A common misconception surrounding success on YouTube is that it all hinges on the best or right gear for the job. A lot of readers of Fstoppers are here to research cameras and lighting to level up the quality of their videos, and rightfully so. But without the right processes in place, no amount of professional quality gear will matter. I can guarantee you that 99% of where content creators go wrong on YouTube is in the planning stages, before they even press record. Trust me.
Who Do You Think You Are?
So really quick, before we get into the five tips that will take your YouTube channel from average to primo, I want to share a bit of my journey and background. After all, you shouldn’t just take advice from any random gal on the internet, right? Allow me to establish some authority in this space, and back up my tips with some analytics from the YouTube studio app.
I started my channel in May 2021, and for the first 8 months or so, I went about creating videos about cameras and film stocks I was using without putting too much thought into the content of my videos. I will admit that I often rambled and appearing unprepared with ums, ahs and went off topic regularly. My partner and I collaborate with the content we produce. I do the bulk of the planning and am in front of the camera and he is behind. We started to research and dissect what were the most efficient and effective ways to create content that people chose to watch and kept watching without clicking off. In the last three months, by employing the strategies I’m about to share with you, I have consistently posted videos that outperformed my previous efforts, had over 110 thousand views on my channel, and saw a 33% increase in subscribers. My videos have gone from getting on average 1-3k views within the first 2 weeks up to 5-14k. Importantly, whereas before most of my videos would fall off a cliff in view count after those first two weeks, I’m now seeing consistent views months after posting.
Yes, I know these numbers in a vacuum aren’t impressive, but I’m not looking to make viral content. I'm in the organic growth game, and that is likely how the majority of us will grow on a platform like YouTube. After all, you can have a viral video and then put out another one straight after, and it can bomb. I see it happen all the time. For most of us, being able to consistently improve our content and track growth in relation to effort is a realistic and practical measurement for success. My aim is to try to match my average viewers per video to my number of channel subscribers as an indication that I am making content my audience enjoys.
Title and Thumbnail
It doesn’t really make sense to start at the end in most things in life, unless you are Tarantino and you have no regard for linear timelines. But in the game of YouTube, the end is the beginning. So deep.
If you spend hours (which you will) setting up, getting your camera ready, checking the white balance, getting your audio right, filming the actual content, then editing the video and uploading it to YouTube, how much patience, creativity and time do you think you will have for the most integral part of the whole video, the title, and thumbnail? Next to none is the answer. I know because I've done it like 20 times and then spent days wondering why my video didn’t do well, blaming it on the algorithm.
Next time you have a video idea, get out a sketch pad and pen and write down all the titles you think you might use. Write all the different ways in which you can word it, ways it can be a question, or better yet, a defining statement, something that is going to make people want to click on your video. A helpful thing to do is notice what it is that you yourself click on when you are on the platform. What stops your scroll and gets you from the homepage to that creator's video?
Title and thumbnail work together in cohesion, and if you can nail them both, you are off to a great start.
So, you've got some titles. Awesome. Pick two that really stand out. Now, let's think about that all important thumbnail image? Literally, draw some boxes on a page and start sketching your thumbnail. I am the world's worst drawer and my thumbnail art is totally laughable, but it helps me to create an idea of what I think will work. I make notes underneath of things, like bold background, arrow pointing to camera with a surprised look on my face. These explanations allow me to flesh out my visual idea and then bring that into Photoshop, Canva, or whatever software you choose to use.
You now have a solid title and the makings of a killer thumbnail. You are also a lot clearer on the message you are trying to convey with your video and can deliver better on the promise of your title, which is a huge plus! Making this a non-negotiable in your process will lead to better videos and, in turn, more views.
Who Is This For?
It’s really easy to have the blinkers on when creating content of any kind. We tend to focus on ourselves and what we have worked hard to put out into the world, which isn’t all bad. However, I urge you to ask yourself this simple question when moving through the ideation stage of a possible new video. Who is this for?
Do you have a target audience? If you don’t, then who do you hope it will be? Remembering that you are, to an extent, serving your audience, will ultimately serve you as well. When I make videos on a film stock, I decide what to include based on the knowledge of my audience. They are all pretty enthusiastic about film photography, so I assume that they will know what 35mm film is.
Sometimes, I make different videos such as the best beginner film camera. I am assuming that a budding film photographer will be clicking on this wanting advice and answers, so I ensure my content reflects that. Sometimes, a topic is very niche, and asking the question, “who is this for?” will help you to determine if it’s worth making. I have books on obscure or unknown photographers, and I’m just not sure that topic will be very popular. That is fine, as not every video has to be algorithm friendly, but it helps me to reconcile with fewer views and know that going in, avoiding any disappointment or regret. So, who are your videos for? Who is your channel for? Start asking yourself these questions.
