John McDougall Site

Starting and Optimizing a YouTube Channel

Below is part four of a podcast series that we recorded in order to create our book, Talk Marketing – How to Gain Authority and Expert Status, Even If No One Has Ever Heard of You. In this episode, John McDougall and John Maher talk about video marketing and YouTube optimization.

Following the audio file is the transcript of the podcast, which we would normally simply edit and add sub-headings to in order to create a simple blog post from a podcast. However, here we’re presenting the fully edited, prose-version of the transcript that we used in the book.

Talk marketing doesn’t just include podcasts. You can also use videos to drive your talk marketing strategy. In this chapter, I will explain everything you need to know about creating videos to market your business. That includes conceptualizing, filming, editing, posting, and optimizing web videos.

The Importance of Video for Digital Marketing

Are videos an important part of digital marketing? Absolutely. There is a lot of speculation that the internet will eventually be mostly video. While that’s debatable, the trend is undoubtedly strong. The majority of files moving over internet lines right now are videos. Some of that is simply because video files take up more bandwidth than plain text files, but this is also because people are streaming movies and watching YouTube videos in droves.

YouTube reaches over two billion people. That’s 32% of the total population and 51% of total internet users. According to HubSpot, it is the most widely used platform for video marketing, and it’s used by 88% of digital marketers.

There is a good reason for this popularity. According to a recent study, videos are fifty times more likely to get an organic search ranking compared to pages with plain text, and YouTube is usually what ranks. Think about that — you’re fifty times more likely to get an organic search rank if your blog post or page has a video on it.

How to Get Started Making Video Content

So, where do you start? If your goal is search engine optimization, start making videos with helpful tips and then get the videos transcribed so that you have written content on the page. You may have other goals with your videos, and you can undoubtedly create videos that address those goals. But specifically for SEO, regular short or medium-sized informative stuff is great.

I’ve heard this echoed from Google execs. One of the four times my team and I were flown to Google headquarters, a senior-level executive told me she liked how we did lots of short helpful tip videos and added the transcripts to our clients’ blogs.

After you create many videos, you can do ultimate guides with playlists linking all of the sections together and with end screens that lead people from one video to the next in a Netflix-like binge-watching session.

Once you’ve made your videos, you need to train the algorithm about you by letting them find you on their own. Some experts suggest you do not want to share your videos when you launch them so the algorithm can do its job without “artificial” or paid signals. You can get a boost by adding keywords to your YouTube about section.

But you don’t just need views. You need people to watch your videos for a long time — hopefully, from the beginning to the end. Watching your own video right after you launch it is a decent start.

Now you can see why it’s essential to create quality videos on interesting and heavily searched topics. If you create a bunch of crappy videos, that’s like creating a bunch of short blog posts that aren’t very good. It just won’t do much for you.

To choose keywords and topics for your videos, you can use the same strategy I explained for picking keywords and topics for podcasts. But you can also use the free keyword tool from AHREFS that’s specific to YouTube — ahrefs.com/youtube-keyword-tool.

You just throw in a phrase that you might want to do a video about. Then, AHREFS shows you related phrases and the monthly search volumes of each phrase. Remember that while keywords in titles are good, especially to get a new channel found, you need to write the title for the user first.

I also just bought a YouTube-specific tool from keywordsearch.com, and I use TubeSift to export lists of videos relating to keywords for competitor analysis and for YouTube ad placements.

Equipment You Need to Make Videos

After you pick a topic, it’s time to shoot. What equipment do you need? There are all kinds of options for video equipment, but the truth is that you can easily make videos on a high-quality smartphone.

In the past, we’ve used a Canon DSLR camera called the Canon 7D. Ours is a bit outdated, but newer versions of Canon and Nikon DSLR cameras shoot video in 1080P or 4K. Unfortunately, our 7D only records for ten to twelve minutes at a time. They’ve made indie films with this camera, but for us, it doesn’t work to record full-day seminars or events because you have to keep changing the card. That’s why we also decided to invest in a good Sony camera. Then, we can record for hours at a time if we want.

Typically, John Maher, our director of multimedia and digital marketing, who has extensive experience as an audio engineer, records me when I want to make a video. But that isn’t always feasible. I wanted the ability to make videos on my own time during the weekends or after hours, without needing him to be there.

