How to be a Successful YouTuber

26 January 2018

Right now YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world, trailing just behind its big brother, Google.

If that’s not impressive enough, over 300 hours of video gets uploaded to YouTube every minute and over 1 billion hours’ worth of video gets watched each day.

With stats like that, it’s no surprise that people want in on that action and this guide is designed to help you do precisely that.

What do I know about YouTube?

I've previously helped creators get more views on YouTube using some lesser known SEO techniques. Along the way, I’ve picked up a few things about building a successful YouTube channel that I'm going to share with you today. 

So what does success on YouTube involve?

Success on YouTube pretty much boils down to the right combination of the following:

  1. Quality Content
  2. Clicks and Engagement
  3. Internal and External SEO

If you get these three things right, you don't need to rely on 'secret' YouTube tricks. So let’s take a look at each of these three main factors in more detail.

1. Content is King, but Patience is a Virtue

Before you start creating content you need to think about supply and demand:

  • Is there an existing audience for the content you want to create?
  • If there isn’t, then why would you create the content?
  • If there is an audience, then who is currently catering to it?
  • And finally, can you realistically hope to compete?

By compete I mean asking yourself honest questions like:

  • Can you produce content of the same quality or better?
  • Can you maintain that quality content long term?
  • Can you post that content as regularly as they can?
  • Do you have time to regularly interact with fans in comments and social media to help grow the channel and build an audience?

If you can’t answer yes to the above four questions, then you should probably abandon your YouTube hopes and dreams right now.

Thay may sound harsh, but it’s the truth, and it's better to hear it now before you get started.

Having great content isn’t enough

YouTube is over-saturated with creators, each of them hoping to get noticed and become the next YouTube sensation.

The fact is, having good content isn’t enough to succeed on YouTube anymore. You also need to be patient and committed to your channel and its goals, even when things look bleak.

This means plugging away at your channel and resisting the urge to quit, even when your hard work goes largely unnoticed by the YouTube community.

It also means avoiding the trap of giving up on your content and trying to mix things up too soon. Give your content a chance first, ask for honest opinions from people you trust and listen to the feedback before you start undoing your hard work.

Seek content inspiration, but don’t rip people off

You’ll quickly learn that original content is a rare thing on YouTube and you probably will have to sell your soul to the “watch me react to” devil before long. But at least by doing it in your own unique style you will retain a shred of originality.

It’s OK to be inspired by your favourite creators, but completely ripping off their content or style isn’t going to do you any favours. You need to develop your own style over time and get noticed for being you.

Listen, Learn and Enjoy Being a Creator

You won’t get anywhere if you completely ignore the opinions of your following, nor will you make it very far if you just cater to all of their suggestions without question.

You also need to strike a balance between creating content that your audience wants to see and the content that you enjoy creating. Otherwise, you will just crash and burn, and your fans will pick up on it.

It doesn’t take a genius to realise that great YouTube channels are built by passionate creators that love doing what they do. And these creators are supported by loyal communities of fans that feel like they are a part of something.

If you are getting into YouTube just for the money, or the fame then I wish you luck in your shallow journey. You’re going to need it.

Quality Content Summary:

  • If you can’t commit to YouTube long term, don’t bother starting.
  • Make sure there is an existing audience for the content you want to create.
  • Be sure that you can match up to, or outperform competitors.
  • Be patient. It can take a long time to succeed – sometimes years.
  • Give your content a solid chance before changing it up.
  • Develop your own style, don’t rip people off.
  • YouTube because you love it, not because you want to make money.

2. Clicks

In case you haven’t already noticed, YouTube is packed full of clickbait and what I have to tell you about clickbait will shock you! (Maybe, probably not).

You see, while there is nothing wrong with encouraging people to click, it’s important to remember that the content on the other side of that click needs to meet the user’s expectations. Otherwise, they will leave, and then nobody wins.

The Same Thing Happens on Google too

If a user clicks on a link then immediately leaves, it gets logged as a bounce. A high bounce rate tells Google that the content of a page isn’t meeting the user’s expectations – especially if the user bounces, then clicks on a competitor’s link and doesn’t bounce.

If however the user clicks on a link and appears happy with the result, this counts as a valid click and increases your click-through-rate (CTR). The higher your CTR, the higher your content will rank on Google.

