YouTube has become increasingly more crowded and competitive, which has many people asking: “Is it too late to start a YouTube channel in 2021?”
When YouTube first started, it wasn’t difficult to gain 5,000, 10,000, or 20,000 views on a video. That landscape has significantly changed. Many times, when I first meet with clients, their channel has only 10–20 subscribers and their total view count is under 1,000. One client had over 100 videos and only 8 subscribers. While I’ve seen some channels take off, it can be challenging to start from 0 and work your way up to a significant following. Is it even worth your effort anymore?
In this post, we’ll discuss who should be using YouTube, strategies to grow that following, and ways YouTube can have a real impact on your business.
By the end of this article you’ll know:
- If YouTube is too crowded
- The 3 secrets to growing a following
- Whether YouTube is worth your time investment
- Methods for reaching your potential customers using YouTube.
Is YouTube too crowded?
YouTube is the 2nd biggest search engine. With 1.9 billion monthly users, YouTube has a large audience that is actively engaged. Every minute, people watch close to 150,000 hours of YouTube videos. There’s a huge market for interesting content and how-to information.
But, there’s also a ton of people creating content and putting up videos. Five hundred hours of videos are uploaded to the site every minute. And, your channel is going to have to compete with channels that have millions of subscribers (Pewdiepie and Tseries just crossed 80 million subscribers).
So, is it too crowded to grow a YouTube channel?
There is still room on YouTube. I’ll explain why this is the case throughout the rest of this article. If you can find the right audience and message, there’s still the potential to grow a following that helps your business.
When you’re thinking about YouTube for your business, it’s not a question of whether it’s possible to grow a following that impacts your bottom line, but it is a question of how long that will take, and how much content you’ll need to create to grow on that platform.
If you want immediate, fast cashflow for your business, YouTube may not be the best route. But if you want your business to be around in 5 years, and you’d like to build assets that can send people to your page far into the future, it’s worth building a following for your business.
YouTube videos are for the long term. Your videos on your channel can generate huge results long term.
A YouTube video can generate results for a much longer amount of time than a Facebook or Instagram post (especially if you do it about a timeless topic). Similar to a successful blog post, it’s possible to have a video continue to give you views and traffic to your website months and years after you’ve uploaded the video.
It’s even possible for YouTube videos to rank in Google searches; for one client, a video we created was outranking their own webpage! Studies have found tweets are generally relevant for 18 minutes. Facebook and Instagram posts generally only stay in peoples’ feeds for a day. You may get a larger boost right when you release a YouTube video, but unlike other platforms, they can remain relevant and searchable for a long time.
Before you pour all of your time, effort, and energy into growing a YouTube channel, look at this guide I created that compares the opportunities that exist on each social network. You’ll want to make sure YouTube is a good fit before committing to creating all of the content.
What does it take to grow a YouTube channel in 2021?
On Facebook, it’s all about views. On your YouTube channel, the focus is more on watch time
YouTube’s algorithm cares if people are actually staying on your video and watching your content. A channel that does longer videos and has 8,000 views but 20,000 hours of watch time is going to do better than one that posts shorter videos and has 20,000 views and 8,000 hours of watch time. On Facebook, videos that are under 2 minutes perform best, while on YouTube it’s been found that videos that are at least 7 minutes long do best
When a channel is new, creating massive amounts of content is incredibly important. If you’re only posting once a month, your channel may never grow. The biggest key to success is lining up three factors, which I’ll cover in detail.
- Post a high number of quality videos. It can easily take 100 videos to see large growth.
- Understand keywords and how people find your video.
- Connect and engage with your audience.
1. Post a high number of high-quality videos on your YouTube channel
One hundred videos may seem like a lot. It truly is. If you spend 16 hours shooting, editing, adding music and polish for every video, 100 videos are going to take an unbelievable amount of time. However, how-to and informational videos don’t have to be elaborate and fancy. Make sure you have a decent quality mic (I use THIS ONE. it’s $22).
Stand or sit where the light is decent. You can shoot YouTube videos on your phone. Think of things from the perspective of your viewers. If you want to learn about what steps to take to balance a checkbook and you find an accountant on YouTube who knows what they’re talking about, who speaks eloquently, and has a vast amount of knowledge and information to pull from, and the video has good sound quality.
Are you going to care that the video is shot on a phone?
