YouTube: Should I bother? Does your business need to use YouTube?

22nd April 2021

Our MD Jon Mowat has created a video all about the pros and cons of using YouTube to promote your business.

Here’s a transcription of the whole film …

Something a little bit different today. Today, I’m going to focus on YouTube. Because I’m focusing on YouTube, I’ve got an obligatory oversized microphone. I’ll be gesticulating unnecessarily. We’ve got emojis, we’ve got that funny fuzzy thing, and of course, jump cuts all over the place. And because it’s YouTube, I’ve gone a little bit more authentic and I’ve gone unscripted, so let’s see what happens in the next 25 minutes. Above all what we’re going to do is keep you watching and learning to get lots of good information.

Video marketing, it’s a massive area. It runs from digital out of home, there’s social media advertising, on-site content, video blogs, event films, live shows. There’s loads of ways in which video can drive a business forward. But as many ways of doing videos, there’s also hundreds of different platforms to help you do it. There’s social platforms, there’s owned platforms, there’s loads of different types.

But there is one area of video which receives way more attention than anything else, and of course that is YouTube, the Google backed monster. It gets a lot of attention for a good reason. It’s the second most popular social media platform. It’s got like 1.9, nearly two billion users. 500 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute. We watch over a billion hours of YouTube videos a day, and that is more than Netflix and Facebook Video combined, so it’s massive.

Not only that, but it’s effective. It’s got an amazing reach. More 18 to 49 year olds watch it than any broadcast or cable TV network, which is why broadcast and cable TV networks are panicking so much. It’s also the second largest search engine and the second most visited site after Google, so it is massive.

But YouTube is not the be-all and end-all of a video marketing plan. For some people, it’s really, really important. For some, it’s essential. For others, it’s a complete waste of time. Sometimes it is a complete time waster. That’s why my talk today is called YouTube: Should I Bother?

Okay, so before I get going about all that kind of stuff, a little bit about me, so that you know that I hopefully vaguely know what I’m talking about. I started in television as a director, I was at the BBC. I made documentaries for BBC1 and BBC2. I spent my 20s flying around the world, doing documentaries about cheetahs in Namibia, and heroin addicts in Bristol, and I did three months out in Iraq embedded with 45 Commando during the last Gulf War. Some people think I was there in the first Gulf War, which no, I’m not that old.

Since then, I’ve set up Hurricane, which is a leading video marketing agency, so we work with brands, and charities, and NGOs to develop strategies that work. Then we also make the content, and we also activate things, for example on paid media or TV commercials. We go all the way through from planning through to creation, and then activation. On top of that, I’ve written a book called Video Marketing Strategy, and I have an online course called Video Marketing Strategy, so I’m a nerd on this stuff. Hopefully, you know that I vaguely know what I’m talking about.

Now we can get on with the big question, “YouTube, should I bother?” Well, there are two answers to this question, and the first is absolutely, you definitely do not need YouTube. In fact, I would even suggest you get rid of it.

Here are a dozen reasons, I hope it’s going to be a dozen reasons, straight off. One, YouTube is terrible for embedding video, right? You use video to embed a video on your site. It looks a bit duff. You’ve got a YouTube logo, you can’t personalize it in any way, and also what it does is it drives traffic away from your site. If you go to your YouTube channel analytics and you look at sources, in there you will find that it lists your website as a source of traffic to YouTube. Hmm, how does that happen? What that means is you’ve spent loads of money on acquisition, getting people to your website, they watch a video, and the video then goes, “What you want to do is be on YouTube.” Gone. Okay, they watch that video on YouTube of yours, and then they watch all your competitors, and then they’re off and they’re watching skateboarding dogs and all that sort of stuff. It’s a terrible tool for embedding.

YouTube also needs constant maintenance. You can’t just have a YouTube channel that just sits there. You have to post regularly, you have to be on top of analytics. It takes a lot of work. Does that work pay off? Well, sometimes it does, but I would say it’s a lot of work.

Number three on the list, YouTube doesn’t give you really good data. It certainly gives you some good data, like how long people have watched, the engagement rates, but it gives you the data that YouTube wants you to work with. It doesn’t actually give you the stuff that helps you understand where in the sales funnel those people are, who they are, can you link it to an email address. It certainly doesn’t link with a CRM. Actually, it doesn’t give you the good data that you need.

