13 key elements of successful YouTube videos

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YouTube is great for marketing, a fact backed by a slew of staggering usage stats.

These are some that really stand out:

  • 500 hours of video will be uploaded to YouTube every minute.
  • YouTube is the second most popular social networking site with more than 2 billion monthly users. That’s a third of the internet!
  • Viewers are four times more likely to use YouTube to find information about a brand, product or service compared to another platform — meaning there’s a ready audience for your content.
  • Millennials also spend a lot of time on YouTube. Among millennials, YouTube reaches more of the 18-34 age group than any other TV network.

How can you get the most out of YouTube?

It starts with a great video. Check out these 13 key components of a successful YouTube video.

1. Branded intro footage

The importance of branding in marketing can never be overstated. Branding helps build loyalty.

Including branded intro footage helps your loyal viewers instantly recognize your work, so they stay with you and keep watching.

Additionally, branding like this is important to ensure your viewers remember the video, which is especially handy when they need to refer someone to it.

While they may forget the actual content and name of the video, remembering your branded footage helps direct viewers to your channel.

2. An attention-grabbing intro

Did you know that around 20% of users abandon your YouTube video after the first 10 seconds?

Even worse, they might give you a thumbs down.

So what are you doing?

It’s all about the intro.

After inserting your branded intro material, convince the viewer to keep watching. Explain clearly what they will see and how it will benefit them.

When you show them how to solve a problem, personalize it so they feel like you’re affected too. This creates trust and the feeling that the solution is valuable.

3. Keep the title and opening credits short

As mentioned above, our attention spans are incredibly short. Nothing is worse than a long beginning of a video that has lost interest.

Worse, that lengthy opener will discourage binge-watching. Who wants to watch the same long opener over and over again?

Over half of YouTube viewers will watch the entire video if it’s less than a minute long.

Instead, aim for a ~5 second opener that’s punchy and straight to the point.

4. Build trending topics into your video content

Using trending topics is a proven technique for successful link building and can be applied to your video content as well.

Think seasonal, newsworthy, local, unique, movies, games, music or even surprising themes etc. These are all great fodder for trending themes to incorporate into your videos.

Not sure where to start? Try YouTube Trending (country-specific) or Popular on YouTube (global).

Google Trends and even Twitter trends are also great resources for discovering trending topics to incorporate into your video content.

5. Background music

Should you add background music? After all, people only care about what you say.

However, thanks to technology, we are bored. Fast.

Nothing is more boring than a boring YouTube video.

Including background music not only immediately grabs attention, but sets the mood for the viewing session and creates an emotional connection.

Additionally, the music drives the pace of the video, while a great soundtrack gives viewers just one more reason to share the video.

However, pay attention to two things:

  • That the music evokes the desired emotions and aura.
  • That you can legally use the music in your video.

6. Be clearly audible

Unfortunately, a great intro and nice background music won’t help if you can’t hear them clearly.

Remember that the ultimate goal is for your audience to understand what you are conveying. If your video is just a visual representation, loud background music is sufficient.

On the other hand, if your video contains an oral presentation, make sure it can be heard over the background music.

7. Brevity

Well, maybe not that short. Despite this, this video has more than 11 million views.

Since YouTube allows users to search for videos based on duration, among other filters, we clearly cannot ignore the importance of video length on YouTube.

8. Customized Experiences

Use micro moments. These are the times when people need to know, walk, do, or buy something and turn to the nearest device to get it.

Use data to give people what they want, when they want it.

This can take many forms. Consider making a connection between events on television or the excitement around big moments in pop culture, politics, sports, tech and more.

Another option is to use data to provide personalized video content.

Google Trends, May 2021

To begin this process:

  • Visit Google Trends to validate the rising demand or topic.
  • Find out what people are searching for and adapt your videos to existing conversations. A keyword research tool can help you narrow down the right keyword targets.
  • Next, this free vidIQ Chrome plugin gives you valuable competitive data for recent ads going viral, including tags, social shares, average view time, speed and more.
  • Finally, once the video is created, use YouTube Analytics to answer “who is watching” and “what are they really interested in”.