To make that possible, we looked into the Sony ZV-1, which is really popular with video bloggers. That would have worked great combined with a cheap gimble, but I started with the iPhone 13 Pro instead.

I specifically wanted this phone for its cinematic video feature. People speculate that the iPhone will eventually be the DSLR killer. Right now, it’s on the verge of displacing other cameras, but it’s not quite there yet.

The iPhone 13 Pro or 14 Pro will do almost everything you need. I called around and got an iPhone 13 Pro Max for about $2 a month. The price went this low due to a combination of trading in my old iPhone 10 and signing up for paperless billing on two accounts. It’s a $1,600 phone, and although I think it’s worth the upfront cost, there was no reason to spend that if I didn’t have to.

This phone lets me take stunning photos of my son. I look like a hero photographer when I’m using it in portrait mode, but all I need to do is point and shoot. Videos are just as easy. In particular, this phone makes it easy to create decent blurred backgrounds. It does everything automatically with built-in software. In contrast, with a DSLR camera, you have to use more complicated lenses to get what they call the blurred “bokeh” effect.

With the iPhone 13 Pro, I just select cinematic video or photo portrait mode, and it automatically blurs the background. There are still some differences between using a phone and a DLSR camera. The Sony ZV-1, for example, has a bigger sensor, bringing in more light than the iPhone. But for my initial purposes, the iPhone did what I needed.

It’s hard to beat the ease of having it in my pocket combined with the software that makes magic. I don’t have to study photography or filmography. I can just rely on the phone.

After having some success with it, I realized I wanted even better lens options for deeper background blur, so I splurged.

Here’s what I got for a full studio setup:

  • Sony A6600 Camera $1,398 (We also have a Cannon 7d)
  • Sigma Art 16mm F1.4 Lens $374
  • Sigma Art 30 mm F1.4 Lens (use with a teleprompter) $264
  • Sennheiser Wireless Lav AVX ME2 $749
  • RODE Wireless GO II 2-Person Compact Digital Wireless Microphone System/Recorder $232
  • Aputure Light Storm LS C120D II LED Light Kit $899
  • Aputure Light Storm LS 20D Daylight focusing LED (comes in the kit above)
  • GVM 2 Pack LED Video Lighting Kit $173
  • G1s RGB LED Camera Light Full Color 12 Common Light Effects $69
  • Glide Gear iPad Smartphone Teleprompter V2 $199
  • Shure SM7B Mic (2) $359
  • EV RE20 Mic $449
  • Blue Yeti Mic $129
  • Cloud Microphones Cloudlifter CL-1 1-channel Mic Activator $149
  • Scarlett 2i4 USB Interface $159
  • iPhone 13 Pro Max $1,099+ or $2 Per Month
  • DJI Om5 gimbal $129
  • Rode VideoMic Me-L for iPhone $79
  • Neewer Carbon Fiber Track Slider (15 Inch) for b-roll camera $79
  • Impact Deluxe Varipole Support System – Set of 2 $169
  • Savage Seamless Grey Paper 9×36 feet $69
  • Neewer Photography 3 Roller Wall Mounting Background Support System $119
  • Magnus VT 3000 Tripod System $129

Our mini YouTube studio

If you were going to start a wedding photography and videography business, for example, you probably would spend thousands of dollars like I did on a camera and gear. You’d likely need something at least the price and quality of the 7D or the A6600. But a lot of the video guys that have those cameras are a little nervous that two or three years from now, when that next iPhone comes out, their gear might not be worth as much.

If you really want to go over the top for a home business studio, you can spend $5,000 or something like that on gear like I did for your marketing videos. Or you can look into something like the Sony ZV-1, which is in the $700 range. That’s totally reasonable. The camera is light, and it’s designed for blogging.

But you don’t have to spend any of that if you use your smartphone wisely with good natural lighting. The mic, however, is really important because it greatly impacts your sound quality. Ideally, you should at least invest in a Rode VideoMic or Rode Wireless Go2 Lav mic.

A Dentist Proves How Easy It Is to Make Videos

We’ve had clients use iPhones to shoot their own videos. When we recommended videos for SEO purposes, one of our dental clients immediately said, “Okay, I’ll do a hundred.” We’d never seen anyone commit to that level of video creation right out of the gate.

