Nearly every day, I wind up reading a new story of a YouTuber becoming an overnight sensation—but for most creators, “going viral” is a terrible game plan.
In fact, with 2 billion logged-in monthly users on YouTube and over 500 hours of video uploaded per minute (no, those aren’t typos), going viral on the popular video platform may seem, well, nearly impossible.
So before you even begin, growing your YouTube channel means facing up against countless hours of video shared by millions of creators—many of whom have much bigger marketing budgets than you.
Once you hit Publish, the hard work is only just beginning. You need to get out there and promote your videos—and your channel—to reach the right audience, grow your subscriber count, and see real success on YouTube.
Fortunately, there are still plenty of ways to promote your YouTube videos and grow your audience without spending a fortune. By creating an eye-catching trailer or teaser, organizing your videos, and much more, you don’t have to depend on dollars to bring you YouTube success.
To help you get started, here are a few tips we’ve picked up from the YouTube world on how to promote your videos and your channel, both inside and outside YouTube’s platform.
Why YouTube video promotion is so important
The internet is a busy place. It's challenging to get other people to even notice you exist—let alone engage with your content—unless you promote it.
Here's why you need to be actively promoting every YouTube video you share:
Tap into a huge new audience
Did you know that YouTube is the second-biggest search engine?
That’s right—according to Forbes, YouTube sees 3 billion searches per month, which is larger than Bing, Yahoo, AOL, and Ask.com combined.
With videos on YouTube varying from content like how to tie a tie to the latest Taylor Swift music video, YouTube has become a hub where people learn how to cook a new recipe or catch up with their favorite YouTube star.
For budding creators, that means YouTube presents a unique opportunity to share your content with a broad audience and reach them on a channel they spend time using.
Stand out from the noise
The problem with a large audience? It’s more challenging to get noticed.
But by taking an active role in promoting your videos, you’ll boost your chances of reaching your target audience, gaining their attention, and growing your following.
Plus, as you promote your videos and begin to gain traction with them in the form of user engagement, you’ll eventually see YouTube’s algorithm working in your favor. It may sound counterintuitive—promoting your videos among the millions of others—but for your target audience to find you, it’s essential to start somewhere.
Drive traffic back to your products and services
How many times have you watched a video only to go, “Where can I learn more?”
Promoting your videos helps drive users back to your website or landing pages, where they can learn more about your product or services.
And once they're there, you can nurture them toward signing up for your email list—and eventually becoming happy customers.
Enough with the benefits—let's get to the fun part. Here's how you can promote your videos and channel without spending a dime—both within and outside YouTube's platform.
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Step #1: Optimize and promote your YouTube videos
Before you start promoting your videos, it’s crucial to make sure each video is polished to perfection. Of course, that includes making sure the video itself is high-quality and well-produced—but it’s equally as important to make sure your videos are optimized for search.
Understand the “why” behind your videos
Before we dive into the deep dark pit of YouTube search engine optimization (SEO), let's take a super-quick refresher course on how YouTube (the business) actually works.
YouTube makes a significant amount of money from advertising. In fact, in 2020 alone, YouTube will make a whopping 5.5 billion dollars in ad revenue from the U.S. alone. Because of that, YouTube’s algorithm is designed to match viewers to the videos they’ll most likely be interested in, so they'll keep watching longer (and therefore watch more ads).
As a creator, then, you need to understand the “why” behind people's searches—also known as search intent—when creating and promoting your videos. Understanding that “why” will help you create videos that not only resonate well with your audience but that also rank well on YouTube.
Think about the keywords and phrases your audience may use while searching YouTube as they relate to your products or services—you'll need those phrases in our next section…
Write descriptive titles for each video
An attention-grabbing headline isn’t just important for encouraging users to click on your video (known as click-through-rate); it’s also vital for optimizing your videos to rank on YouTube.
A few best practices to consider when thinking of titles for your videos:
- Include your target keyword. Your video’s title is one of the most critical elements of your video’s metadata—or the information used to identify what’s included in a piece of content. Including key terms in your title helps both users and YouTube’s algorithm understand what your video is about.
- Ask, “Would I click on this?” Until you have a large audience, try to avoid clickbait-y titles that could potentially frustrate both your audience and YouTube. Instead, opt for an engaging title that hooks users as they’re searching but is true to the video’s contents. A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself, “Would I click on this video?” based on the title. If the answer's no, that’s a good indicator your title needs a bit more tweaking.
For example, this video from Downshiftology has an excellent title for several reasons. Not only does the title include the target keyword “bento box” at the beginning, but the title is captivating and informs users what they can expect from watching this video.
The title also includes other keywords like “back to school” and “healthy meal prep recipes,” two more popular keywords that likely boost the video's search traffic even higher.