9. A call to action

As mentioned earlier, YouTube viewers are short on time. After all, there is too much content to see in one day. They have jobs and lives (probably).

Consequently, you need to be creative in how you insert your call-to-action since your audience will progressively disappear as your video progresses.

The commitment decreases significantly between two and three minutes. This means that you shouldn’t place your CTA at the end, and this is especially true for longer videos.

Instead, consider clickable annotations in the first few seconds of the video.

Bonus tip: If you want to grow your YouTube subscriber base, add the following parameter to your URL: ?sub_confirmation=1.

Here’s an example: https://www.youtube.com/user/jonleeclark?sub_confirmation=1. You’ll get a nice little popup asking the user to sign in.

Here is an example of adding the following parameter to your URL.Screenshot by author, May 2021

10: Add credits to promote your videos, channel or website

While credits can only be added to the last 20 seconds of a video, these useful graphics can be used to subscribe to anything from a website URL, a YouTube channel, a video playlist (e.g. watchers.

When creating a video, make sure you leave space at the end of the video to add your credits.

Ahrefs video end card.Learn SEO Fast and Effectively, Ahrefs, May 2021

11. Design video thumbnails that YouTube users want to click on

Of all the items in this list, thumbnails have the greatest potential to make or break your YouTube success.

And the reason is simple.

Suggested videos are typically the top source of organic traffic on YouTube. In a sense, YouTube acts as an “endorser” of your content, suggesting it as something a viewer might also like.

Thumbnails that drive clicks are more likely to feed the algorithm, leading to more clicks and so on.

Here are three simple best practices to keep in mind:

Don’t cheat the user.

Make sure the thumbnail is relevant and matches the title of the video. If not, you risk a shorter playback time, which will negatively affect the algorithm – the opposite of what we want.

Design thumbnails for smaller screens.

YouTube recommends 1280×720; However, most videos are consumed on a smaller screen.

Make sure your image still stands out by playing with color saturation, cropping to a smaller area, or playing with the edges of the image.

Bonus tip: Can’t decide on a thumbnail? Consider testing a handful of thumbnail options with a simple Adwords test. A small investment of $10-20/day will tell which thumbnail generates the strongest VTR (view-through rate).

Maintain a consistent style, look and feel.

I realize this is open-ended, but some consistency considerations include logo, common colors, shapes, consistent face, font, etc.

Over time, this consistency will improve video detection when skimming; and if they like your content, they will be more likely to click on it. The folks at Keywordtool.io do it well.

Unified Youtube Brand.How to find YouTube trends (tips to grow your channel), Keyword Tool, May 2021

12: Create a “guest slot” for other YouTubers

Perhaps the most common example of a “guest seat” is a job interview.

But no matter how you structure it, working with creators who already have an audience is a great way to build your own, as it opens it up to an audience that might never otherwise hear from you.

Look for creators who are already active in your niche or who serve an audience with similar interests. Social Blade is a tool that helps you find channels with similar demographics and channel sizes.

Make sure your guest is presented in a positive light and prominently so they are more likely to promote the video.

13. Give the audience an opportunity to participate

It might seem strange when you’re not streaming live, but asking your audience to participate has its perks.

For example, when you ask your viewers questions directly, you have the ability to generate and respond to comments – which further drives the interaction algorithm.

Viewer feedback can also provide ideas for future content and an opportunity to build content around responses through “fan clips” or callouts of ideas.

The way forward

Apply these video creation best practices to improve performance on YouTube, drive more traffic to your site, and drive more revenue for your business.

These tried and true YouTube video assets are sure to add to your own video marketing success!

More resources:


Featured image: Alina Rosanova/Shutterstock

All screenshots by the author, May 2021

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