You can bet your bottom dollar that YouTube works much the same way and uses this information to decide how well content is ranked and when it's suggested to users.

Clicks Summary:

  • Learn about clickbait, bounce rates and click-through rates.
  • Make sure your content lives up to the expectations promised by your titles.
  • A high video bounce rate may affect how well your videos rank in searches.
  • Aim for a high click-through rate to boost how well you appear in searches.

What about Engagement?

YouTube is massive. So massive that it would be impossible for YouTube employees to review the content of each upload and decide when and where to display that content to its users in a fair and accurate way.

So instead, YouTube relies heavily on algorithms and AI to observe how users interact with video content. This includes user engagement signals such as:

  • Video likes and dislikes.
  • Watch time.
  • Comments (including replies).
  • Social shares.

It probably also includes the following signals too:

  • Repeat visits.
  • If the video has been embedded.
  • If the video has been added to a playlist.

All of this engagement data is crunched together along with information about subscriptions, search history and watch history to determine what to show users and when.

So How Does Knowing all This Help You?

Getting views is only part of the battle on YouTube. You also need to encourage your audience to engage with your videos and trigger the engagement signals that I listed earlier.

Most YouTubers do this in their outro by asking viewers to leave a like, comment and subscribe.

Having a call to action like this is great as it does a good job of actively encourage people to interact, but it could also be a wasted opportunity.

For example, asking people to subscribe is fine, but if your content is good and the user wants to see more, then they probably would have subscribed or come back anyway.

The Real Focus Should be on The Comments

And by this I don’t just mean asking people to comment in passing, I mean asking people to leave their opinion on the video or a specific topic raised by the video to ignite some topical conversation.

Comments show that your video has stirred up a debate, which makes your video appear current and active in the eyes of the YouTube algorithm.

All that additional content in the comments will also help with the external SEO of your videos (basically how well your video ranks on Google), especially if the content in the comments relates to the topic of the video.

You can also actively engage with these comments and encourage the discussion to continue. The more your audience sees you engage with them, the more likely they are to leave comments.

Engagement Summary:

  • Encourage users to engage with your videos.
  • Don’t just focus on acquiring new subs and likes. Aim for comments.
  • Learn about fresh content signals to understand the SEO value of comments.
  • Get more comments on your videos by asking viewers specific questions.
  • Engage with your comments and encourage continued conversation.
  • Focus on a long-term goal of building a community around your channel.

3. Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

As the little brother of Google and with such vast quantities of video content flying about it’s no surprise that SEO is such a prominent factor on YouTube.

So how do you harness the power of YouTube SEO to your advantage?

Let’s Start With Internal YouTube SEO

Internal YouTube SEO relates to anything that happens on the YouTube website that can affect how your videos rank on both YouTube and on Google.


You can’t just use clickbait to get your content clicked. This is because clickbait relies on your content already being visible to people so that they can be influenced to click. It’s the chicken and the egg.

To gain that visibility your content needs to actually appear in the search results, and to do that you need to figure out the words and phrases (keywords) that people are typing into the search box. Once you know this, you can start placing them into your video titles, descriptions, tags and transcripts.

Important: Weave these comments into your content in a natural way. Overdoing it won’t do you any favours.

Figuring out which keywords to use is known as keyword research, and you’ll need a tool such as Google’s Keyword Planner or Bings Keyword Research Tool to estimate how much monthly traffic (interest) there is for a specific keyword.

Keywords Summary:

  • Learn how to perform keyword research to understand what potential viewers are searching for.
  • Use keywords in your titles, video descriptions, channel description, transcripts and tags.
  • Don’t overdo keywords, try to weave them into your content naturally.

Video Descriptions

Right now YouTube can scan your videos for words, phrases and copyrighted audio that might violate their terms and conditions, but they haven’t quite got the ability to ‘watch’ your videos as a human would.

Instead, they rely on you to write a decent video description so they can match your content with the words and phrases that people are searching for – again, this is why keywords are so important in your content.

As a minimum, your video descriptions should contain at least 200 words. Try to mention your keywords early on in this description and make sure that the opening sentence is enough for a basic understanding of the video – just for those lazy readers that won’t bother reading the full description.

You should also include links to any related content, such as your other videos on the same subject or your social media channels and website. Links to your other videos also helps with your SEO as it will encourage Google to visit and index your other content.