Four, people will not click through to your site. If you’re putting together a campaign that’s trying to drive people to a landing page in your own domain, you can expect about 1% of people to be doing it from YouTube at very best. I mean that really is good performance, but 0.2% and 0.3% is not heard of. Why is that? This is because YouTube doesn’t want people to click through to your site. In actual fact, if you’ve got a link through to an external site like yours, that is technically in breach of contract, and they can cut your site off. They don’t want people leaving, so don’t expect them to click through to your site.

Five, your content is surrounded by your competitors. There’s your video, there’s your competitor, there’s your competitor, and at the end of your video, “Hey, here’s some suggestions.” Oh, they’re your competitors. Why would you do that?

It boils down to this simple truth, number six, YouTube is not interested in the growth of your brand. Well, it kind of is, but as long as it meets with its objectives, which is keep people watching, keep the ad revenue coming in, get the data for resale to other people. They’re not there for you. Because of that, your brand success is in the hands of someone else. They can move the goalpost at any time. You can spend years building up a YouTube channel, they can change the algorithm, they can change the rules, they can even just take you down. You’ve got no control over it.

The next one, number eight, YouTube is not free. I mean YouTube is free, but ain’t no such thing as a free lunch. You give them all the data, they own all of that data, they get all of that insight. You don’t get it. They take their pound of flesh, it’s definitely not free.

Okay, have I mentioned the comments? Like seriously, where do they find these people? Why would you want to have anything to do with a platform like that? This leads directly into the issue of brand safety. Google does kind of on the outside care, but really videos from military extremists running ads alongside war veteran content, this is not unheard of. It’s not the safest place for brands to be.

Of course, number 11, there are actually plenty of alternatives to YouTube, especially if you want to embed video on your site. We talked earlier about why it’s not very good at embedding, but there’s loads of other choices. 23 is just one of them. Now, I like the guys at 23, I like working with them, I’m not connected to them, but I will say it streams better, the player is customizable, it links your client management system. You can do personal one-to-one videos, it’s got better libraries, it’s got a better backend, and more importantly, you own the data, and it’s great with whatever sort of customer management system you are doing, right? So much better. Definitely, there are things like 23 around.

Finally, I was going to do a 12th one. Honestly, I can’t remember what the 12th one is, so we’ll go with 11. There you go, 11 solid reasons that you just shouldn’t bother with YouTube, okay?

Putting all of those thoughts aside, it is massive. There’s obviously a temptation to do that, but it doesn’t mean that it’s the right tool for your brand. It’s about understanding what you’re trying to do. It’s about understanding who you’re talking to, where they live their digital lives, and if YouTube is the best way to get to them. If you’re trying to get early Gen Z, early Gen Y, then really is YouTube the best place to be, or is TikTok or running some other kind of more clever ads the best way to do it? There you go.

The talk is called YouTube: Should I Bother? I’ve given you a very definite answer of no, you should not bother. It’s an easy no. However, I’ve got a second answer for you, and the second answer is YouTube is amazing. It’s fantastic. Of course, you should be using YouTube. I mean why would you not? We’ve already talked about the reach, it’s absolutely huge. What it’s really, really good at is building a community around your brand. If you’re not worried about pushing traffic through to your website, it’s a fantastic place of building that sense of community, building a chat, integrating all those people into a regular feed of content. We’ll talk more in a bit about how that content can be structured.

It’s a fantastic way of reaching new people, and more importantly, keeping talking to the old ones, “Here’s a new video,” or, “Here’s some previous videos that we’ve done.” Engagement, engagement. If you think about the algorithm, they’re trying to keep people there as long as possible. If you provide that content, they will work.

YouTube is so powerful at building brands that it can do it even from scratch. It doesn’t even need to do it with existing famous companies. If you look at GCN, the absolute classic example, GCN is Global Cycling Network, set up in 2013, it’s a pretty nerdy biking channel. It has how-tos, and then challenges, and it’s a very presenter-driven sort of format. It was set up in 2013 by part of the YouTube original channel initiative. YouTube were trying to prove that sport would work, and they basically got these channels up and running. Now, it is a massive community app, it’s a subscription service on the app, it’s got loads of merchandise. It’s got 2.6 million subscribers on YouTube, and the ecosystem has blown up into parallel channels and now this GCN Plus, which is a paid option, and it’s valued at 86 million. It didn’t get there because it used anything else but YouTube, so YouTube totally works.

