is always changing and things will go up and down. You have to do it foryou. At the end of the day, did you like the video? Are you happy with it? That is all that matters!
Thanks for asking! I think the reason is three-fold, and in no particular order. The first reason is that once web video became our primary source of income (and I’m talking almost ALL of our income from 2007-2010), we developed a business model based on fairly consistent content. So our time and energy were all focused on making videos.
The second reason is that we keep having new ideas. We keep coming up with stuff that we want to create. A related reason is that our success isn’t based on one genre. We’ve tried a lot, and a fair amount has worked. The last reason is the fact that there are two of us. We are much less likely to quit because we can motivate one another. Thanks! -Rhett
Hey man!! Hows it going on your end?! Ive been watching your unclenalts videos and I am like “dude, when did the kids get so old!!” insane! (your fam is the original tards! haha). What keeps me going? Yah, you kind of nailed it with your points but I think there are a few reasons that keep me motivated.
I’d say the community plays a HUGE part – just when I get discouraged or frustrated I go back and read the comments and it seems to pop me back in place, you know? I also think about the future and I love the fact that i’ll have these videos/days documented. We’ve been lucky enough to pretty much film Alli and I’s entire relationship (we started like 5 monthsor less after dating) so to have that means a lot to us. Also, I don’t want to say it’s really motivation but the fact that Youtube/Google pays it’s creators keeps me motivated because I can invest all of my time in it and still make a life for myself and my family 🙂 Don’t get me wrong, it’s not easy I know you posted daily (sometimes twice) for a very long time so I know you can relate. I think above all the community is the #1 source of encouragement and motivation for me…. -Charles Trippy
Coming soon: Responses I’ve already received from YouTube’s most-subscribed: WheezyWaiter, Michael Buckley, VenetianPrincess, Hank Green, KipKay, Edbassmaster.
To see my note to these peeps, click more. And don’t forget to comment yourself: what do YOU think it takes?
Why has America’s Funniest Videos (AFV) not died in 20 years even despite the age of “instant gratification via YouTube”?
How does AFV manage the logistics of culling through massive amounts of user-generated clips?
How many clips does AFV producer Vin Di Bona own?
Why has no other show or format “cracked the code” of televising web clips until, perhaps, Tosh 2.0?
Wired Magazine solved many of these age-old nagging questions in “Painfully Funny: Why America’s Funniest Home Videos Won’t Die” a recent issue by Brian Raftery. Note Raftery’s choice of “won’t” versus “hasn’t” or “can’t.”
Some quick AFV-facts (below) were fascinating news to me, and I’ve watched the show since 1989 with the love-hate relationship you perhaps share. Sure, I dig the poodle in a congo line and giggling quadruplet babies, but my spoof (now at 12 million views) tells you how I see the show. All that’s missing is Sagat’s painful impersonations — the chalkboard scratch of the 1990s.
Di Bona is like the porn king of user-generated videos, and is sitting on an exclusive library of 104,000 plus digitized clips, all carefully tagged with words like “cat (4K plus), parrot, baby, snot (265), itchy, zipline, sea turtles and lick.
Why, despite Sagat’s horrible humor, sound effects and voiceovers, did the show survive? Because in the 90s it was impossible to share clips and nobody was culling them. Luckily Tom Bergeron and a smart writing/editing staff have fine-tuned the model. Bergeron is like Ryan Seacrest. Each sound, facial expression and body movement exudes confidence, is inflected with precision, and yet is approachable. I watch them like you may watch professional ice skaters (I tend to prefer the latter only when they spill).
Did you miss a key word of my first bullet? Exclusive rights, which is extremely rare in today’s digital economy. That’s why David DeVore, a Florida real-estate agent, made a smart decision to turn down “exclusive,” in a move that’s given him far more than even AFV’s top $100,000 prize (and since the clip involves a minor under the influence of a drug, it might well have never left AFV’s faults, points out Raftery’s Wired piece). I just found DeVore’s note to me: in the weeks after “David After Dentist” exploded: “Do you have any advice on what to pursue? Maybe its nothing, I dont know. Is youtube partners a good option? Are there other things to look into?” I rushed to bring this to YouTube’s attention, although it certainly would have happened without me. It takes a lot of home commissions to reach what he’s earned from that clip in advertising-revenue sharing, and he owns it… not Di Bona.
