Want to get more leads or sales from your YouTube videos? Wondering if there’s a secret to creating the perfect video for businesses?
In this article, you’ll discover a four-part recipe for successful YouTube videos and some common mistakes to avoid.
Why Your Business Should Be on YouTube
YouTube is a long play when you go organic. If you want to go faster, you can do YouTube ads. But if your plan is to use YouTube for organic marketing, you’ll find that as you put out strategic content over time, you can create an amazing amount of inbound traffic for your business.
There are the obvious reasons to be on YouTube. YouTube is a search engine that’s owned by Google, which is the largest search engine in the world. More than 65% of people go to YouTube to solve a problem or find an answer and every business solves a problem or provides an answer. So it’s a natural fit for problem-solvers to place those solutions on the very platform where people are asking their questions.
Although YouTube is a search engine, it’s not strictly search-based content. It’s more intent-based content. When you position your content around search terms, YouTube tries to find you an audience. It’s not necessarily going to happen in a linear, search-based way where people are simply going to start finding you. Instead, YouTube discovers what people want to see and then starts placing that content in front of them.
Think about what’s on your YouTube home page right now. If YouTube is recommending a lot of dog and cat videos, then YouTube knows you enjoy watching funny animal content on the platform. Or if you’re dealing with chronic illness or pain, or trying to improve the quality of your life in some way, all of these interests can be found on your YouTube home page.
YouTube starts suggesting videos on a user’s home page because it learns what they want to see. As marketers, once you understand how the YouTube algorithm works, you can begin to shift away from the idea of what kind of content you want to produce and move to the idea of what content you need to create to get in front of your ideal viewer. Businesses that know their ideal viewers best and can get inside their heads win.
This doesn’t happen only on the YouTube platform itself. As we said, Google owns YouTube. Every time a viewer searches Google for an answer, YouTube is getting a better picture of what they want to watch and what solutions they’re after. In fact, YouTube will even start giving users suggestions right there on Google.
So your goal isn’t merely to produce a bunch of videos and get them ranking on YouTube search results. Your goal is to get in front of the right people and optimize your content so YouTube will put it in front of the right people. This is where the real power and opportunity lie within YouTube.
3 Big Mistakes Businesses Make When Starting on YouTube
There are a few key mistakes that many marketers and business owners make when starting on YouTube. Here’s what they are and how to avoid them.
Jumping on YouTube Without a Strategy
You don’t want to hop straight onto a platform like YouTube without a plan. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.
It’s important that your strategy is designed specifically for how YouTube works. Every social media platform has its own culture and best practices, and YouTube is no exception. You can’t start a presence there thinking that the same strategy you use for another platform is going to work.
Before you launch a YouTube channel, make sure you’ve thought through your strategy and have it written down. This will help you maximize your return on the time and money you’re going to invest in creating content for YouTube.
Overthinking, Especially About the Wrong Things
The second mistake a lot of businesses struggle with is they start overthinking. YouTube feels more intimidating and pressure-filled than other platforms. There are plenty of marketers who feel comfortable creating Instagram reels, TikTok videos, Facebook reels, and LinkedIn stories—and yet when they come to YouTube, there’s something that gets in their way.
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It’s longer-form video, so that’s part of it. There’s typically more equipment involved as well. So marketers start overthinking. One question leads to the next: What am I going to say? Is my channel going to grow too slowly? Is this going to be worth my time? What if I waste my time? What if I’m uncomfortable on camera?
And it doesn’t stop there. When it comes to overthinking, the biggest thing marketers get hung up on is the production value. Often, they’ll hide behind equipment purchases as a means to justify not getting started. They’re going to wait until they buy the right camera, the right lighting, the right backdrop for their studio, or the right office space.
While all of this stuff is important to figure out in the long run, the truth is the smartphone you already have is good enough to get started. You won’t regret taking action right now if it gets you going.
Content value outweighs production value almost every time. We’ve all sat through a video that was a little blurry or the lighting was a little off or the audio was a bit fuzzy but the topic was something we were passionate about or we were trying to learn. We were listening to the substance of the video—the words and ideas—more than worrying about the production value.
Yes, your audience needs to see and hear you. But any new Android or iPhone in front of any clean space will do that.
Lack of a Deep Understanding of Your Target Audience
The third mistake a lot of businesses make on YouTube is they don’t have a deep understanding of their target audience. They might know a few key things, but they haven’t really dived into their headspace.
If you’ve already uploaded content on YouTube, take a moment to review the last 10 or 20 videos you posted and ask yourself, is this what my audience really cares about? Are these actually the topics they want to hear about from me?
These are some of the most powerful questions you can ask in marketing. A lot of marketers spend significate time and energy making and posting videos but they’re not really talking to those pain points that their audience cares about.
There’s some value to making videos to answer those more generic questions. If you’re a coach who teaches email marketing, for example, a more generic video on how to build an email list could be valuable without poking at a particular struggle. But you can reach a whole other level when you can understand the true frustrations and pain points of your target audience.
Get inside their heads and understand who they are. If you’re creating how-to videos, are they beginner, intermediate, or advanced? Who’s on the other side of the camera? When you match your message with your audience from a place of authenticity—and add some value—that’s how you start to build momentum on YouTube.
The 4 Key Ingredients of the Perfect YouTube Video Recipe
The perfect video recipe is almost like the perfect video viral recipe. You can create viral videos with it if you execute each of the four elements effectively.
The first key element is your “big idea”—your overarching topic. Once you know that, think about how can you use your YouTube title and thumbnail to tell your audience what that big idea is.