200 words may sound like a lot of content to write but if you break it down into appropriate sections you will realise that it’s not that much. Using sections also makes it easier for users to quickly get to the information they want, without having to trawl through hundreds of words of text – like so:

Example of a YouTube channel description, formatted into sections for ease of reading

Video Description Summary:

  • Learn about thin content and why it’s bad for SEO.
  • Write descriptions for each video with at least 200 words of original content.
  • Use keywords in your video descriptions and mention them early on.
  • Link to related content in your video description.
  • Break your video descriptions into sections to make them easier to read.

Video Thumbnails

The human brain processes images thousands of times faster than text, especially when the purpose is to evoke an emotional response. This is why a picture of a cake is far more likely to trigger a response than a description of the cake would.

Much like a clickbait title, your thumbnail image needs to describe your video enough to create interest, but not enough to tell the whole story. If the user wants to find out more, they will have to click on the link and watch the video.

How you choose to do this is up to you. You can choose a thumbnail based on a specific section of your video. You can also use tools like Adobe Photoshop to create custom thumbnails. If you don’t have Photoshop, you can use free Photoshop alternatives such as Gimp.

YouTube actually offers advice on their Creator Academy on how to create a YouTube thumbnail. It's well worth checking it out.

Video Thumbnail Summary:

  • Images convey information much faster than words.
  • Your thumbnail should make clicking on your videos irresistible.
  • Use image editing tools to create high-quality thumbnails with eye-catching visuals.

Watch Time

Much like the bounce signals that we talked about earlier, watch time is a way for YouTube to measure how interested people are in a video.

So if you had two 10 minute videos on the same subject and one had an average watch time of 9 minutes and the other only 4 minutes, which video do you think YouTube would rank more prominently?

To counter this, you need to keep viewers engaged throughout your video to avoid them losing interest. You should also encourage them to watch till the end to see a link to a related video or to reveal a specific bit of information such as an announcement.

Just to be clear, this reference to watch time is distinct from the watch time limit that allows room for additional advertising if you make your videos 10 minutes long or more.

Watch Time Summary:

  • The time that people spend watching your videos influences how well they rank.
  • Remember to brush up on bounce rates to understand how it affects your content.
  • Keep people engaged throughout your video to avoid bounces and maximise watch time.

Video Tags

As with the title and description, video tags help YouTube to understand what your video is about.

Much like hashtags, these video tags should be specific keywords related to the topic of your video. So if your video is about climate change, you could add tags like ‘Climate’, ‘Climate Change’, ‘Global Warming’, ‘Carbon Footprint’, etc.

Don’t overdo the tags though. Also don’t try to add tags for popular topics unrelated to your video, as this will encourage the wrong traffic to head your way, resulting in less watch time and a higher bounce rate – neither of which you want.

Video Tags Summary:

  • Learn how to use hashtags to understand the value of tagging.
  • Remember to brush up on keyword research to choose appropriate video tags.
  • Keep your tags topical and don’t overdo them.

Channel Description

So many YouTubers tend to leave this page blank or choose to write very little. This is a wasted opportunity though as this page can rank just as quickly on Google as your videos can. More Google exposure for the pages on your channel = more views.

Like your video descriptions, your channel description should be at least 200 words long and feature appropriate keywords prominently.

Channel Description Summary:

  • Don’t leave your channel description blank.
  • Write at least 200 words of content.
  • Mention keywords related to your channel early on in the description.

Video Transcripts

As we said earlier, YouTube can’t currently ‘watch’ your videos like a human would, so adding a transcript of your entire video will help them to understand what it is about. This is similar to how Google relies on alternative text to describe images to blind web users.

This video transcript gives your video a naturally keyword rich chunk of content which will encourage both YouTube and Google to rank your content higher in searches.

As an added bonus you can also add transcripts in other languages to help your content rank in other locations throughout the world – YouTube isn’t picky about which country your views come from!

When you create your video transcripts, make sure you are familiar with how to use heading tags to correctly format the content. This will help with the SEO performance of the video transcript.

Video Transcripts Summary:

  • Video transcripts are great for SEO.
  • Follow a guide on how to add a YouTube video transcript.
  • Add additional video transcripts in foreign languages to increase your international exposure.
  • Use heading tags such as H1 and H2 to correctly format the headings in your transcript.

