What I learned from 13 years of Youtube

What You Don’t Know About YouTube (Secrets from 13 Years of Videos)

Bloggers and podcasters — pretty much every influencer who grew their following outside of YouTube — don’t know as much as they think about YouTube.

They think they do but they really don’t.

That’s why they rarely thrive on there.

Why trust me? I’ve been a YouTube fanboy almost since it began. One of my first channels was created in 2006 and amassed 7 million views, back when that was a lot.

Since then, I’ve watched over 10,000 videos across diverse genres, taken expensive YouTube courses, and saw many influencers (like Peter Chao and Athene Wins) strike it big and dwindle to nothing. I’ve seen other channels stay afloat for over a decade (Smosh and Ryan Higa).

I’m going to break down what I’ve learned. Because the truth is I’m seeing a lot of young ones repeat the same mistakes, which will result in the same consequences.

Make It Understandable If You Had No Other Content To Explain It

Treat your YouTube channel with the care you treat your other content. People should be able to learn who you are and what you do as a first time visitor purely by only finding you through your channel.

There’s thousands of YouTubers with millions of subscribers. And they solely function on YouTube. YouTube is their home base so they have to treat it like their home base.

Consistency Is Harder Than You Think

People can find them on YouTube, watch the Channel Trailer and learn who you are, and NEVER miss an upload.

Some of the top YouTubers are the most consistent uploaders in the world. I’ve seen interviews where they said they haven’t missed a day of uploading for YEARS. I’ve seen many influencers from other platforms vow to upload daily, only to drop the ball within a couple weeks or months.

Consistency is well known in other platforms. It’s a foundational principle, so why don’t you do it on YouTube as well? Partially, it’s because of passion. Some people see YouTube as a chore and Instagram as a hobby. That’s why they only stayed consistent on Instagram.

Don’t Treat It Like A Trash Can

Some of the top blogs I have seen in the men’s fashion space, podcasting space, self-help or blogging space treat their YouTube like a trashcan.

Video seo improve youtube
At least he’s trying with custom thumbnails! Some channels don’t even have good thumbnails. There is still room to improve here as the titles and image don’t explain what is going on for someone not familiar with his podcast work.

Not only is it a random assortment by topic, it’s also sporadic by upload frequency. You might see one this week, but nothing for months. Then, you might see a flurry of rants with horrible thumbnails for a couple days. And then nothing for two weeks.

Explain With Context

Even when there is a video, there’s little context on what it is or what benefit you’ll get.

It’s usually just a random video that jumps straight into you talking. You’re almost assuming that people know who you are because you are.

And that completely cuts off growth or anyone finding about you and being able to learn who you are.

And guess what happens then?

They’ll click away.

If you’re like this, check your YouTube analytics. I wouldn’t be surprised if you saw 30 to 70% drop off in your videos within the first 10 seconds.

In fact, I’m sure if you even have a small sized following, that’s enough retention to gain enough traction to get some new people who have never heard about you to find you from your videos.

And I bet if you check your analytics, there are brand new people who found you this way. And then you lose them with lackluster YouTube video presentation.

“It’s just a few people,” you might say.

Well, one right fan is all you need. That could have been a lost sale. That customer could have generated a ton of money over a lifetime.

But you’ve lost them the moment they stumbled across you.

I’ve examined thousands of YouTube channels in the last year and it’s become clear to me how congested and competitive things can get. So you should be grateful for those random people who stumble across you because that’s tough to get.

And you should do your best not to lose them so quickly.

Now, you might be thinking, “If it’s so congested, what’s the point? It’s too crowded. The ship has sailed.”


I still believe there’s plenty of room despite how crowded it is. I still stumble across plenty of spaces to jump into.

That’s what they’ve said about blogs and podcasts for years, right? But I’m sure you know of a new blog or podcast that has or is rising to the top.

And this is because the Internet is still in its infancy. This isn’t the end. It’s the beginning.

The web will be here forever. And it’s only maybe 25 years old.

Perhaps you’ve seen people give you Youtube Search Engine Optimization advice on a top blog. It’s surely reliable, right? It will definitely increase your chances of ranking high in results, right?

They don’t know what they’re talking about.

That’s why they have a lot of success using SEO on their blog but their YouTube channels have a small amount of subscribers.

For example, you might have heard about using Black-hat techniques like making the video file upload name into your keyword or how social shares and comments affect your ranking.

These aren’t even true.

YouTube has released information years ago saying that they’ve discontinued these as ranking factors. The one guy I trust about YouTube SEO, a fellow YouTuber, Tim Schmoyer, has mentioned this numerous times as well.

