And yet, despite its massive audience, only nine percent of small businesses are taking the time to use YouTube for marketing purposes — and even fewer are creating a strategy for their video content.
It's not just small businesses, either. In fact, for a long while, it was us, too. But at the beginning of 2018, we recognized the major losses our team would face down the line if we didn't begin investing in a powerful YouTube marketing strategy.
It wasn't easy, and it wasn't always pretty, but fortunately, our efforts paid off, big-time. Through various endeavors, we managed to increase HubSpot Academy's YouTube channel subscribers by 25% in just two months — without spending a cent.
To help you rank on YouTube, create a brand identity, and provide an outstanding user experience, take a look at the free strategies we implemented to achieve sustainable growth on the platform.
1. Develop an SEO strategy for YouTube specifically.
When you hear the term "search engine", what comes to mind? I'd be willing to bet it's Google.
From there, you might think of Yahoo or Bing. But, as some of you savvy marketers might know, this is actually a trick question — you're right to think of Google first, but if your brain flips to Yahoo or Bing next, that should change, today.
The second largest search engine globally is YouTube. With more and more content being added each day — as much as 400 hours of video per minute — optimization is not only best practice, it's critical, and must be the foundation for any effective YouTube strategy.
When developing an SEO strategy for YouTube, start with keywords. Do some monthly keyword search volume research, so you can identify a keyword that speaks to your video, has substantial search volume, and isn’t too competitive.
Once you've chosen a target keyword, make sure you incorporate it into your title. Additionally, you'll want to add tags to your videos, and order them by importance — always leading with the target keyword. Plus, it's important you repeat the target keyword in your video description.
Finally, make sure your target keyword is said out loud in your video so that it gets transcribed in the SRT file. SRT files are critical, as they make video content “readable” by search engines, and they make videos accessible to a hearing-impaired viewership — a win, win.
Bonus best practices include adding your target keyword to the raw video file name and custom thumbnail file name before you upload to YouTube. All of these tactics will give your video a better chance of driving organic traffic and ranking on YouTube.
2. Engagement is the key to your video's success, so focus efforts on increasing viewer interaction.
Keyword strategy is not enough to rank on YouTube. Human behavior — particularly interaction with videos — greatly influences the YouTube algorithm.
View duration, comments, likes, shares, and even dislikes, all increase a video's authority.
YouTube sees engagement as a stickiness factor. If a viewer is engaged, they are more likely to spend increased time on YouTube, which means more revenue for YouTube. The best videos, then, deliver high quality content and stimulate interaction.
One way to encourage viewers to stay on YouTube is to organize your videos into playlists. Placing videos in relevant, topical playlists will entice viewers to spend more time watching videos in sequence, increasing their total time spent on YouTube.
Another strategy is to ask for engagement. Pin a conversation-starting question in the comments section to encourage viewers to outline their thoughts, feedback, questions, and insights. In your video, ask viewers to leave comments, and don’t be afraid to pose questions — it works.
For instance, in this HubSpot Academy YouTube video we posted in October, we made sure our host asked the viewers questions within the video itself, with a "Leave a comment below" directive. We also pinned a question in the comments section directly:
As you can see from the comments section, our viewers were eager to share their thoughts and engage with one another through the platform — we just gave them a starting point to do so.
3. Build a unique brand identity on YouTube.
If you look at major influencers and brands on YouTube, such as Brian Dean, Neil Patel, Vox, and Netflix, you'll notice something similar about all of them — their theme, topics, and brand identity are clear, no matter which video you watch.
Elements like custom thumbnails, channel banners, a custom URL, logos, and a channel trailer all exist to establish a channel brand. Take advantage of these opportunities.
In particular, video thumbnails are a key strategy for distinguishing a brand. Research from Netflix suggests that thumbnails can even drive clicks and influence engagement behavior on videos, which can help videos rank.
In their findings, Netflix concluded: "Images that have expressive facial emotion […] do particularly well."
We decided to test this research for ourselves, by providing up-close, emotive, human faces on each one of our relevant thumbnails:
When building your thumbnails, it's critical you put the title text on the left side of the video thumbnail, as YouTube places a time card on the right, bottom corner by default, which can cut off visuals. Remember to write short, impactful titles on the thumbnail, as thumbnails can be quite small, so too much text will render the words blurry and illegible.
Finally, when creating your thumbnails, keep color top-of-mind. YouTube's color palette is red, white, and black, so it's important to choose bright colors that stand out against the platform’s interface, and against your competitor's thumbnails.
Beyond thumbnails, take the time to build other brand assets. A channel trailer is a short video that is shown to new visitors of a channel. It’s intended to promote and succinctly educate viewers on the value of your channel. Similarly, you might consider adding a branded banner, and a custom URL.
Ultimately, every personalized touch will add a level of professionalism to your channel, and set you up to succeed against competing channels.
4. Create a Stellar User Experience
Would you watch this video?
Does our channel look inviting and professional?
Is our content consistently providing value to our viewers?
If you didn't answer “yes” to all three of those questions, you need to revise your YouTube channel to ensure you're prioritizing the user experience.
Although free, YouTube provides a subscription service, and subscription services survive and thrive by creating an amazing user experience.
For instance, take Dollar Shave Club, a popular subscription box of shaving and grooming products. You wouldn't pay money to subscribe to the service if you had no idea what type of products were going to arrive, or when. People invest in subscription services for convenience, quality, and reliability — all of which add up to a solid user experience.
Similarly, if you are using your YouTube channel to drive leads or develop brand awareness, your free service should mirror the excellence all your business has to offer.
If you're unsure where to start, take the time to plan an upload schedule. YouTube subscribers seek dependable, fresh content. At HubSpot Academy, for instance, we put new content on the channel every Monday and Friday morning at 8:30 AM ET, so our subscribers are guaranteed to get new, educational, exciting content at the same time, twice a week.
If you don’t have the bandwidth to put content up every week, that’s okay, too. High-quality content on a consistent schedule, even if that's only once a month, is better than mediocre content published weekly.
Our Results After Two Months of Implementing These Four Strategies
If you're wondering whether a purposeful YouTube strategy really works, the answer is yes — a YouTube strategy has real payoffs.
For instance, prior to implementing these strategies, our HubSpot Academy channel existed for three years with minimal growth.
Once we implemented the four strategies I shared above, we drove subscribers from 6.7K to 8.4K, a 25% increase in just six percent of the channel’s total lifetime on YouTube. We saw these results in just two months.
During this time, we did not invest any money in paid advertising. This growth was purely organic. Best of all, our subscriber number wasn't the only metric that grew. Every single metric tracked by YouTube’s analytics tools — views, comments, likes, shares, videos in playlists, average view duration, total watch time, etc. — moved up, and to the right.
Now, yours can too.