Toward the end of 2016, I realized with regret that I had allowed a ton of momentum on YouTube to slip by. Between 2006 and 2016, I built an audience of 590 or so fans only to stop creating. I know: 590 isn’t that much in the world of YouTube, but the way I always looked at it, it’s 590 more than zero.
My resolution was to get back in the YouTube game in 2017.
Since my decision to become a YouTube creator once again and to be a student of all-things YouTube, I’ve created 69 videos for the platform including 64 in 2017 proper. Most of the videos are original songs and covers although I dabbled with driving videos and ASMR sort of. I’ll do a full blog explaining ASMR sometime. If you know what it is, then I suspect you’re a fan of those videos. If not, it’s a little hard to explain in just one sentence.
I’ve picked up 92 subscribers this year, but it’s been a struggle to gain subscriber momentum. The best I can tell, even with focused SEO and tagging work on your videos, there isn’t much organic reach to be had on YouTube. I’m not talking engagement; I’m talking reach. I’ve even spent some money to promote videos this year, and I’ve found AdWords to be frustrating compared to Facebook’s ads system. I’m not sure I even recommend it. The competition on YouTube is tougher than ever, making it as close to impossible as it’s ever been to break through.
And yet the process of being a YouTube creator is still damned fun. I’m in the game, in the mix. I’m creating and learning.
I created 64 videos and earned 35,672 views this year. There are companies that haven’t managed to get 35,672 views this year. I added 92 subscribers, and I made $17.79, which I won’t see unless I make another $82.21. Google disburses after $100.
Sure, YouTube is very much only a hobby for me at youtube.com/RyanWeltonMusic please subscribe please subscribe please…you know. Ahem. My apologies; I get carried away. I always do. YouTube is a hobby for me, but I’ve learned a ton about digital content creation, audience development, SEO and using other platforms to funnel into YouTube.
I have not mastered YouTube, not close — but every week I get a little better at it. So, I wanted to share with you what I learned about YouTube in 2017. Maybe you’ll find one or two helpful tidbits in here.
1. The competition on YouTube is only getting more fierce by the day. If you’re not OK with only doing YouTube for fun, it’s going to disappoint.
When I started in 2006, it only took a mention from The Boring Dispatcher (R.I.P.) to get me my first subscribers. I need to do a blog post on The Boring Dispatcher sometime. He was a trip. His direct message to me was literally, “Holy shit. You should have subscribers.” He mentioned me in a video somewhere, and suddenly I had subscribers. It was my first time experiencing the benefits of influencer marketing.
Today, you have to stand out to be among the elite on YouTube.
Your talent has to be world class.
Your videos have to be top notch.
Your content has to be useful or entertaining.
However, you don’t have to be any of those things to have a go at it on YouTube. Not at all. In fact, I like to tell people that perfection is the enemy of progress. Create a channel. Shoot video. Go, and see what happens.
But if you’re interested in growing a significant audience at some point, however you define that, you’re going to have to hyper-focus on talent, video quality and creating useful, informative, entertaining content. That’s the stage I’m in: trying to improve my YouTube game.
2. Lighting and audio quality matter, and it doesn’t cost a fortune.
In 2006, I used a pocket camera that I bought at Target, a contraption with a USB connector that popped out of it. Then I bought a Sony Handycam and used that for the next 10 years, shooting always in available light. Then in 2017, with my iPhone 7 in hand, I bought a lighting system for $52 on Amazon at the recommendation of my friend Rob, who among many talents holds lighting expertise among them. I thought I was going to have to spend $1,000 for a good lighting system.
Nope. I spent $52, and my lighting system is bad ass. It pays to have smart friends.
The basics of a lighting system are pretty simple: a key light, a fill light and a back light. Apparently, that’s the construct for good lighting everywhere, those three lights. They even call it three-point lighting. Those of you who are more frugal than I could probably make this happen with lights you have sitting around at home. My office is now a YouTube studio. I don’t even have room to walk through it, and I’m totally fine with that.
As far as the audio, I have a mixer, and I have lavalier mics, and I even have a little gadget my YouTube friend, Ric, sent to me. I haven’t made time to use it yet although it’s among my next goals on YouTube. The reason improved lighting and audio are important is simple: because the competition is better than ever before. I’ve improved my lighting, and now I need to improve my audio — and little things, at scale, are a big damn deal. By the way, that’s just a nugget of life wisdom right there.
Even if we’re not super talented YouTubers, the least we could do is get a little bit better at creating competent video.
3. Google AdWords might be a waste of time if you produce niche content and need to reach a narrow audience.
This year, I spent $133 on video ads for a total of 88,500 impressions and 103 clicks. That’s a cost-per-click of $1.30. What made AdWords ultimately unsatisfying is that, unlike Facebook ads, there’s no way to hyper-target your YouTube promotions. I do smooth jazz and yacht rock, essentially a type of blue-eyed soul from the late 70s and early 80s. My best targeting option in Google AdWords is to go after music fans in the United States and Canada. On Facebook, I could target people who are fans of yacht rock, music fans who “like” Daryl Hall, etc. I could get super specific.
If anything, my lack of success with Google AdWords served only to discourage me because the views I got didn’t result in engagement or subscriptions.
4. A great thumbnail can be the key that opens the door, and you don’t have to be a graphic artist.
Link to video: “Step To It” by Ryan Welton & Chris Hicks
If you’re not taking the time to create a strong thumbnail for each of your videos, one that looks good and has a direct, compelling call to action, you’re missing out on a key opportunity to attract views and possible subscribers. In the last month, I’ve subscribed to something called TubeBuddy, a browser extension that works on top of YouTube. Among all the things it does, TubeBuddy helps creators come up with good-looking thumbnails on the fly.
TubeBuddy is also great for suggesting tags to use on each of your videos for SEO purposes. Another benefit of TubeBuddy is that you can do all sorts of keyword research, work that can help you decide what kind of videos to create in 2018. Despite the fact that I’d love to get a million subscribers doing nothing but yacht rock and becoming the next Michael McDonald, that’s not likely going to happen because the demand isn’t there for it — and TubeBuddy can help clue you in to where the demand actually is so that you can create videos that provide supply to demand.
The free market is the free market.
However, in the short time I’ve used TubeBuddy, I’ve actually lost subscribers, and my daily video viewership is down. On the average, I had been getting upwards of 100 views per day earlier this year. Right now, I’m down to 30-40 per day.
The jury is out on TubeBuddy for me in terms of building audience. We’ll see. Where TubeBuddy might be really useful is in driving me toward other types of content creation, ones that drive more traffic.
5. Spending time as a consumer, networking within the YouTube community is everything — and I suck at it.
One proven growth tactic I have done woefully little of on YouTube is in becoming a true, genuine part of the YouTube community as a consumer. Commenting on other posts. Collaborating with other creators. That has to be my No. 1 YouTube goal for 2018. Based on everything I’ve heard from knowledgeable folks like Gary Vaynerchuk and Dusty Porter on the YouTube Creators Hub podcast, which you should be listening to, going beyond posting videos is a vital part of any YouTube strategy.
In 2018, I’m likely to experiment with different types of content, focusing on improving my lighting, my audio, my editing, all of it. Combine that with a genuine effort to dive into the community head-first, and 2018 could be a move-the-needle year on YouTube. Even if it isn’t, I’ll be back here next year to tell you what I learned.
You can find me at youtube.com/RyanWeltonMusic