But I guess rumors are easy to propagate.

Social signals from genuine fans can indirectly help because they boost things that actually matter like retention rate and more shares. But it’s not directly factored into the ranking algorithm.

Understand the VALUE and power of YouTube thumbnails.

YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world behind Google. It’s incredibly powerful and under-utilized even to this day.


What people don’t understand is that it’s not like a website where you control everything on that website and where it’s placed.

It’s on its own native platform.

And that means there’s TONS of related videos in the sidebar (or below the video if you’re watching from mobile) that will show, just like ads, whether you like it or not.

Except 99% aren’t ads. They are other YouTube videos competing for your attention.

This means you get HUGE exposure for free of other YouTube videos if you do it right.

The pictures that preview the video, called thumbnails, are just as important as the title of the video.

They are incredible free real estate to get people to click your stuff rather than someone else’s.

Have you heard anyone give you advice on ranking higher in Youtube search results?

I bet any advice you’ve heard about YouTube Search Engine Optimization is solely focused on search term results. But what about Suggested videos?

Consider the stats of this super-secret experiment video I did:

youtube video seo

82% of the views came from Suggested Videos. 6.8% came from Browse Videos, a suggested videos platform on YouTube’s homepage.

Only 8.2% came from YouTube search.

None of this was paid traffic. It was all organic discovery. 5,888,179 views came from Suggest videos sidebar alone.

Now, this might be an abnormal case. But on average, don’t be surprised if 30% of your videos come from Suggested.

That’s huge. 

This means that’you should spend a decent amount of time looking to see how you can rank as a Suggested Video for a specific video and not just looking to rank for a search term directly. 

The BIGGEST difference between Google and YouTube is that you have this decent sized image that appears with every suggested video in search results and while you’re watching a video.

That’s huge.

And as I’ve seen in the last few years, the YouTube thumbnail competition has gotten tougher and tougher.

The top YouTubers almost always have intermediate to advanced Photoshop skills. The images for their Youtube thumbnails are incredibly enticing, provoking, and engaging.

The channels that are best at it are usually Beauty/Lifestyle Female YouTubers, BuzzFeed-type channels, and Gamers. Notice the block text, cropped background, colors, font, and graphics. Those showcased below are MyLifeAsEva and JackSepticEye.

Top YouTuber Beauty

Top Youtuber gamer

They’ve split-tested thousands of videos. They’ve found what colors most catch the eye on the platform. They add thought-provoking imagery. Some have incredible borders. Some have click-bait. Some have contrasting text.
Some make you want to click so bad.

There are thousands of channels to study, and the best part is that you can easily examine their best performers for free. Just sort their videos by Most Viewed.

There’s tremendous opportunity here because there’s still a lot of really lazy YouTubers.

They’re still stuck in the days of the past where you could just use the auto-generated thumbnail Youtube provides.

Or they’ve performed well enough in the past by just slapping some text on the thumbnail.

These thumbnails just aren’t going to cut it anymore. I would guess there’s maybe a 1 to 3 year time frame where you can get by surfing off of this before you’re going to fall behind.

They’re lazy.

They don’t want to put in the work. They don’t enjoy making beautiful thumbnails because it can take a long time.

That’s an opportunity for you to get ahead.

YouTube thumbnails have their own culture based on the native platform. Professionals at Photoshop seem to have a tough time transitioning. Just because you have great graphic design skills doesn’t mean you’re automatically set.

You have to sculpt things to fit the YouTube platform.

There’s many ways of creating an effective thumbnail. You don’t have to have incredible design skills if you have an interesting life and can capture the best moments.

Consider these daily vloggers who do just that. They get millions of views per daily upload. They make up for lack of thumbnail editting with great footage, enticing images, a consistent schedule, and curiosity-provoking headlines. Those showcased below include Casey Neistat, RomanAtwoodVlogs, and Mo Vlogs.

Youtube SEO

Youtube SEO advanced

How to be a Youtube Vlogger

By the way, mobile is not to be underestimated. It’s making up more and more of the population who watch videos. It’s already more than desktop.

In fact, when we should be talking about mobile SEO.

Because quite frankly, that’s what most people use to watch videos online nowadays. Mobile makes up 50% of all YouTube views and that number is growing. 

Some of my videos spike to 58% or higher in mobile-viewership.

You might think, “Who cares? It’s roughly the same as desktop viewership, right?”