She shot a couple of videos and sent them to us. We gave her a few tips about standing further away from the wall, laying out a background behind her, and turning the camera on its side so it was widescreen. Those simple tips paired with the iPhone allowed her to create high-quality videos easily.

She had an assistant behind the camera who had a list of questions. The assistant just asked her a question, and she talked for a minute or two and gave an answer. Then the assistant asked another question, and she gave another explanation. She just kept going until she had 80 of these videos. It was unbelievable.

They weren’t complicated. They were just little helpful tip videos that answered questions her clients were likely to have like, “what is a root canal?” and “what are the dangers of mercury fillings?”

By making these videos, she created a significant amount of content to market her business and draw people to her website. Fairly quickly, she became #1 in Google for “biological dentist” and “green dentist” and #6 for “holistic dentist.” Combined, the United States has over 11,000 searches a month for those terms.

How to Edit YouTube Marketing Videos

Once you’ve filmed your videos, you’ll need some video editing software. I use Adobe Premiere Pro. It charges an affordable monthly fee and always gives me the most up-to-date software — similarly, many people like Apple Final Cut Pro.

However, you don’t have to get into the bells and whistles of those advanced programs if you don’t want to. You can get away with using the Apple iMovie software on Macs, or you can even edit your videos on an iPad.

Usually, I add a title screen while editing the video. This shows the client’s logo and possibly the video’s title or the question they’re answering. Then, I cut that or do a fade into the video itself. In the end, I also like to put in another title screen with the logo and the website address. Then, if people are watching on YouTube, they can navigate over to your site.

Sometimes, I also add a name card, but you don’t have to. This is a little line at the bottom with the business logo and the person’s name. I have that fade in when the person starts talking.

When starting your channel, the editing doesn’t have to be more complicated than this. Generally, you should try to do these videos in one take. Most people can talk for a minute or two about a topic in their industry without doing much editing, but if you need to cut out a mistake, I have a little trick that I use so that the video doesn’t look awkward.

If you just cut out a mistake, you usually end up with odd things where someone goes from leaning left to leaning right, and anyone watching can easily see that you cut the video right there. I use the software to zoom in on the person’s face to hide the cut. If you do a little transition where you zoom in at the same time as the cut, that helps to eliminate that jumpy feel.

It makes the cut less obvious and looks like you’re doing a zoom-in on purpose for dramatic effect. it’s also easy to do. Then, if you make another mistake, you can zoom back out and do a full headshot from the chest up or something.

That’s really all you need to do with video editing when you are first getting started. If you want, you can do some audio editing to boost the audio and clean up the background noise. There are tools for that in all of these software programs. But other than that, don’t go nuts with video editing until you have a steady stream of videos. Then you can consider adding more flair and hiring a video editing virtual assistant with experience in optimizing channels and adding colorful thumbnails to attract clicks.

We cover these types of things in our Talk Marketing Academy (talkmarketing.com). For example, we have an hour-long Audacity training that shows you how to edit podcasts with that software. We also have training that shows you how to do these transitions and edits on videos.

Best Platform for Marketing Videos

When you’re ready to post your videos, YouTube is generally the best platform to use. You want your videos to be educational, informative, and useful for the largest audience possible.

YouTube is the second biggest search engine after Google. Over a hundred million people go to YouTube daily and search for how to do this or that. People aren’t just looking at cat videos or music anymore. They are using YouTube like a search engine, and they watch five billion videos on YouTube every single day. That creates a potential for a lot of exposure.

There are several other options if you don’t want to use YouTube. Two of the biggest ones are Vimeo and Wistia. These are really good for content that’s only useful for visitors to your website. People don’t go to Vimeo.com or Wistia.com to search for how-to videos. These sites don’t have that kind of public platform.

If the videos you are recording are not useful for a broad YouTube audience and are only useful in the context of your website, you might prefer to use these sites. These platforms also have better tools and more options for putting the video on your website.

They also have great analytics tracking that runs in the background, so you can track the engagement you get from your videos. These platforms can be great when you’re trying to make videos for landing pages, for example. In other words, there are many advantages to sites like Vimeo and Wistia, but if you’re trying to reach the largest audience possible, YouTube is still the way to go.