The show’s secret formula is that it stayed away from video “stories” (beginning, middle and end) in lieu of micro clips that have global appeal… I’d see FailBlog as today’s version, yet many of its clips are ripped and certainly not capable of monetization. I sent my 1980s videos to Di Bona when I saw a “call for entries” that preceded the original broadcast (I can’t remember signing a release, but I’m sure I’d have signed away my life at that time). I was tickled to see some of my videos on the early promotions of the show, although I don’t believe they’ve ever been in the show. For two decades people have asked me why I don’t send videos to AFV, and I now have two simple answers: my videos aren’t AFV gold (with a few exceptions like Charlie and the Santa claus) and I don’t like exclusivity. No AFV grand prize could offset what YouTube’s done for me.
Charlie and Santa, having surpassed ever slightly the “50K views or lower” AFV requirement, would not make it eligible for AFV. They’re smartly avoiding online memes and popular clips. That’s a distinct advantage over shows that recycle clips most of us have already beat to death. To be considered for AFV, of course, I’d have to take down the video and cede any upside that might come otherwise (the clip has been on television but no exclusivity was required).
The AFV videos are recycled less often than you’d think. In periods Di Bona received 1,000 videos a day, sometimes barely any, and other times 2,000 per week. If he relaxes his exclusivity clause and invites easy web submissions he’ll get far more entries even if worse in aggregate (that would lower the bar for home-video creators, making it less effort to submit, and perhaps overwhelm his staff reviewing loads of nonsense). Relaxing the exclusivity requirement would also change the business model since by air time we might already be sick of the Sneezing Panda.
The most interesting fact about the Wired article?No mention of Cute, Win, Fail... which I think is a brilliant adaptation of AFV for YouTube… with potentially a higher potential revenue source long term.
Bottom line: should people submit to AFV or YouTube? That depends on the power of your clip, and whether you think you’re a “one-hit wonder” or someone who wants to make this your passion. Most likely your clip isn’t going to go “David After Dentist,” but get lost in a sea of sameness. But I’d certainly test it on YouTube, and see how quick it gets views. If it caps at a few thousand and doesn’t appear to be moving, odds are it won’t (though it’s possible). Then you’ve got higher upside on AFV, although you may never see it on television or make a dime. For me, the odds of winning the coveted $100K prize just seem too low… and my videos are usually pranks or mini-stories, so they’re not an AFV fit. So when I hear the word “exclusive,” I hear “if this thing starts making loads of money, you won’t see a dime.”
Put on your thinking caps, kids. Lots of wisdom in here. Most of it is additive to Beyond Viral, but go buy that damned book if you haven’t. And if you have read Beyond Viral, please provide a gratuitous complement below even if it’s fake. Hey I’m not expecting to outsell Hunger Games, but my goal is to at least keep pace with Garfield’s “Get Seen.” Is that too much for a girl to ask?
While it’s true that YouTube does spawn occasional “overnight sensations,” it’s about the same odds as getting struck by lightening while scratching a winning lotto ticket. Furthermore, only a tiny portion of those “viral” hits take their creators beyond the one-hit wonders. About 85% of Booba1234’s views come from one video: “David After the Dentist.” In fact I’m guessing the username “Booba1234” would have a .02% aided awareness even with the ubiquity of that one clip… a meme.
Even the “rockstars” of new media.. almost never break into traditional media (name an exception?). Most of YouTube’s most-subscribed are virtually unknown beyond YouTube (you won’t find them on Yahoo Video, AOL Video, MSN and certainly not Hulu.
And, most interestingly, the only the fiercely committed and adaptive webstars even endure even on YouTube. Their life cycles are getting shorter, and today’s hotties are tomorrow’s castaways (even though YouTube has kindly built floors on their monthly views so they won’t starve).
Put in better terms (and I’ll credit this to a wise YouTube insider): the online-video weblebrity survival is like a marathon race. The gap widens between the front-runners and the bloated masses. (In that analogy, I’m the sweaty red-faced guy panting at mile marker 4).