Video Playlists

Placing your video into a playlist of related content will help to increase views. This is because playlists can appear in search results alongside standalone videos, resulting in a second chance for that video to be watched.

Additionally, it means that new videos that would otherwise not rank very well have an increased chance of being discovered and watched alongside already established videos in the same playlist.

When you create your playlist remember to use keywords in the title and also add a description with at least 200 words of keyword optimised content – just as we discussed earlier for video descriptions.

Video Playlist Summary:

  • Playlists can appear in video searches – this means your channel has an extra chance of appearing in search results.
  • Adding new videos to established playlists gives them an increase chance of getting noticed and watched.
  • Use keywords in the title of your video playlist.
  • Add a playlist description with at least 200 words of keyword rich content.

External YouTube SEO

External SEO refers to anything that takes place off of YouTube that can affect how well your channel and videos performs on YouTube and on Google.

Let’s take a look at some external SEO factors:

Page Authority and Backlinks

Every page on the internet has a chance of ranking high on Google, including your channel homepage, about page, videos and playlists. The higher the rank the more visits they will get.

The chances of your pages ranking high is determined by a score of 1-100 that is awarded to each page. This is known as your page authority and the higher your page authority, the better you rank.

So how do you increase the authority of a page?

Simple. You get other pages on the internet to link to it.

Each time Google spots a page linking to your page, they will count it as a ‘vote’ of confidence in your pages favour and increase your page authority accordingly. This link to your page is known as a backlink.

Not all backlinks are equal though. For maximum effect, a backlink needs to come from a page with topically linked content. It also needs to come from a page with a good page authority of its own.

There are also two types of backlinks: A dofollow backlink and a nofollow backlink. Dofollow links pass along their authority to your page, nofollow backlinks do not.

Basically, the internet is like a giant popularity contest

And YouTube is no exception. Pages that get linked to from other pages do better than pages that don’t. Let’s look at some examples from some big YouTube stars, starting with Pewdiepie.

This is the page authority score for Pewdiepie’s channel homepage:

Page authority score for YouTube sensation Pewdiepie's channel homepage

This is the page authority score for Pewdiepie’s channel about page:

Page authority score for Pewdiepie's YouTube channels about page

And finally, this is the page authority score for Pewdiepie’s list of playlists:

Pewdiepie YouTube playlist page authority score

As you can see, the page authority increases based on the number of links pointing to it. Pewdiepie’s channel homepage has a really high page authority of 89/100 meaning that it’s highly likely to rank well on Google.

Page Authority Also Gets Passed Internally Throughout Websites

So if the channel homepage has a high page authority, part of that authority will get passed along to other pages that it links to. Then, the individual page authority of those pages will get passed along to the pages that they link to – almost like a waterfall filling up a large pond until it overflows, creating smaller waterfalls that cascade down into smaller ponds – and so on.

This means that over time, any authority that your channel homepage gets will eventually get passed along down to your videos, helping to increase how well they can potentially rank.

What About Backlinks to Individual Videos?

The same is true if one of your videos gets a lot of backlinks.

With each additional backlink, the videos page authority will increase and it will pass that authority along to your channels homepage and any links that you place in the videos description.

Take this Pewdiepie video as an example. Its four years old now and can be found at the top of his channel if you order his videos by popularity:

Page authority score of Pewdiepie's most popular YouTube video

With a page authority of 61/100 this video has a good chance of ranking well on Google.

Now look at a new video that he posted today on 25/01/2017:

Page authority score for a brand new Pewdiepie YouTube video

This video hasn’t had chance to gain page authority from his channel yet, nor has anyone else had chance to link to it from their pages. As a result this video hasn’t got much chance of showing up on Google yet.

Instead this video relies on internal signals from YouTube, such as subscribers being notified about it being posted. Or internal quality signals, such as a decent description, title, thumbnail and tags to get the video noticed internally on YouTube.

Pewdiepie also probably posts links to new videos on his social media channels to get people to come check them out as soon as they are online.

How do You Get People to Link to Your Channel?

In an ideal world people would just link to your channel because your content is so awesome – and this will happen once your channel is big enough for people to actually care.

In reality though, small channels have to work hard for these valuable backlinks, just the same way that website owners or the SEO’s that manage their search engine presence do.

Ways of gaining backlinks include:

  • Asking other influencers and creators to link to your channel from theirs.
  • Writing articles online and linking to your content from the article.
  • Approaching authors of existing articles to see if they are willing to add a link.