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Then there’s the hook. This is your first 15 seconds or so but it could be as long as a couple of minutes. This is the opening of the video that grabs attention right off the bat. Those first few seconds matter the most, especially on YouTube.
Then there’s the content and optimizing that content or adding elements that will help you spice up your content. Things like creative edits, music, and other components can take your video from being a simple, talking-head bit with almost no movement to something much more engaging.
Finally, there’s the transition over to the next thing. In the world of YouTube, no one cares about the ending. If you let people know you’re ending the video, they’re going to leave. They got their answer, you told them you were ending, so now they’ll click on another video because they don’t need to watch through the credits. So your goal on YouTube is not to let people know you’re ending the video and instead transition to the next strategic video.
To summarize, put together your big idea, grab their attention with a hook, keep their attention with engaging content, and then draw their attention over to the next video with a strategic transition.
How to Come Up With the Big Idea for Your YouTube Video
Now that you’re familiar with the key pieces of a successful YouTube video, let’s dig a little deeper into the first one: the big idea.
This is your overarching topic for the video. Get inside your audience’s head and figure out what they really care about, are passionate to learn, and are searching for right now on YouTube.
A lot of marketers focus more on their video titles and thumbnails. And these are two important elements that require a lot of careful thought and strategy, but neither one is as important as the topic. If your topic isn’t aligned with your audience, then it doesn’t matter how intriguing and creative your thumbnail is or how compelling your title is. Your audience isn’t going to click through to watch your content.
But, if you can get all three—talking about the right topic at the right time, a strong title, and a strong thumbnail—then you’ve got the winning combination.
So first, the topic. Hollywood production studios often use loglines to help them decide from thousands of pitches which movie will receive their energy, funding, and resources to be greenlit for filming.
A logline is a brief, one-sentence summary of what the movie is about. For example, “A science-fiction fantasy about a naïve but ambitious farmboy from a backwater desert who discovers powers he never knew he had when he teams up with a feisty princess, a mercenary space pilot, and an old wizard warrior to lead a ragtag rebellion against the sinister forces of the evil Galactic Empire.”
Of course, you don’t have to write out a complete logline for every single YouTube video you make. But if you have 100 different video ideas and aren’t sure which one you should create first, try writing out your ideas in this way to see which ones should get your energy. It’s okay if the idea feels like it’s the easiest one or one that has maybe already been done before. If one feels like an easy win, take the easy win.
Get Inspiration for Potential YouTube Video Topics
There are several resources you can use to draw inspiration for YouTube video topics. For starters, you should stay up to date with the latest news in your niche or industry. You can head over to Google News and type in your topic to find new articles and announcements for things that are coming out.
Also talk to your existing audience—your customers. Find out what’s getting them stuck, some of the things that are on their mind. You can do this by getting on the phone with some of them or sending an invitation to your email list to do a Zoom with you. If you have a Community tab on your YouTube channel, you can publish polls to get feedback.
You can also use a tool like vidIQ to monitor certain search terms and see what YouTube videos are trending around what topics.
You want to pay more attention to your audience than to your competitors, especially if you’re just starting out. A lot of businesses jump onto YouTube and start immediately focusing on what their competitors are doing and then trying to react to what they see. But if you serve your customer and address the things keeping your customer up at night, those pain points, your YouTube channel, your business, and your customers will all benefit.
Of course, you should check out your competitors’ channels too. In fact, you can learn a lot about your audience from reviewing your competitors’ channels and analyzing the videos that are still performing for them even several months after being published.
How to Create an Effective YouTube Thumbnail
Once you’ve got the big idea for your video, it’s time to pair it with a title and thumbnail.
When designing a YouTube thumbnail, avoid making it too busy. If you include your logo in the corner, repeat the title, show a zoomed-out view of your office, and add an emoji, there’s simply too much stuff happening. It confuses the eye.
Instead, simplify your thumbnail to capture attention. A good rule of thumb is to use a maximum of three things in it.
If you’re going to be in the thumbnail, your face should convey some element of emotion. It doesn’t have to be an overly exaggerated, typical YouTuber face, but it should express some emotion. Research has shown that people resonate with faces so showing your face does make a difference.
In addition to you, your thumbnail could include some item that is seen in the video or representative of the topic of your video.
For the text overlay, don’t just repeat the words from the title. That would be a waste of real estate since the title is always shown with the thumbnail. You might also consider boosting the contrast in the color or the saturation by 20% or 30%, just to help you stand out in the mobile feed or on the TV. Keep it simple. Simplicity is eye-catching.
Finally, if you can do so in a compelling, ethical, and authentic way, don’t be afraid of staging your thumbnail. You never want to trick somebody into clicking over into your video, but your thumbnail is there to get them to click. That might mean drawing their attention to a single desk before giving them the full office tour inside the video.
Sean Cannell is the founder of Think Media, a company that helps marketers sell more with YouTube. He’s also the co-author of the book, YouTube Secrets, and co-host of the Think Media Podcast. Find Sean on YouTube and on Instagram at @seancannell.
Other Notes From This Episode
- Check out the free resources Sean mentioned at FreeYouTubeSchool.com.
- Learn more about vidIQ’s Trend Alerts.
- Connect with Michael Stelzner at @Stelzner on Instagram.
- Watch exclusive content and original videos from Social Media Examiner on YouTube.
- Tune into our weekly Social Media Marketing Talk Show. Watch live on Fridays at noon Pacific on YouTube. Listen to the replay on Apple Podcasts or Google Podcasts.
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