Optimize your descriptions
It’s not enough to have a strong video title—you must also have an optimized video description. A well-written video description can boost your rankings in YouTube’s search results for your target keyword.
Like the title, including relevant details about the content of your videos in your descriptions is key to helping your videos rank. The longer, and therefore more detailed your description is, the more information YouTube has about your content, and the more people will be able to find it.
What’s more, you can add links back to your website, blog posts, landing pages, mailing list, social channels, or even other relevant videos within your description as well, like this example from the YouTube channel Yoga With Adriene:
She includes links to other videos within the video description if newer yogis want to learn more about what was covered in the video. This encourages viewers to keep watching.
Use video tags to grow your exposure
Like the description, video tags help YouTube’s algorithm understand the contents of your video.
When you upload a video, you’ll see a Tags section underneath where you can add your description. Think of tags like keywords. Add the tags that are most descriptive of your video.
Keep in mind, YouTube does not display these tags on the user-facing video page. For example, to view the keywords on this video from Chef Alison Roman on the New York Times Cooking channel, right-click on the video page, then click View Page Source.
A new tab should open up showing the source code for the web page—click Control + F and search “keywords” to locate the tags.
Adding tags helps YouTube understand more about your video and help it get in front of the right people.
Design an attention-grabbing custom thumbnail image
With every YouTube video, creators can add a thumbnail image to provide further context to users on your videos’ content. This is the image that appears next to your video’s title and the name of your channel. YouTube will generate a thumbnail image for you automatically, but if your account is verified, you can upload a custom thumbnail, like this example from Munchies:
Creating an interesting thumbnail image will help your video stand out among the search results to maximize clickthrough rates. Try adding words and graphics to your thumbnail images to catch the eye of your audience. For example, this thumbnail image from the recipe and cooking resource, Delish, calls out the video’s details that may interest their target audience.
Step #2: Promote your YouTube channel
In addition to your individual videos, you also need to make sure you’re promoting your channel as a whole. It’s one thing to have your videos organized and optimized for search, but taking a few extra steps to optimize your channel will help your overall YouTube presence.
Fill out your profile. Yep, all of it.
A lot of creators forget to complete their channel profile—but this isn't the place you want to skimp. An incomplete channel profile may cause viewers to question if the channel is legitimate, which could negatively impact your channel’s growth.
When completing your profile, think about how you want your channel to look. From your profile picture and banner to your description, your channel should be cohesive with your brand and tell users what type of content they can expect to find.
For example, the VICE YouTube channel does an excellent job of communicating their brand and content. Not only is the banner image more engaging, but the description does a great job of informing users what to expect from this channel.
The Good Housekeeping YouTube channel, on the other hand, is a bit vague:
The profile and banner images are correctly sized, but for viewers that don’t know much about the Good Housekeeping brand, it might be challenging to determine what kinds of video content can be found here. The description doesn’t do much to inform YouTube’s algorithm what it’s content is about, either.
Of course, as soon as you start to scroll through Good Housekeeping’s videos, you can learn more about their brand. But it’s best to include as many details as possible, even in places viewers might not always look right away.
Pro tip: Help direct your audience to your website, mailing list, and social channels by adding links within your channel's About page section.
Upload an attention-grabbing channel trailer
Channel trailers are a great way to hook viewers and encourage them to become subscribers. The channel trailer is another way to tell viewers about your business, who you are, and what your channel is all about.
When it comes to creating your channel trailer, it’s best to keep it short and sweet, while catching the attention of potential YouTube subscribers within the first couple of seconds. For example, Refinery29‘s channel trailer grabs viewers' attention straight away, with snippets and sound bites from actual videos giving potential subscribers a sneak peek of what they can expect to see from Refinery29's video content.
Pro tip: If you don’t want to create a new trailer, simply select your most popular video as your channel trailer.
Maximize watch time
Watch time is the amount of time a viewer has watched a video. The YouTube algorithm uses watch time as a primary metric when determining how to rank videos—by gauging watch time, YouTube can determine the content viewers watch to show more of that type of content in their feed.
To optimize your channel for watch time, create playlists of related videos to make it easier for viewers to find similar videos, and keep them watching longer.
Another great way to maximize your videos’ watch time is to create end screens and cards. End screens are thumbnails of related videos typically placed within the last five to 20 seconds of a video, while Cards let you promote other videos or links during your video as an overlay.
Here's a great example of an end screen from Apartment Therapy:
And in her channel trailer video, Adriene of Yoga With Adriene includes a YouTube card of her dog, Benji, that turns into a subscribe button when users move their cursor over the card:
Both end screens and Cards are great for encouraging viewers to keep watching other videos and discover similar content.
