Don’t Just Pay to Play: Get More Value From Your YouTube Content

August 19, 2020

YouTube users upload 500 hours’ worth of video every minute. And they watch 1 billion hours of content every day. It’s the #2 website and search engine in the world, behind parent Google. By that measure, YouTube is bigger than Amazon.

Like those other platforms, YouTube makes money from advertisers—in this case, from ads placed within the video content. But paid media isn’t the only way to be successful with YouTube. Before you begin your video strategy, know what it takes to make videos really work.

Are paid ads worth it?

YouTube as a platform is different from subscription streaming outlets like Netflix, Hulu or even its offshoot YouTube TV — or media sites that gate content. Users get free, unlimited access to watch and upload their own content.

YouTube makes all that money through advertising. Its deep, wide reservoir of user data gives brands precision targeting for their desired audience. Unlike traditional broadcast, there are no limits to programming, time slots, trafficking requirements, etc. YouTube runs millions of ads every minute to millions of unique viewers.

Paid advertisers should consider brand safety on open platforms like YouTube. That issue was in the spotlight in 2017, when major brands learned that their pre-roll ads were running ahead of offensive videos.

YouTube implemented safeguards to protect brands, and those who had pulled their media spends returned. Companies take on risk when advertising ahead of user-generated content. But YouTube says its recently updated algorithm cut views of harmful material by 70%. Still, the task never ends.

Major brands work with YouTube on strategy and placement. Otherwise, the platform operates like Google advertising, where bidding drives priority placement. Ads that appear with popular videos and on channels with millions of subscribers are expensive.

Fortunately, there are more organic, low-investment ways to stand out.

Focus on content first

Brands upload videos just like any individual user would. There’s no barrier — no payments or approvals — so companies can immediately create and manage their “owned” channels, and publish content as regularly as they want.

But if you build it, they won’t necessarily come. Most brands with 1 million or more followers get there with a mix of paid ads, influencer marketing and strong, engaging content targeted to an audience. These tactics are part of a wider multichannel marketing mix to drive traffic.

It takes more than just a terrific video, though. There are organic ways to stand out on this crowded digital platform:

  • Make sure it’s valuable — The same keywords that move you up in Google results will be effective on YouTube. So use the same strategy here. In the algorithm, what viewers get out of content matters more than how much money you put into production.
  • Put effort into titles and descriptions — The same keywords that move you up in Google results will be effective on YouTube. So use the same strategy here.
  • Don’t forget metadata — Be forthright in the video description about what users will see, and include keywords here, too. The goal, like Google, is to have your YouTube content show up in search results.
  • Respond to the community — Don’t just delete negative or confused comments. Respond to them in a unique, approachable voice. Be authentic and open rather than defensive or combative with your audience.

Brand videos like Dollar Shave Club’s viral introduction to the world are the exception. Temper expectations and set benchmarks with realistic goals. Learn what works by measuring. Be consistent, post new videos regularly, then adjust your content and mix of tactics accordingly.

Consistent quality rises to the top

When a brand produces and publishes solid, highly engaging content often, the algorithm naturally ranks them higher. And when you add paid media into the mix, you’re starting from a higher position that gets boosted organically throughout a paid campaign.

Some of the best and highest ranked brands have a hybrid strategy where they:

  • Invest in ads that run across the platform targeting customers and affinity categories
  • Build relationships and pay influencers — with goods, services or cash — who reach their own audiences with the brand sponsorship
  • Invest in their own brand channel to build a content library and an active following

YouTube has 2 billion monthly users and continues to grow in popularity as brands find ways to work it into their marketing media mix models. It’s not too late to get started — video factors strongly into customer purchase decisions, and YouTube is where they look first.