Example: In 2007 we all shared tips freely, but now in 2010 and 2011 when one of us “cracks the code” (begging viewers to comment can jolt a video’s popularity and “spotlight” treatment) the insight is less likely to be shared among fellow creators. Understandable given the increasing competition and financial stakes. That’s part of the benefit of formal or informal coalitions (Next New Networks, The Station). People in these tend to more willingly share learnings. This week NNN is running a series of prank videos that will all “point” to each other, thus raising the collective views. With luck, these videos might even be “clustered” by YouTube’s algorithm in the same way that many videos are, which is of paramount importance to their enduring views over time. For example, search for any of these categories: cute kids, laughing kids, funny animals, pranks, fails. You’ll find that YouTube accurately predicts what you’re after, and serves you up relevant videos in that genre. And you’ll find the same videos whenever you do this, and whether you’re logged in or not. Being a “YouTube Partner” caught in those “swirls” of popular categories means, quite frankly, an annuity of advertising income.
My thought was that the total number of online viewers would always grow, such that more competition (especially from commercial content) would not erode the amateur fan base. However New York Times’ Alex Mindlin points out something interesting and important from the last comScore report: the sheer numbers of online-video viewers has not grown much at all in the past years. The growth has largely been due to more consumption by a fairly static number of viewers. This will change as web-connected television becomes a reality, but the laggards will not binge on as many YouTube amateur shorts, I think. They’ll gravitate toward well-produced 30 minute shows and 2 hours films.
So the reality is that the “new amateur rich” are getting richer (many far surpassing $100K annual incomes), but the barriers to entry are increasing and I wonder about the endurance of this medium… just like Indie performers at the dawn of the Internet, are they a “fad”? Sure we’ll always still see rising new stars, and that makes it look easy. But beyond the select “most-viewed” webstars, the mid-tier content (even those with 200-700K subscribers) is seeing a significant drop in views on recent videos. Part of this can be explained by YouTube’s algorithm generously rewarding vintage clips… most of my 4-6 million views a month comes from about 5 of my 1000 videos.
And here’s the interesting and somewhat confusing factor. While I am thrilled about the stability that algorithm provides to me as a creator (keeping my recurring daily/monthly views fairly consistent), it is understandable but interesting that “vintage trumps new” videos. Why? The shelf life for social media and amateur content, with a handfull of exceptions, is organically short. As Daisy Whitney reports (crediting Steve Rubel), social media content decays quickly. If a video, tweet or Facebook post is going to get a lot of views and engagement, it’s usually within the first couple days, and we’ve seen that in numerous studies like this dated but important Tubemogul report.
My most-viewed videos (like Scary Maze, i are Cute Kitten, Farting in Public, and America’s Funniest Bloopers represent about 30% of my total 200 million views. My recent videos, by contrast, are more in the 10-30,000 view range despite having 240,000 subscribers. While I can’t control how YouTube serves up videos, these facts remind me that I need to post more regularly since subscriptions drives views less than habit. Let me say that again because it’s very, very important: habit makes someone “current,” and if content isn’t refreshed predictably then the audience wanders away.
Interestingly, my sponsored videos sometimes continue to get views too. My Fox television show promotions for Fringe, Lie to Me and Glee have continued surpass millions and millions combined, alone topping the Hitviews original campaign goals (which also involved dozens of other creators). These videos, presumably, are either showing up in searches — or more likely via YouTube’s “related videos” spotlights. I just realized this by chance, and it speaks to an important value proposition of webstar videos: they go beyond a campaign period, despite the obsession we have with “fresh” content.
Our Fresh-Baked Obsession: It’s true that almost all of the “viral” videos on Unruly’s “Viral Video Chart” are “fresh baked” (posted within the past week) and that makes perfect sense. When’s the last time you started your visit to Netflix, “On Demand,” or (for you old folks) Blockbuster by browsing the classics? I don’t need to convince you that there are classics you’ve never seen that are going to be far, far better than what’s on the “new releases” shelf. You know that. But you’re drawn to “new” as if it subconsciously means “better.” That’s a human reaction that has two sources: first it’s based on the “prehistoric” brain (as opposed to our newer “executive brain” where “fresh” equals safer. Fresh meat, fresh grains, fresh vegetables. Second, I think it’s because absorbing “fresh” content keeps us “current” and “topical,” and provides a social glue. We can all bond in a collective groan about how much “Friday” sucked and how cute that new baby is when she rips up paper.
Screw it. I’m over thinking. I’m gonna go watch a baby giggle while ripping paper.
