This article is a little different. I’m going to start by giving an overview of my background publishing videos on YouTube and then a bit of a tutorial about how I select topics, produce videos, and generate revenue. You will learn how I did just about everything wrong and still got 1,163 subscribers and more than 1,407,000 views on YouTube and earned thousands of dollars. Those views are all from real people who sought out my videos because they wanted to see them. No bots, gimmicks, or shady tactics were used to inflate the numbers.
Once you understand the basics of what I am doing, I encourage you to ask as many questions as you have about building a channel and publishing videos on YouTube.
I am going to show you 3 specific things in this post:
- How I picked my most successful video projects
- How I produced my most successful video projects
- How I earn money with my videos
I want to start off by making it perfectly clear that I have NOT discovered a magic formula to make your computer shoot out money like a defective cash machine. You are a wonderful person and I am really honored to share my experience with you, but if I had that kind of magic I would cash out, load up the family in a shiny new van and head to the beach. I’m still figuring things out and adapting to a changing environment.
I’m also not rich, either. I consistently make money with my videos, but I’ve still got a day job. My YouTube side business is a work in progress.
Check out these related articles:
If you don’t already know me well, I’m a middle-aged guy with a wife and 2 kids. We live just outside of Birmingham, Alabama in a 3 bedroom ranch style house built back in 1958. When I posted my first video on YouTube I was living in a small 2 bedroom pre-war apartment in New York City. This is important information and I’ll tell you more about that shortly.
I do have a background in film and animation production. Back in the 80’s, in college, I learned how to edit using a moviola and physically splicing together pieces of 16mm film. I’ve produced film and video projects for more than 20 years (from tiny one-man band videos to a multi-million dollar kids television series). And, in a few moments, you will learn that none of that experience counts for anything when it comes to creating successful YouTube videos. If you can work the camera on your smartphone you are officially overqualified for the job.
My Initial Video Publishing Results
As a video publisher, I have done pretty much everything the wrong way. I posted my first video to YouTube on October 3, 2007 7:08 PM – about 2 years after the site launched to the public and one year after it was scooped up by Google for a cool 1.65 billion dollars. This is the amazing work of cinematic art that I released that day:
YouTube was a lot different back then. Creating a channel meant starting a whole new Google account. No multiple channels managed by one user account. There was no Google+, live events, or Hangouts on air. Channel branding was pretty rudimentary, and they were just integrating Adsense into the site. And your videos had to be under 10 minutes long too – no exceptions.
I decided to just jump in and try stuff. No keyword research, no tightly focused niche channels, no coordinated branding. I followed my instincts and experimented. In spite of myself, I did alright.
My first ever video has been viewed more than 135,709 times. My 4th video has been viewed 75,918 times, and I knocked it out of the park on my 5th video which has been watched over 802,864 times. Here it is:
I’m in the process of slowly rolling out a new niche channel which has already picked up 134 subscribers and over 9,000 video views in just 3 months. It is steadily building an audience and should be reasonably successful.
This is the first time I’m revealing the details of my video publishing, so the numbers I’m quoting aren’t yet skewed by people checking out the examples I cite. If you check the current stats for these videos and channels, the numbers will be higher.
So, how did I pull it off?
How I picked my most successful YouTube video projects
You might think I followed a carefully reasoned process to chose the subjects of my videos and plan them out. If so, you would be completely wrong. I picked my most successful projects the way I pick most of my projects. I start by doing things I enjoy and find personally interesting and then I document the process to share with others. I watch the reaction I get to what I share and build on the projects that show signs of connecting with an audience.
Listen to your Data! This is one of those things you should write down in your notes. You can learn a lot of information about how people are consuming your videos and make adjustments that will improve your results.
My approach doesn’t work for everybody, but there are some very important universal concepts embedded in it. They are, focus first on doing interesting things and listen to your audience to learn what they want more of and what parts of your videos are losing their attention.
I mentioned earlier that I live in a house built in the 1950’s and previously lived in a pre-war New York apartment. One of the common activities that owners of older homes engage in is home renovations. Renovation and construction projects are at the heart of several of my more successful videos. I made this series of progress videos documenting the renovation of the kitchen in my New York apartment that have logged more than 60,000 views across the collection.
A more recent video documents the process of creating a concrete veneer counter top in my current bathroom. It has a little over 3,819 views right now and should continue to get fresh views for a long time to come. After living with the results of that project for a while, I will eventually be creating a new update video to answer questions people have about how well this type of surface holds up to everyday use.
How to videos are the bread and butter of my YouTube accounts. When you have a solid production process in place, they are not complicated to make and people love them and watch a lot of them. When I became interested in the idea of building a beehive for my backyard I watched dozens of videos on the subject – some of them two and three times over. That is one way people consume video on YouTube.