Want to know how to shoot videos on your phone? I created the ultimate guide to shooting videos on your phone here
Crazy shots and angles may just be distracting for your viewers.
Now, you won’t be the polished, perfect speaker when you first start. You’ll mess up. You’ll have to do a take 10 or 15 times. It will be hard seeing yourself on camera. However, with practice you’ll get better, and better over time. The fact is very few people will be following your videos at the start.
You’re not going to get a ton of traffic right at the beginning, and that gives you freedom to start getting comfortable in front of the camera. Being able to speak well in front of the camera is a useful skill to develop. It makes you a better presenter, a better public speaker, and an all-around better communicator.
So, what content should I create for my YouTube channel as a small business owner?
You generally want to focus your content around information that would be helpful for your ideal customer. While it’s fine to do a video on why you’re the best plumber and you should give us a call, what’s someone’s incentive to search for that video? Why would they want to watch it all the way through? A video introducing the business and people in the business works well for websites and or e-mail signatures. And it doesn’t hurt to have a few of those on your channel. However, what if you could teach someone to swap out their own garbage disposal?
Why would you want to teach someone this?
Wouldn’t they just do it themselves instead of hiring you to do it? If someone wants to swap out a garbage disposer themselves, they’ll look it up online and figure it out. You could be the channel that they turn to when they are trying to figure out how to fix it. I went through this journey myself. I was interested to see if I could change out my garbage disposal myself. I looked it up on YouTube.
I saw that there was way more that could go into the process than I bargained for and that, in fact, it wasn’t something I wanted to take on myself.
So I hired someone to do it. If the helpful instructional YouTube video was created by a local plumber, who do you think I would have called? A lot of people don’t fully understand or appreciate the work that you do, and a video like this is the perfect opportunity to show off your expertise and provide useful information to the people already searching for your content.
A lot of people may think that they can list and sell their own home, but when they learn about the paperwork, and forms, and steps, and negotiating complexities, most people suddenly realize there’s a lot more to it than they thought. Another topic you could cover is answering peoples’ questions.
What kind of questions are your customers always asking you?
If they want to know the answer, other potential buyers often will too. When a client e-mails you a question, you could even respond: “That’s a pretty in-depth topic, here’s a very short summary in this e-mail, but in this video I created, I cover every facet of this topic in depth.” Then, you can use that same video not only to help attract new clients but to send to current or past clients as well.
So, now that we’ve brainstormed the questions and skills we can teach people on YouTube, we need to find the intersection between search keywords you can rank for on YouTube and the questions your clients want answered. That is, we need to use keywords effectively so that people can find your videos.
2. Finding Keywords for your YouTube videos: 3 easy tactics and tools
Technique 1: Search on YouTube and Google
The secret when you’re getting started is to find good search terms (you’ll put these in the title, description, and tags of your video). Long-tail keywords are what you’ll want to use starting out. Long-tail keywords are specific, multiple-word search phrases. So, instead of “oil change,” a long-tail keyword would be, “How to do an oil change on a Honda Civic.” By choosing specific search terms like this, you have a decent chance of actually ranking for that search.
If you go to YouTube and start to search, it will give auto-complete suggestions. These suggestions get a lot of search traffic (which is the reason it’s suggesting it). Now, some of these may be too competitive to rank for if you don’t have a large following. You’re competing with other channels to rank for search terms (more on that later). However, this will help you narrow down what people are searching for.
For my channel, I found “Facebook Algorithm” was highly searched but too competitive for me to rank. However, “Facebook Algorithm 2019” was something I was able to rank for, which led to 500 hits on that video.
Searching on Google for keywords
Doing a Google search not only gives more ideas, but also videos can rank within Google. For example, to the right is the result that searchers see when searching “how to do an oil change”
Google and YouTube are both search engines, so great search terms in Google will also equal great search terms in YouTube.
On Google, I would also scroll down to the bottom of the screen. Here, they give you related searches
For example, how to do an oil change gave me the following suggestions. How to do an oil change would be very competitive, but “how to change the oil in a car step by step” may have less competition.
Technique 2: Keyword research tools
Tools like Ahrefs, SEM Rush, Uber Suggest, and Google Keyword Planner will tell you how many people search for your term. This will give an estimate of both the search volume as well as the difficulty to rank. Over time, I’ve learned to treat these numbers as guides and not absolute facts. Sometimes the exact traffic or difficulty can be off.