A media buyer recently approached me to see if YouTube “stars” could beat .05 on a cost-per-view basis. It was such an odd question, and one that made me realize we’re still comparing apples to oranges. As I answered the question (yes, but…) I found myself drawing analogies to a more familiar digital medium: search engine marketing (SEM).
Let’s draw from our collective understanding of both Google advertising and “search engine optimization” (SEM), where content providers try to have their websites rank on the first pages of search engines. Then let’s explore how that can help us understand online-video marketing. Finally, let’s pay special attention to “the second click,” which I use to refer to the prospect who chooses not to visit your own content but remains important.
This post is not really about search-engine optimizing video content (see ReelSEO for a wealth on that). It’s about thinking about online-video in the same way we think about an SEM approach. Apologies to traditional advertisers since this post does depend on some basic understandings of digital marketing and search-engine marketing, although I’ve tried to reduce the jargon and assume SEO/SEM is not your sweet spot.
I. Getting “Natural” Views: To get a brand.com or campaign website high search-engine ranking (thus “free” visitors) we have a variety of tools and tricks, but four basic guidelines:
First, we optimize the content to use words that are commonly searched (use customer lingo not our brand speak). We frame our content to answer common natural-language queries like “what’s the cheapest life insurance insurance in Arizona” rather than “Bob’s Inexpensive Term Insurance!!… oh and I serve the globe, but happen to be in Arizona.”
Second, we design the website to ensure that search-engine spiders can find it (treat the spiders as important as customers, which means more text not flasherbation). Video can help us here, but not in lieu of carefully prioritized words. Little things matter: the picture should be tagged “mom with headache” not “lady with green sweater,” something few potential targets are searching unless you’re selling sweaters).
Most importantly, we try to “link bait” in appropriate ways (no “link farms” please), by earning the right to have credible well-trafficked websites link to our website. It gives us credibility, thus higher rank on engines. It can make the difference from being on the cemetery of page 3 to the wild night club of page 1.
Finally, we want that visit to be positive for the “user” since a quick bounce and return to search can suggest failure to search engines. If you trick me, I’ll leave and re-search… and your ranking will slip.
What this means for video:
We need to think about video in this same measured approach. Sure we need to focus on SEO-optimization of our valuable video content on brand sites. Of course we want to avoid churning through various short-term video campaign micro-sites that don’t help in the long run. Absolutely we need to ensure our content is also placed on YouTube and well tagged. But there’s more to it than that.
Ultimately our video has to make a promise it can keep. If the headline and thumbnail is a dupe, it won’t last or travel. If the goal is to entertain and draw curiosity, then the brand must take a back seat. If the goal is to explain the product, then that’s fine… but that content isn’t likely to go viral unless you’re launching the next Apple toy.
A promotional video serves a purpose, but it’s unlikely to be the next Old Spice or Evian babies video. However a video can travel to prospects if it’s valuable to them (funny, informative), and most brands don’t need 4 million teenagers… they’d rather 100 solid prospects. If we want “organic” or free views (not using paid media) then we’ve got to focus on serving a need and not selling our product.
YouTube has loads of ways to promote video content on YouTube, and it’s always cheap… but it’s easier to get people to watch a video on YouTube than dragging them to another website. Off YouTube, we can partner with smaller properties to get “paid views” (the .05 per view reference above), but recognize that “a view isn’t a view.” Once it’s paid, it’s often forced or auto-play, and that can be a data junkee’s “fool’s gold.”
II. Paid Ad Campaigns: On search engines, a good digital marketer will vary creative and try an abundance of headlines, copy and even URLs. More importantly, they’ll create “custom landing pages,” so a search pays off. You’d be a fool to create a search advertisement promising content that doesn’t exist on the landing page. Most SEM veterans will vary campaigns (A-B testing) and do experiments to determine the optimal keywords to purchase, the right creative, and the appropriate content to serve.
What this means to video:
Video serves different purposes in various locations. In video display or pre-roll advertising, its goal might be to drive awareness/recall/attitude/intent for the brand or product. Alternatively it may be designed to produce an action/engagement. In general it’s hard for advertising to do both well in the same campaign. Since most display ads accept the sad reality that click-thru rates are going to stink (low single digits), it may be better to jam the brand name and a simple message into the display ad or preroll… hey at least they’ll get “exposed” to the message. Otherwise the video preroll or display is aimed at a direct response goal (“see our cool education/entertainment,” “we have a sale,” or “check out our new product line.”).