You can also look at people like Roger Wakefield. Roger Wakefield is this plumber in Texas. He’s got an amazing mustache and he’s from Texas Green Plumbing. He’s doing okay, he’s not doing brilliantly well, and four years ago he started looking at how to do YouTube, and I think his first video got about 1,300 views. Four years later, last month he’s got 118,000 views of his video, he’s got 305,000 subs. That has made a massive difference to his video and his team. They’ve grown, and he’s bringing new people on. That has happened because people have been searching for plumbing solutions, and they have found him, and he’s served them the content they need.

But in order to be successful on YouTube, you have to understand what YouTube wants, and that’s not necessarily what your brand wants, so you do need to tally up with it. What YouTube wants is it wants new people on the site as often as possible, get those new people in. It wants to get those people and the people that are already there to stay as long as possible. They’re not interested in your business doing well, they’re interested in getting people and getting those eyeballs to stay, so they have all kind of measurements. They’re interested in engagement rate, they’re not interested in click-through rate to your website.

Now, Roger Wakefield has done really, really well, because he understands it. If you just look at the videos, how his videos have changed over the last four years. You look four years ago, they are definitely not algorithm optimized.

“My name is Roger Wakefield. I’m a responsible master plumber for Texas Green Plumbing.How long have you been in the plumbing business? When did you get into it?I started plumbing in 1980. A real good friend of mine growing up was a plumber. His three older brothers and his father..”

Jump forward four years, entirely algorithm optimized. He knows what he’s doing. He’s on his way to success.

“In this video, you’re going to see some of the craziest plumbing leaks I’ve seen. Flood leaks, those are a problem we’re dealing with in Texas right now. Texas is not designed for freezing weather like we’ve had. I woke up last week, it was negative two degrees. I’ve never seen that before in Dallas and I’ve been here my whole life. What I want you to do is check out these videos, and then stay til the end because I want you to let me know, have you ever seen anything like this before? If so, do you have pictures and videos that you can share over on our sub Reddit, Roger Wakefield/Posts. Check this stuff out.”

But our man Roger, he’s not an outlier. In fact, he’s a fairly small player in this. If you look at the people that are getting it right, they are smashing it. Mr. Beast, 60 million subs. If you have time, you need to see some Mr. Beast. He gives away an awful lot of money, he’s really funny. Dude Perfect, 57 million subs, really good sports stuff.

Now you’ve got the newer players like Tommy Init, so he started two years ago, he’s got eight million subs. And Airrack, I can never pronounce his name, Airrack or Airrack, he started 12 months ago, he’s got 1.2 million subs.

What are they doing to get it right? How can brands use it? Well, they understand the algorithm. They understand that they want to keep people there, and keep them watching as much as possible. This is where we get a little bit more marketing in, a little bit more nerdy. In order to understand the algorithm, you need to understand traffic sources. If you go to the analytics page of your YouTube channel, you’re going to find traffic sources, and there are four traffic sources. There’s external, which is where you can discover specific external websites and apps, so where people have come from. You can see playlists, which is where you find out which playlists are driving traffic to you. There’s also YouTube search, it’s that kind of people who are in the YouTube itself and organically search. You’re also going to see suggested videos, so videos viewers were watching when they saw your videos in suggestions, so you can see where people are coming from.

Now, these four things kind of look equally important, don’t they? Well, they are absolutely not. One is way, way, way more important than anything else, and it isn’t search and it isn’t playlists. 75% of the views on YouTube that isn’t from paid ads come from suggested content. It is the holy grail. You need to get suggested by YouTube, because when you get suggested, people are going to watch. The secret to cracking the algorithm is to show that you are worthy of being suggested. You need to show that you’re going to get people watching, and more importantly, they are going to stay watching.

What you’re going to be measured on is how long do people watch, do they bounce straight away, and where do they go next? If they watch a video of yours, then they go to another video of yours, they’re going to really prioritize your first video, because they know that people clicked it and they stayed. The Mr. Beasts, and the Airracks, and all those people, they understand that completely.

