The Secrets of YouTube Success – 2012 Edition

There is only one rule for content…

…and that is “What do you genuinely enjoy making?”

It’s stupid to worry about what the rest of the internet wants to see, because just about anything can find an audience. There was a YouTube account with over 6000 videos of a man smoking pipes to different music (it might have been a sexual thing, to be fair). One of our favorite channels, DevinSuperTramp, grabs his camera and Glidecam and makes awesome videos of real-life people doing cool awesome things.

Granted, while he enjoys making those videos, he also loves directing, so he’s starting to branch out into more narratively driven pieces.

You, as a human being, have tastes, and I guarantee you those tastes are shared by other human beings. Whether or not there are enough other human beings for you to be happy with the viewership of your channel is another matter entirely.

So ask yourself “What kind of video do I want to see?” and make it.

As a side note, I think too many people get hung up on ideas. From my experience, ideas are worthless. Execution is more important than anything else. Future First Person Shooter has been done hundreds of times by people with camera in one hand and airsoft pistol in another – the idea is completely unoriginal, but I believe our execution is what set that video apart. Nobody cares how many ideas you have – you won’t get subscribers from ideas alone. It’s about making those ideas into a reality.

That being said, if an idea is genuinely truly entertaining to you, it’s probably not a bad idea. If your video is received poorly, I’d bet that means you need to work on the execution – improve your technical skills offline by reading books, working on tutorials, shooting test videos, etc. (That’s another post for another day).

But most importantly, it doesn’t matter what other people want to see – it matters what you enjoy making. Because YouTube takes so much time and energy, if you make things only for an audience, you’re doomed to failure because you’ll hate doing this, and you won’t put in the amount of necessary time.

You can do everything just to get as big an audience as you can, but at the end of the day, if you really don’t like doing song parodies or cat videos or whatever, you’re not going to be having any fun, and as Matt always says – if you’re not having fun, then what’s the point? Life’s too short.

You have to strike a balance – you have to make videos you genuinely enjoy making, and that an audience can get behind. It’s only in this way that you’ll be able to stomach the amount of work needed to achieve any measurable amount of success.

There is only one rule for length…

…and it’s not “Shorter is better” or “Don’t go above two minutes.” It’s this: the material of your videos must match the runtime.

If your videos have 15 seconds of material, it should be 15 seconds long. An idea, expressed to its full extent in fifteen seconds, placed in a one-minute video is a boring video. If your video has five minutes of entertaining content, guess what? It can be five minutes long and people won’t get bored.

I’ll prove it to you – TubeMogul put out data from fifty web series as to what the audience drop off numbers are between the first episode and the second. They found that across these webseries, there was a 64% drop off. So if you had 100k views on the first episode, you could expect 36k on episode two. These first episodes ran the gamut of lengths, from 2 to 12+ minutes.

So let’s look at RedLetterMedia’s Star Wars reviews – each of the nine parts clocks in at almost ten minutes – definitely on the longer end of things. Conventional “shorter is better” thinking would dictate that, surely, people would get bored watching these, and would not click ahead to part two. If the conventional thinking were true, then logically the audience drop off would be greater than the average of webseries – i.e. greater than 64%.

But looking at the other parts, this is not the case. In fact, RedLetterMedia’s Attack of the Clones review outperforms the average – part 2 only has a 48% drop. And by part 8, it’s performing on the average with a 62% drop. The stickiness of these videos I attribute to the fact that, frankly, they’re incredibly entertaining, and keep people interested for the entire length of the review. The whole thing is an hour long, but he had an hour of content.

When we put out VGHS, we were very worried about runtime – we tried to make each episode as concise as possible. The overwhelming feedback we got as “longer episodes.”

The online viewing experience is the most distraction filled viewing experience known to man. When I get an IM notification or a Twitter update or a Facebook message notification, it takes quite an engrossing video for me to not simply click over to see what my friends are saying. So as a video maker, it’s up to you to create engrossing content at an appropriate length.

But in general, when in doubt, try and trim. You need to develop your “sense of boredom” – that’s why our videos rarely go above two minutes. Not because we don’t want them longer, but that the single ideas we have for them can’t support a much longer length.

Here’s a good way to tell – get a friend or parent to sit down and watch one of your videos right before they have to do something – get to an appointment, cook dinner, etc. Play it for them and watch them. The moment they start to fidget a little, or dart their eyes around the room towards the clock is the exact moment they get bored. Do this a few times, and you’ll start to understand when things are beginning to drag.

So let’s say you have a video you’re proud of, that your parents can sit through, and looks pretty good – where do you promote it?

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