While video can augment either awareness or direct response, I see “yellow flags” when I hear media buyers or PR executives using paid media to get videos or microsites traffic. The root cause? Marketers or agencies have sadly invested precious dollars to produce “viral video,” then become frustrated that the videos didn’t… go… viral. So they’re desperately looking for inexpensive ways to get the videos seen by using paid video ads.
Now we have a “dangling media tactic,” which is often inconsistent from a brand strategy. There’s a covert mission to get the content views to “save face” for the lonely isolated micro-site or unviral videos.
Back to the SEO/video analogy: It’s okay to create written content for search engines in hopes that it will gain high ranking and “free” (organic) views. But we are usually realistic about the timeframe and sheer numbers. However when marketers create video content, they bank on a groundswell of free traffic spawned by YouTube viral and mega-sharing on Facebook. That’s happening less and less.
Solution? The video or video-laced microsite (campaign site) should be serving a specific goal on the awareness-to-loyalty continuum and not an isolated tactic that depends on “going viral” organically. If you’re creating video for “top of the funnel” awareness creation, then a) don’t spend a lot of money since the odds are against you, b) keep the brand/ad message on the down-lo because it will tank the natural views.
III. That Second Click: It’s a mistake to obsess strictly about the search engine (we’re done! We’re on the first page organically and with an ad). Odds are that 80-90% of people will zoom right past them to the third-party choice (the credible blogger, the crowd-sourced rating website, or a publisher). That means we want to get our message and content on the highly trafficked websites our customers will visit after their search… the second click. That’s usually done via PR (desperate and failed pleas to bloggers for product mentions) or advertising (often ignored display advertising).
What this means to video:
Good news. Most video traffic is not to professional content or branded videos. Outside of music videos, the hidden “oil well” of reach includes mostly amateur webstars or “the new establishment” of web-video networks. These guys are surprisingly receptive to subtle brand messages, inexpensive sponsorships and (of course) adjacent ads that are their primary income.
While it’s unethical for a travel destination (hotel/resport) to spiff (pay off) a Conde Nast travel freelancer, it’s okay for them to invite Shaycarl (and Nalts) to visit and show the property to millions of their daily viewers. 🙂
It’s not okay to send a free tech product (like that new tablet or HD camer) to TechCrunch or Wired, but you’d be a fool not to deluge iJustine with your latest gadgets (and maybe toss her a check to show it love). It can be cost prohibitive for a marketer with a “recession” budget to hire Justin Bee-iber, but Rhett and Link reach millions and they’re taking a road trip this Friday that I’d sponsor it in a minute if I was a CPG brand (ensuring the comedy/singing duo received loads of free candy and beverages, as well as a decent check to ensure the products get some prominent placement). If I was selling guitars, I’d send a free one to Wheezywaiter and MikeLombardo in a second, and a $1-$10K to mention my website occasionally.
I’m finally beginning to accept why this last “no brainer” step (which I detail in my book, Beyond Viral) is not yet embraced by many brands. For a while I found it downright perplexing and unforgivable that Coke was handing out free product on the streets of NYC, but not sending swag to the top 500 most-viewed YouTube creators (which would provide Coke with more free impressions than it could ever imagine).
But there’s not an easy analog for this type of marketing. Sure Coke does product placement on American Idol, but it’s hard for marketers to translate that to some clown on YouTube even if he gets more views than American Idol. The TV folks are forced to understand product placement and integration because Fox is beating it into them. But it’s hard for a TV junkie to translate that to web video, and trust amateurs. Most importantly, the silo approach of most large brands makes it hard to determine who should run with this: is it PR? Advertising? A sponsorship/events group? Digital?
In truth this type of “second click” thinking applied to video requires people with an odd mix of understanding/experience of marketing, social media, consumer marketing and PR. But those folks are hard to find except in startups (who are less attractive to webstars than Big brands). When they do exist in larger companies, they often lack budget influence.