Stick to the Script
This is a big game-changer, so keep reading. Even if you know everything about a camera or a lens or whatever it is that you wish to talk about in your video, it pays to have at least some bullet points and a written idea of what you will be covering.
It may seem like an over-the-top step for just a YouTube video, but trust me, as soon as I started scripting my videos it not only made my delivery so much more polished and professional but it also led to less mistakes and long tangents, and that led to less editing. If you have ever edited anything, you will know that even just a few minutes of footage takes a lot longer than you would expect. A stitch in time saves nine, and a scripted video will literally save you hours of time.
Putting in this work in the front end really pays off and the more planning you do, the more intentional you will be with your videos. I break my planning down into five sections:
- Title and Thumbnail
- Intro: this is your first 30 seconds and is vitally crucial to the video’s overall success. Creating a hook, getting straight into it, and providing people with a reason to stick around will help keep eyes on your video. Narrative storytelling is also a great way to engage viewers and can really help to get people invested straight off the bat.
- Bulk: this is the meat of your video and should be well paced and to the point, but still provide entertainment, visual breaks, and humor if possible.
- Conclusion: A quick final thoughts or wrap-up if necessary and a suggestion of another video that the viewer can watch next from the end card.
- CTA: A call to action can be added anywhere in the video and slotted in afterwards. I normally look for something that ties in with mentioning my print shop or my Patreon page and then direct people to that specific thing .
If you use this blueprint, you will quickly know if you have a good video on your hands or not. Perhaps you realize there isn’t really as much as you thought to say on this topic. The opposite might even happen, and you see the potential for two separate videos or even episodic content that can be put into a playlist.
The options are endless. Sometimes, I don’t follow the script exactly, but it’s there for me to reference and keeps me from all of a sudden going on about something totally unrelated that I then have to edit out later. Try it out, and let me know how it goes.
So, the same way you planned what you intend to say, you should also be planning your shots and b-roll. I know I sound like the should police right now, but honestly, if you do these five things, you will 100% experience an increase in growth and up your engagement.
So, using your awesome blueprint from the above tip, you know you want to incorporate a plan of how it will look. Every video is different, and a talking head will likely have less shots to plan than a photo walk, but if you want your video to get suggested, then you should be working hard to create differing visuals for your viewers.
Questions to ask yourself would be: do I need b-roll? If the answer is yes, and it probably is, then plan that b-roll out, don’t just wing it. How will you light it? Where will you shoot it? How many angles do you need? Should you get more footage of yourself using the camera to change it up? These are all things you can note down and make a shot list that you can tick off as you go.
It’s worth noting down any edits or footage you might want or need within your script. My scripts end up looking pretty messy, but you can always highlight parts to make it clever or type it up so it’s easier to read off.
It’s worth mentioning too that you can always re-use previously recorded footage or b-roll if it makes sense to do so. After 62 videos on my channel, I have a pretty big bank of stuff to pull from, and that makes it way easier to make videos now. YouTube really does get easier the more you do it, so it’s very rewarding and long-lasting, unlike shorter-form content platforms like TikTok.
The Importance of Music
Much like the title and thumbnail, music can sometimes be an afterthought, and it most certainly shouldn't be. Think about cinema and how impactful and important the score or soundtrack are to the overall movie. This can make or break a scene and add layers to a visual.;
Even if you are just reviewing a camera in your home office, don't just slap some generic lo-fi beats under that, find something with a vibe that will grab your audience's attention or give you a unique point of difference.
I am lucky that my partner makes all the music for my channel, and I use that to my advantage. We discuss the vibe of the video and then pair music accordingly. It’s also really great to have breaks where you show b-roll or example photos, and if you pair this with the right music, it will keep your audience engaged and interested. I talk pretty fast and have a thick Australian accent, so I’m pretty sure viewers appreciate a little reprieve from my hundred miles an hour film photography-obsessed ramblings.
Consider the music you use in your intro as well. Do you want something emotional and feeling, or do you want to get your audience pumped for a new release or a photo challenge you are doing? Ask these questions, try to add them to your script, and seek out some banger tunes for your videos!
Get to Work
So, those are my tips. If you can’t tell, I’m totally obsessed with YouTube, and I love to share what's worked for me and hopefully pass on some gems of YT wisdom to you fellow or budding creators. Now, go make your best-performing video yet!