Let’s look up the term “how to do an oil change” on Uber Suggest (this one is free)
Our search volume is the number of monthly searches on Google each month. So “how to do an oil change” gets 2900 searches a month, and “how to oil change car” gets 4,400. SD will give an estimate of the difficulty to rank for this search term.
Personally, I always actually do a Google Search and see what types of posts I’d be competing against to rank. If articles like Forbes, New York Times, or large sites that have been around for a while are showing up, it could be a sign that you won’t be able to rank.
A tool I really like is TubeBuddy. It’s a free add-on (I have the paid version, which is $9 a month). When you punch in your keywords, TubeBuddy tells you both how many people are searching for those keywords and how much competition there is and how hard it is to rank. It gives me a 7 out of 100 for the score for the search term. So, I did a test on, “How to do an oil change.”
The search volume is very high, but the competition is much higher. I have an approximately 0% chance of ranking for that term. Alright, so that is no good. What if we look at “How to do an oil change on a Honda Civic 2019”? That gives a score of 62.
If possible, I recommend doing keyword research before you create your video, not after. Then the video will be more centered around the topic people searched, for and you don’t end up creating videos on topics that are never going to rank on valuable search terms. Also, YouTube analyzes the words in your video to see if your title and description are relevant. If someone actually says the keyword out loud in the video, this will mean a higher chance of ranking.
You have to be a bit patient with a new channel. Let’s say that you can rank for a keyword that around 50–100 people search for each week. Then, a little under half of these people click your video when they search for it. That’s 6–12 views per week. You can see that, if you were posting once a month, it would take forever to grow your channel. However, if you post 15 times a month, once you have 100 videos getting 25–50 views per month, that’s suddenly 2,500–5,000 views per month. And, when you gain more views and viewing time, you’ll gain more subscribers, and you’ll show up in more related videos.
Then you can rank for search terms that aren’t getting 50–100 searches per week; you can rank for search terms that get 500–1,000 searches per week. That’s how it snowballs. If you want to learn more about the marketing snowball effect, I wrote a full article about it here. Understanding how this concept works is essential for growing your online following.
So, you’ll put the keywords you researched in your title, in the first sentence of your description, and in your tags. You don’t want to try too hard to cram in keywords and make it unreadable for humans, but it’s totally natural to include it in the title, description, and tags.
You HAVE to design and optimize thumbnails for your YouTube videos
YouTube wants people to have a great experience on the site. If people search for a topic, gravitate toward a particular video, and then watch that video all the way through, YouTube thinks, “This video is the one people choose and stick with when I serve up a bunch of options for them.” If YouTube gives people a number of choices when they search for certain keywords, and the majority of people choose the 2nd highest-ranking video, over time that video is going to become the number one ranking video. Because YouTube can tell that people like it better.
That’s why you’ll want to optimize your thumbnails because that’s often what drives people to choose one video over another: an engaging, enticing thumbnail. You can put text on the thumbnail that doesn’t have to be keyword optimized. You can use it to spark curiosity. On mobile, scrolling through videos, the thumbnail takes up way more space than the video title.
In YouTube Studio beta, in the “Analytics” section, you can see your click-through rate.
This number tells you, of the number of people who saw your video, how many have clicked your video to watch it. The video could have popped up in featured videos, related videos, or recommended for you, or could’ve appeared in search results. Over time, it’s worth revisiting older videos to see if you can tweak keywords or thumbnails to make sure the video is optimized for search and for click-through. The key to growth is ranking on search terms, having a good click-through rate, and having a good watch time.
Here’s a video that I created that covered this exact topic:
And here’s an in-depth article on why designing the right thumbnail is so important.
3. Connect and engage with your audience on your channel.
The third step to growing your channel is engaging with your audience. Encourage them to subscribe, ask questions, leave a comment, and share your video with someone who could be aided by your information. When you receive a comment, respond to it! Spend time helping the people who’ve come to your page and are engaging with your content. While you can delete spam and trolling comments, politely engaging with mean commenters can turn haters into fans.
For example: “This video is terrible. It took you forever to get to the point, and your voice is so monotonous.”