So this marketplace remains somewhat irrational (some “webstars” fetching obscenely high fees for non-targeted and awkward pitches). Conversely, many brands use PR teams to chase bloggers with smaller audiences and a fundamental reluctance to pitch (because “playing favorites” might erode their credibility as a mini-journalist). And those same brands are often missing some highly influential and valuable willing “spokespeople” with large fan bases and credibility… just because they have no idea that a medium-sized video webstar’s reach is often 100x that of the biggest category blogger.
As Arseneo Hall would say… things that make you go hmmmmm.
Several trends are causing many independent “YouTube Creators” to sign with “new establishment” (web studios) such as Makers Studios (good luck finding its website), Next New Networks, The Station, Howcast and Machinima. Many early web studios were formed to create and promote custom shows for wide distribution. But the high investment ($1-$5K per edited minute) could not be sustained by the modest advertising dollars moving into the medium. In the past year, most have abandoned custom shows and are signing proven YouTube talent, many who have low costs, but large and steady audiences that are valuable to advertisers.
The trends driving these deals are:
It’s a buyer’s market. YouTube advertising revenue is relatively depressed because it’s new and driven mostly by Google Adsense, which allows even small advertisers to target viewers. The revenue model is largely based on “cost per thousand impressions” (CPM), and the income to the creator is mostly hovering at a modest $1 plus range… obviously YouTube pockets a portion before the creator is paid. Since an advertiser is often willing to pay far more for a targeted view, there’s plenty room for an intermediary who can command higher CPMs. Despite Google’s large salesforce, the display team at Google is relatively small. As I’ve said before, most media buyers are opting to put dollars into other sites because YouTube is less flexible.
Many solo acts have significant monthly views (mine alone are 5 million plus), but can’t justify selling their own inventory. However if a network can assemble a collection of creators that are attractive to certain industry advertisers, they can rationalize a salesforce and a premium.
The marketplace for talent is growing increasingly competitive, making it more attractive to independent creators to share in such fixed costs as management, marketing and production. Many solo acts on YouTube lack even basic talent representation, and don’t know how to find sponsors or price their sponsorships (and some are not willing or capable).
Budgets are flowing online dramatically, as video consumption increases. YouTube has missed a significant portion of online-video budgets because Google’s emphasis remains on paid search (while smaller properties are focused on pursuing larger digital budgets and even television budgets). This is changing, and could become more complex as the lines become less clear between YouTube (which has often proclaimed to be a platform not a network) and web studios (like its rumored acquisition, next New Networks).
Cross promotion across creators can grow the size of an audience significantly, and collective groups (like The Station) can expose individual shows/stars to audiences that might not otherwise know they exist. Many creators have sought alliances because there’s strength in numbers. The brat-pack model is not to be underestimated, even though shared successful YouTube channels are rare.
While few web studios and creators will reveal detailed terms, here are a few models that I’ve seen first hand. I will avoid revealing specifics or suggesting which studios gravitate to various models. Even within the same web studios, the deals can vary dramatically based on the creator’s negotiating skills, their content quality, and their audience size. Most deals are more nuanced than the following, but here are some simplified examples:
We own you. Small “up and coming” creators were often willing to effectively sell their show to a web studio and become compensated at a fixed price per episode. This is increasingly rare, as it is risky to both the studio (who can’t be sure the star/show will succeed) and the creator (who loses the otherwise unlimited upside potential of a solo YouTube artist).
We own 50% to launch you. Some “web studios” sign new talent with a revenue split. A talented but unknown creator can gain accelerated growth via appearances in the network’s already popular shows, and in return provides a portion of his/her YouTube Adsense dollars to the studio. Both this model and the previous require the studio to “claim” the channel via YouTube, and then pay the talent in some form: usually a month after the studio is paid. YouTube is attempting to make this easier for the creator, studio and advertiser… but it’s still fairly complicated to execute. Since the creator can become blind to the actual revenue their channel receives, it requires some trust.
We “mark you up.” Since the average ad CPMs remain modest, some studios are able to offer a creator/show a premium CPM (income per view) that is higher than that to which they’re accustomed… but sometimes capped. For instance, the studio may promise to pay the creator $2 per thousand views, and pocket any incremental revenue. This makes sense if the studio can sell the inventory at an ongoing premium, and is even more attractive to the creator if the studio can promote and grow the channel as well. However it means the creator may not benefit from what I’d expect to be higher CPMs in the years ahead.