Create a publishing schedule (and stick to it)
A publishing schedule does wonders for your YouTube video promotion.
How? By publishing videos on a schedule, you maximize your audience’s chance to see (and engage with) your new videos. Plus, teasing a weekly or bi-weekly video is a great way to build anticipation with your subscribers.
First, decide how often you want to publish videos. Think about what’s realistic for your business—and stick to it. It can take some time to create high-quality videos, so make sure you factor in planning, production time, and editing when figuring out your publishing cadence.
A great way to ensure you’re publishing consistently is to batch create YouTube videos. This means you do all the heavy lifting of planning and creating videos ahead of time and schedule them out with YouTube’s Schedule feature. The Schedule feature not only allows you to upload your videos ahead of time, but you can schedule them to publish when your audience is most likely to be online.
Interact with your audience
Interacting with your audience is one of the best things you can do to build a community and a solid following. Engaging with your audience instantly sets you above most other YouTubers, and engagement helps you push your videos up in the rankings.
For example, replying to your videos’ comments fosters a sense of community on your channel and makes your viewers feel more connected to your content. Hailey Childress, NorCal High School Cycling League’s Program Production Assistant, was featured in a video for Outside Magazine on how to inspect your mountain bike before you ride. She responded to a happy viewer’s comment positively—connecting viewers to the channel.
Here are a few additional ways you can turn up the engagement on your channel:
- Leave positive comments on other creator’s videos from within your industry or niche
- Answer questions from audience members
- Ask your subscribers what types of videos they’d like to see next
Pro tip: Posting status updates and promoting upcoming videos using Community Posts can help you reach more people and engage with your existing subscribers. With Community Posts, you can give your subscribers more value and give them a closer look at your business and brand. However, you need to reach 1,000 subscribers to use this feature.
Step #3: Promote your channel outside of YouTube
YouTube’s platform isn’t the only place to promote your videos and channel. Often the easiest way to grow your audience is to share your videos outside of YouTube.
But where do you begin? Here we cover a few ways to maximize your video promotion outside of YouTube.
Cross-promote your YouTube channel
What better way to reach your audience than to bring your videos where they’re already hanging out? Because YouTube videos are so easy to share, you can link to them in your newsletter, embed them onto your website, share them on social media, and more.
Promoting your videos in relevant online communities is another excellent way to distribute your content. Are you part of a Slack community or Facebook group for your industry or niche? Identify the communities you can share your videos with to expand your reach.
Pro tip: It’s always easier to make the most of what’s already working rather than trying to find new channels to promote your videos. Check out which channels are already working best for your content with the Referring Traffic metric in your YouTube Analytics dashboard. This metric will help you identify which sources are the most popular in sending traffic to your channel.
Collaborate with other channels
Joining forces with other creators is a powerful way to promote your videos outside of YouTube and grow your audience. Working with another creator (or several) brings your audiences together and helps widen the lens on your audience.
Plus, collaborating with other creators increases your view count, builds your brand awareness among an audience you may not have been able to reach before, and grows your professional network.
A great example of creator collaboration at work is Ali Abdaal’s YouTube channel. Ali is a doctor and YouTuber and quickly grew his following to over 930,000 in just three years. Ali regularly collaborates with other creators and YouTubers on videos, podcasts, and more to cross-promote content.
Embed videos on relevant pages on your website
Did you know that 84% of consumers say they’ve been convinced to purchase a product or service after watching a brand’s video? By embedding videos on your website, you can reach new audiences, funnel viewers to your channel on YouTube, minimize your site’s bounce rate—and reach potential new customers.
Take Lisa Bardot of Bardot Brush, for example. She’s a Procreate ad digital art expert who has an impressive YouTube channel—but Bardot also embeds her YouTube videos on her website.
That way, Bardot increases her videos’ exposure no matter how her audience found her—whether it be through social media, YouTube, or another channel.
Stop waiting for your videos to go viral
Growth on YouTube will be slow and steady—but every new YouTuber started right where you are now. Every successful channel on YouTube began from square one, and it was through consistent effort, strategic promotion, and community building that made it happen.
Create a plan for promoting your videos and channel, stick with it, and you’ll find your audience and subscriber base growing in no time. And once people start subscribing, you can use your videos and description to encourage them to become email subscribers.
Sending your content directly to your subscriber's inbox is the best way to keep their attention, show off your expertise, and build a meaningful relationship. And the easiest way to start building an email list is by creating a free landing page with ConvertKit—you can link this page in the description of your YouTube videos, your Instagram bio, and more!
Sign up for your free ConvertKit account today, and start using email to promote your videos and stay connected with your audience.