Let’s break that down. Number one, we’ve got to get people watching, which is where the funny thumbnail comes in. You’ve got to have those thumbnails. We need to be AB testing them really, really well. What’s working at the moment is the whole shocked face thing with a big letter copy, but that’s a fashion that’s going to go out.

Then how quickly do people bounce? If people click on the thumbnail and the content is not what they’re expecting, they’re going to bounce straight away, and you will be penalized for that. You need solid copy, something really exciting, a big question, a big statement, something again that’s going to get people clicking. You need to get your search terms optimized, so that people are finding it through organic, and you need really strong tags.

The next thing is you need to have a really regular posting cadence, which means that you can put out daily, you can put out weekly, you can put out monthly, but just don’t mix it up. You need to be really rigid, which is where that kind of effort around YouTube comes from. Above all, you need to be testing. You need to be deep in those analytics every day, seeing where your peaks are, seeing where your troughs are, and really checking what’s working.

Once you’ve got these people, you need to keep them watching, and that’s where you need to think like a creator. You need to become obsessed with that data. What it always boils down to is you need to make great stuff. Well yeah, of course you need to make great stuff. Also, it needs to be emotional. It needs to be either funny, or sad, or some … I don’t know if you’ve seen me talk before, but I can talk at length about emotional drivers, and it’s whole other thing, but you need to have some kind of emotional connection in that film.

Then the way that we keep watching is duration. Typically, the duration was the shorter the better, and it’s something that I preach a lot, a mantra, but if you’re trying to own the YouTube algorithm, duration is longer. If you look at the Mr. Beasts and the other influencers that are doing really well, you’re talking 10 to 15 minute long videos, because simply it’s better. YouTube would rather someone watch half of a 10 minute film than all of a two minute film. It’s simple maths.

Then we need to think how else can we keep people watching? Well, we need to have strong links at the end, which directly drive to your other content. Lots of internal menus and coming up sign posts, “Hey, keep watching. We’re going to do this next. We’re going to do this next.” Cool key calls to action at the end is obviously important.

And then one of the real key things that you will spot people doing that keeps people watching at the moment is going to your analytics and when there’s a dip, you know that people are leaving. That is the time in your video to put one of these kind of, “Watch here,” or, “Do this thing next.” Even if they drop off, they’re going to drop off to one of your own videos.

This means that we’re starting to structure our content, not in the traditional brand film kind of way that you might do or a paid ad. Really, to own YouTube, you need to be building a structure that YouTube wants. The big thing to look out for is this cold open intro, which is a fantastic example. What the cold intro is, is basically you grab people straight away by showing them what’s coming up further in the film. It seems counterintuitive, that you might want to build to the thing in the end, but unfortunately the world we live in, if you build too long, people just won’t get there. Cold open intro, show them all the good bits at the start, really fast cut. If we look at this example for Airrack, you’ll really see how he’s teasing what’s coming up in the film.

“We’re going to take this small yacht 200 miles off the coast of the United States all the way to Mr. Beast’s $700,000 island, which he nicknamed, Jeff.

What’s the percentage chance that we die on this trip?

Is that a percentage?


We will make it to Mr. Beast’s island, and then the island will be ours.

I’m just going to let you know right now, in the 10 years that I’ve been in yachting, this is the dumbest fucking thing I’ve ever done.”

Okay, so we talked about what it likes, all of this seems really creative-focused. It feels kind of like influencer and, “Oh, I’m not a YouTuber,” and I get that, but it doesn’t mean that it can’t be applied to your brand. The whole concept of structure, thumbnails, the text that you use, these are all relevant even to B to B brands. No matter how dry it is, that principle is worth doing. You can’t say that because you’re a B to B brand you don’t want to be in suggested.

Now you might be deep in some engineering film about how this particular widget works, right? It doesn’t mean that you can’t be one of the ones that are suggested to watch next, even if the audience is very small. The algorithm will help you if you make it worth watching.

What we’ve done there is we’ve looked at some real meta stuff, algorithm and structure. But there are some real practical tips to make sure that you could just be doing YouTube better. Number one, what the algorithm is going to hate and actively punish is people not clicking your content and not completing it, and they’re not going anywhere else. Basically, if somebody watches your stuff and they click off YouTube, you are going to be instantly punished. Therefore, the very worst thing you can do is not to have enough good content or to have bad content on your channel.