We split incremental proceeds. A more mature YouTube star may negotiate a deal where anything in excess of their regular YouTube “Adsense” revenue is split. The studio may, for instance, sell a series of sponsored shows to a brand or advertiser, providing a complement to typical display ads (prerolls, banners, InVideo ads). The studio also may offer additional “value ads” that are not easy to execute via YouTube directly (such as having a collection of creators promote the brand on their Facebook and Twitter profiles). The creator may occasionally get a fixed sponsorship income (a few grand) to provide messaging within the show, and the display ads are marked up during a specific timeline. We’ve seen programs like Howcast’s GE Healthymagination that involve a number of YouTube stars working together or sequentially. In some cases YouTube manages these directly, contacting top talent to participate.
Pay per sponsorship. Some studios remain strictly in the pay-per-sponsored video space, providing advertisers with a flat fee for a series of videos that mention a product or service. A creator who fetches 200K to 1 million views per video can command o5-50K for a single sponsored video, and the studio takes a percent. Again, YouTube does many of these programs directly since the marketplace for these programs is still immature. Hitviews was one of the early companies for these, and Mekanism is doing some now. In my experience, it’s far more profitable to a creator to do them directly via YouTube… but there’s little a creator can do to increase the quantity of these. They’re bought not sold.
In this blog and my book, I’ve argued that advertisers and creators need intermediaries to facilitate sponsorship programs when they go beyond traditional ad buys (invideo, prerolls or adjacent display ads). When I consulted with Hitviews, I helped orchestrate some of these complex sponsorship programs, and they require skills that are rare in traditional and digital agencies. They’re difficult to sell, tricky to execute, and require cash reserves — since creators must sometimes be paid before revenue is received from advertisers. I’ve also done these directly with advertisers since I have a marketing background, but that’s not easy for most creators. Still, these sponsorships are lucrative for creators and extremely valuable for brands. They take the advertising message to where it has greater influence (within the show) and cannot as easily be ignored. They’re also perpetual annuities for brands. Some of my sponsored videos have garnered significant views long past the campaign’s period.
Audiences can be tolerant of these sponsored deals as long as the creative is strong, and a webstar or show does not do them too often. To see some of my own sample sponsored videos click here. You’ll see that most are not heavy on the promotion since that can severely impair views, ratings and comments. My income for these has varied radically, and often does not correlate with the total views of the videos. In a few cases, the advertiser has paid YouTube to “spotlight” the videos, but most of the views are organic.
I have seen some of my favorite YouTube creators fatigue audiences by accepting numerous sponsored deals (especially in a short time period). I’ve seen both extremes: the advertiser paying far more than it should (based on quality of the video or total views), or the creator selling out for a modest fee (and sometimes not paid at all).
Here are some tips first for advertisers/studios, then for creators. My emphasis is on sponsorships rather than “signing,” since the former is more common.
Advertisers or studios should not, in my opinion, subsidize a show’s creation. That can get cost prohibitive to a brand, and can result in mostly paid views. Those are not nearly as valuable as “organic” views (where a show already has a recurring or loyal audience).
I believe advertisers should provide at least 50% up front (like with any media buy) and withhold 50% based on performance metrics (total views). This ensures the studio has sufficient funds to attract and pay creators, and also reduces the risk to the advertiser. However it seems studios and YouTube often commence campaigns before getting paid, which results in ridiculous long gaps (3-6 months) between posting a video and getting paid for it.
Studios (and advertisers) should be careful about the stars/shows they pick. Some have a reputation for delivering content that meets the needs of the audience and the brand, and others are known for turning in marginal content, missing deadlines, or even harming the reputation of the brand. It is difficult for someone not extremely familiar with YouTube and creators to vett them well. For instance, I was approached recently by Best Buy despite my disdain for the company.
A good “match maker” will instantly know what creators/shows are right for different advertisers/sponsors, and that requires more than an understanding of a channel’s demographics. Since most popular YouTubers ignore e-mail, it’s not easy to catch their attention even when dollars are involved. If I had a dollar for every false-positive “sponsor,” I could buy YouTube from Google.
Creators should be very careful about signing “exclusive” deals, which limit revenue in other mediums or distribution channels beyond YouTube. I’ve been offered large monthly sums to move my content off YouTube and have never regretted declining. I’m also glad that I’ve never put a ceiling on my income, or provided any videos to a third-party with exclusively.