YouTube Optimization Tips

To get the most value from your YouTube videos, you need to optimize them, which you can absolutely do on your own when you know a few basics.

The first thing is to create a strong title for the video. As we talked about, you want to do your keyword research, and you should focus your title on the customer first and then, if you can, around a keyword that gets a lot of searches. A good length is 55 to 70 characters. Longer than that is ok, but the title will be truncated in most search results. YouTube has a 100-character limit. Look at the titles that work for others, and then model your unique version on theirs rather than starting entirely from scratch.

You can add hashtags in a video’s title and description when you upload a video or record a short on YouTube. To add a hashtag to your video, enter a # symbol followed by a word or short phrase in the title or description. Use Tube Buddy or VidIQ to get ideas for tags.

All types of symbols and emojis are allowed in YouTube descriptions and titles, meaning you can copy and paste any character of your choice.

You should also write a good, useful description. Some experts suggest that when a new channel adds a link to its website, it sends a negative signal to the algorithm. So, go easy on sending people off the platform during your first year or until your channel becomes popular. Remember, you’re trying to draw in viewers, but you’re also trying to impress the YouTube algorithm.

Descriptions of 250 words are recommended, and if you want to test and see if your descriptions are helping with ranking, try adding a keyword phrase in the first sentence. After adding your main phrase tastefully two to three times, you can sprinkle in related keywords instead of repeating the same phrase over and over.

When you decide to start adding links, keep in mind that you can’t specifically add a link in a YouTube description, but if you add the full URL that has https://www.YourWebsiteAddress.com, YouTube will automatically change that into a link that goes to that URL.

Ideally, you should put your URL near the beginning of the description. Otherwise, it can get hidden because YouTube typically just shows part of the description and requires viewers to click on a “read more” link if they want to see the rest. Putting the URL in a prominent spot —  like after you have established your channel — can help drive more traffic from YouTube to your website.

It’s important to note that the description isn’t used heavily as a ranking factor for your video on YouTube. If it were, people would spam the crap out of it and just fill the description with keywords. Even though the description isn’t as important as the title and thumbnails that get lots of clicks, it lets potential viewers know what your video is about.

The closed captions, however, can really help with ranking. That’s why you should get a transcript of your video and then upload the transcript to YouTube as the closed caption file on the video. Google indexes the closed caption files, and the search engines see these files as accurate representations of what was said in the video.

Whenever you upload a video, Google automatically reviews the file and creates closed captions that get added to the video. These aren’t highly accurate because it’s an automatically generated transcript. If you’ve ever turned on the closed captions on a YouTube video, you can very easily see which videos have auto-generated closed captions and which have been done by a human.

The auto-generated ones used to be hilarious in some cases because they were so wrong. For example, we had a client RTN Credit Union, and their automatically generated YouTube transcripts said the name of the company wrong in so many ways that it was laughable — R-Tain, R-T-A-I-N Credit Union. We interviewed the credit union president, and he looks like a fool if you read the transcript because he can’t even say his company name correctly.

Even though the auto-generated transcripts are getting better, you absolutely want to get a real transcript and upload it into the closed captions. Then, Google will index that instead of the auto-generated closed captions. Google assigns a higher level of authority to closed caption files you upload than it does to its own auto-generated captions.

Your thumbnails, along with your title, are what will drive a strong click-through rate. So, make high-contrast, bold thumbnails that don’t just repeat the title. Use captivating images and colors like bright blue, yellow, and purple to lure people in. Use TubeBuddy to A/B test a couple of different thumbnail options and choose the final one based on the tool’s statistically relevant data.

Half of all channels and videos on YouTube have an impressions click-through rate that can range between 2% and 10%. Shoot for 10%.

Always use playlists, even if your videos are not a series, and think in topic clusters. A topic cluster is the main page about a topic with interlinked subtopic pages. It helps if you map out several months of video topics and subtopics and create titles before making videos.

Most importantly, be confident, smile, and have fun. Don’t waste time introducing yourself or making it all about you. Jump right into the heart of the message, and when you edit the video, you can even lead with a little clip of the middle of the video to create a pattern interrupt that draws people in. The first two seconds are key.

Let people see your hands in the video and your body language. Use jump cuts to zoom in here and there, or use different camera angles to make your videos more visually intriguing. Eventually, if you want to move from basic-but-useful talking-head videos to being a superstar in your niche, add screenshots with arrows signaling where to look, motion graphics, and creative editing.