Another successful project has been a cooking video I made with my maternal grandparents. It was a project I did for my family. In fact, it was originally created 5 years before YouTube was even invented – DVD players were still new technology at the time. So the sole motivation behind the project was that I, and my extended family, would really enjoy the video. It wasn’t until 2012 that I got the bright idea to post the video to my YouTube account and share it with my family again. From there it took off and found and international audience who enjoy watching my grandma cook as much as I do. Tens of thousands of people have tuned in to watch this video:
My most successful video ever, by a wide margin, involves a bookbinding demonstration (the video link for this is further up the page.) For very practical reasons, I learned how to glue together a simple paperback book using readily available materials and tools. As I did it more often, I decided to build a simple wooden jig to hold the pages together during the gluing process. I made a video demonstrating the process and posted it to my YouTube account. It has passed the 800,000 view mark and is steadily headed toward one million views. It spawned several related videos and, just recently, a brand new channel devoted to DIY Bookbinding!
The success of this video makes an important point that I want to use to close out this topic. The truth is, you never quite know which video is going to really connect and break out. You can follow some proven strategies to increase your odds of success, but it is still a numbers game. You have to create and publish lots of content to find the rare breakout successes. Then, you capitalize on the winners.
I would never have guessed that gluing a homemade paperback book was going to be such a huge success. I’m going to close out this training by doing a mini-case study of this bookbinding video and the related videos and marketing I did to capitalize on its success.
Remember, listen to your Data!
How I produced my most successful project
Do a quick thought experiment. I want you to imagine what kind of camera I used to create a video that has been viewed more than 800,000 times. Picture in your mind the lighting setup and the microphones involved. What kind of tripod do you see?
Did you imagine a DSLR camera with a wireless mic? Did you picture some soft boxes on stands? Did you envision a little home production studio? Well, the truth is far less glamorous.
That video was shot with a Sony Handycam miniDV camcorder aimed over my shoulder from a flimsy tripod that came free with the camera as I sat on the floor in my living room. I used the on-camera mic to record sound and just had a table lamp turned on to provide light.
The whole video was shot in one take, and only my hands appeared on camera. It was recorded at about 11pm at night and my wife and daughter were both asleep one room away – so I was trying not to talk too loud.
Even today, I don’t have regular access to very sophisticated gear. I own a super cheap HD camcorder that I bought for about $120 in 2009. Most of my recent projects have been shot with this camera. I do own some professional lighting gear, but my home office is lit with simple lamps and my outdoor shots are done with nothing but natural light. Most of the time I do everything myself – not even a camera person involved.
If you own a recent iPhone or Galaxy phone, you have a better camera than the one I usually use.
The reason I’m highlighting my low-tech setup is not to put down professional gear (I love it and would have tons of it if my bank account was a bit fatter), but I want to impress upon you the understanding that your gear is not the critical factor to your success. A decent camera, a modest microphone, and a little lighting know-how are all you need – if you capture the right shots (check out my article about setting up a home office studio.)
The key to success is planning. Before I start shooting anything, I imagine how the finished video will play out. I think about the spots I’ll need close-ups so people can see an important detail, and where I’ll need wider shots so people can get the ‘big picture.’ I think about how the shots will flow from one to the next and how I’ll smooth over any bumps. You can sketch out pictures of your shots or just list the shots you’ll need to get. Working the details out on paper first makes the rest of the project go much faster and smoother.
Whenever possible, I shoot a how-to video in order from start to finish. If I can, I don’t even stop the camera. I let it roll as I move the camera or zoom in and out. Later, when I load the video into my editing software, I just go in and cut out the extra bits where I’m zooming and moving the camera. After that, I’ve got a pretty good video. Mix in a few titles and maybe some music and it’s done.
The main thing to focus on is giving viewers a good look at the important details and not to ramble. It takes a bit of practice, but you don’t need a film school degree to get good.
I am not encouraging you to disregard quality – always do the best you can – just don’t let a lack of expensive gear slow you down. Start with what you have and improve over time. When it comes to making videos, you get good by making videos. There is no real shortcut.
How I profit from my videos
If you learn to make videos that people want to watch and share, then making some money is not hard (making lots of money is still challenging.) There are 4 primary ways to earn money ways from videos.
- Advertising on YouTube
- Promoting affiliate offers
- Promoting your own offers
Right now, the bulk of my video income comes from the ads Google displays on YouTube when somebody watches my video. The amount of income is fairly low. I get a little less than half a penny per view on my monetized videos. My primary channel has generated a little over $1,800 from Adsense. My new channel started off making nothing, but as the audience has grown, my income is creeping up. Right now it’s making $5-6 a month and growing with just 3 videos.
If you can consistently generate 1 million views per month on your channel, you could make a living from this income alone. Quite a few people are getting those kinds of results, but it takes a lot of work and dedication – sometimes it takes a substantial team.
NEW YOUTUBE MONETIZATION RULES JANUARY 2018: YouTube just changed the rules again for content creators. In an effort to keep undesirable video creators from driving away potential advertisers, they have raised the bar for creators to participate in the program. First, you have to have 1000 subscribers to your channel. Then, you have to have at least 4000 hours of watch time in the previous 12 months. Bottom line is that you need to put in some serious work before you can even qualify to apply to the monetization program. Then, you still have to pass a review of your channel to make sure it is publishing ‘advertiser friendly content’.