Mobile phones are a lot smaller, which means thumbnails look a lot smaller. Therefore, you have to start adjusting your thumbnails so the text isn’t too wordy or the message still comes through as a small picture.

On mobile, you can drag the video to the bottom right so you can browse other videos while watching. There’s a very natural tendency to do this.

You have to understand how they will affect the viewer. They’re more likely to be distracted and pulled away.

You have to find somewhat of  doing something so provoking that they want to maximize the screen on your video OR you want to make it so value-packed so that they don’t click away until the end of the video no matter what. 

Because the most important Youtube ranking factor is retention time. And it has been for a while.

This is where all your blogging skills pay off because it’s translatable.

Your YouTube headline is very much like a Blog headline. Make it enticing, making it value-packed, and lists do just as well on Youtube.  See YouTube channels like The Richest, Buzzfeed, Top Trending, or Matthew Santorro.

Model how you write your blog titles.

The only difference worth noting is that there’s generally an even more shorter preferred character count than for blogs. Generally speaking, you want as few character as possible.

Most YouTube headlines that I’ve seen do really well are much shorter than the average blog headline.

There are a few YouTube channels I’ve seen do well with just maxing out the length of the headline with keyword stuffing, but they’re usually smaller channels. The top channels almost always have shorter headlines.

And make sure to keep the keyphrase you want to rank for near the start of the headline as much as possible. It’s similar to SEO for websites.

I’ve noticed a lot of bloggers or podcasters will use the interviewee names as part of the title. Usually these interviewees are lesser known or not known at all in the YouTube universe. I suggest moving their name to the end of the title or description instead.

You might get more clicks from cold traffic by mentioning something they would recognize instead.

Rather than “Interview with Jeff Walker”, how about “How To Get Your First 100 Fans Online”?

For any type of headline, whether YouTube, blog, or landing page, every word has to earn its way on there. It’s an art.

Consider this Youtube Channel by Eventual Millionaire, a podcast that interviews millionaires:

Instead of “Business and Family Success” as the title, how about “How to Double Family Time While Making Millions”? You need to stand out from being generic and dull.

Eventual millionaire

People aren’t going to find you in search off a poor title. YouTube doesn’t have much text to base the search off of. And even if they do find you, it has to be compelling enough for a click and then deliver on the value so they don’t click away.

In her case, I would consider putting their full names at the very end or only in the description of the video because most of the millionaires interviewed are very low-profile. No one searches for them at all. But that’s not always the case, adjust based on popularity of the name.

You know how you write blog introductions?

It’s the same thing for the first 10 seconds of a YouTube video.

A great blog introduction should do a great job of immediately hooking the reader, preventing them from clicking away, and drawing them to read the next sentence, understand the value that will be delivered, and transition them into the body of the article without them getting bored or clicking away.

A similar thing should take place with your YouTube intro.

Hook them in with something enticing. Gamers do this with a well-edited intro leading to the game play. How-to channels do this by promising the benefit of what you’ll get after finishing the video.

Then, they do everything they can to get them to watch as much as possible for as long as possible. Some do this by promising a free gift at the end, but this sometimes backfires because people just skip to the end.

Others do this with just great footage, great entertainment, great humor, great education, rapid jump-cuts, and/or great video editing.

Total retention time for a video is the #1 ranking factor for a YouTube video. It’s probably one of the most innovative ranking factors to have been discovered since the back link.

Before that, YouTube and its now dead competitors were using view count as the main factor, which was too easily exploited using a fake hot, sexy thumbnail of a woman as a feedback loop.

The meat and body of a YouTube video should work like a great blog article or podcast. It should keep you from going somewhere else. Each sentence pushes you to the next sentence.

The #1 thing you want to avoid is the reader clicking away early and bouncing.

All of these things are people are unaware of or have dropped the ball on. These are all opportunities to get ahead before everyone catches up.

After studying thousands of YouTube channels, I have found some of the best for you to model after. These are the best I’ve come across who do YouTube right with a business and email list behind it.

  1. Real Men Real Style – A Men’s Fashion YouTube channel. He even has a podcast now
  2. AthleanX – A Men’s Fitness YouTube channel. I learned about him from Ryan Lee’s FreedymU. In one of his videos, he said he tested it and he gets a higher conversion sending people straight from YouTube to his sales page rather than from his email list. Wow!

As far as up and coming people who seem to get it, an honorable mention goes to Ashley Weston, a celebrity stylist. 

Has this opened up your eyes to the game being played around you?

What’s the value of discovering the right idea over the course of your lifetime?

Hopefully, this has helped.

Get going.


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