To make your videos more compelling, you can also lead with intriguing stats, make videos that tie your topic to trending topics, increase your pace, and respond to comments.

You don’t have to be Steven Spielberg to tell a story or create some drama, but you should think like a screenwriter when coming up with ideas. Read “Save the Cat by Blake Snyder for ideas on story structure.

Typical YouTube script structures to avoid:

  • All about me
  • Begging
  • Valuable content
  • Sign off
  • End screen

Better YouTube script structures:

  • Hook
  • Valuable content addressing a problem and providing a solution
  • Rather than signing off, shut up
  • End screen where you point to the next video

YouTube looks at three things regarding quality signals:

  • How many viewers click
  • How many viewers watch a video all the way (audience retention)
  • How many viewers watch multiple videos

There are two YouTube analytics metrics used to express audience retention:

  • Average Percentage Viewed (APV) – expressed in a percentage
  • Average View Duration (AVD) – expressed in minutes and seconds

If a video is five minutes long and, on average, viewers watch two and a half minutes of the video, the Average Percentage Viewed is 50% because viewers are watching half of the video. The Average View Duration is two and a half minutes.

Here is a table with the averages across YouTube, released by YouTube itself:

Video length 3 min 6 min 10 min 15 min 30 min
Top 10 of videos 82% 71% 61% 54% 49%
Median 62% 50% 44% 37% 31%

The definition of good average audience retention depends on your niche, competition, and video length. While retention is important, especially in the first sixty seconds, the click-through rate is considered even more important.

To get more eyes on your videos, contribute to Quora or Reddit. Then, back up your comments with links to your videos. For the most part, people will be more receptive to links to your YouTube videos than to your site.

To optimize your blog posts for video searches, add a video that goes with the text content and mark it up with schema in the code to let Google know the page has a video.

Lastly, launch your videos at the right time.

  • 10:00 am to 12:00 pm is best.
  • 2:00 pm to 3:00 pm is the second best.
  • 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm is a third option.

Leveraging Video Content for Media Coverage

You can also leverage your videos to get more media coverage. Journalists want to see that you can speak well on video before they trust you to appear on their TV channels. So, it’s wise to build a digital video archive to share before reaching out to the media.

I learned that from Steve Harrison. He’s the head of a big PR summit I went to years ago, and he emphasized how video archives can be a huge asset if you’re trying to get video-oriented PR or TV-style coverage. When you’ve created a lot of videos, journalists can see that you speak clearly and have some personality.

They know you won’t just say “yes” to the questions they ask or freeze up in front of the camera. They can go into the interview confidently because they know you will be an interesting guest.

How to Highlight Videos and Podcasts on Your Website

In addition to putting videos on your blog with the transcripts, you can also use videos on other relevant site pages such as the about us, bio, services, and product pages. This helps to maximize the exposure of the videos.

You can set that up similarly to how you set up a podcast on your site. Typically, I do an H1 header, a brief description, an embedded copy of the YouTube video, and the transcript of the video.

A few years back, I did a podcast interview with Jim Matsoukas from Pierce Atwood Law Firm, and he posted a link from his bio page to our site where the interview was on a blog post. That could have also worked with a video. It helped show that he’s a thought leader and helped my SEO with a relevant quality backlink.

As you build up an archive of content, it’s a good idea to create a resource section on your website. Some people like to use the phrases “learning center” or “library” instead. Regardless of what you call it, we advise that you set up a master video overview page in the site’s resources menu.

When you set that up, site visitors can just hit that menu and directly navigate to your blogs, podcasts, videos, eBooks, infographics, and other types of resources. A video resources page typically features lots of little thumbnails of the videos you’ve made with a small summary of each. Then, site visitors can watch the videos on that gallery page or click on the link to navigate to the page where the video and its transcript reside.

A separate page for your videos gives people a specific place on your site to go if they just want to watch videos. They don’t have to go through your blog, which is probably a mixture of videos, podcasts, and texts. I’m saying this to underscore the importance of having a dedicated video page. I’m certainly not trying to imply that your blog isn’t important. The blog is still one of the most important aspects of your SEO, and that’s what we get into in the next chapter.

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