All that is required to generate advertising income is to sign up for an Adsense account, link it to your YouTube account, and click the monetization button for your videos. You will need to pay extra attention to getting proper rights to any images, video, or audio that you use from 3rd party sources. If Google gets a copyright complaint, your videos (and maybe your entire account) can get shut down. Other times they just strip out the audio track if your music is the problem. I source my stock media from paid companies with a track record. You’ll need their paperwork to prove your rights if a problem comes along.
Promoting affiliate offers and your own offers is basically the same process. You list web links on title cards and inside your video’s description to drive clicks back to your site. Then, you either pitch your own product or flip the traffic to an affiliate offer. That bookbinding video I published earned me several thousand dollars in affiliate commissions for an affiliate product I found on the topic, and I still get revenue from Amazon product links on a web page where the video is embedded.
In the early days, the only way to get viewers to visit a website from your video was to include a URL as a title in the video and put a full URL in the description. Some of my older videos have pretty obnoxious titles plastered all over them as a result. These days, if you link your video channel to a website, you can use YouTube’s cards to directly link to a web page inside your video. Currently, I create a dedicated web page for each video I publish that has the YouTube video embedded at the top and text below it with relevant affiliate links. Then, I direct people to that page to get links to the specific items I mention in the video.
Lots of publishers link directly to Amazon with affiliate links from their YouTube video description. I’ve done a bit of research on whether this is within the TOS for both sites and the results are inconclusive. It seems like they don’t expressly prohibit the practice and let people do it, but they leave plenty of room in the legalese to change their minds. I sidestep the whole mess by keeping the links on my own site and driving all the traffic there. I’m sure I miss sales that way, but I get peace of mind in exchange.
Something new that is developing is the use of sponsorships to support a channel. This can work in a few ways. Companies can give you free products (or pay you directly) to create videos that feature their products and services – either as an ad or as part of the content. New services like Patreon allow individual viewers to make financial contributions to your channel in exchange for insider access. They can setup monthly payments, per video payments, or make a one-time contribution. YouTube lets you link to Patreon directly from a card. Or you can try what I am planning which is a dedicated ‘Support This Channel’ page on an associated website with PayPal buttons to make a contribution. You can use a card to link viewers directly to the support page from inside the video.
Questions and Answers
Do you also post your videos to facebook? If not, why not?
I do not post videos directly to Facebook and YouTube. I post my videos to YouTube, then I embed them in a post on my blog along with a short summary and any related links (affiliate or otherwise.) Then I post a link to the blog on my Facebook page. In the past I used automated tools to blast multiple copies of a video to a bunch of video sites, but the objective then was to use the videos as a conduit to drive traffic elsewhere – it was essentially a commercial. Now, my destination is the video I am publishing because I am building an audience around the channel itself – more like a TV show attracting viewers to a specific network. I do post videos directly to Facebook, but these are usually more focused on driving short-term interaction than delivering programming.
This may not be the best approach, but the logic works for me and I’m seeing positive results overall.
What software have you used to edit your videos?
I usually use Adobe Premiere Pro. I have been using it for years and I am very comfortable with it. But, my bookbinding video was so drop-dead simple it could have been made with Windows Moviemaker. I have used Lightworks (a free professional level editor) to edit videos, but it’s setup a little differently than Premiere, so it slows me down.
There are lots of perfectly acceptable video editing solutions available. Unless you are trying to do some fancy motion graphics and effects, you just need be able to make simple cuts, fades, cross-dissolves, and layer in sound.
Have you been consistent in releasing videos? It seems to be – from what I read – that releasing 1 video per week is what YouTube wants. I’m asking because I wonder if your results vary based on how consistent you are.
I am extremely inconsistent with my video releases because I don’t have a consistent amount of time to devote to the process and am not interested in publishing lots of talking head clips of myself chatting on a topic. I’m doing projects, so I have to allocate enough time for the project itself and the editing after that.
The newest channel I am working on, DIY Bookbinding, only has 3 videos so far (last one published April 4th), but I am getting about 150 views per day with no active promotion. Almost all the views are taking place on the YouTube platform, so the related blog and Facebook page are not the primary drivers. I’ve got a few new projects in the que and expect them to generate lots of activity. (Plus, each new video references others with live links between projects using cards.)
I am currently working on a series of videos showing how to perform maintenance on my gas powered scooter (new tires, brakes, valve stems, drive belt, and spark plug.) I’ll need roughly 5 hours to do the work. I don’t have a garage at my house, which means I need a day with good weather, and the scooter is my primary means of transportation – so the work has to be done in one day. We’ve had a VERY wet summer here in Alabama and my schedule has also been rather intense. So, I’ve still got a pile of parts in my office waiting for all the stars to align.
If your goal is to maximize exposure through YouTube’s internal promotional mechanisms, then you will be rewarded for posting videos on a regular basis. But, if you develop a following of people who are passionate about your niche (and build a mailing list, blog, Facebook page, etc.), they’ll show up and engage when you publish new stuff.