The good news is that a little can often go a long way. For example check out the page authority of Huw Samuel’s YouTube channel:

Huw Samuel's YouTube channel homepage page authority

Even with only two links pointing to his channel, he’s earned a respectable 48/100 page authority, the same score as Pewdiepie’s playlists page. Not bad when you consider that Huw has about 25k subscribers and Pewdiepie has over 60 million!

The art of gaining backlinks is known as link building and as far as the dark art of SEO is concerned, link building is about as dark as it comes. But, if done correctly, link building can result in a lasting positive impact – make no mistake though, it can be incredibly hard work.

If you are serious about growing the page authority of your YouTube channel then check out the following guide to link building. You should also take the time to understand the difference between a dofollow and a nofollow backlink.

Page Authority and Backlinks Summary:

  • Each page on your channel, including the homepage is measured on page authority.
  • Page authority is a score from 1-100. The higher a pages score, the better it ranks online.
  • Page authority is increased by gaining links (also known as backlinks) from other websites.
  • These links need to be from pages with good page authority of their own.
  • The links also need to be topically linked to your content in some way for maximum gain.
  • Google wants you to earn these links naturally, though that is easier said than done.
  • Links can be gained by approaching other influencers and content creators and asking for them.
  • Other angles include getting mentioned in articles, blogs and interviews.

Links From Social Media

Now that you know a bit more about link building, you might be tempted to log onto social media to post your links there.

Unfortunately, social media links are almost exclusively nofollow – which means that they do not pass along page authority to your pages. The same is true from links in the comments of most modern websites and forums such as Reddit.

Some social media services such as Instagram have even taken things a step further and actually prevent links from being clickable too. This is to discourage people from spamming links to their websites across the internet to gain a boost in rankings.  

So What Can You do?

You may not be able to increase your page authority via social media but you can still send valuable traffic to your channel and videos. If you do this in the right way and deliver on your promise of great content you’ll benefit from more views and more importantly, more engagement, which will help your video perform better internally on YouTube.

Just Don’t Rely on Too Much Help From Facebook

Facebook and YouTube aren’t friends, especially since Facebook began pushing its own monetised video platform. As a result of this feud, the Facebook algorithm now actively limits the potential reach of any links you post to your YouTube content.

There are potential ways around this though, such as uploading a short teaser of your YouTube video directly to Facebook and then posting a link to the full YouTube video as the first comment. You can also embed your YouTube videos in a blog post and then link to that blog post from Facebook.

What is The Benefit of Linking From Social Media?

When you post a video to YouTube your existing subscribers will be notified about it. Also if you’ve optimised the video correctly – titles, descriptions, tags, etc. – then your video has a chance of appearing as a recommendation.

Driving traffic to your videos from social media is a way to get instant footfall on your videos, resulting in early views and engagement. This will help your video to gain early traction on YouTube faster than waiting around for it to be discovered via search/recommended.

Social Media Summary:

  • Links from social media won’t increase your page authority.
  • Some social media services won’t even let you post clickable links.
  • Facebook will cap the reach of YouTube video links that you post.
  • Social should only be used to get your videos/channel noticed.

So in Conclusion

Despite all the above advice, there are always exceptions.

Some YouTubers become a success overnight thanks to a video going viral. Others get a helping hand from existing creators giving them a shout out.

Others fail before they start, due a lack of decent content, personality or inconsistent commitment.

This is why I say that you shouldn’t get into YouTube for money or fame. Get into it because you love being a creator or because you are a natural entertainer.

It sounds shallow but it also helps to have a likeable/magnetic personality as this will result in people being naturally drawn to you.

If you do decide to pursue your YouTube dreams then I wish you luck and hope this guide helps you get to where you want to be.

Tagged with:

  • How to Get More Views on YouTube
  • How to Grow Your YouTube Channel
  • Huw Samuel
  • Pewdiepie
  • SEO
  • YouTube Secrets
  • YouTube SEO
Author -
SEO Manager Thomson Local

Rob has a decade of experience in SEO, Copywriting and Digital Marketing. He enjoys creative writing having previously written a humorous short book about life in retail as well as several film scripts. Like any self-respecting blogger he has a love of cats and enjoys a nice cup of tea. You can find out more about Rob via his LinkedIn and Writing Portfolio.

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