Digital Machiavelli #11: Effective YouTube Content Tactics
Double-dipping the right way, and other useful maneuvers.
Welcome back to my ongoing digital content strategy course, delivered straight to your inbox every other week.
What You’ll Learn Today: How YouTube promotes your content for you, and why trying to be too efficient at it can actually hurt you.
YouTube discovery algorithms are some of the most potent tools in the arsenal of any content creator.
Far beyond Twitter, Facebook, or any other social media platform, YouTube is singularly effective at surfacing content to meet viewers’ unceasing demand.
YouTube Algorithm Basics
The YouTube platform operates on several fundamental principles, some of which are similar to other more multimedia-oriented content platforms like Instagram, while others are specific to YouTube.
Let’s take a look at three that are particularly relevant to content ideation and production.
Putting out more content (upload quantity) more frequently (time density) causes you to be surfaced to more potential viewers.
Plugging into popular trends or prominent topics helps get your content recommended by proxy.
Production quality isn’t rewarded by the algorithm, but it is rewarded by natural human behavioral patterns, which in turn send positive signals to the platform in the form of watch session length and engagement metrics.
These are all fairly straightforward. However, if you just take them at face value, it can be easy to make some drastic mistakes by overoptimizing at the cost of viewer enjoyment, so it's my intent to help you avoid said mistakes.
Notoriously one of the most frustrating parts of the YouTube algorithm is how readily it rewards content creators who post daily or even multiple times per day, as this particular facet of the platform makes it difficult for more casual creators to compete.
But while frequency appeals to the platform without regard for qualitative elements, the same can’t be said for viewers.
You don’t have to ideate your content as discrete little pieces you scatter throughout the week, since long-form content can actually be cannibalized after its initial publication, by posting specific outtakes of a long-form video as separate, smaller videos, which allows you to optimize production time by recording a single long-form video once and then milking it for all its worth through the week.
The same thing applies to livestreams, which are often even better suited to being cut up into pieces post-fact due to their conversational nature, meaning that livestreams are a great source of piecemeal content for your channel.
And while you don’t really need to post daily, you should definitely post with a predictable regularity, which means picking a time and a day and sticking to it for the long haul, helping you cultivate a reliable audience that will be conditioned to expect your content at those times.
Long-form content always runs the risk of being too boring or uneventful to produce the kinds of lengthy watch session times you hope to see in your metrics, so it’s critical to avoid getting too clinical, which generally means that if you’re going to create long-form content, the first place to start your planning is with your presentation skills and any video editing or motion graphics work you intend to do on your content.
You might be tempted to stream live, take the livestream down, and re-upload it as a premiere, and while that will certainly benefit you from an algorithm perspective, it'll be a net loss for you, because viewers will start watching your premiere, realize it's a repetition of a stream they already watched, and adopt a negative view of you as a creator who shamelessly double-dips, while simultaneously signaling the algorithm lack of interest due to low watch times and high bounce rates on the premiered videos.
If you’re just starting out, don’t assume that you’ll be able to maintain a high rate of fire with your videos, since doing so depends not only on your creativity and skills but also on the subject matter you’re covering, which may or may not lend itself to extremely high posting frequency.
Popular evergreen topics, current events, and social trends are all gold mines for the inventive video content creator for the same reason TV was so big back before the days of video-on-demand.
Fortunately, YouTube’s algorithm is the best in the business at surfacing content based on viewers’ interests, so it’s important to understand how to leverage it.
Make sure you’re filling out your keywords to the best of your ability, and make sure to put thought into which keywords map to which topics effectively (as in, what exactly do people talk about or search) — this is crucial because YouTube uses those keywords both for its own platform discovery mechanisms and as external search keywords for your video’s web page.
Do your best to stick to predictable topics or at least consistent categories of topics, as the platform is optimized for narrowly specialized channels, which is incidentally why your favorite YouTuber probably has three or four channels in total with categorically different topics split neatly between them.
Don’t obsess over keyword research to any extreme degree — chances are that if you know the subject matter for which you’re creating video content, you’re probably aware of the most intuitive keywords for it before even looking anything up, so trust your instincts and supplement with research.
While a unified theme for your channel is important, you should definitely avoid getting too comfortable with a particular topic (or video format) to the point that your content becomes stale and uneventful in the eyes of your viewers, which will ultimately hurt you more than the algorithm helps you.
Quality vs Quantity
As I like to reiterate, don’t just mindlessly adopt each of the above tips. Think about what makes the YouTube platform twitch, and plan your content with that in mind, but never at the cost of your sincerely inspired ideas.
Because at the end of the day, you’re publishing for a human audience, not an algorithm, and that means things that people intuitively respond to well should always be your top priority, followed by careful editing and managing to leverage the platform’s myriad discovery mechanisms.