This comment could be ignored, or you could post a response like “I’m sorry you feel that way and feel like your time was wasted. I’m learning to create videos for the first time, and I know I still need practice. I’m determined to get better and better at speaking eloquently and conveying information in an effective manner. Do you have any tips on what I could do better next time?”
While a very small percentage of people may continue to throw insults, most people would respect a response like that. You could then receive potentially useful feedback. And your response is not just for the person who left the comment. If other people watching your content see mature, reasonable, human responses to comments, they’ll respect you and your channel more and may be impressed that you respectfully have addressed your commenters (even your haters).
I definitely do not recommend turning off likes or comments. It’s up to you where you draw the line on who to respond to, but I recommend responding to nearly every question you get, especially when you’re starting out. As a small business, if you’ve done targeting effectively, the people commenting could very well be potential customers. If they leave a comment and get no response, you may be missing out on a potential sale.
Here’s my full step by step instructions on how to upload and optimize your YouTube videos:
Let’s focus specifically on YouTube channels for small businesses in 2021
The nice thing about video is it really puts a face to a business and builds trust. Lots of people can build scammy, professional-looking websites built off templates, but showing your face and educating your audience builds trust and rapport.
If you have a locally based small business, it can be important to include local descriptions in your headlines.
So, your title could be “How to change an air filter on a Honda: Denver auto shop tutorial.”
If so, you could be ranking for the search term “How to change an air filter on a Honda,” and you’d have the potential to show up in searches for “Denver auto shop tutorial” as well. It’s all a game of figuring out what type of content your local customers search for that could point them to you.
That said, your goal is to get your ideal customers to subscribe to your YouTube page and to turn on notifications. It often takes a number of touchpoints to make a sale. If someone sees your video once, they may or may not be ready to buy. Someone could look up your how-to oil change video and do it themselves, but the next time around they decide they’d rather just have someone else change their oil. Or they may have a friend ask them for a recommendation.
If they’ve only ever watched one YouTube video by you, they’re probably not going to remember who you are.
However, if you told them what valuable information they can get from subscribing, and they subscribe, then they’ll see content from you over and over again. You’ll have the opportunity to become THE person they go to for help, whether that’s changing out an air filter, learning what a certain sound your car is making means, or knowing what to do when your car won’t start and it says “check engine.” Rather than wading through channels looking for a good video, they’ll know you have all the answers to their questions, and you’ll answer them well. And then they’ll bring their car to you when it has issues because they know you, they like you, and they trust you.
The good news is you don’t need to rely solely on people finding you from searching. You could offer a small discount to any customers who subscribe to you on YouTube or join your e-mail list (another great option to stay engaged with past clients). You can ask them what type of content would be helpful for them, and then stay top of mind. It’s easier to sell to someone who’s always bought from you, and staying memorable, helpful, and top of mind is one of the best things you can do to get repeat business.
You can also attach YouTube videos to web pages and your e-mail signature and embed them on your blogs and e-mail list. Video doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and I often encourage people to incorporate other elements (e.g., blog, e-mail list, Yelp page, Google My Business page) because those can also generate great results and shouldn’t be ignored.
Want to know my technique for getting WAY more reviews on Yelp? Find it here
YouTube video is a powerful tool, but it’s one tool of many.
The great news is you can use all this keyword research and content to create a blog post as well. You can then quickly do a write-up on your topic and also embed your YouTube video in the post. This allows you to get both a blog and video without significant added effort or keyword research. Blogs tend to show up more in Google search results, so your content would be in written and video form (for people who prefer reading as well as for people who prefer watching), and it could be found on the biggest search engines in the world.
It’s not a deal-breaker, but you’ll generally get better results if you appear on your channel. I cover that in this video:
Conclusion: It’s not too late to start a YouTube channel in 2021. Your next steps are simple.
So, back to our initial question. Is YouTube really worth jumping into in 2019?
It can bring amazing results if:
- You understand it can take a long time and plan for that in advance
- You’re ready to research and test keywords and thumbnails
- You’re willing to learn and adapt over time
- You’ve identified YouTube as a network that could positively impact your business.
If you said yes to those 4 things, don’t wait too long to get started creating valuable content that your viewers are going to love
At the end of the day, one of the best things you can do is be of service to your audience.
It’s not all about going viral, I’ll leave you with this video on why going viral probably won’t get you what you really want.