The thing to do is avoid what I call a graveyard channel. A graveyard channel is unkempt, it feels unwelcoming, it feels a bit dead, to be honest. It feels very much from the past. Above all, it’s got no visitors because there’s no reason to go there. If you’ve got a piece of content that drives people to other stuff on your playlist and they just don’t hang around, you’re going to be punished.

Do a channel audit. This is something which I think every brand should be doing, and if you haven’t done a YouTube channel audit in the last two years, now is the time. We did one a couple of years ago for REN Skincare, and it is a really, really useful process. We’ve got all sorts of big spreadsheets and measurements about how things are. Are they on brand, or are they relevant? Actually, all you’re really doing as a starting point is how old is this content? How on brand is it? Is it still relevant? Then equally, is there enough content? If we strip out all the old stuff, because you don’t want to use YouTube as just a bucket to hold all your video content, it needs to be a relevant destination, if we take out all the old stuff, is there enough? How do we get it up to date? Number one, easy, do an audit, just strip out all the old stuff that’s not relevant.

Up to this point, we have talked a lot about organic search results. We’ve talked about people finding it. We’ve talked about people being recommended the content. But let’s not forget that YouTube is incredibly good for paid ads. When I say it’s good for paid ads, it’s good for some paid ads. If you are looking to make an ad that is going to drive a click through rate to your website, mm-hmm (negative), no way, don’t bother. It’s just not going to happen. If you want a paid campaign that is going to lift the brand awareness, get to the maximum amount of eyeballs and just have people watching, great.

YouTube pre-rolls are really good for that, because obviously, you get the first five seconds for free, so even if people don’t watch the whole video, you do get that brand awareness. When you’re doing paid on YouTube, don’t think about CTRs, don’t think about acquisition. You’re really thinking about engagement rates and view rates. There’s a really, really good tool on YouTube called the Brand Uplift Study. What this Brand Uplift Study does is it basically segments an audience into two, it shows your video to some of them and not to a control group, and then it can figure out how much more aware people are of your brand over the period of your campaign.

A couple of little things, you can’t do it yourself. Well, you can, but it’s quite difficult. Really, you need to spend over nine grand in a week on media. If you spend over nine grand a week, basically they will help you do this study for you. The kind of data you’re going to get out of it, you’re going to get feedback on what worked in the video. You’re going to understand where people bounced off, where they didn’t, and also you will get this brand uplift awareness. Before the campaign, people knew you, and after the campaign, this many more people knew you. That’s a really good piece of data to take to your board or anything else.

Now, the key is don’t drop your nine grand in the first week. You’re going to need two to three weeks to get optimized, to get those tags right, to get the thumbnails right, because then when you get that data, you really can then use that data after the campaign in subsequent weeks to really start getting value for money.

Where am I going with all of this? I’ve called this talk, YouTube: Should I Bother? I’ve failed to give you a helpful answer. I’ve said don’t use it at all, and I’ve also said definitely use it, it’s amazing. The answer is use it properly or don’t use it at all. If you want somewhere that you want to build a community around your brand, you want to drive awareness, and you really want to get people talking, YouTube is amazing. If you’re willing to put in the effort, and you’re willing to look at the data, and you’re willing to really keep it going, YouTube can be fantastic.

If you want somewhere to post videos, to host them so they’re on your site, or you want to link in with your hub spot or any of these other things, there are dozens of better ways of doing it. As a video marketing agency, I would suggest the options are to do YouTube properly, and then to host videos on your site separately, but I could talk about that for days. That’s a whole other thing. If you’re going to do it, spend time optimizing YouTube properly so you maximize your ROI.

There you go, I’ve pretty much ranted about YouTube pretty much off the cuff for 25 minutes, but it was quite fun. I’m going to put some links in the chat now or below the video, so you can get some links to my book, and you will find a discount in there, and also I’m going to put a discount to my course in there as well. I just wanted to say thank you very much. I hope you got thinking about whether you’re going to keep using YouTube, or whether you’re going to ditch it, or what you’re going to do to it. I look forward to taking your questions shortly. Thanks.

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