Secrets of million-dollar YouTube channels

Posted on February 01, 2023

Caroline Blaker

Secrets of million-dollar YouTube channels Image

YouTube - for fun, fame, and riches? Let's take a closer look.

YouTube, the second most powerful search engine in the world, next to Google (which owns it,) can be a detail or a leading component of your business’ content strategy. It presents a solution in online searches where demonstration of a process improves information communication (over text like this) or where the user prefers auditory or conversational delivery of information over text. It also pays content creators - which changes everything. Entire careers can be built there and made famous. As an SEO services provider who hopes to show up on Google, I call BS! (Sorta, not really.) Videos are a lot of work and any amount of effort going into a channel may not yield a single cent. Yet, there are ways.

Your own purpose with YouTube may not include making money off your channel, directly from YouTube. In this case, fewer aspects of building an audience and serving them matter as much. This guide covers essential aspects of making money off of your YouTube channel, regardless of other strategic reasons to have and maintain a YouTube channel. My studies of YouTube began as a pandemic curiosity in early 2020 around a topic heavily covered there daily - which turned into taking a class about making a channel, connecting with channel providers and learning the ins and outs that their channel’s role in their lives. Veteran YouTubers will tell you that their channels, no matter how popular, take years to take off. Be prepared for an investment of hours per day over years. Yes, it can be a full-time job that pays nothing (at first..)

Before we begin

  • Your channel can be monetized with advertising after it reaches 1000 subscribers, but ads may still appear on playback even without monetization turned on. YouTube will pay for views, subscribers, comments, likes, shares, and creators can attract tips through the platform as well. All of these are important to creating the million-dollar YouTube channel.
  • Content creators cannot see who likes videos (except in personal “Liked Videos” playlists that can be hidden.) Do not count on likes to tell you who likes the video - by the same token, like-away with reckless abandon on your favorite channels, even if you feel like the topic doesn’t fit your outward image. It may play into your personal algorithm but won't be broadcast publicly.

About Videos

The videos on your channel are going to fall into 2 categories: Evergreen and Ephemeral. Evergreen videos are about information that stays relevant and never changes; Ephemerals will cover today’s this or that, seasonal information, or may solve a problem so completely that the problem goes away. A channel full of evergreen videos for beginners will likely serve new users well, but fewer subscribers may engage as the information isn’t following them as they move past that beginner stage. A channel full of ephemerals may have a loyal following but pick up new subscribers less easily as it can be difficult to connect to the tract of a channel that provides to a very specific following without also covering expertise, beginner engagement, or new information.

Every video needs to carry most of the following to optimize engagement:

  • The thumbnail - this is the picture on the non-playing video that comes up in browse or search. This is the single most important factor in making your video (and by extension, your channel) attractive to viewers whether they subscribe or not. You might choose a shot of your video or make an image with the title - or you may go to Canva and create a design for your video. Canva is awesome. The Pro version has hundreds of starter templates - and most importantly, convenient workflows for customization and proliferation across social networks. When your video is uploaded, you can add a thumbnail in the workflow that follows. Canva can also help you edit your videos on the fly - on mobile or computer.
  • Answer the question in the title - It is imperative that you speak to the topic or problem that your video says it’s about. If you don’t, no human will want to re-engage. Don’t waste the chance to help someone by only providing partial information, incorrect information, or making someone click to get what you say the video is about (hence, click-bait.)
  • Formulaic (predictable) scene and structure - Your loyal following will want to keep consuming your videos if their touchpoints with you previously have helped them develop an expectation of what you provide. You can figure out what works for you over time here, but the more predictable the structure and presentation, the more future consumption you guarantee with this work.
  • Relate to other videos in channel & promote them vid-to-vid - if you graze a topic on a new video that you’ve covered more in-depth in a previous video, you can add flags in the video, visually, as well as links in the text description for referral. This helps your appearance as an expert and properly guides a user who is interested in this topic to more of it. You appear authoritative and helpful whether or not a user engages further, and you will get more engagement on that topic - which leads to more money. More on this further down.
  • Ask for what you want (like, share, subscribe, comment) - If you don’t ask for the key elements of engagement during playback- likes, shares, subscribes, comments - you won’t get them. It’s that simple. Don’t, however, make your channel or videos about this. Just ask for it once at the beginning or end, maybe both, and move on.
  • Editing trends based on target age or popular formats - Don’t forget to regularly drop into other channels and deliver a similar kudos to what you would want someone to drop on yours. In so doing - watch the video for trendy types of editing, joke telling, or whatever applies to your channel. It’s ok to steal like an artist when it applies to your video production - just don’t steal content from other creators.
  • Classic SEO matters You know that description blurb below the video? This, with the title, (and ultimately the subtitles of the video if you add language support) is how YouTube initially indexes your video. You may want to maintain a boilerplate of this information with areas for specific edits, just to reduce workload video to video without sacrifices. These text companions to your video need to:
    • Describe exactly what the video is about
    • Contain important keywords
    • Introduce you, the video, your expertise, and the content
    • Provide links to peripheral resources (other videos, your website, helpful tools you’ve covered in the video, affiliate links)
    • If this is all too much, you may want to engage a content strategist to provide a boilerplate of this information or to make sure that this content appears uniformly and is tailored appropriately per video.

