Anyone who's started a YouTube channel has probably daydreamed about one of their videos going viral. I know I did. It's a natural desire and one of the core values that YouTube is built around—looking for the one hit that would get us hundreds of thousands of views.
Well, I've been producing videos on YouTube for almost 10 years now, in various niches, and none of my videos have gone viral. In fact, I own over 20 different YouTube channels, and most of them have less than 1,000 subscribers to their name. Doesn't sound too glamorous, but they get the job done: they generate sales and serve my business needs.
When it comes down to it, the only thing that matters is putting your videos in front of the right audience, no matter the size. Here's how you can make the most of your YouTube channel, without any viral hits.
The first step to YouTube success: topic research
As a small channel without the power to churn out dozens of videos every month, you have to focus on creating a few quality pieces of content instead. That means creating targeted videos for topics that you know there's a demand for.
There are three main sources of traffic for most YouTube videos:
Search. Users search a keyword on YouTube and find your video.
Suggested views. Your video shows up in other related videos as suggestions for what to watch next.
Home views. Users see your video's thumbnail on their home screen.
Suggested and home views are closely connected, and most folks agree that to get them, you'll need to have an established number of loyal followers or reach extremely high click-through and view retention rates on your videos. Those types of views are the ones that help videos go viral, but as a result, they're hard to duplicate, especially without an established audience.
That's why, from my experience, focusing on search views is the way to go for small channels. You can do this by showcasing your knowledge while still serving a relevant keyword.
It will be hard to rank for competitive keywords at first, so start by targeting low-competition keywords. There won't be as much volume, but these long-tail keywords will get you more high-intent viewers: people who are looking for something specific and not just browsing.
Use autosuggest to see popular user searches
The YouTube autosuggest feature is my absolute favorite way to find new keywords to target. Go to YouTube, and start typing any keyword into the search box at the top. You should immediately see a dropdown list of keywords, like this.
These suggestions are based on relevant queries users have searched before. It's a great source of inspiration: all those keywords can be used as video ideas, and the fact that YouTube suggested them means they get real interest from real users. You can create a video dedicated to any one of those topics and be confident that there is a search traffic potential for it.
Use Google Trends to find timely keywords
If you find a bunch of potential keywords using the autosuggest feature, you might want to narrow things down. One great way to do that is with another free tool: Google Trends. Google Trends lets you compare the popularity of different topics on a given date. It even gives you the option to compare several different keywords using their popularity in YouTube search specifically.
This is huge, as this data comes directly from Google. It doesn't show specific search volume numbers, but you can use it to achieve exactly what you want to do: comparing a few different keywords to find the most timely one.
Head over to Google Trends, select a YouTube search, and drop your keywords into the tool.
In the search above, you can see that "small business tiktok" is easily the most searched term out of the three, with nearly two times the popularity of "small business ideas at home." The numbers shown on the graph don't mean much—it's just a scale that represents the keywords' popularity from 1 to 100, and it's relative to the other keywords you put in the query.
Run this process for more keywords until you find your eventual winner—and then it's time to start producing some content.
Turning your viewers into customers
When I started my first few channels, I spent a lot of time producing videos and even more time editing them afterward. I wanted to ensure that everything was as perfect as it could be within my limits of time and money. I didn't really see results.
What I've learned over the years is that there are many more important aspects of the content creation process that will boost your performance.
Once your videos are done, here are 3 ways to automate the post-production process, including automatic uploading, cross-platform promotion, and transcription.
Increase engagement rate with the 15-second rule
Lots of small business videos start with an introduction. It's a natural thing to do: you want to introduce yourself and your business to new viewers so it feels more relatable. But as YouTube points out themselves, the first 15 seconds of your video are by far the most crucial.
Of course, branding matters, and you should definitely make sure to talk about yourself and your business somewhere in the video, but not at the start. People coming to your channel for the first time, especially from search, are looking for answers, not a relationship. Not yet.
Use those first 15 seconds to hook them so they watch the rest of your video. Here are a few suggestions:
Start by telling your viewers exactly what they're going to learn from you in the video, so they can see the value ("In this video, I'm going to show you the best way to knit a scarf").
Tease the most important part of the video with an edited sneak peek, so your viewers have a more tangible understanding of that value proposition.
Grab your viewers' attention immediately using a compelling phrase or a visual (for example, in a video about the best credit cards, show a comparison table on the screen with the results of your research).
Finish with a strong call-to-action
Every one of your YouTube videos should have a clear goal in mind. There are many ways to monetize your videos, but unless your YouTube channel is your business, your videos should have the goal of turning your viewers into your customers.
The easiest way to do that: integrate clear calls-to-action in strategic parts of your video—usually at the end.
While only official YouTube partners can add link overlays to videos, you can still integrate CTAs the old-fashioned way: using your own voice along with text on the video itself. Take a look at Dollar Shave Club's YouTube commercial for a strong example.
The last seven seconds of their video is a single frame with their website address, making sure all viewers know where to go from there.
Use the description to your advantage
YouTube uses your video description, along with the video's title and tags, to better understand the context of your content. A well-written description can help your video's ranking, and it can turn a surprising number of your viewers into customers, without much additional work from your side.
On every single video I produce, I make sure to include links to my most relevant products, as well as links to general resources that I find useful (usually via an affiliate link). Other folks, like Video Creators, include things like links to other content they've produced, a one-click way to subscribe to their YouTube channel, and links to other social channels they own. All this allows viewers to click directly on relevant content or products, and it also shows them the value you can add beyond the one video they just watched.
Depending on what stage of the customer journey you think the audience of your video might be in, you'll switch up the kind of content and product promotion you put in those descriptions.
For more YouTube marketing tips, here's Zapier's guide to YouTube marketing.
With over a billion hours of video watched daily on YouTube, it's a channel that should be high on your priority list as a business owner. Don't expect to capture more than a tiny fraction of that viewership. But if you make the right types of videos the right way, that's all you need.