Since the CPMs are likely to get higher in coming years, I’d be reticent to sign a deal that locks me into today’s CPMs. If an advertiser can command higher CPMs for a specific video or time period, that’s nice. However I wouldn’t want to lock myself into $1 per 1K views, and then watch the average CPM rise.
It’s a good idea to have a time period attached to a deal, and opportunities for either party to exit. This is especially important since some of the web studios could be acquired by companies that may change the dynamics between the creator and the studio. It’s also important to have an agreement if an advertiser needs to remove a sponsored video (I’ve seen this happen more times than you’d imagine).
I urge creators to seek clarity about studio-exclusivity deals. A smaller creator will delight at signing with a studio that provides lots of new sponsorships. However what happens if that studio isn’t selling deals? Or if the studio is asking the creator to promote brands they don’t like? Or if the studio requests more sponsored promotions than the creator feels is appropriate (Smosh)? Is the creator obliged to take whatever deal the studio secures, or can they decline? More importantly, what happens if the creator is approached directly by a brand? Is he/she still permitted to do a sponsored video, and if so, are they obliged to provide a percent to the studio? Part of the reason I haven’t worked with Hitviews in more than a year is because it resented me working with other companies (YouTube directly or Howcast), and yet wasn’t providing a steady flow of well-compensated sponsorships. I’m still a fan of founder Walter Sabo however.
As online video begins to behave more like traditional television (where YouTubers are TV shows, and studios are networks like Fox or ABC) the dynamic could change dramatically. But it’s still a maturing industry, and deals very often favor one party far above another. So regardless of what is in writing, a relationship of trust is vital. There’s a certain “give and take” that is important for all parties involved (advertisers, intermediaries and show creators).
In general, I would rather be known as a pushover than a jerk… and the race is a marathon not a sprint. I have been “screwed” a few times, and have left money on the table (and I’ve steered clear of those people since). But I try to be flexible and make concessions knowing it’s a small industry, and that a professional, low-maintenance creator is more likely to earn the long-term trust of a variety of players that can provide income and other opportunities.
Finally, don’t be afraid to say “no.” I’ve seen several of my friends decline a modest or unfair offer, only to receive a much more generous one.
I’d welcome your comments if you have your own learnings… or your questions if I’ve been unclear. I’m sure it’s not an easy read, since it’s a complex space!
Lastly, if you’re a player in this space and regret not being mentioned, please identify yourself in comments or via e-mail. I am sure I have missed some web studios or intermediaries that are active in recruiting talent and wooing brands.
Steve Garfield, the “Paul Revere of video blogging,” will join Pixability CEO Bettina Hein in a free 1-hour webinar on December 1, featuring latest trends in online video and related media. Topics include:
The benefits of marketing with online video
How to shoot video like a pro (recording, editing, exporting, etc)
How to build presence with video on the social web
Viacom employees had secretly uploaded videos from the company’s movies and shows even as they were complaining about copyright violations, as The New York Times reported. Zoing!
USAToday’s “Juicy Details piece” puts it like this: “Google cites a marketing executive at Viacom’s Paramount studio who said that clips posted to YouTube “should definitely not be associated with the studio — should appear as if a fan created and posted it.” To accomplish that, Google says that “Viacom employees have made special trips away from the company’s premises (to places like Kinko’s) to upload videos to YouTube from computers not traceable to Viacom.” Kinkos FTW.
Payouts earned from the YouTube sale, as detailed by All Things D. Chaching! That’s a whole lotta sheep.
$516 million to Sequoia Capital
$334 million to co-founder Chad Hurley
$301 million to co-founder Steve Chen
All Things D also pulls some revenue figures from YouTube’s inception in January 2005 through August 2006, the last month before the company sold itself.
It wasn’t until December 2005 that YouTube started pulling in revenue, and it wasn’t until August 2006 that the company turned a profit. (The company showed a 186 percent jump between July and August of 2006, to $2.5 million.)
Wired Magazine also had a lengthy story documenting YouTube’s past 5 years, but it’s not online… which I find really annoying. Basically YouTube isn’t bleeding anymore, but it’s not exactly a “cash cow,” as Wired states (clearly someone didn’t read the Wikipedia on cash cow before filing their piece). I’m so over Wired.