About Channels

  • Post Regularly - Daily posting is best, but maintaining a predictable schedule is key - loyal viewers (subscribers, likers, commenters) respond to expectations being met, whether it’s daily or in a specific interval. Make a calendar or quit your job and commit to daily posts (kidding! kinda..)
  • Solves a problem for an audience Your channel must thematically address something people need ongoing help with. Whether it’s a steady stream of beginners on a topic or a shifting point of reference that needs updating, or just a huge, huge topic that could never run out of content (gardening, cooking,) you need to commit and then make content, forever.
  • Made about beginners - if you’re trying to build a following, start with beginner topics. These are the building blocks of your expertise and beginners are the most likely subscribers once they develop an interest in what you have to offer. Build your channel from beginner topics, as they say, from the ground up.
  • Applies teaching principles - if you don’t take an interest, at least in the video, in laying out information so that it’s easily understood, you won’t develop a following. If you are teaching information about something but do not act in a respectful manner relative to what you are teaching, nobody will subscribe. Don’t use cuss words with preschoolers. Don’t speak disrespectfully of bodies while addressing womens’ topics. Don’t put down other people when the video is not about that (jokingly, thematically, or whatever.) Act right (again, relative to your topic,) and explain your information patiently. You’re a teacher now.
  • Years-long commitment Million dollar channels have been around for years, but they don’t always make a million their first year. Be appropriately prepared for bad feedback, trial and error, and long committed stretches with no recompense.
  • Bent at the will of the Algorithm - This might be the most annoying part. YouTube is the final authority on how to make your channel come up for views and searches; to position your videos above or below those of the competition. If they say, as they have, that you need to make shorts, you need to make shorts. Shorts adherence is just the latest change that has affected many established and new channels lately. Don’t ignore what YouTube demands from your channel. Keep your ears perked for as much of this information as available.
  • Engaging viewers - This is the part where you do more than post videos. Comment back, offer live streams, open up to memberships and offer exclusive content. Channel memberships are accessible by users who pay money to support the channel through YouTube. There are also super stickers and super chats as well as replay tips. Offering more of your topic through yourself on your channel leads to a higher-yielding channel. As mentioned earlier, ask for what you want.
  • Not a substitute for your own list - YouTube giveth and YouTube taketh away. Encourage your subscribers to join you off the channel and develop your list that way. Do not breach their trust by adding them to entities beyond the channel without their permission. At the same time, course offerings off the channel, newsletters, can be offered to interested subscribers. Use your value proposition to create “the list” from subscribers over time, and then fufill those promises.

To make a million dollars on YouTube, you will need:

  • Findable videos on useful topics
  • Many thousands of subscribers
    • .. who watch daily
    • .. and engage with likes, comments, subscribes, shares and notifications.

What about your channel, Caroline??

I have one video. It’s fine. I have not yet given years and years of my life at the expense of everything else to prove that this is how it works and that I know how to do it. I will make more videos, and will follow a developing groove with it as it shows up. For now, making a YouTube channel is not my core focus. If you’ve made it this far (thanks! and) you know that it takes years of effort to create a successful channel, centered around a very particular topic that I know a lot about and can create endless content for. I may try this when I have the right idea. But for now, writing about it is enough.

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